The Gal-Gael Peoples of Scotland

The following poem by Alistair McIntosh was sent to us by Voice reader Christina McQuarrel. For the full transcript with associated notes please see here. The M77 Motorway Protest in Glasgow during the 1990s is reminiscent of the current protest against the HS2 High Speed Rail construction and can be seen as another example of history repeating itself…

The Gal-Gael Peoples of Scotland

Written at the request of and dedicated to Tawny, Colin and Gehan
Macleod and other powerful gentle warriors at the Pollok Free State M77 Motorway Protest in Glasgow, whose endeavours for renewal are both ecological and cultural.

By Alistair McIntosh

We, the Gal-Gael, being a loose association of some native peoples of Scotland, extend our hand to all other indigenous peoples in the world. By invitation of First Nation friends in North America we ask to address you with these words.

(I) The Shoaling

Dear fellow creatures, sisters, brothers, children:
for some years now we have been listening
Awakening to hear you speak
in ocean swell across the great Atlantic
in musical rhythms danced from brightest Africa’s savannah
in wind’s feathered mantras fluttering out from prayer flags
of the high Himalaya
in ancient Aboriginal songlines
waulking even through Precambrian bedrock folds
of overworld high roads
underworld low roads
North South East
West of our own recovering discovering shamanic tradition
By all such ways and more
dear long-lost much-abus’ed friends
we have heard the speaking of your drums
been touch’ed
late if not last
by open waiting of your hearts
And ask you to accept us now
a native peoples
the ‘Gal-Gael’
of Scotland, Alba,
these Northern tracts of Albion
by apple fragrant Avalon

When sun’s white light streams in through raindrop lens
and rainbows arch the covenant of hope
all colours make all peoples from one source
And so it is we here
and more besides
have wrestled long and hard with what it means
to be a Scottish native peoples
of diversity
What does it mean
to be the black among us like the white
the Pole, Italian, Russian and Pakistani
the Tamil, Sinhalese the Japanese and Chinese
English just as Scot or Welsh, Flemish German Moslem Jew pagan
Irish – Protestant and Catholic?
What does it mean for us a rainbow spectrum
to be a Peoples of this place?
Fully indigenous. Fully belonging.

By salmon’s course
we have arrived
long shoaling at the estuary, waiting, waiting, waiting
but Spate now running So we leap …
Protesting motorways in Glasgow
Refuting superquarry mountain destruction Bride’s isle the He-brides
Fighting to heat the dampened love-warm crisis-torn homes
of those of us in urban native reservation housing schemes
(where TV up a tower block offers nature’s only window
one fifth of Scotland’s people live in poverty)
And “resetting seeds of Eden”
one foot venturing into Eden
with Muir and Burns, MacDiarmid, White and mostly unnamed women’s song
pressing down “wet desert” sod to replant native trees
in Border dale and Highland strath
and on the blighted bing
Struggling to regain
a music, dance and language
once usurped from forebears’ cradling embrace
usurped to break the spirit
take our land
and even God and gods and saints of old
and scar the very strata deep
with alcohol soaked nicotine smoked Prozac choked
Lateral violence of unresolv’ed angst
unable to engage
with power from above
so sideways striking to and from within and all around
… hurting … hurting … hurting …
with intergenerational poverty knocking on from then to now
people disempowered in rent-racked famine days
Half a million Highland folk ..
(Lowlanders before like English further back in time)
… Cleared … from kindly providential clachan
… Cleared … to fact’ory or to emigrant ship
… dumped … Aotearoa … North America
… recruited … skirling hireling regiments of “Queen’s Owned Highlanders”
Empire stitched from butcher’s wounds
opp’ressed turned oppressor sprung from opp’ressed’ pain
both sides the Atlantic surging with emotion
Intergenerational Transatlantic Cultural Trauma
a three-way brokenness
native peoples our side, the Ossianic Western edge
native peoples their side, the Eastern oceanic seaboard
and Everywhere that breaking dominant disembedded culture
that is in part
us too

