Jenna Cumming

A new series of Cuimhneachan / Remembrance returns to BBC ALBA and presents another selection of Gaelic songs and poetry inspired by the First World War.

Throughout the four-part series, songs will be sung by popular Gaelic artists including Jenna Cumming, James Graham, Murdigan MacDonald and Ewen Henderson, with musical support from accomplished musicians Ingrid Henderson, Hamish Napier and Anna Massie.

The first episode looks at songs composed about the Highland and Island lads or 'heroes' who fought in the war.

Included in this episode will be the The Gaels Around the British Flag by John MacLennan, who was born in Inverasdale, Wester Ross, but spent most of his life near Brisbane, Australia. From there he composed his song to urge Gaels from all parts of the Highlands to rise up against the German forces. Also featured will be The Fine Lads Have Gone by Donald Macdonald from Corunna, North Uist, which gives a vivid description of the ferocity of battle.

Separation is the theme of the second programme and the many forms of parting that resulted from the war. Death is the ultimate separation and in the song In Memory of Murdo MacLennan, Catherine MacLeod's grief at the death of her fiancé, Murdo MacLennan, from Stornoway, at the Battle of Loos, is poignantly expressed. The separation of Hugh MacKinnon from Eigg from his childhood friends who died in the Great War is the subject of I am Today Sad and Mournful. Looking around Eigg he sees reminders everywhere of the times they spent together in their youth.

The war at sea is the subject of the third programme and amongst the songs featured is Song of the Navy by Murdo Macleod which touches on the difficult conditions encountered by sailors at sea. Angus MacKenzie from North Uist was a gunner on one of the fishing boats which were tasked with clearing German mines at sea during the war. It was a life of constant danger and in O How Melancholy I Am, Angus addresses this whilst also expressing his longing for his native North Uist.

Gormelia MacIver was from Borve, on the west side of Lewis, and in the song Lament she expresses her grief at the loss of her husband, John MacIver who lost his life when the ship he was serving on, HMS Main, was sunk by a German U-boat in 1917.

How the world of the Gael changed in the years following WW1 is the theme of the concluding programme of this poignant series, which will also examine how writers have responded to the war 100 years on. In Song for the Pupils of Carinish School-2014, the writer Norman Maclean uses a tragic incident from his family history to question whether it is ever worth going to war. And we also look at a photograph of John McDiarmid’s great grandfather, also called John McDiarmid, which provided him with the inspiration to write the emotional poem Hands Like Shovels.

Produced by BBC Gàidhlig for BBC ALBA, Cuimhneachan/Remembrance starts on the channel on Thursday 15 June at 8.30pm and consecutive Thursdays thereafter.