The MacMhuirich Bardic Family
There were many bardic families in Scotland and Ireland. Without question, the greatest of them all was the Learned Kindred of court poets known as the MacMhuirichs.
MacMhuirich (pronounced MacVurich) bards served at the very highest levels of Irish and Scottish nobility for 700 years– most notably as arch poets to the all-powerful Lord of the Isles, as well as to the MacDonalds of Clanranald.
It was in the service of the MacDonalds, that successive generations of MacMhuirich bards produced one of Gaelic Scotland’s greatest literary treasures, The Red Book of Clanranald. This monumental work, which celebrates in verse the ancestral deeds of the Clan Donald from prehistoric times through the 17th century, is a literal masterpiece– legendary in every sense of the word.
The founding father of this great Bardic dynasty was Muiredach O’Daly– an outstanding Gaelic poet, who had studied for many years at Ireland’s world-renowned colleges.
By the 12th century, the O’Daly line was well-established as bards. Their lineage, however, can be traced much further back– through the Royal Race of Ireland– to Conn of the Hundred Battles, 110th High King of Ireland in 177 AD.
Muiredach began his Bardic service not in Scotland, but in Ireland. How he wound up in Scotland is a legend in itself.
According to the 17th century Annals of the Four Masters, it seems he was forced to flee Ireland after splitting someone’s head in two with a battleaxe. That someone was Steward to the Chief of the powerful O’Donnell clan. And why had Muiredach sub-divided the steward’s head? The steward had had the effrontery to ask Muiredach for rent.
Shocked that this “trifling” incident should cause such a stir, Muiredach wrote:
Trifling was our quarrel with the man,
A clown to be abusing me,
And me to kill the churl,
Dear God, is this the cause for enmity?
This story shows how truly high-born this family was to have such a sense of entitlement. The MacMhuirichs descended from royalty, and were regarded not only as great bardic poets, but literary princes. When it came to the study (and composing) of heroic literature, and the genealogy of the ancient Gaelic world, the MacMhuirichs were “it”.
The feudal system in Scotland and Ireland that supported the Gaelic bards (or fili) effectively ended in the 18th century.
During this period, many old Highland names became Anglicized– sometimes replaced by an English name whose sound faintly resembled that of the Gaelic original. The name MacMhuirich began to appear in many forms including MacMureach, MacVurich and MacCurry. In the Uists and Benbecula, many of the MacMhuirich clan saw their names changed to MacPherson, MacMillan and even Murray.
Eventually the majority of MacMhuirichs–one of the oldest families of the Scottish Highlands – took on the name Currie and other related spellings such as Curry, Currier, and MacCurry.
Today, the Currie Learned Kindred continues to play an active role in preserving and promoting their Highland heritage. While not bards in the ancient sense, the Clan Currie Society has assumed the mantle, producing programs, events, exhibitions and documentaries which honor Scotland’s rich culture and ancestry.
In 1636, Cathal MacMhuirich wrote the poem, The Song of Cathal for the MacDonald Chiefs. Written to mark the deaths of four MacDonald lords, it is at its heart a lament over the passing of all the ancient clan ways– including that race of noble poets who were the Gaelic bards.
The heroes of the Race of Conn are dead
how bitter to our hearts is the grief for them!
We shall not live long after them,
Perilous we think it to be bereaved of the brotherhood.
Because the men of Clanranald have gone from us,
we poets cannot pursue our studies.
It is time for the chief bard to depart after them,
now that presents to poets will be abolished.
The name MacMhuirich belongs to an age long-since past. But many of today’s Curries are in every sense of the word, their true heirs and descendants.
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