The word 'port' appears with reference to harp music in Leabhar an Deathain, the Book of the
Dean of Lismore which dates from the early 1500s. Port Priest may have been composed for the
11th Earl of Lennox and cleric, Robert Stewart, who lived c.1516-1586. The ports are much
associated with the aristocracy of Lennox, Atholl, Mar and Huntly. These areas were all
Gaelic-speaking at this time. Ruaidhri Dall Ó Catháin has been credited with composing a great
number of ports, including this one. His dates are uncertain but he is contemporaneous with the
Scott brothers (and also Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh with whom the song Eibhlín, a Rúin is identified). He
may have visited Holyrood while James VI was still there (before 1603) and may have died
sometime after a visit to Lude about 1650.
I have identified three sources for this tune, the earliest being Port Preist in Farquhar Graham's
partial transcription of the Straloch MS from around 1627-29, Port Robart in the Wemyss Lute Book
dated to 1644 and Fuadh na mfilairan (fuath nam fìdhleirean: the fiddlers' flyting) in Daniel Dow's
Collection of Ancient Scots Music, published in 1776. Although Dow's collection is full of harp music,
the accompanying basses are not closely related to those of the earlier lute MSS or those given by
Bunting and are disregarded here. If the dating of Ruaidhri Dall's life is correct, then the earliest
surviving versions of Port Priest that we have were notated within his lifetime; a rare phenomenon in
the history of Gaelic harper composers.
I have focused on the partial transcription of the Straloch MS as the earliest and most clearly
notated source of the tune. It is held in the National Library of Scotland.