X:1 T:Gille Callum M:C| L:1/8 R:Strathspey S:McGlashan - Reels (c. 1786) Z:AK/Fiddler's Companion N:"The Original Sett" (sic) K:Amix A<A c>e d2 BG|A<A c>e d2 c>A|E<E G>B d2 B>G|A<A c>e dB e2|A<A c>e d2 B>G| A<A ce d2 c>A|BEBe d2 B>G|A<A c>e B/c/d e2||A<A c>A g2 B>G|A<A c>A a2 ae| G2 g2 d2 B>G|A<A c>A dB e2|A<A c>A g2 B>G|A<A c>A a2 ae|g2 a/g/f/e/ d2 B>G| A<A c>A B/c/d e2||A<A c>A AgBG|A<A c>A AacA|aefd egBG|A<A c>e B/c/d e2| A<A c>A AgBG|A<A c>A AacA|gbeg dgBG|A<A c>E B/c/d e2|| |:A<A c>A G/G/G BG|A<A c>A A/A/A c>A|c>ABA G/G/G B>G|A<A c>A B/c/d e2:| |:A<A c>e dgBG|A<A c>e AacA|a/g/f/e/ fd gdBG|A<A c>e B/c/d e2:| |:A2 cA BGBG|A2 cA cAcA|cAcA BGBG|A<A c>A B/c/d e2:| |:A<A c>e AgBG|A<A c>e AacA|gaeg dgBb|gaeg dg e2:||
Scottish tradition has it that it was first danced by a king of the Scots, Malcolm Canmore (O'Neill says the name is an English version of the Gaelic Callum a chinn mhoir, which "signifies as 'Callum of the big head'), in celebration of his victory at the Battle of Dunsinane in the year 1054. This story goes that Malcolm slew an opponent, then in triumph placed his enemy's sword on the ground, crossing it with his own, and danced between them in triumph (Martin, 2002). Another tradition says that it is a dance of prophesy, for to touch the swords during the dance bodes ill with respect to the coming battle. O'Neill (1922) maintains that Callum "incurred the displeasure of the highlanders by marrying a Saxon princess which involved many unpopular changes. Gillie Callum, or Callum's tax-gatherer (an odious official everywhere) has been immortalized in melody, while the traditional story is well nigh forgotten." Highland piper William Gunn, in his Caledonian Repository of Music (1848) preserves the reference to "Malcolm Kenmore's Tax gatherer." However, the Gillie Callum is an old dance and there is significant lore attached to it, much of which needs to be parsed for veracity, or remain speculative.
There are several port-a-beul (mouth music) words to the tune, one of which begins:
Gille Callum da pheighinn, ..... (Gille Callum two pennies,
Gille Callum da pheighinn, ..... Gille Callum two pennies,
Da pheighinn, da pheighinn,..... Two pennies, two pennies,
Gille Callum bonn-a-sia! ........ Gille Callum 'coin of six'.)
This passage from R.C. MacLadan (1901) gives some context to the port-a-buel renditions:
Mention has been made of a 'port'. This is the substitute in case of the absence of pipes, fiddle or jew's harp--the so-called trump. These ports are single verses, generally fitted to a specific tune suitable for the dance proposed, and are sung by one of the girls present who have the necessary talent, or by one or more in succession according to their capabilities. If the young men have to be the musicians, they generally fulfil that duty by whistling. One of the most marked of these ports is the tune of the Sword Dance, 'Gille Callum'.
The Gille Calum dance was performed not only by men, but (at least on some occasions) by women. Elizabeth Grant of Rothiemurchus wrote of the festivities at Kinrara, the home of the Duchess of Gordon, Jane Maxwell:
We are often over at Kinrara, the Duchess having perpetual dances, either in the drawing room or the servants hall and my father returning these entertainments in the same style. A few candles lighted up bare walls, at short warnings fiddles and whisky punch were always at hand and then gentles and simples reeled away in company till the ladies thought the scene becoming more boisterous that they liked remaining in; nothing more however, a highlander never forgets his place, never loses his native inborn politeness, never presumes upon on favour.
She follows this passage with a description of the beautiful dancing of Lady Jane Montague, who not only danced the Gille Calum but Sean Triudhas/Sean Trews (1) as well.
- Aberdeen Free Press
- R.C. MacLagan, Games and Diversions of Argyleshire, 1901, pp. 105-108.