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Riabhag Bheag

(Little Sparrow)


Lyrics by Rachel Walker and Marcas Mac an Tuairneir

Music by Rachel Walker

Arranged by Rachel Walker and Aaron Jones

Strings arranged by Rachel Walker



Rachel Walker (Vocals, Keys)

Aaron Jones (Guitar, Vocals)

Katrina Lee (Violin)

Patsy Reid (Violin)

Rhoslyn Lawton (Viola)

Alice Allen (Cello)


Rachel’s inspiration:

Margaret Fay Shaw (1903-2004) was brought up in Pennsylvania. Musical from a young age, she trained as a classical pianist until a rheumatic condition made it too difficult for her to play. Facing a decision with what to do with the rest of her life, she referred to herself as a ‘little sparrow, blown off course’, and in 1929 travelled to Uist to learn about the life and culture of the Gaels. Shortly after arriving, she heard the singing of Màiri MacRae and, struck by its beauty, asked if she could take up lodgings with Màiri and her siter Peigi in Glendale, South Uist. There she spent the next four years immersed in their way of life, discovering the ‘symphony of the life of these marvellous people’ and collecting songs, stories and photographs of the people, work and landscapes of South Uist.


Margaret’s collections continue to make a huge impact on the world of Gaelic and folk music, and her archives are now held by the National Trust for Scotland in Canna House where she lived and continued to collect songs for many years.  Her book ‘Folksongs and Folklore of South Uist’ is a treasured resource for many Gaelic singers, myself included.


Nuair dh’iarr an ceòl do chorragan
is dh’fhàg thu Eabhraig Nuadh
Bu rùn dhut stòras fhaclan ’s fhonn
’s an Uibhist beatha ùr.
Chual’ thu seinn nam peathraichean,
gad tharraing mar an t-sàl
Is siud a bha na stiùir dhut
thug tàmh dhut an Gleann Dàil.
Bha camara tric nad chorragan
a ghlèidh seòl-bheatha ann,
Bha òran do gach cleachdadh
is sgeul anns gach fonn
B’ e caithream-ciùil nan daoine
a thaisg thu sin le aoibh
Gun fhios air buaidh a bheireadh
air ceòl air feadh an t-saoghail.

Ò, riabhag bheag, ’s tu sèidt’ far chùrs’,
nuair dh’`eirich thu air sgèith,
Gu nead taigh Màiri Anndra
a dh’ùraich fhèin do rè,
Robh fhios gum b’ e do chulaidh,
air a cruinneachadh le mùirn,
A shiùbhladh fad is farsaing
’s sin nas prìsle na gach buadh?
Bu dìcheallach do chorragan
measg stòras na do thaigh
Is ann an gàrradh Chanaigh
far am mair do ròs fo bhlàth
’S mi ’n dòchas gun do dh’aithnich thu
mus d’ ràinig thu do cheud
Cuairteagan nan òran ’s fonn
’s sin nas prìsle na gach seud

When your fingers wanted music
and you left New York
Your desire was the wealth of words and tunes
And a new life in Uist
You heard the song of sisters
Pulling you like the sea
And this guided your journey
Gave you a dwelling place in Glendale
Often with a camera in your hand
you captured a way of life
A song for every activity
and a story in each melody
It was the symphony of the people
that you archived with a smile
Never knowing of its impact
On music throughout the world

Oh, little sparrow blown off course
when you rose on the wing
To the nest of Màiri Anndra’s house
Who renewed your life
Did you know it was your treasure trove
gathered with esteem
That would travel far and wide
And be more precious than worldly things
Your fingers were always working
amongst the resources of your house
and in the canna garden
where your rose still blooms
I hope you recognised
Before you reached the end of your days    
the ripples of your songs and tunes
More precious than any jewel


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