Celebrating 50 Years of Tocher

For this article in the ACSIB blog, we’re celebrating 50 years of Tocher. 

This publication, Tocher, is associated with the School of Scottish Studies (SSS) and the School of Scottish Studies Archives (SSSA) at the University of Edinburgh. Both institutions are celebrating their 70th anniversary this year.

The School and the Archives were set up in 1951 with the aim to collect, preserve and research sources, evidence and materials relating to traditional practices across Scotland. Scottish Studies has since been merged with the Celtic department at Edinburgh.

Since 2001, the Archives have sat under the umbrella of the CRC (the Centre for Research Collections) based at the University. For this reason the wonderful Rachel Hosker (deputy head at the CRC) is working alongside the Celtic & Scottish Studies department in order to celebrate these 70th and 50th anniversaries respectively. 

Staff and students have, over the decades, collected for the sound archive which now holds over 33,000 recordings. There is a photograph archive, a manuscript archive, a film & video and a traditional narrative collection. The first floor at 29 George Square is taken up by a library. This means that staff, students and researchers can easily study and access sources that are far more specialised, relevant and applicable to their work, than the shelves and shelves in the main library of the University.

Some collections that have been focused on in the past now have some online access, meaning that some material is available during COVID restrictions (or if you’re far away from Edinburgh). For example, you can check out information surrounding the Scottish Tradition Series (a CD collection) as PDFS and booklets are available; Peter Cooke’s study of fiddle music from Shetland (Cooke’s PHD thesis from 1986) or the searchable catalogue of Calum Maclean’s notes from his recordings/fieldwork (over 13,000 manuscript pages – registration required).

Tocher was first published by SSSA in 1971. The journal is a way of celebrating songs, stories, customs, specific tradition bearers, beliefs or local knowledge across Scotland.  It is supported by volunteers, either through their time transcribing or financial contributions toward publishing costs.

Most importantly, Tocher was a way for the community to interact with transcriptions of the recordings away from the Archives. Not everyone always has the time (or the COVID-free world) to sit and listen to these recordings on-site. As Tocher was established decades before the invention of the internet, you can imagine how important these publications were for showcasing what lay within the Archives. It also allowed non-Gaelic speakers to interact with more material in translation and may have featured sources a reader hadn’t come across before. It provided representation of a number of Scots dialects which have now died out, featured images alongside many of its pieces and would supply interviews/information about the tradition bearers to accompany their traditional practices. 

Examples from Volumes
For this blog post, we thought it would be useful to look into a few examples from Tocher editions and, where applicable, these have been matched to recordings available on the Tobar an Dualchais website – that way you’re able to listen to some of what you read about. Once on Tobar an Dualchais you can also search for the names of interviewers/interviewees mentioned or search a SA number from the Scottish Archives.

Volume 2 - ‘Cutters and Gaugers’

This edition featured four tales and a song about smuggling and illicit distilling - one from Tiree, two from Mull and one from Harris. For example, in 1968, Eric Creegeen recorded Donald Sinclair discussing a neighbour of his who was (illicitly) distilling in Tiree. The transcription is below:

            This old neighbour of mine, he had a small pot of his own and the pot was leaking, and here comes this day an exciseman, and he would pay any man that would show him where a still pot was and this man says to him, "Well, I could show it to you, but I'm afraid - I don't like to do it. " "Well, " he says, "you show me the pot and I'll smash the pot and I don't ask who the pot belonged to." "So, " he says, "I went with him and I showed him my own pot that was leaking and he told me to smash the pot and so I did, and he gave me £5 for my work. That got me a new pot and a few pounds in my pocket. " That's the way he had him deceived and he was none the wiser.

[SA1968/247 B5]

Volume 2 also featured Donald Alasdair Johnson, a tradition bearer who has 261 contributions on the Tobar and Dualchais website. He was a Gaelic storyteller from South Uist. You can check out his recordings here.

Volume 52 – Dedication

This edition was dedicated to the memory of Alan Bruford, a lecturer and fieldworker for SSS. There is an annual memorial lecture for Bruford held at the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh.

Tocher 52 gave a selection of his recordings which showcased the variety of what he collected. For example, interviews ranged from listening to how to butcher a pig in Berwickshire to hearing songs on South Uist. Below is an extract from the aforementioned song:

Extract: Air Taobh Loch Seile

'S air là dùlth is tlàth's mi an sgàth na Coille
'S mi a' sealltainn gach àit suas air à thaobh Loch Seile,
Còisir chòlmhor nan craob's iad cho aobhail 's na meangain
Is a' ghrian thar nan sgùrr togail smùid as an talamh.

