Document 560

The Fower Quarters: 15 - Blessed wi the Gift

Author(s): Sheena Blackhall

Copyright holder(s): Sheena Blackhall

This document contains language which some may find offensive


Fin I wis aboot eleyven year auld, ma Da got yokey feet. Ither faimlies I kent gaed aff an did the Gran Tour o Europe. Bit we veesited Culloden, Glencoe, Glenfinnan, Bannockburn, Burn's Cottage an Ireland. The first rower war fur my benefit, nae mair nor cats' licks o veesits, tae gie me a mair roondit education than cud the schule. Noo in this he wis wrang, fur fin I wis wee we heard wir Scots history ilkie wikk on the wireless fur hauf an oor o heich drama. Ae wikk it wis Mary Queen o Scots' heid taen aff in Fotheringay; anither it wis Bibles bein' haived doon in Embro, the neist it wis the puir Macdonalds bein murdered in their hames bi yon coorse breets o Campbells. For a hale day efter yon, nane o us wad spikk tae Norman Campbell, even tho he cam frae Desswid Place an hid niver bin nearer than Torry tae the scene o the crime. Dennis McKenzie telt us a wee rhyme his granda hid gien him aboot the Campbells:

"The Campbells are comin, I ken bi the stink
The dirty wee bastards they pished in the sink."

We daunced roon the playgrun singin it, till a teacher cam oot an threatened tae wash wir moos oot wi soap if we wama quate.

Hoosaeiver, the faimly ootin tae Bums cottage wisna sae much fur my delicht as fur Da's. Twis a hale day awa frae hame, takkin the lang wye there as if Da wis pitten it aff, like a cat playin wi a moose, tae savour it the better fin we landit yonner. Ither fowks hid Das fa played darts, or keepie-uppie. Ither fowks' Das biggit sit-ooteries or bred futterats. Some fowks' Das gaed doon tae the pub or delled their gairdens. My Da sang. Fin he didna sing, he fussled; an fin he didna fussle, he diddled. He wis a kettle-fu o music. Fin he byled wi excitement, or wi ill-natur, or wi wae, or fun, he jist hid tae sing tae let it oot.

We set aff fur Burn's cottage in the foreneen, traivellin bi Braemar ower tae Glenshee. "The scenic route," Da said. He warmed up as the miles flew alow the wheels, singin "Dark Lochnagar" an "Bonnie Glenshee"; bit finiver we left the north-east ahin, twis "Mary Morison", "A Reid Reid Rose", "Ca the Yowes", an "The Lea Rig" - aa the wye tae Perth. Ootside the toon, he stappit fur a fly cup an a Leith's rowie tae weet his thrapple. Syne he streetched his legs. Frae Perth tae Stirlin it wis "The Banks an Braes o Bonnie Doon" an "Sweet Afton". Aa thon singin aboot watter mindit him o the need tae makk some, sae he parkit by a widdie, an aabody tummelt ower the dyke an gaed ahin whi.n busses tae rid thirsels o the fly cup.

Frae Stirlin tae Glesga he wis in patriotic mood. We war treated tae "Scots Wha Hae" an "A Man's a Man fur aa That". Syne, aa the wye yonder tae Ayr; an, as he drew nearer tae his Burnsian hairt-lan, the hale virr o his tenor throat-strings fair birred as he swalled his breist like a lintie, flung back his heid an poored oot "John Anderson my Joe" tae the bumbazemnent o Kilmamock fowk. The sign tellin us we war throwe Kilmarnock spirkit aff "Ma Big Kilmarnock Bunnet", bit Burns couldna bide awa lang noo, sae the final fleerish wig "Whistle ower the Lave o't", syne "Green Growe the Rashes o", an - in sicht o Burn's ain but an ben - Da's ain espeecial favourite, "Ae Fond Kiss", which, as aabody jaloused, wad bring tears tae a gless ee.

Inside the Cottage it wis nippit fur space. I jist aboot mynd on tramp in roon whitwashed staas far beasts wad hae bin keepit, an luikin at a wee box bed. "Takk a guid lang luik o yon," Da telt me. "Yon's far Scotlan's maist weel-kent son sleepit. Aye, an he wisna a toff like maist o the ithers. He cam richt ooto the same kinno craftie as us." I wis gaun tae argy here. Mebbe Da hid cam ooto the same kinno craftie as Burns, bit I anely saa crafties at wikk-eyns fin he drave us frae the toon tae veesit wir kinsfowk. I held ma wheesht tho, fur he wig luikin gey wattery roon the een an I thocht he micht be aboot tae greet. I jaloused that Da's "Us" wis kinno like Queen Victoria's royal "We".

