Feadan Dubh

THE BLACK CHANTER OF CLAN CHATTAN.

AMONG the many interesting historical relics carefully treasured at Cluny Castle in Badenoch—the Seat of the Chief of Clan Chattan—is the Black Chanter or Feadan Dubh, of the Clan, on the possession of which the prosperity of the House of Cluny is supposed to depend. Of the many singular traditions regarding it, one is that its original fell from Heaven during the memorable Clan battle—rendered familiar to general readers through the pages of Scott’s “Fair Maid of Perth”—fought between the Macphersons and the Davidsons in presence of King Robert III., his Queen, and Nobles, on the North Inch of Perth, in 1396, and that being made of crystal it was broken by the fall and the existing one made in fac simile. Another tradition is to the effect that this is the genuine original, and that the cracks were occasioned by its violent contact with the ground. Be the origin of the Feadan Dubh what it may, it is a notable fact that whether in consequence of its possession, or of their own bravery, no battle at which the Macphersons were present with the Bratach Uaine, or green banner, of the Clan, and the Chief at their head, was ever lost.

The following lines are inscribed upon the Chanter:—

Feadan Dubh Chlann Chatain
‘S fad o chualas
‘S buan a mhaireas
‘S mor ‘àdh.

It is related that before the Battle of Culloden an old witch, or second seer, told the Duke of Cumberland that if he waited until the Bratach Uaine and the Feadan Dubh came up he would be defeated. Ewen of Cluny was present at the Battle of Prestonpans with six hundred of his Clan, and accompanied Prince Charlie into England. On the Prince’s retreat into Scotland, Cluny with his men put two regiments of Cumberland’s dragoons to flight at Clifton, fought afterwards at the Battle of Falkirk, and was on his way from Badenoch to Inverness with his Clan to join the Prince when flying fugitives from Culloden met him with the intelligence of that sad day’s disaster. As Colonel John Roy Stuart (Iain Ruadh Stiubhart) the famous warrior-poet of the ’45 has it in his Oran eile air latha Chuilodair:—

Clann-Mhuirich nam buadh,
Iad-san uile bhi bhuainn,
Gur h-e m’ iomadan truagh r’a leughadh

which may be freely translated:—

(Clan Vourich of might!
When dire was our plight,
Would you had been there to aid us!)

The celebrity of the Highland bagpipe and the part it has played—so to speak—in the history of the Highlands and of our Highland regiments are well known. “As others with the sound of trumpets, so those with the sound of the pipes are inspired with ardour for the fight.” The potency of bagpipe music on the hearts of all true Highlanders is universally acknowledged. As regards the Gathering it was the piobaireachd’s shrill summons thrilling in the ears of our forefathers “the sad tale of their devastated glens, and their houseless friends which gathered them for the war by notes which had often sounded to hard-earned victory; speaking in strains which made their blood boil with glowing emulation, as they marched to the foe, and which pealing to survivors of the battlefield in notes re-echoed by the frowning crags, drowning by its piercing tones the loud waitings of the bereaved, and the woful shrieks of the despairing women, called in a maddening voice for speedy and unsparing retribution.”

To those whose dearest associations are connected with the blue hills and rushing torrents of the Highlands there is something, on the other hand, singularly heart-stirring in the Failte, or Welcome, on the strains of the bagpipe, and something inexpressibly touching in the plaintive notes of the Cumhadh, or Lament, especially when heard in after years or in the exile of a distant land. According to tradition the Black Chanter of Clan Chattan is endowed with magical properties. Towards the end of the combat on the North Inch of Perth, we are told that there was seen an aerial minstrel hovering over the heads of the Macphersons, who after playing a few wild strains on the instrument let it drop from his hand. The Macpherson piper secured this enchanted pipe, and even though mortally wounded poured forth the pibroch of the Clan till death effectually silenced his music. The Black Chanter was ever after held to ensure success not only to the Macphersons, but also to its temporary possessors, whenever lent to other Clans by the generosity of the Chief of the time. The Grants of Strathspey having received an affront through the cowardice of some unworthy members of that Clan and being dejected beyond measure, borrowed this magical instrument. Its bold war-notes soon roused their drooping energies and stimulated them to such valour that from that time forth it passed into a proverb that “no enemy ever saw the back of a Grant.” The Grants of Glenmoriston afterwards borrowed it in the same way, and it was only restored to “old Cluny” in the early part of the present century.

