The Stornoway Mod is all over and done with. All the choirs are away back home. The hopes and dreams of hundreds of competitors are on hold for another year. Meanwhile, Conductors and Choirmasters will be hard at work preparing for next year’s competition and digging out the musical manuscripts to look for suitable songs to learn, whilst the Mod organisers will be looking for ever more fiendishly difficult songs to prescribe (like ones originally sung in Flannan Isles Gaelic which nobody now remembers).
But it wasn’t all that long ago that Gaelic Choirs would look to the stars for advice and guidance before choosing a particular song or arrangement.
It’s a well known fact that the Callanish Stones were originally built by An Comunn Gaidhealach to help predict the outcomes of the Lovat & Tullibardine at Mod nan Eilean 3516BC. Fleeking mainland choirs had just had a huge run of wins and the prehistoric equivalent of the local Gaelic Mafia weren’t happy with that state of affairs. So they turned to the local Druids for help and commissioned a state of the art observatory consisting of the best quality Uig ollacks carefully lined up with the local constellations.
The entrails of the worst soprano in a choir would be cast upon the altar stone and the stars would speak to the Druids, telling them who was likely to win, what songs were going to find favour and what hotels would offer the best rate (including breakfast). This way of predicting the future was also very handy for the various lucrative Betting Syndicates that sprung up around about the Mod.
It was only in the early 1960’s when human sacrifices became frowned upon that the Gazette came up with the idea of including a weekly ‘HeeHoro-Scope’ column. The ‘12 Signs of the Seo-diac’ all related to prominent constellations commonly found in Hebridean skies. By chance they had a passing resemblance to the other ‘Signs of the Zodiac’ but were of course much better.
A Choir, yus: The sign of An Comunn Gaidhealach
Pie-Seas: The sign of the Fisherman making a huge fish pie from Minch herring for his tea
Airidhs: The sign of the ram out on the summer grazing
Todhar-Us: The sign of the Manure Spreader
Gemini: The sign of the tanning bed
Can Seo: The sign of the Gaelic Learner
Leo-dhas: The sign of the King of the Lewis Chessmen
Vir-Gobha: The sign of Steallag’s anvil
Leac a’ Lìbra: The sign of the Harris Tweed brassiere
Sgorpio: The sign of the Maw
Sagittairsgeir: The sign of the peatcutter – A man with a peat iron waving his hands while being attacked by midgies
Capricomhairle: The sign of the local Council
Over the years, a number of columnists took turns at writing the HeeHoro-Scopes, including ‘Mission-house Meg’ and Russell Grantsquare (who broke away to form his own Gazette column called HeeHoro-Scope Continuing).
However, in the Middle Ages the darker side of HeeHoro-Scopes was brought to the fore by the seer Nesstradamnus and his infamous book ‘Prof-he-sees’ (co-written by D***** F**t). In its pages, Nesstradamnus supposedly predicted the winners of all the Mods from 1540 to 1878 with varying degrees of accuracy depending on one’s gullibility levels.
His quatrains were often confusing and open to all sorts of interpretation as folk tried to ponder their meaning, not helped by the fact that they were all written in Gaelic Latin. A typical example follows;
‘When the Mod to Stornoway comes
In the year of a wet summer
A choir from the mainland
Might win a competition. Maybe’
Nesstradamnus was said to have been a great uncle of Coinneach Odhar, the Brahan Seer. Coinneach was very modren for his time, however, and scoffed at “all thon superstitious Astrology ruppish”, relying instead on his state-of-the-art oileag with a hole through it. And much good did it do him.
How the Hebridean Constellations Came About.
A Choir, yus: The sign of An Comunn Gaidhealach
The story behind this Constellation is that Lochs Choir were heading off to Dunoon in 1628 but got stormbound in Tiree. They had never won a competition and were always pipped to the post by other less talented choirs. This particular year they had learned a song called “Airidhbhruach” and were sure it would see them becoming the stars of the Mod. In order not to miss the competition they tried to build a bridge across to the mainland using sheet music, but due to a few snifters too many they kept going up the way instead of across the way and ended up in the heavens where the choir members finally became stars.