Like eneuch, Moslems at Mecca or Catholics in the Vatican dae like we did yon day at Ayr. Da luikit awesome-like at Burn's seat, at his table, even at auld orrals o paper he'd screived on - aa as if they war haly relics. Like mony anither Scot, he'd bin brocht up on a Nor-East craftie, whas anely buiks war "The Poems o Burns", "The Pilgrim's Progress" an the Haly Bible. It wis easy kent fit buik wis maist favoured in Da's hame fin he wis wee. The anely ither poet he kent bi hairt wis Chairlie Murray, bit we niver haiked oot by Alford wye tae see far Murray bedd - an yon wisna near sae far as Ayr. The anely hill wirth spikkin aboot in the hale o Donside, Da aye said, wig Bennachie, bit Deesiders like oorsels cudna grudge them their ain bittie hill, fur we in Deeside war fair oot the door wi hills.

Gaun hame frae Ayr yon day there wis nae mair singin tho. Faither wis hairse bi yon; forbye he wis tint in his ain thochts, an they bade still in Ayr till we wan ower the Brig o Dee an near ran doon an auld ginger cat. "The carlin catched her by the rump, an left puir Maggie scarce a stump," quo he, nae jeein himsel ae bittie aboot the awfu fleg he'd gien yon peer Aiberdeen puss.

Nae lang efter the ginger cat's narra escape, Da lat ken we'd bi haein "a wee brakk" - a twa-three days tae gae aa roon Ireland. My best friens war gaun tae Europe thon year. "Ireland?" they speired, mystifeed. "Naebody gaes tae Ireland! There's naethin there bit girse an tatties an fyles the antrin leprachaun."

Fitiver there wis in Ireland, Da wisna lettin on. It wig tae be a Mystery Tour, he telt us. We'd ken fin we got there.

We didna pack muckle, jist a map an a fyew tinnies meat. Efter aa, Ireland's jist a lowp ower the watter frae Stranraer. Ye cud near spit ower wi a lang eneuch pyocher. We left Aiberdeen in a doonpish, tae "The Bonnie Lass o Bon Accord", an drave sooth tae a medley o "Bonnie Strathyre", "The Road an the Miles tae Dundee" an mair - echt or nine hale coonties o diddlin, fusslin, an duntin fingers on the driver's wheel, till we wan tae Stranraer wi a hert-rousin chorus o "Danny Boy".

Oor trip ower the North Channel wis gey cauld an weet, an the boat sair in need o a lick o peint. Maist o the men wore bunnets an luikit jist the spit o oor ain kinsmen fa cam inbye on their wye tae the Mart on a Friday; bit, fan they opened their mous, the passengers aa spakk Glesga or Irish. There war beasts aboord an aa, muckle hairy nowt wi lang hornies, in a fair heeze o roarin an guff. Wauchts o sharn an weet strae melled wi the sea breezes an plufferts o fag rikk, fur aabody smokit then like they did in Hollywood.

Fin the ferry dockit at Larne, Da heidit straucht fur Belfast an a B. an B. tae bide in. I mind fine yon placie. We fand a wee-like sink in wir lavvie, nae far up frae the fleer. "Yon Irish fowk maun hae richt fool feet," quo Da, "tae hae a sink at the fleer jist fur yon. Nae doot it's tae dee wi their religion. A winner they dinna hae funcie sinks fur their oxters anna." The airt o Belfast we'd landit in wis far frae bein bonnie. Twis fell dreich an orra- luikin an fair clartit forbye wi graffiti, like Glesga in a huff. Da tried a fyew bars o "She is Handsome, She is pretty, She's the Belle o Belfast City", bit his hairt jist cudna warm till't, an sae we beddit early. At crack o dawn tho, we war aff tae the Giant's Causeway. Da wis middlin taen bi this ferlie; coontin frae nocht tae ten, he wad hae gien it five. Deed, he said it wis nae better nor the Bullers o Buchan - an forbye we didna hae sic a cairry-on aboot yon in oor towristie buiks.

Gaun throwe Coleraine wi a cauld breeze at wir backs, Da fussled "Beautiful Kitty o Coleraine", bit we didna spy any bonnie milkmaids, jist ane auld Irish fairmer chiel hurlin peats in a cairtie hauled bi a cuddy that stude in the road an wadna shift. The fairmer seemed near as slaw as the cuddy.