'S tha na bruthaichean cian deiseil feurach gu 'm mullach
Tha gach lagan is cùil torach fliùranach lurach,
'S tha na craobhan sa choill 's iad a' boillsgeadh gu cladach,
Agus cuid dhiu le loinn ag ath-shoillseadh sa Chamas

Extract: On Both Sides of Loch Shiel (Translated by Morag McLeod)

On a close, soft day when I was in the shade of the forest,
And as I looked at each place on both sides of Loch Shiel,
The melodious choir in the trees, so merry amongst the branches,
And the sun over the peaks raising steam from the ground.

And the slopes have always been well grassed to their tops,
Every hollow and corner lush, flowery and lovely,
And the trees in the wood swelling down shorewards,
Some of them splendidly reflected in the Camas.

[SA1967/9 A7]

Volume 31 – Traditional Tales

Within this volume Stanley Robertson (SR) discusses his method/process when telling traditional tales. This extract was recorded shortly after Stanley told one of his more well-known stories, ‘Tam of Pitsligo’:

            SR: I never tell the same story the same wey twice: the next time A tell a story A'll change the man's name an aa that. A usually keep the basics o the story. I canna tell the same story the same wey twice, an it's probably this is the art of storytellin, because if ye tell the same story the same wey twice it gets aafae borin tae the teller ...... A'll change names an change - A never change places. If a place is supposed to be connected wi the story, like 'at story's supposed to come fae Pitsligie, I jist keeps in the toon (?) - or "The Angel o Death" comes fae, ye ken, Ballater - A aye keeps in 'at particular part (?) because it sort o characterises the story. But ...... A niver dae drastic changes, I jist hiv a sort o stylistic changes. A'll often change the folk's names, unless it's somebody specific 'at A'm tellin - if it's a travellin story A'll hand it doon the wey it wis telt ...... If A feel it's too heavy, A mak it humourful ......

            Fieldworker: But tell me you gave a very detailed description of how the Deil was looking when he came in to see the man, with his eyebrows meeting in the middle an a' that is that your own invention more or less?" ......

            SR: No 'at's by ma grandfather. Fan ma grandfather telt the story he wis very, very descriptive. And so that's one trick I hiv learnt fae him ...... See, fan I tell a story, I really visual- ...... I see the character right in front o me aa the time, an fan I tell a story I jist hiv like fillum stars, to me it's like a fillum being acted an I see this things happenin ......

[SA 1978/12]

Similar to Donald Alasdair Johnson, who was mentioned above, Stanley contributed many recordings to the Archives (multiple publications also sit in the SSSA library). You can listen to his tales and songs, of which there are 365 extracts, on Tobar and Dualchais. Just head here. Stanley is also featured heavily in volume 40 of Tocher

Anniversary Celebrations

Those involved with the Celtic and Scottish Studies department at Edinburgh are no strangers to celebrating the Archives and people associated with them.

For example, in 2019 the community got involved with #Hamish100. These events celebrated the centenary of Hamish Henderson’s birth. Henderson, a lecturer, research fellow and fieldworker who was involved heavily in the Scottish Folk Revival, was instrumental in the setting up of the Scottish Studies School and Archives. The recognition and reflections on his extraordinary life involved the unveiling of a plaque in his honour at the door of the Archives and a night of tales, song and craic at the Queen’s Hall. Since then, like everyone right now, the surrounding community have gone virtual with their get-togethers and important dates. In August of 2020, the artist in residence at SSSA (Mike Vass) curated the ‘Archives in Light’ festival. All day and all night there were film screenings, talks, traditional music, storytelling and dance streamed straight into our living rooms.

Stay tuned for many more anniversary events, you can read the new ‘SSSA in 70 Objects’ blog here.

Further access to Tocher?

If you’d like to view more about Tocher then head here. You can search by volume or by content type. The website may be somewhat of a major predecessor to Tobar An Dualchais but it does the trick, especially when physical access to the Archives is restricted.

If you’d like to listen to more then why not head to the Tobar An Dualchais lucky dip – with over 50,000 recordings available online - who knows what you might find.

Lily Mellon

 Appendix: Further Examples

Volume 45 – Student Projects

This edition featured the work of both undergraduates and postgraduates associated with the School and Archives. Here is the transcription of Michael Walsh (MW) recording Cathal McConnell (CM). This was for Walsh’s dissertation which focused on Cathal’s songs about emigration.

CM: There's lots of emigration songs in Ireland. You know...fare thee well to wherever. "Farewell to Lissycasey" I think was one and "The Shores of Lough Bran" and all these songs. "The Rambling Irishman" and lots of songs where people are leaving and of course there's great pathos and there's great sadness in these songs. 'Cause in those days they didn't have Pan-Am or any of these aeroplanes or modern technology to leave from A to B to C and it was very dangerous leaving. I mean there was a very good chance they mightn't arrive far side. Especially in the early songs anyway there was. It was a risky business going away.... Even if they reached safely over to the far side, and generally in most cases it's America we're talking about, they knew it would be a very long time till they came back again.... There's various reasons, of course, of emigration. There was emigration because you wanted to better your situation.... Some of the other reasons that people left, well when the famine came along, of course that was a very extreme time 'cause people were starving by millions, by thousands anyway.... And apparently in those days when people were trying to get out from Ireland they called the ships they travelled on 'Coffin Ships' because there was so many people died of fever and they were so weakened from hunger and all that. There was a lot of them didn't arrive the far side.