Can you forgive us?
Red woman, man, child, creature
red earth
Can we together mend these bygone ongoing murders
of murdered souls murdering bodies filled with soul
cultural genocide Roman Norman Modern Empire
corporate limited liability limited responsibility
IMF, GATT-World Trade Organisation, World Bank
triumvirate idols Mammon Moloch Money
loansharks surfing water gardens of the poor
thrashing around in usurious name of pax prosperity
… Trashing all … All … but that Invincible prophetic Remnant of humanity
that hazel nut-like flotsam coasting oceans of the heart in Exodus
those holograms of wisdom
dropped by tree of life in sacred trout filled limpid pool
swept down of old on mighty streams of righteousness
but cast up fragile yet relentlessly on shore of modern times
there to wait reminding us, reminding us, re-minding us …
… re-member … re-vision … re-claim …
and with a raindrop soft pre-emptive start
reminding too that “only forgiveness … breaks the law of karma”

(II) Invocation

Ohhh … friends we call across the seas to you from echo chamber of the soul
we call now stirred by rhythm that you drum
We call upon the triple billion year old songlines of world’s oldest rock
“I lift a stone; it is the meaning of life I clasp” – says the bard MacDiarmid
So let us honour stone. Let us call afresh the foundational litany:
The Lewisian Gneiss …
… Druim Alban’s kelson of the Baltic to Canadian Shield
The superquarry threatened South Harris igneous complex
(surveyed by supine Roineabhal
beholding all Scarista’s ancient parish of Kilbride
annunciating Brigh, Bride, Brigit, womanhood of Go
from Barra and the South to Clisham and beyond … the Holy He-brides
these scattered jewels from God’s eighth day
of legen’dary last Creation act)
Ohhh … the lithogenic litany … “turn but a stone an angel stirs”
The Cairngorm pegmatites and sparkling Aberdeenshire granite
The Old Red Sandstone
The Durness limestone sequences and Bathgate’s forest Carboniferous
The Tertiary radiating basalt dykes from great volcanoes Mull and Raasay
The Sgurr of Eigg and Ailsa Craig
(where seventh century Irish shaman Sweeney roosted)
The Seat of Arthur
(watching over Calton faerie hill
where pending Parliament awaits return of Stone of Destiny)
The Calanais standing stones and Ring of Brora
The high crosses of Iona pulsing Ireland Ireland Southern Hebridean Ireland
The twin menhirs of Muirkirk
(resanctifying desecrated opencast fields ploughed of coal)
The cairns to poets and to the brave land raiders
The idle pebbles tossed
with cosmogenic tanka’s spiral winkle shell
tossed to and fro, round and round, inwards outwards
dark moon full moon vortexing on today’s high tide at noon
Ohhh … the rocks the rocks the rocks
we call on you …
Rise up from sleep sunk strata beds!
Giant women, wizened men, totemic creatures once laid down to be our hills
Wake up! Wake up! Wake up and waulk this Earth in us!
… bring back the land within the people’s care
… bring back the care to touch from hand to land