"Caa yon a cuddy?" muttered Da aneth his braith. "We've swacker torties at hame than yon cuddy. It's aa lugs an sweirty." Jist as he wis ettlin tae gang oot an offer tae kick the cuddy, an mebbe the fairmer tae, the beastie shauchled aff as if it kent it wis aboot tae meet its Armageddon. Syne we wheeched throwe Londonderry like a flicht o racin doos, haudin sooth-wast tae Donegal, far we stoppit fur a picnic an swatted a hale heeze o wasps - bit I wis gien ma Setterday's hauf-croon tae spell in a wee Donegal shoppie far ma een lichtit on a richt bonnie jet an siller rosary wi a danglin cross - an I hid saxpence ower eftir the deal! Bit Mither's broos gaed doon.

"She's daen thou tae spite me," Mither girned tae Da. Tae Mither, rosaries war neist tae totem poles an Voodoo dalls. Sookin a pandrop, Da wis mappin the route tae Galway Bay.

"Och, wife," said he, atween sooks, "gin the quine wints tae pit her pennies tae a braw wee necklace, I see nae hairm in't."

Mair argy-bargy wis pit aff bi faither thunnerin oot "Galway Bay" in a tummlin linn o sang that threatened tae breenge richt ooto the car an droon the hale o Connaught. At Galway Bay, mither bocht a heeze o Aran worsit an tuik tae wyvin wi'oot mair adee. If Da wis gaun tae sing an blot her oot, she wad set tee wi her wyvin an blot him oot. Forbye, the Aran ganzie she wis wyvin fur me wid be scrattier nur ony hair shirt worn bi the auld Mairtyrs. An gin I didna weir it, I'd nivver hear the ern o't, efter aa her trauchle fur sic a thankless vratch o a dother.

The muckle Atlantic flang itsel ashore at Galway Bay. I got tae ken yon weet place weel eneuch tae catch a richt dose o the cauld there, fur Da widna leave the beach till the sun gaed doon. Then the penny drapped. On this holiday, we werena there tae luik at sites o historical interest; we war veesitin sang-sites. Ilka place we'd cam till hid a sang in its honour that Da kent fu weel an hid sang sin he'd bin knee-heich tae a chunty. He wis checkin them aa oot, ain bi ain, tae see if the sites matched the sangs - an tae jeedge if they cam up tae his merk. Galway Bay didna tho - ach, twis nane better than Aiberdeen beach, he said, an forbye hidna sic braw ice cream!

"Far neist noo?" speired Mither, fa wis near up tae hir oxters in the first o her Aran ganzies, tho she'd twa gweed lugs as weel as me, an sud hae kent weel fit wis jist aroon the corner.

"The pale moon was rising above the green mountains
The sun was declining beneath the blue sea
When I strayed with my love to the pure crystal fountain
That stands in the beautiful vale o Tralee"

Tralee wis rael bonnie, I'll gie ye that, an sae wis the pure crystal fountain he tuik us tae see. Da huntit fur miles till he fand ony pure crystal fountain ava, bit spy ane he did, an rowed up his trooser-eyns tae paiddle in the puil at the boddom o't. Twis as bonnie a watterfaa's I iver saw. Mither, tho, jist knypit on wi her ganzie. We stoppit again at a wee Irish village an I treetled in tae the shoppie tae buy juice. Bi noo, I wis eesed tae aa the Irish voices aroon me. They war bonnie an sang-like, nae the wye fowk spakk back hame.

"Sure an you'll be from Donegal, with a voice like that on ye," burred the wumman ahint the coonter. I noddit my heid, grabbit the juice an ran. I'd bin smitten wi an Irish lilt! I micht nivver spikk the Doric again! Back inno the car tho, the auld weel-kent spikk cam back at aince.

"Ye war gey lang in yon shoppie," quo Mither nippily. "I jist trust ye hinna bin buyin mair crucifixes tae yersel, that's aa."

Sae on we skelpit, sooth bi east noo, wi Da beltin oot "If ye 're Irish, Cam intae the Parlour"; as he negotiated the kittle neuks o the narra Irish roads. Fur eence, we'd nae idea far he wis makkin fur, for the neist selection o choruses war aa American, "Deep in the Hairt o Dixie", "Swanee River"; an "The Yella Rose o Texas". I hae nae notion ava fit sparked yon aff, ither than a chiel dawdlin ben the road wi a muckle stetson on his heid, nae doot ane o yon Irish-Americans hame fur a wikken veesit.

