Session 74: Ystafell 2
Bannal Frangag - A celebration of Frances Tolmie's song collection

Chair: Kenna Campbell

Contributors: Priscilla Scott, Ainsley Hamill, Mary Ann Kennedy

Frances Tolmie (1840–1926) was a song-collector from Dunvegan in the Isle of Skye, and remains to this day one of the un-sung heroes of late nineteenth century Gaelic song research. She informed and contributed to the collections of other, more famous collectors such as Marjory Kennedy-Fraser and Keith Norman MacDonald, often without due recognition. Her song collection – ‘One hundred and Five Songs of Occupation from the Western Isles of Scotland’ – was published as part of the Journal of the Folk-Song Society in 1911. It is acknowledged as one of the first publications to attempt to transcribe Gaelic songs without edition or rationalisation, and the collection forms an important reference for today’s Gaelic singers and for wider Gaelic scholarship.

Kenna Campbell (Kennedy) is a Gaelic singer and teacher, and was the founding Gaelic song lecturer on the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s B.A. Scottish Music course. She hails from the same part of Skye as Tolmie and has always felt an affinity with a woman from an earlier age who shared her love and respect for Gaelic song. The Tolmie collection naturally became a core reference in her teaching and repertoire. In its original state however, the ‘Songs of Occupation’ is also a frustrating volume as most of the Gaelic texts are only partially included or in some cases presented only in English translation. Kenna therefore set about finding the original versions of the songs that Tolmie collected by sifting through her papers and manuscripts, now held in the National Library of Scotland.

What started as a resource development for her own teaching gradually became a major retirement project and Dr Kennedy’s painstaking research has resulted in a new edition of the collection, due for publication in 2019. The original Gaelic texts have been reunited with the transcriptions, some additional songs have been included, and additional background information on the songs has also been added. The new edition has been prepared with the help of an assistant editor, Ainsley Hamill, a former RCS student of Kenna’s, and with a comprehensive foreword written by Dr Priscilla Scott providing the context for Tolmie and the making of her collection, and her interaction with other song-collectors and Celtic scholars of the time. Musician and broadcaster Mary Ann Kennedy has contributed a comparative analysis between the published melody scores and the original manuscripts, and also with a small number of surviving recordings of Tolmie herself singing some of the songs.

The three-paper panel will cover the three main areas of work in preparing this important new edition of Frances Tolmie’s Gaelic Song Collection:

The latter two papers will be illustrated by performances of some of the songs by Ainsley Hamill, Mary Ann Kennedy, and Kenna Campbell herself.