MW: Have you any particularly local songs.... Songs that would mention places around there like Roslea or Enniskillen or anywhere like that?

CM: There's a song called "Roslea". It's a guy goes off, ... leaves his true love and he goes over to Scotland. It come from a woman called Mrs. Mclntee who is a singer from Three Mile House, near Clones in County Monaghan. And of course Monaghan is close to Fermanagh as you know.

One night as I lay sleeping on my silent bed alone,
Some rakish thoughts came to my mind which caused me for to roam,
To leave my native country and the girl that I adore:
Sure I thought fit to take a trip strange places to explore.

At the leaving of the town, brave boys, and crossing the barrack hill,
It was there I met my own true love and her eyes with tears did fill.
I embraced her in my arms and I give her kisses nine,
Saying "If ever I return again, fair maid, sure you'll be mine."

"Oh it's John, dear John, it's darling John, what makes you go away?
Pray stay at home and do not roam from the green hills of Roslea.
My wages I will freely give when term time is o'er,
If you'll agree to stay with me and leave your home no more.

"Oh it's Mary, my love Mary, my ship lies in Belfast,
Tomorrow morning I will sail and you and I will part,
Tomorrow morning I will sail, although now not inclined."
So straight away John sailed that day and left his love behind.

When John arrived in Glasgow the strangers gathered round,
Saying: "You may go home Roslea, brave boy, for the harvest is cut down,"
Saying: "You may go home Roslea, brave boy, for the harvest it is o'er,"
So straight away John sailed next day back to Lough Erne's shore.

When Mary heard her John was home her heart did jump with joy,
Saying: "You're welcome to my arms, my own dear darling boy,"
Saying: "You're welcome to my arms, for you I have loved long,
And let them all say what they will, our courtship will go on."

Where trout and salmon float about around Lough Erne's way,
There John led Mary by the hand to the chapel in Roslea.
The lark and linnet tuned their notes, they sang them o'er and o'er,
As John got wed to Mary and left his home no more.


Volume 36 – New Year Custom

For the final extract featured here, we’ve chosen an explanation of Galoshins, a Scottish play and New Year custom which fell out of practice due to the second world war. 

In 1979, Emily Lyle recorded Andrew Rennie about the traditional drama. Although this is from volume 36, the work of Emily Lyle was also featured heavily in volume 59 of Tocher.

Andrew Rennie was the last of a line of blacksmiths of the name of Rennie who worked in the old smithy in the village of Kippen, and he was well known locally for his lively reminiscences of the village as it was in the early years of this century. 

Mr. Rennie was 92 (at the time of recording) and his memory of "Galoshins" went back to about 1900. The play was done by groups of schoolboys aged about 9-13 who went round the houses in the village and its vicinity in the evenings between Christmas and New Year, excepting Sunday. The boys blackened their faces with soot and wore their jackets and bonnets inside out, the two combatants having swords made of lath from the plasterer's yard stuck in their belts. Only the doctor had a special dress, a black coat and hat, and he carried a bottle of water with him in one of his pockets. The play was sometimes performed by four only (without Keekem Funny, and, if this character was included, the part was taken by a boy who was younger than the others. He seems to have been regarded as an extra.)
Mr. Rennie said that the boys went round in order to collect the money and small gifts such as apples and oranges that they were given, and also "for the fun of the thing". He himself took the part of Keep Silence who was "the boss" and was the one who knocked at the door and entered first.

In 1981, Mr. Rennie taught the play to five boys from Kippen Primary School (Craig MacDonnell, Cameron Sharp Thomas Cassidy, Tommy Smith, and Alan Edmiston) and a video recording called "Keep Silence and Company: The Kippen Galoshins" was made at Stirling University showing the boys' performance. Andrew Rennie was interviewed by Tracey Heaton, a Folklife Studies student who had made a special study of Mr. Rennie's blacksmithing […] The boys went on to give two performances at Kippen Cross during a "Street Fayre" in May 1981.

[SA 1979/150]

Searching for Galoshins on Tobar an Dualchais gives 22 results, many of these contributions feature Andrew Rennie with a variety of fieldworkers. You can view Rennie’s 34 contributions here.

Photo taken from the SSAA Twiter.

Photo taken from the SSAA Twitter.

Trio of photos taken from here.


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