The car jittered tae a stop in the car park o a gran castle nae far frae Cork, in a placie caad Blarney.

"We'll jist hae a wauk up yon stairs," Da telt us. "At the tap, ye'll spy the ither hauf o oor Steen o Destiny that we crooned the auld Scots kings on. Yon steen, it's got byordinar pooers. Twis gien tae Cormac McCarthy bi Robert the Bruce in 1314 fur helpin him fecht at Bannockburn. An fa-iver kisses the Blarney Steen is blessed wi the gift o the gab. Faiver kisses yon steen is gien the pooer tae chairm the verra birdies aff the trees."

As I booed ma heid tae kiss the muckle steen, I winnered foo mony ither gypit quines like masel hid slabbered an slavered aa ower yon daud o rock. Bit I did it onywye. Like washin yer face in the Mey dyew - faith, ye niver kent bit mebbe the Blarney Steen did hae cantrip pooers anaa!

We cairriet on north syne, bi wee parks the size o hankies. Irish parks war that wee the coos hid tae back inno them like caurs throwe a gairage door - little better than stable staas they war fur the beasts. At the antrin hoose, a draiggle o dyeuks an hennies wannert in an oot the door as if they hid as muckle richt tae the rin o the place as the fermer fa bedd there. I likit this sibness tae the beasts bit didna ken fit it micht dae fur the trig hoosie inside. The weather wis warm an sunsheeny, the girse sae fresh it could hae bin scrapit aff an artist's palette, an Da wis singin "The Forty Shades o Green".

"D'ye iver hear tell o the twa Irish Rary birds, the big Rary bird an the wee Rary bird?" he speired o a suddenty.

I hid tae awn I hidna.

"Weel, the twa fell oot an hid a fecht, an the wee Irish Rary bird lost. The big Rary bird wis jist aboot tae haive him doon a great heich cliff, fin the wee Rary birdie priggit fur mercy."

"An fit did he say, Da?"

"It's a lang wye tae tip a Rary!" quo Da, kecklin fit tae burst at his ain heeze. Mither jist groaned.

We didna dauchle at Tipperary, tho even Mither jyned in yon chorus, an cairriet on in braw style east throwe Kildare tae Dublin, the jewel in the Emerald Isle. Da waxed romantic here.

"In Dublin's fair city
Where the girls are so pretty
I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone
She wheeled her wheelbarrow
Through streets broad and narrow
Singin cockles an mussels alive, alive o!"

We booked inno a room abeen a snug, at Dun Laoghaire. Rich broon Guinness aawye, an aa ma fowk teetotal. I wis ower young, an Dublin wis ower auld. Fur twa days I treetled back an fore ahin ma fowk as they reenged the Liffey an gawped at the Book o Kells. I got a begeck tho at seein bairns, nae younger than masel, gaun barfit an beggin in the causeys.

The nicht afore we left fur hame, an unco thing cam aboot. I breenged inno oor room an a wee plastic bowlie stuck bi a sooker fell aff frae ahin the door an drappit wi a plap tae the fleer. The wee bowl hid bin full wi haly watter an left fur us bi oor landlady. Weel, I kent weel eneuch I hid dane a truly awfa thing, a maist terrible thing. I hid scaled haly watter blessed bi the priest an I maun gyang tae Hell an birssle like a rasher o bacon furiver fin I deed!

Da saved the day fur me. He tuik the bowlie intae the lavvie, fulled it wi watter frae the tap, spat on the rubber sooker an stuck it back aneth the wee postcaird o the Virgin preened tae the door. "There noo!" quo he. "They'll niver ken!"

Bit I kent. Aa yon nicht I wytit fur the Deevil tae carn roarin ower the Liffey wi his deevilicks tae powk me wi their prods. Wytin fur yon veesitation wis near waur nur haein it. Bit the Deevil maun hae bin fell busy yon nicht in Tipperary or Killamey or Kildare, fur he nivver cam tae prod me. An aa yon nicht, up frae the chink o glaisses in the bar, wachtit the latest Dublin tune.

"The sea, oh, the sea" - chink, charee -
"Long may it roll between England an me" - chink, chink, charee -
"Thank God we're surrounded by water!"

There wis nae gettin awa frae watter in Dublin, yon wis plain. "Did youse sleep well?" speired the landlady neist mornin.

"Like a lamb," quo Da.