Here are some spirited and appropriate lines on the Black Chanter composed by Mrs. D. Ogilvy about half-a-century ago, and worthy, I think, of a permanent place in the pages of the
Celtic Monthly:—

Black Chanter of Chattan, now hushed and exhausted,
Thy music was lost with the power of the Gael,
The dread inspiration Macpherson had boasted.
For ever expired in Drummossie’s* sad wail.

Of old on St. Johnstone’s† dark meadow of slaughter
Thy cadences hurried the piper’s last breath;
The vanquished escaped amid Tay’s rolling water,
The conqueror’s pibroch was silenced by death.

That piper is nameless, and lost in like manner,
The tribes are forgotten of mighty Clan Quhele;
While Chattan, that bears the hill cat on his banner,
No time can extinguish, no ruin assail.

From the hand of a cloud-cleaving bard thou wert given
To lips that embraced thee till moveless and dead;
Since then never idly Macpherson hath striven,
Nor trust in his fortune been shaken by dread.

O mouth piece of conquest! who heard thee and trembled?
Who followed thy call, and despaired of the fight?
Availed not that foemen before thee dissembled,
For quenched was their ardour and nerveless their might.

The blast of thy pibroch, the flaunt of thy streamer,
Lent hope to each spirit and strength to each arm;
While the Saxon confronting was scared like the dreamer
Whose sleep is of peril, of grief, and alarm.

Led on by thy promise, what Chieftain e’er sallied,
Nor proved in his venture how just was thy vaunt?
At the spell of thy summons exultingly rallied
The faltering pulse of dispirited Grant.

Forerunner of victory! why didst thou tarry?
Thy voice on Drummossie an empire had changed;
We then had not seen our last efforts miscarry,
The Stuart had triumphed, the Gael been avenged.

Ah, fatal Drummosie—sad field of the flying!
The Gathering sank in the hopeless Lament;
What pibroch could stanch the wide wounds of the dying?
What magic rekindle the fire that was spent?

Proud music! by shame or dishonour ne’er daunted,
By murmur of orphan, by widowed despair.
The fall of thy country thy spell disenchanted,
With the last of the Stuarts it vanished in air.

Yet rouse thee from slumber. Black Chanter of Chattan,
Send forth a strong blast of defiance once more;
On the flesh of thy children the vulture doth batten,
And sodden with blood are the sands of Lahore.

As fierce as the tiger that prowls in their forest,
Those sons of the Orient leap to the plain;
But the blade striketh vainly wherever thou warrest,–
Black Chanter of Chattan, bestir thee again!

* Another name for Culloden.
In olden times the City of Perth was sometimes so-called from its patron, Saint John.

