Maide-Crochaidh Hanging Stick
It was not about history at all that I was thinking
When the dominie asked about the Wars of the Roses.
I was thinking the black cow would be calfing
I was looking out at the white thick machair
I was thinking about the wee calf born early in the snow.
There was no history in it at all
When I let the reckless “Tha mi duilich” fall I am sorry
out of my stupid mouth.
When first we came to this school
I would have been saved.
The stain of the Gaelic
passed swiftly amongst us then.
In the classroom, in the yard,
At work or playing at the ball.
I would not be lacking the chance
to unburden my shame.
Now there is no corner left
Where the pitiless Beurla English
is not to the fore.
The dominie’s bell will catch me still bearing
The taint of my people.
Tha mi duilich?
It will not long before I will be sorry enough
duilich gu leor, gu dearbh. Sorry enough, indeed.
(The teacher placed the hanging stick round the neck of the first child heard speaking Gaelic. That pupil listened to catch someone else out and pass on the stick. The last child wearing it at the end of the day was punished. It was reported still in use in Lewis in the 1930s. Similar strategies were used in Wales and in parts of colonial Africa.)