(III) Re-membering

Aye …
and so we have united as strong women
resisting landlord’s factor
non-lethal direct action Crofters’ War, Timex strike
We have united, men of gentleness
straining back temptation just to be like them
and bomb and bribe and blight
Turning instead the heartwood of their minds
by climbing threatened tree
or gently blocking course of Trident submarine
(seven-hundred two-score-ten Hiroshimas each one)
Aye … Aye and three times Aye
three times “yes” of Holy Trinity … Father, Child,
Sophia WomanSpirit Holy Spirit Rising
Three times Aye the Triune Goddess
Maiden Mother Crone
Life Death Rebirth
Her mantle oh so green laid out each spring
to fill the world with milk and flowers
… Bri’gh! … Bri’gh! … Bri’gh! …
of the oak Cill-Dara, of Iona and of Bethlehem
And three-times-three – Aye
ring out nine blossom bells afresh from silver bardic bough
Restore once more a Politics of Poetry!
… for only such poetics can again renew the face of Earth
inform our ancient people’s highest aspiration
and like a rowan arch exclude
a waiting nation’s re-awaiting parcelled rogues
We must restore the schools and ways of ancient learning
to stand them proud beside the richness of the new
restore what Lord and Bishop wrecked – cruel Statutes of Iona 1609
… twelve most powerful Highland chiefs
… kidnapped … imprisoned over winter …
forced to forfeit friendship, tongue, and bard’s vocation
forced to put out culture’s flames
(but done with sacred blessing’s triple peat
the embers only smoored so not to chill)
Aye Statues of an Iona cudgelled into modern time by Whitby’s Roman synod
Aye post-Culloden Proscription even of our ancient spirit’ual dress
Aye … we now bypass you 664, 1609, 1747
We rise now up on eagle wings
above that colonisation of our lands and minds
… as fire in head reheats the sacred salmon’s sap
we watch it run … a babbling silver stream
anointing wisdom’s ninth Proverbial dwelling place the heart
We hear with inner ear ancestral chorus, look, and See,
And Are Again Of Shining Countenance!
We are the Tuatha de Danann
emerged by standing stone from Sithean, faerie hill
emerged to Be again Free again the mother Goddess Danann’s people
…. Holy … Holy … Holy …
No exiled “metaphor for the imagination” any more
the tree ringed mushroom fringed hollow knowe of light
No fortress mound to house true nature’s child
unfree in wider desecrated world to be true nature wild … but Reality!
… And see! See yon distant mythic Fiann …
that once sunk down amangst the stanes became a stane
Awakening now! In us with strength to hurl from shores or catch from air
not mountain boulder there left cleft upon the beach
from some old tribal war of legendary adolescent pique
but phantom intercontinental jet ballistic missile star war supergun exports
to catch them Halt! them take them from the sky
and beat them into railway tracks
and homesteads for the poor

(IV) Re-visioning

We are become again a people
known or unknown touched
by rose of Scotland little white rose
that smells so sharp and sweet it breaks the heart
by eagle, deer, wild cat and long-gone bear
here in spirit where extinct in flesh
Strong totems for recovery – we need strong totems at this time
Remember … that three years before
Culloden massacred gasp from clansfolk’s tribal voice
the last wolf was shot extinct in Scotland
Nature’s death precursing culture’s “thickest night”
Culloden – last battle mainland British soil 1746
internal colonial conquest
blood mingling inseparably soaked through moss Drumossie moor
friend and foe and which is “us” and which is “them” now?
Where the “Gaeltachd” wither “Galltachd”
Unavoidably mingled
for a’ that and a’ that
sacrificing, sanctifying, down to an ice-age cleans’ed strata
that is both cultural and in depth, archaeological
long stinking but now compost-rendered for new growth
Something poised
… both psychic and somatic
… genetic and prophetic
Remnant sprig from taproot of antiquity
awaiting spring to bud re-formed
and Blossom as is needed in our agitated times
… a cultural cultivation …
Indeed! Let us observe that
the capacity of nature and of human nature
to be hurt
is exceeded
in the fullness of time
by the capacity to heal …
And that must be joy’s greatest cause for hope

So you … our friends to whom this statement is addressed
You, we know, will understand.
Take you, First Nation Peoples, North America
uneasy unasked hosts to our Diaspora
You, Chippewa protest leader challenging Exon’s mines, Walter Bresette
says … “We are all native people now. The door is shut. We are all inside.”
You, Mi’Kmaq superquarry warrior chief Sulian Stone Eagle Herney
says … “Your mountain, your shorelines your rivers and your air
are just as much mine and my grandchildren’s
as ours is yours.”
You, great teacher huntress Winona La Duke
walking troubled by the Minnesota lakes
who rejects “genocide by arithmetic”
that allows “indigenous” belonging
to be governmentally defined by statutes staturing racial purity
Rejecting thresholds like one-sixteenth blood relationship
to be a Sioux or Cree or Cherokee
for human love will always
mingle, meld, and make of prismed light
a golden melanged mockery of all pretensions
to any presumption
of racial purity
that violates sunlight’s loving magic dance
a dance insisting
as it pleases, teases
Equally to be white light, coloured light
or warm absorbing dark that holds all light