Bit I hid lain aa nicht like a lamb wytin tae hae its throat cuttit. I wisna richt till Dublin disappeared ooto the wing mirror an the wheels spun north aroon Dundalk bi the Mountains o Mourne.

"Oh, Mary, this London's a wonderful sight
With the people here workin by day an by night
They don't sow potatoes nor barley nor wheat
But there's gangs o them diggin for gold on the street
At least when I asked them, that's what I was told
So I just took a hand at this diggin for gold
But for all that I found there, I might as well be
Where the Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea"

I dinna think I iver heard ma faither sing bonnier. The Irish Sea an its waves clappit time tae him as he sang it, an he sang it richt sad-like, till ye near thocht ye wis yon Irishman, hameseek an lanesome in London, hyne awa frae his ain kintra in the smog an steer aboot the Thames.

"Fit's the difference atween the English an the Irish, Da?" I speired. He squared his shooders, an thocht a meerit.

"Ye canna miscaa the English ava," he telt me. "It's watter aff a dyeuk's back. The Irish an the Scots'll haimmer ye if ye takk the laen o them. They hae fire in their bellies."

The Scots an the Irish an the Welsh war aa like dragons then, fiery Celts. The English, bi Da's wey o't, war nae mair nur damp squeebs. "The Mountains o Mourne" wis the last Irish sang he cam oot wi tho, fur his thochts noo were aa fur Scotlan aince mair. "Mormond Braes", "The Bonnie Lass o Fyvie", "The Barnyairds o Delgaty", "Leezie Lindsay", an his favourite abeen aa, "Jock o Hazledean". The great grey sea cairriet the notes afore us like a skein o geese:

"Why weep ye by the tide, ladye,
Why weep ye by the tide?
I'll wad ye tae ma youngest son
An ye shall be his bride.
An ye shall be his bride, ladye
Sae comely tae be seen -
Bit ay she lat the tears doonfa
Fur Jock o Hazledean."

O the hale holiday, yon's fit's stuck wi me doon the years - Da, aa sax fit twa o him, hunkered doon ower the rail o the Irish ferry wi his bunnet rammed hard aboot his lugs tae haud aff the win, twa days o black stibble roon his chin, singin fur the sheer joy o't tae any passin sea-myaa that wad listen. On the ferry hame, I didna say muckle.

"Ye're affa quaet," quo Da. "Is she nae affa quaet, Mither?"

Bit I wis savin ma spikk fur ma friens. They micht hae skied doon the Eiger, or stravaiged aroon Rome an Venice. Bit I hid kissed the Blarney Steen, the ither hauf o oor Steen o Destiny; an noo, like the siller-tongued Irish we'd left ahin on the shores o Erin, I kent, I jist kent it in ma beens, I'd bin blessed wi the gift o the gab!

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The Fower Quarters: 15 - Blessed wi the Gift. 2024. In The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. Retrieved 23 February 2024, from

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Information about Document 560

The Fower Quarters: 15 - Blessed wi the Gift


Text audience

General public
Audience size 100+

Text details

Method of composition Handwritten
Word count 3717

Text medium


Text publication details

Publisher GKB Enterprises
Publication year 2002
Place of publication Aberdeen
ISBN/ISSN 0952655462
Part of larger text
Contained in The Fower Quarters: Tales by Sheena Blackhall

Text type

Prose: fiction
Short story


Author details

Author id 112
Forenames Sheena
Surname Blackhall
Gender Female
Decade of birth 1940
Educational attainment University
Age left school 16
Upbringing/religious beliefs Brought up Protestant, now Buddhist
Occupation Writer and supply teacher
Place of birth Aberdeen
Region of birth Aberdeen
Birthplace CSD dialect area Abd
Country of birth Scotland
Place of residence Aberdeen
Region of residence Aberdeen
Residence CSD dialect area Abd
Country of residence Scotland
Father's occupation Manager of Deeside Omnibus Service
Father's place of birth Aboyne
Father's region of birth Aberdeen
Father's birthplace CSD dialect area Abd
Father's country of birth Scotland
Mother's occupation Private Secretary
Mother's place of birth Aberdeen
Mother's region of birth Aberdeen
Mother's birthplace CSD dialect area Abd
Mother's country of birth Scotland


Language Speak Read Write Understand Circumstances
English Yes Yes Yes Yes
Gaelic; Scottish Gaelic Yes Yes Yes Yes Elementary. Gaelic choir. Poetry.
Scots Yes Yes Yes Yes