A. MACPHERSON.

A Strange Reflux

This contemptuous loathing lasted till the year 1745, and was then for a moment succeeded by intense fear and rage. England, thoroughly alarmed, put forth her whole strength. The Highlands were subjugated rapidly, completely, and for ever. During a short time the English nation, still heated by the recent conflict, breathed nothing but vengeance. The slaughter on the field of battle and on the scaffold was not sufficient to slake the public thirst for blood. The sight of the tartan inflamed the populace of London with hatred, which showed itself by unmanly outrages to defenceless captives. A political and social revolution took place through the whole Celtic region. The power of the chiefs was destroyed: the people were disarmed: the use of the old national garb was interdicted: the old predatory habits were effectually broken; and scarcely had this change been accomplished when a strange reflux of public feeling began. Pity succeeded to aversion. The nation execrated the cruelties which had been committed on the Highlanders, and forgot that for those cruelties it was itself answerable. Those very Londoners, who, while the memory of the march to Derby was still fresh, had thronged to hoot and pelt the rebel prisoners, now fastened on the prince who had put down the rebellion the nickname of Butcher. Those barbarous institutions and usages, which, while they were in full force, no Saxon had thought worthy of serious examination, or had mentioned except with contempt, had no sooner ceased to exist than they became objects of curiosity, of interest, even of admiration. Scarcely had the chiefs been turned into mere landlords, when it became the fashion to draw invidious comparisons between the rapacity of the landlord and the indulgence of the chief. Men seemed to have forgotten that the ancient Gaelic polity had been found to be incompatible with the authority of law, had obstructed the progress of civilisation, had more than once brought on the empire the curse of civil war. As they had formerly seen only the odious side of that polity, they could now see only the pleasing side. The old tie, they said, had been parental: the new tie was purely commercial. What could be more lamentable than that the head of a tribe should eject, for a paltry arrear of rent, tenants who were his own flesh and blood, tenants whose forefathers had often with their bodies covered his forefathers on the field of battle? As long as there were Gaelic marauders, they had been regarded by the Saxon population as hateful vermin who ought to be exterminated without mercy. As soon as the extermination had been accomplished, as soon as cattle were as safe in the Perthshire passes as in Smithfield market, the freebooter was exalted into a hero of romance. As long as the Gaelic dress was worn, the Saxons had pronounced it hideous, ridiculous, nay, grossly indecent. Soon after it had been prohibited, they discovered that it was the most graceful drapery in Europe. The Gaelic monuments, the Gaelic usages, the Gaelic superstitions, the Gaelic verses, disdainfully neglected during many ages, began to attract the attention of the learned from the moment at which the peculiarities of the Gaelic race began to disappear. So strong was
this impulse that, where the Highlands were concerned, men of sense gave ready credence to stories without evidence, and men of taste gave rapturous applause to compositions without merit. Epic poems, which any skilful and dispassionate critic would at a glance have perceived to be almost entirely modern, and which, if they had been published as modern, would have instantly found their proper place in company with Blackmore’s Alfred and Wilkie’s Epigoniad, were pronounced to be fifteen hundred years old, and were gravely classed with the Iliad. Writers of a very different order from the impostor who fabricated these forgeries saw how striking an effect might be produced by skilful pictures of the old Highland life. Whatever was repulsive was softened down: whatever was graceful and noble was brought prominently forward. Some of these works were executed with such admirable art that, like the historical plays of Shakspeare, they superseded history. The visions of the poet were realities to his readers. The places which he described became holy ground, and were visited by thousands of pilgrims. Soon the vulgar imagination was so completely occupied by plaids, targets, and claymores, that, by most Englishmen, Scotchman and Highlander were regarded as synonymous words. Few people seemed to be aware that, at no remote period, a Macdonald or a Macgregor in his tartan was to a citizen of Edinburgh or Glasgow what an Indian hunter in his war paint is to an inhabitant of Philadelphia or Boston. Artists and actors represented Bruce and Douglas in striped petticoats. They might as well have represented Washington brandishing a tomahawk, and girt with a string of scalps. At length this fashion reached a point beyond which it was not easy to proceed. The last British King who held a court in Holyrood thought that he could not give a more striking proof of his respect for the usages which had prevailed in Scotland before the Union, than by disguising himself in what, before the Union, was considered by nine Scotchmen out of ten as the dress of a thief.

Thus it has chanced that the old Gaelic institutions and manners have never been exhibited in the simple light of truth. Up to the middle of the last century, they were seen through one false medium: they have since been seen through another.

Thus it has chanced that the old Gaelic institutions and manners have never been exhibited in the simple light of truth. Up to the middle of the last century, they were seen through one false medium: they have since been seen through another. Once they loomed dimly through an obscuring and distorting haze of prejudice; and no sooner had that fog dispersed than they appeared bright with all the richest tints of poetry. The time when a perfectly fair picture could have been painted has now passed away. The original has long disappeared: no authentic effigy exists: and all that is possible is to produce an imperfect likeness by the help of two portraits, of which one is a coarse caricature and the other a masterpiece of flattery.

— Lord Macaulay, History of England, Vol. III, chap. xiii.

The Only Way of Accompting

John Campbell, 1st Earl of Breadalbane and Holland, Viscount of Tay and Paintland, and Lord Glenorchy, Benderloch, Ormelie and Wick.

The Earl of Breadalbane, a man of great power in the Highlands, and head of a numerous clan of the Campbells, was intrusted with a sum of money, which some authors call 20, and some 12,000 pounds, to be distributed among the chieftains, on the condition of their submission to the existing government, and keeping on foot, each chief in proportion to his means, a military force to act on behalf of government, at home or abroad, as they should be called on. This scheme would probably have rendered the Highland clans a resource, instead of a terror, to the government of King William; while their love of war, and their want of money, would by degrees have weaned them from their attachment to the exiled King, which would gradually have been transferred to a prince who led them to battle, and paid them for following him.

