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WAS THE SKYLARK MARY'S BIRD?

Posted: 06.05.20 in Articles category

Have you heard the Gaelic tale about the skylark's association with the mother of Jesus? In his book 'Hebridean Altars' published in 1937 the Church of Scotland minister Alistair Maclean wrote that the skylark "goes by the name of Mary's bird, and is, therefore, sacred." He claimed that local boys did not dare to steal skylark eggs from nests as they would be cursed "with as many curses as there are spots upon the lark's tongue, and every curse shortens the robber's life by a day". According to the Gaelic tale, the association dates back to the Cross when Mary heard a skylark singing and perceived it as a sign of her son's immortality. The following words, Maclean wrote, are a verse of that skylark's song:

Nor wound nor spear can ever slay

My deathless King.

Since every wound's an open door

Thy spirit's wing

Scarce brushes in its upward soar

To where God waits

To greet the Son,

The red field won-

Well won and more.

I have been unable to corroborate Maclean's claims, but I note the skylark was called Mary's bird in the 19C as Alexander Carmichael made the same connection in 'Carmina Gadelica' - his anthology of Gaelic poems and prayers. In a section about omens and divination Carmichael claimed that the sight of a skylark (the fosgag Mhoire) was viewed as a good luck sign, but he didn't go on to explain why.

 

Maybe that link with the sacred relates to the skylark's capacity to fly so high while it continues to sing. Others have waxed lyrical about a bird which seems to rise up to heaven in song. One such was the Scottish shepherd poet James Hogg who described the skylark like "a little musical star on the breast of heaven". Here is a verse from 'The Lark', Hogg's most famous poem, written in 1816 for a musical collection:

Wild is thy lay and loud,

Far in the downy cloud;

Love gives it energy, love gave it birth,

Where, on thy dewy wing,

Where art thou journeying?

Thy lay is in heaven, thy love is on earth.

 
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