9 Dh’Ith na Coin na Maragan

Shannon MacMullin

Activity Summary

Participants will learn a very simple piece of puirt-à-beul in an immersive environment using the Gàidhlig aig Baile methodology. Suitable for various levels, participants engage in everything from learning Gàidhlig, singing, and song-making.


Puirt-à-beul, or mouth tunes, are fun and uplifting. Often composed in an intricate weaving of words, many are lighthearted and include much repetition. Singing puirt-à-beul can be a wonderful grounding tool, a transitional activity, a closing, and a great language lesson. In this session, participants will learn the melody and two turns of a port | tune. Then, they will play with and manipulate the lyrics to create new verses and themes.


Learning Outcomes

Students will:

  • Acquire a Gaelic puirt-à-beul;
  • Compose additional verses to the puirt-à-beul;
  • Recognize language patterning and manipulate words – collectively for intermediate learners, individually for advanced learners;
  • Improve their aural comprehension of Gaelic;
  • Improve their spoken Gaelic;
  • Enhance memory skills;
  • Engage with song and music in an accessible, enjoyable way.


Gaelic Level

This activity is well-suited to learners at various levels:

  • Beginners will learn the words and melody to the tune. They will become familiar with the sounds, phrases and sentence structure of the lyrics. They will also build comprehension and patterning skills.
  • Intermediate learners will learn the words and melody to the tune. They will increase their comprehension and production of Gaelic. They will collectively create new verses to the puirt-à-beul. They will also build comprehension and patterning skills.
  • Advanced learners will compose their own verses to the puirt-à-beul. They will increase their confidence in singing by memory.
  • Native speakers can easily engage in this lesson in a variety of ways:  learning and singing the puirt-à-beul, sharing memories of the singers and musicians in the area, or sharing a variation of the tune or dialect.


Preparation for Lesson

  1. Source lyrics and music for the tune you want to teach.
  2. Gather props or photos to help illustrate the words of the puirt-à-beul, and support the language lesson. If props are not available, pictures can be drawn or sourced on Google Images. For example:
    • doll family– to indicate agam, agad, aige, aice, aca, etc.
    • dice – to play MadLib
    • calendar – to support conversation & illustrate tenses.
  3. Provide the audio recording of the puirt-à-beul in advance, when possible.
    • Instruct students to listen to the recording many times before the session. Let them know that there’s no need to decode the meaning, or learn the words; they should simply listen to the song all the way through several times.


Resources Required

Required resources:

  • GaB methodology experience and training;
  • Digital recording(s) of the tune sung and on fiddle;
  • Recording devices for students who wish to record the lesson;
  • Flip chart paper, easel, markers;
  • Digital copy of lyrics for screen sharing and printing;
  • MadLib template.

Optional resources:

  • TV and HDMI cable to screen-share photos and audio;
  • Invite participants to bring musical instruments;
  • Email addresses to share resources with participants after the session.
  • Digital copy of sheet music for screen sharing and printing.
  • While the sheet music is included, I would encourage the instructor and participants to engage in learning by ear initially. Using recordings, modeling, and singing together, participants will easily pick up the tune by the end of the session.

Lesson Structure (2-2.5 hrs)

Time Activity Resources
5-20 mins


Provide GAB orientation to class as required. Fàilte — offer a huge, warm welcome to all present. Introduce any native speakers present. If desired, have participants introduce themselves. Make a very warm invitation for ALL to sing.  Singing is a birthright, good for a soul, and a beautiful way to remember and honour ancestors, and to connect to each other. In Gaelic culture, there is always singing. And there is a song for every activity and every part of the day.

Puirt-à-beul translates as mouth music. It is vocal dance music. Puirt-à-beul can be sung for dancers and enjoyment if there are no musicians or instruments to be found. Puirt-à-beul offers a fun way to connect with sounds, rhythms, and melody. Lyrics are often fanciful, using words that fit the tune and enhance the rhythm.

GAB Tutors’ Guide

Gaelic Beginners’ Primer

Additional Reading:


5 min


Éistidh sibh rium fhìn an toiseach. Gabhaidh mise am port beagan thursan gun dèan sinn barrachd eòlais air.


