This poem was composed by Maighstir Seathan [“Reverend John”] MacLean of Mull, probably after meeting Edward Lhuyd c.1699. MacLean here celebrates the research to be published by Lhuyd.
The following text was translated by Michael Newton from the edition in Ó Baoill, Eachann Bacach, 100-3.
§ 1. When the descendants of Gaedheal Glas and of Míl — bold folk — came from Spain, the harshness of their blades, and their poetry and learning — which they had in abundance — were the subjects of conversation in every land.
§ 2. When their population flourished, here (in Scotland) and across the sea (in Ireland), Gaelic was respected and valued everywhere: a widely-spoken, healthy, lovely, and melodious tongue, a strong, polished, beautiful and articulate language.
§ 3. For a thousand years and more it was topmost in the royal court, before the speech of southern folk raised its head. Gaelic was the language written by every poet, physician, eulogist and druid, craftsmen and story-teller too — every noble art — whom Gathelus brought with him from Egypt.
§ 4. It was in Gaelic that the high priesthood — to the honour and glory of the clergy — proclaimed persuasively the words of God. It was Gaelic that St Patrick spoke in Ireland of the Kings, as did that gentle prophet, the holy Columba, in Iona.
§ 5. The learning of the refined French, influential in every nation, was derived from Iona of the exiles, the mentor of people of every land and language. Norsemen and Saxons sent relations and children to Iona.
§ 6. Now, alas! we have lost it completely: Gaelic has few admirers. What a somersault the world has taken! It has fallen from the Tower, together with the authorities and princes whose inheritance it is, who once took an interest in defending it.
§ 7. It has been sold in the court for an upstart, and scornfully abandoned: people were ashamed of their own language. Good luck, fame and success to the great Lhuyd who has roused Gaelic from its grave.
§ 8. Everyone descended from the keen and successful Gael, and all who inherit that language as their own, all who are descended from the family and offspring of Scot, ought to reward you with the prize you have earned, from the Queen who now wears the crown to the pauper whose home is the dunghill.
§ 9. Because of the withering away of Gaelic, their name and their achievement for hundreds of generations have been going out of the public memory: now far-off lands will hear the fame of their deeds and say to one another: “Once upon a time there were Gaels.”