But many of the chiefs were jealous of the conduct of the Earl of Breadalbane in distributing the funds intrusted to his care. Part of this treasure the wily Earl bestowed among the most leading men; when these were bought off, he intimidated those of less power into submission, by threatening them with military execution; and it has always been said, that he retained a considerable portion of the gratuity in his own hands. The Highland chiefs complained to Government of Breadalbane’s conduct, who, they alleged, had advised them only to submit to King William for the present, until an opportunity should occur of doing King James effectual service. They also charged him with retaining, for his own purposes, a considerable part of the money deposited in his hands, as the price of peace.

My dear Lord, The money you mention, was given to purchase the peace of the Highlands. The money is spent—the Highlands are quiet, and this is the only way of accompting among friends.

Government, it is said, attended to this information, so far as to demand, through the Secretary of State, a regular account of the manner in which the sum of money placed in his hands had been distributed. But Breadalbane, too powerful to be called in question, and too audacious to care for suspicion of what he judged Government dared not resent, is traditionally said to have answered the demand in the following cavalier manner:— “My dear Lord, The money you mention, was given to purchase the peace of the Highlands. The money is spent—the Highlands are quiet, and this is the only way of accompting among friends.”

— Sir Walter Scott, Tales of a Grandfather, Second Series, Vol. I, 1842.

The Black-Meal

The Imposition mentioned in that Memorial commonly called the Black Meal is levyed by the Highlanders on almost all the Low Country bordering thereon. But as it is equally Criminal by the Laws of Scotland to pay this Exaction or to Extort it, the Inhabitants to avoid the Penalty of the Laws, agree with the Robbers, or some of their Correspondents in the Lowlands to protect their Horses and Cattle, who are in effect but their Stewards or Factors, and as long as this payment continues, the Depredations cease upon their Lands, otherwise the Collector of this Illegal Imposition is obliged to make good the loss they have sustained. They give regular Receipts for the same Safe Guard Money, and those who refuse to submit to this Imposition are sure of being Plundered, their being no other way to avoid it but by keeping a constant Guard of Armed Men, which, altho’ it is sometimes done, is not only illegal, but a more expensive way of securing their property.

General George Wade, Report, &c., Relating to the Highlands, 1724.

Highland Virtues

Portrait of General George Wade, Commander-in-chief in Scotland, attributed to Johan van Diest, c. 1731; Scottish National Portrait Gallery.
Portrait of General George Wade, Commander-in-chief in Scotland, attributed to Johan van Diest, c. 1731; Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

Their Notions of Virtue and Vice are very different from the more civilized part of Mankind. They think it a most Sublime Virtue to pay a Servile and Abject Obedience to the Commands of their Chieftans, altho’ in opposition to their Sovereign and the Laws of the Kingdom, and to encourage this, their Fidelity, they are treated by their Chiefs with great Familiarity, they partake with them in their Diversions, and shake them by the Hand wherever they meet them.

The Virtue next to this, in esteem amongst them, is the Love they bear to that particular Branch of which they are a part, and in a Second Degree to the whole Clan, or Name, by assisting each other (right or wrong) against any other Clan with whom they are at Variance, and great Barbarities are often committed by One, to revenge the Quarrels of Another. They have still a more extensive adherence one to another as Highlanders in opposition to the People who Inhabit the Low Countries, whom they hold in the utmost Contempt, imagining them inferior to themselves in Courage, Resolution, and the use of Arms, and accuse them of being Proud, Avaricious, and Breakers of their Word. They have also a Tradition amongst them that the Lowlands were in Ancient Times, the Inheritance of their Ancestors, and therefore believe they have a right to commit Depredations, whenever it is in their power to put them in Execution.

General George Wade, Report, &c., Relating to the Highlands, 1724.

Song of the Highland Clans

Oran Nam Fineachan Gaidhealach.
Alasdair mac Mhaighstir Alasdair

A chomuinn rìoghail rùnaich
Sàr-ùmhlachd thugaibh uaibh,
Biodh ur roisg gun smùirnein,
‘S gach cridh’ gun treas gin lùib ann;
Deoch-slàinte Sheumais Stiùbhairt
Gu mùirneach cuir mu’n cuairt!
Ach ma ta giamh air bith ‘nur stamaig,
A’ chailis naomh na truaill.
Lìon deoch-slàinte Theàrlaich,
A mheirlich! stràic a’ chuach!
B’ì siod an ìocshlàint’ àluinn
Dh’ath-bheòthaicheadh mo chàileachd,
Ged a bhiodh am bàs orm,
Gun neart, gun àgh, gun tuar —
Rìgh nan dùl a chur do chàbhlaich
Oirnn thar sàl ri luas!