Pie-seas: The sign of the Fisherman making a huge fish pie from Minch herring for his tea.
A Stornoway fisherman did battle with a huge whale called Maw-by Fleek for many a long year. Finally he managed to harpoon the great seabeast but at the last minute Maw-by thwacked him with his tale, sending the fisherman shooting up into the skies where he became a constellation.
Airidhs: The sign of the ram out on the summer grazing.
It is said that this constellation precisely maps out the location of all the Airidhs on the Pentland Road. Or the location of the Star Inn – no one is quite sure.
Todhar-Us The sign of the Manure Spreader.
A manure spreader was employed on Tee-Dees Farm but one day his Massey Ferguson Chariot went faulty -unfortunately on the same day the Stornoway Town Council were visiting the farm to see the new milk sheds -and so all the dignitaries got sprayed in that day’s crop of manure. Todhar-Us was banished from Lewis forever and went to live in the stars where he became a constellation.
Gemini: The sign of the tanning bed.
According to Gaelic mythology, the ancient Gods of the Mod would meet every year to agree on the location for the Mod. One year they met at a posh Health Spa on Mount Ollacklypmus but had a huge falling out over who got to use the tanning beds. A fight ensued causing much damage to the Spa leaving the Mod Committee having to pay for it. In a rage, Zeboeus, the King of the Mod Gods, threw the tanning bed away up into the skies where it became a constellation.
Can-Seo : The sign of the Gaelic Learner.
Legend has it that in 1678, a German student came to Scotland to learn Gaelic (having seen Runrig on one of their early tours) and ended up on Lewis. He traveled the length and breadth of the island , getting more and more confused by the different village dialects and pronunciations of Gaelic, never being sure which version was correct. He attempted to learn all 350 regional variations but his brain exploded into a hundred pieces and became the stars of the constellation. Can Seo indeed.
Leo-Dhas: The sign of the King of the Lewis Chessmen.
King Leodhas Chestmane was the King of the Lewis Chessmen and ruled over his subjects at Ardroil Beach. A kind and goodly ruler who ascended up to Valhalla on his death, but because he was carrying too many marags and half bottles he only reached as far as the night skies when he became a constellation.
Vir-gobha:The sign of Steallag’s anvil.
In Ancient Times the Mod Gods used to get their chariots and horseshoes mended at Steallag’s smithy. This constellation is said to represent the sparks that flew off the anvil as he thumped a horseshoe into shape.
Leac a Libra: The sign of the Harris Tweed brassiere.
Venusina, the Mod Goddess of Love was given a Harris Tweed bra by Zeboeus as a token of his love. She wore it on a date with him but it was so scratchy it drove her up the wall. She didn’t like to tell Zeboeus that she didn’t like it and so put up with it all evening (dinner in the Clachan, disco in the Galaxy). When she got home she took it off and flung it as far away as possible. A passing wind caught it and carried it up to the heavens where it became a constellation.
Sgorpio: The Sign of the Maw. This constellation symbolises a maw trying to get his sheep across one of the town cattle grids so they can “accidentally” get in and scoff the Matheson Road people’s flowers.
Sagittarasgeir: The sign of the peatcutter.
A cove went out to the peats one day and got bothered by midges. He made a foolish deal with Marsh the Roman god of Peat to let him ignore the midges, but Marsh took his soul in return and sent him up to the skies where he became the constellation constantly being bothered by millions of midges who became meteorites.
Capricomhairle:The sign of the local Council.
A constellation thought to signify the seafaring prowess of the Outer Hebrideans in sailing round the world (either that or going round and round in circles).
The Stornoway Zodiac is not to be confused with more primitive astrological methods used outside the Cattle Grid, such as the Steinish Zephyr or the Calbost Cortina.