(V) Re-claiming

Aye … aye … aye
Scotland understands a thing or two about belonging
We have a Gaelic proverb:
“The Bonds of Milk are Stronger than the Bonds of Blood”
Nurture, kinship, counts for more than mere blood lineage
And so let us propose
an ancient new criterion for belonging here;
All Are Indigenous, Native To This Place. All
Who Are Willing To Cherish
And Be Cherished
By This Place
And Its Peoples

All are indigenous, native to this place. All
who are willing to cherish
and be cherished
by this place
and its peoples

Those whose souls so resonate
All we, known and unknown to us
are troubled claiming for ourselves
the obvious tribal names of indigeniety.
Few if any are “pure”
Pict, Norse, Flemish, Saxon, Angle,
Indian, Greek, Hispanic, Arab
Scotia’s royal lineage to daughter of Pharaoh.
Even Gaelic tongue of Irish forebears
dappled once a Pictish land
with blood as well as milk
So What Choice Have We
But To Embrace Full Spectrum?
What choice want we
save the pleasures so to do?
And to SHINE ON. Oh yes friend. SHINE ON!

Once Vikings raped and pillaged here
and then too melded
gentle with the healing power of place and time
Became us!
became “Gall-Gaidheil,” the Gal-Gael
“emerged as a mixed ethnic group by the middle of the ninth century”
in the Hebrides and south-west Scotland
giving Gall-oway its name
and Isle of Lewis, Harris – “Innse Gall” – the Isle of Strangers
terrible then, a violated and a violating people
(like us today perhaps?)
but us they were
We’re all Gal-Gael now
and only by facing the shadows of history
can sunlight warm our backs
and melt the frozen crust
of ice congeal’ed blood around the heart.

Today eight-tenths of Scotland’s private land
is owned by less
than one tenth
of one percent
of Scotland’s people
Let’s call a spade a spade:
… too many of us languish lost
in concrete jungles’
dumped there by those who see no treasure in each soul
(for that is what distinguishes
their force for life-extinguishing
in sectioning nature off
these men of property)
We’ve had enough!
We now insist on being heard and standing up and standing out
and coming into Being
speaking as it is our truth to power for what it is
“… fur the wains’ sake … our ane sake …”
So we declare … identity
a claim of right
a name that mingles, honours
many nations in this place
A bioregional identity defending place
nae force of arms
but power o’ reverence
transcending narrow nationalism
so not to bleach out ethnic richness rainbow hues
and not to fight in ways that scar and cannot be undone
but yet to find a focal understanding …
some constellation of belonging …
of folk and place and wonted work

(VI) Affirmation

Well … here we are
Round protest hearth in Glasgow’s Pollok wood
and we again evoke the name
Impure. Bitter-sweet. Riddled with contradiction.
But belonging here, now
here and now
to and fro
rocking … rocking … rocking
Rolling into life and promised life abundant
Cherishing and being cherished
A native peoples
We are indigenous!
We stir our voice in singing back this place!

The song breaks out from deep within
Strathallen’s torrent roars anew
The oak to triumph o’er war’s din
the world is with a friend now

Aye Rabbie Burns – your passion’s won
two hundred years your Vision’s come
The bards like emerald earls returned
no more the people’s soul be spurned

(VII) Homecoming

Dear fellow creatures
native brothers sisters children
in other heartlands of the real, the reel
We ask from you acceptance
of our peoplehood
We ask you weave our native threads
to fabric of one scintillating cloth
that is the mantle of the world
We pledge to you support
for all work sourced in love
recovering right relation’ship your territories
And ask from you forgiveness
for past injustice, ignorance and spoils of fear or greed
We need your help with Spirit’s grace
to find clear paths through tangled modern Waste Land tares
to seed as oaks as Gods each one proclaiming Jubilee
To fly in fair formation as wild geese …
To hear afresh that deep poetic story
of magic set in time when place began …
To make a life worth living …
To save this Earth …
… And play from down the hollow hill
A hallowed music
Sacred dance
That is our soul …
… our soil

Yours, for auld lang sine
Beltane Full Moon Wolf Festival
Pollok Free State, Scotland, 3 May 1996
(narrated by Alastair McIntosh)