O dh’ith na coin na maragan s na lùban dubh’ aig Ruaraidh x4
S i Seònaid rinn na maragan s na lùban dubh’ aig Ruaraidh x4

The dogs ate Rory’s puddings and black puddings.
It was Janet that made Rory’s puddings and black puddings.

Spoken Lyrics

Audio – puirt-à-beul (sung by Shannon MacMullin)

Audio – instrumental tune (played on fiddle by Bill Lamey); the fiddle tune is known as “Munlochy Bridge” in English

Cape Breton fiddle recordings of “Munlochy Bridge”  & MIDI sample

15 min

Using GaB, props and photos, learn the first turn.

O dh’ith na coin na maragan s na lùban dubh aig Ruaraidh

Use the GAB method to learn the meaning of each word by offering much repetition and manipulation of phrases. Offer each participant a chance to ask and answer each prompt. Convey meaning with props, drawings, and body language.

An do dh’ith thu fhéin maragan an-diugh?

  • An do dh’ith thu riamh iad?
    • Dh’ith/Cha do dh’ith
    • Cuin a dh’ith thu maragan?
    • O chionn fhada
  • Dé th’ ann?
    • S e marag/marag gheal/lùban dubh a th’ ann.

Audio recordings of Nova Scotia Gaels talking about marag gheal – white pudding.

Search Google Images using the term “white pudding” to find photos of maragan.

Image of lùban dubha.

Search Google Images using the term “black pudding” to find photos of lùban dubha.

This calendar can be used to support use of past-tense verbs.

15 min

Using word substitutions, repeat with several items and with several participants. Have participants ask you the questions to model the answers.

  • Có leis a tha seo? (Tog rud sam bith a tha goirid dha làimh.)
    • Iain.
    • O, sin a’ fón-làimheadh aig Iain.
    • aig Màiri, aig a’ chloinn, aig Donnchadh, msaa.

Review agam/agad/aige/aice/msaa using hand actions.

Use this image of a doll family to work on agam / agad / aige / aice / msaa.

5 mins

Sing the first verse in call and answer style 3 times. Point out the long vowel sounds.

Leader sings the first line, the participants sing it back to the leader.

Begin slowly. Increase speed as confidence increases.

Together, sing this turn 2 times. On the third time, sing quietly, not at all, or only the first word while the students sing it through largely on their own. Support and repeat as needed.

Have the participants keep time by toe-tapping while singing.

15 mins

Tàmh — Cumaibh còmhradh s a’ Ghàidhlig. Dèanaibh agus gabhaibh tì còmhla.

30 mins

Using GaB, props, and photos, learn the second turn.

S i Seònaid rinn na maragan s na lùban dubh’ aig Ruaraidh

As before, use the GaB method to offer much repetition and manipulation phrases, focusing on past tense verbs. Offer each participant a chance to ask and answer each prompt.  Convey meaning with props, drawings, and body language.

  • Dé rinn thu s a’ mhadainn?
    • Dhùisg mi tràth.
    • Cha do dh’ith mi bracaist.
    • Ghabh mi cupa do thì.
  • Dé rinn Seònaid?
  • An d’ rinn i aran?
  • An d’ rinn i bonnach-buidhe?
    • Rinn i maragan.
  • Có rinn na maragan?
    • S i Seònaid rinn na maragan.
  • Có a dhùisg tràth ?
    • S i Sionainn a dhùisg tràth.
  • Có a sgrìobh a’ leabhar seo?
    • S e Iain MacRaing a sgrìobh e.
  • Có a rinn am bùrach?
    • A’ chlann
    • S iad a’ chlann a rinn am bùrach.

Have participants ask you the questions to model the answers.

Illustrate the ‘S i  and ‘S e pattern by examining other statements with this construction (as many as time allows).  This will be good preparation for the song-making portion.

Create a sentence for each participant based on something that really happened.

Sing this verse using the same pattern as above.

Again, encourage toe-tapping or percussion activities to notice syllable counts.

This calendar can be used to support use of past-tense verbs.

20 mins


Rinn mi fhìn port beag:

O dh’ith a’ chlann am pizza sin s na milseagan aig Sionainn x4

S e Deylin rinn am bùrach ud anns an taigh aig Sionainn x3

O’ dh’ith a’ chlann am pizza sin s na milseagan aig Sionainn!

An dèan sinn port beag eile?

  • Nì/Cha dèan.

