GAELIC IN THE CHURCH

July 9, 2009

GAELIC PRECENTING IN THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

It is said that in the 16th Century, during the Reformation, bibles were burnt and only a few escaped destruction. In Highland Clans where only one bible existed it was hidden to avoid its discovery and destruction. Some believe that was the reason “Presenting” began. Gaelic psalm singing is unaccompanied The Precenter sings each line of the verse and the congregation then repeat it.

This form of singing is still used in some Presbyterian Gaelic services today. However, the precentor’s main role now is to decide the tune that will fit the psalm and start the verse then have the congregation join in.

Others say that after the Reformation, it was thought that the church congregation should take an active part in the service, primarily in the singing. This decision they say resulted in “Precenting”.

However that offered yet another problem. Many people could not afford to buy a Bible and many more could not read it even if they could afford to buy one. To solve the problem it was decided one person be chosen to preside over the singing and precent the words of the psalm to the congregation.

In 1659 the first metrical translations of the first 50 psalms into Gaelic were published. In 1684 a Gaelic metrical versions of the 150 psalms came into being.

The Psalm tunes, printed in the Psalters originated in the Lowlands of Scotland, in England and on the Continent around that same time.

Six tunes from that period are still in use; Dundee, Old London, Elgin, Martyrs, Stilt, and French Dundee, a long tune led by Thomas A. MacDonald was published in 1591.

More recent was Martyrdom the work of Ayrshire precentor, Hugh Wilson. (1764 – 1824) On the North Shore in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia

The Rev. A. D. MacDonald started a singing class at French River Schoolhouse. He taught the older folk in the area how to read music and precent. Most, however, would have grown up in homes hearing it and probably knew how to precent in private. Nonetheless, the experience gave them the self assurance they needed to “Precent” in public.

Before the union of the churches as many as 150 people attended Sunday services at French Church. The Gaelic service began at eleven o’clock and consisted of three psalms, a sermon, a prayer, and ‘Precenting” of three psalms. This was immediately followed by an English service ending around one o’clock. But that wasn’t the end to the Sunday church obligation. The congregation would rush out to the closest available place to eat their lunch. They would then return to the church to take part in the 3:00 o’clock celebrations in Gaelic. At which service there would be three precentings.

Back then the church would be full and at least three quarters of the congregation helped with the presenting. Today perhaps there may be a dozen or more people who would join in. One reason for this is that there are very few young people learning how to ‘Precent’ and unless you have several good voices to pick up the tune it doesn’t work.
Having said that in 1978 a combined choir of United Church and Presbyterian singers gathered together with their neighbors at Bethel United Church, in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia for a hymn sing.

On November 7th, 1999 Grampian and Scottish Television aired a religious series called Spiorad Dhe. It was a church Service from Back Free Church, on the Isle of Lewis, at which presenter Angela MacKinnon was present.

Rev. Iain D. Campbell a popular preacher and figure with the youth in Free Church congregations throughout Lewis was asked by the youth to write psalm tunes for them. On Spiorad Dhè, the children of Back School were heard singing Psalm 122 to the tune of “Sgoil a’ Bhac” written by Reverend Campbell.

THE GAELIC BIBLE – AM BIOBALL GAIDHLIG

In 1567, John Carswell translated the Book of Common Order (Foirm na n-Urrnuidbeath) into Gaelic. It was not until 200 years later (1767) that the New Testament first appeared in Gaelic. The entire bible was finally published in Gaelic in 1801, 200 years after the Authorized English version was printed.

The National Bible Society of Scotland (Comann Bhioball Duthchail na h-Alba) has been responsible for the Gaelic translation of the bible since 1861.
PSALM 46
Vs. 1 & 2

God is our refuge and our strength,
in straits a present aid:
Therefore, although the earth remove,
we will not be afraid:

Though hills amidst the seas be cast:
Though waters roaring make,
And troubled be; yea, though the hills
by swelling seas do shake.

‘S e Dia as tèarmann dhuinn gu beachd,
ar spionnadh e ‘s ar treis:
An aimsir carraid agus teinn,
ar cobhair e ro-dheas.

Mar sin ged ghluast’ an talamh trom,
chan adhbhar eagail dhuinn:
Ged thilleadh fòs na slèibhtean mòr’
am buillsgean fairg’ is tuinn

AR N-ATHAR A THA AIR NEAMH – THE LORD’S PRAYER

Ar n-Athar a tha air neamh Thigeadh do rioghachd.
Deanar do thoil air an talamh, mar a nithear air neamh.
Tabhair dhuinn an diugh ar n-aran laitheil.
Agus maith dhuinn ar fiachan.
amhail a mbaitheas sinne dar luchd-fiach.
Agus na leig ann am buaireadh sinn;
ach saor sinn o old: oir is leatsa an rioghachd, agus an cumbachd,
agus a’ghloir, gu siorraidh.
Amen
A GAELIC BLESSING recorded in the 19th century by Alexander Carmichael, published in Carmina Gadelica

Mar a Bha – As it Was
Mar a Tha – As it Is
Nar a Bhitheas – As it Shall Be
Gu Brath – Evermore
A Thrithinn – O Thou Triune
Nan Gras – Of Grace
Ri Traghadh – With the Ebb
‘S Ri Lionadh – With the Flow

SELKIRK GRACE

THA BIAD AIG SUID, ‘S GUN ACA CAIL;
ACRAS AIG CUID, ‘S GUN ACA BIADH;
ACH AGAINNE THA BIADH IS SLAINT’
MOLADH MAR SIN A BHITH DON TRIATH

Some hae meat and canna eat;
and some wad eat that want it;
but we hae meat and we can eat;
and sae the Lord be thankit.

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