Working together (or in small groups), brainstorm some words in MadLib fashion. These will form the word bank from which a new song text will be made.


  • Dé th’ ann?
  • Dé th’ agad?
  • Dé cheannaich thu o chionn mios?
  • Dé chì thu?
  • msaa

Past tense verbs

  • Dé rinn thu a-raoir?
  • Dé rinn an cù agad?
  • Dé rinn a’ leanabh?
  • msaa

(Invite participants to ask other questions as time allows.)


  • Có a th’ againn an-diugh?
  • Consider listing family members, favorite sports icons, cast of TV shows or movies, local characters, fictional characters — anything that will help get the creative juices flowing.

Consider themes that might be fun to express in a puirt-à-beul.

Add the list of brainstormed words to a chart. Roll two dice to select a word from each category needed to create a new lyrical line. See if the words work together and with the rhythm of the song. Tip: use small words, plurals, and emphatic endings to fill in any gaps: ud, sin, -se, etc. If the words don’t work, substitute another word from the chart, or any word or idea that comes to mind. There is no right or wrong. Have fun!


Skip the dice. Read the words and see if any seem to naturally fit together. Or see if anyone is inspired to suggest a word or idea that may work.

OR working in small groups, or individually, choose a theme and have a go at creating some ideas, words and sentences that may work. Here are some topics to get you started:

  • running out of gas
  • chasing after the cows
  • computer crashed
  • first footing on New Year’s
  • a new baby is born
  • anything goes!

MadLibs (for those unfamiliar with them)

Capture brainstorming in a chart, make a list on paper or using your collective memory.

A sample chart of words from a real GaB session. It doesn’t matter if the sentences make sense. As long as they are grammatically correct and the participants understand them, they can be as silly or as crazy or as impossible as can be!

A blank template to record your own brainstorming

Virtual dice

5 mins


Sing the puirt-à-beul together several times. Add the newly created verses.

Add music and percussion and dance as desired!


There are many ways to vary this activity. For example:

  • This lesson can be broken up into bite-size pieces during a weekend or week-long immersion, progressing each day until the tune is learned before moving on to composition.
  • After the participants learn the puirt-à-beul, it can be used as a grounding tool between activities or lessons and at the start of the day.  Singing at the end of a session is also a nice way to close the day if participants have reached their maximum saturation point.
  • Show and Share, or Show and Tell
    • For advanced learners, have each participant teach the verse they composed to the others.  
    • Compositions can be made and shared in pairs or small groups rather than created and shared within the large group or by individuals.
    • Students can compose as individuals, share in small groups or pairs, vote on which one they will present to the group together as a pair or group.
  • Invite any musicians to play their instruments. Or make your own “instruments” to play or create rhythms.
  • Whose mouth is the fastest?  Singing together, or as individuals, sing the tune and gradually increase the tempo.  How fast can you go?
  • Dance to the tune.
    • Teach a basic strathspey or reel step (as appropriate) and dance to your puirt á beul.
  • Compare and contrast various versions of the melody, verses, regional dialects, etc.
  • Add actions to go along with each verse.
  • Make and eat maragan together.
  • Create a GaB lesson from the newly created verses.
  • Other puirt-à-beul that can be used as the basis for additional lesson plans:

Preparing for Challenges

You may wish to prepare for any of the following potential challenges:

  • Technical issues — be prepared to sing the song without listening to the recording.
  • Student frustration if learning the tune is challenging.
  • Student hesitancy to sing.

Further Reading

Sparling, Heather. Reeling Roosters and Dancing Ducks: Celtic Mouth Music. Sydney, NS: CBU Press, 2014.

Lamb, William. Keith Norman MacDonald’s PUIRT À BEUL The Vocal Dance Music of the Scottish Gaels. Isle of Skye, Scotland: Taigh nan Teud, 2012.



About the Author

Shannon is a Gàidhlig aig Baile instructor and the Cultural Experiences Coordinator at Baile nan Gàidheal | Highland Village Museum. She is also active in community development and the Gaels Jam.  She is passionate about connecting folks to Gàidhlig language and culture modelling o ghlùin gu glùin | from knee to knee transmission and creating spaces for Gaels to gather..  She loves time with the family and remembering how to play with the little grandboys keeps her feeling young. She is a maker, a learner, and a connecter.


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Cànan tro Òrain by Shannon MacMullin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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