O, tog do bhaideil arda,
Chaol, dhìonach, shàr-gheal, nuadh,
Ri d’ chrainnghridh bìgh-dhearg, làidir,
Gu taisdeal nan tonn gàireach;
Tha Æolus ag ràitinn
Gun sèid e ràp-ghaoth chruaidh
O’n àird anear, ‘s tha Neptun dìleas
Gu mìneachadh a’ chuain.
Is bochd atà do chàirdean
Aig ro-mheud t’fhardail uainn,
Mar àlach maoth gun mhàthair,
No beachainn bhreac a’ ghàraidh
Aig sionnach ‘n d’èis am fàsaichth’
Air fàillinn feadh nam bruach;
Aisig cabhagach le do chàbhlach,
Us leighis plàigh do shluaigh.

Tha na dèe ann an deagh-rùn duit,
Greas ort le sùrd neo-mharbh
Thar dhronnag nan tonn dubh-ghorm,
Dhriom-robach, bhàrr-chas, shiùbhlach,
Ghleann-chladhach, cheann-gheal, shùgh-dhlùth,
Nam mòthar cùl-ghlas, garbh;
Na cuan-choirean greannach, stuadh-thorrach,
‘S crom-bhileach, molach, falbh.
Tha muir us tìr cho rèidh dhuit
Mur dean thu fèin an searg’;
Dòirtidh iad ‘nan ceudaibh,
‘Nan laomaibh tiugha, treuna,
A Breatuinn us a h-Eirinn
Mu d’ standard brèid-gheal, dearg;
A’ ghaisreadh sgaiteach, ghuineach, rìoghail,
Chreuchdach, fhìor-luath, gharg.

Thig do chinneadh fèin ort,
Na treun-fhir laomsgair, gharbh,
‘Nam beathraichibh gu reubadh,
‘Nan leòmhannaibh gu creuchdadh,
‘Nan nathraichibh grad-leumnach,
A lotas geur le ‘n calg;
Le ‘n gathaibh faobharach, rinn-bheurra
Nì mòr-euchd le ‘n arm’.
‘Nam brataichibh làn-èidicht’
Le dealas geur gun chealg,
Thig Domhnullaich ‘nan dèidh sin,
Cho dìleas duit ri d’ lèine,
Mar choin air fasdadh èille
Air chath chrith geur gu sealg;
‘S mairg nàimhde do ‘n nochd iad fraoch,
Long, leòmhann, craobh, ‘s làmh dhearg.

Gun neartaich iad do champa
Na Caimbeulaich gu dearbh,
An Diùc Earraghàidhealach mar cheann orr’,
Gu mòralach, mear, prionnsail,
Ge b’è sid an tionnsgnadh searbh,
B’è sid an tionnsgnadh searbh,
Le lannaibh lotach, dubh-ghorm, toirteil,
Sgoltadh chorp gu’m balg.
Gu tairbeartach, glan, caismeachdach,
Fìor-thartarach ‘nan ranc,
Thig Cluainidh le ‘chuid Phearsanach,
Gu cuanna, gleusda, grad-bheirteach,
Le spàinnichibh teann-bheirticht’
‘S cruaidh fead ri sgailceadh cheann;
Bidh fuil da dòrtadh, smùis da spealtadh,
Le sgealpaireachd ur lann.

Druididh suas ri d’ mheirghe,
Nach meirbh an am an àir,
Clann Ghill’ Eathain nach meirgich
Airm ri h-uchd do sheirbhis,
Le ‘m brataichean ‘s snuadh feirg’ orr’,
‘San leirg mar thairbh gun sgàth;
Am foirne fearail, nimheil, arrail,
As builleach, ealamh làmh.
Gun tig na fiùrain Leòdach ort
Mar sheochdain ‘s eòin fo ‘n spàig;
‘Nan tùiribh lann-ghorm, tinnisneach,
Air chorra-ghleus gun tiomachas,
An rèisimeid fhìor-innealta,
‘S fàth giorraig dol ‘na dàil;
Am bi iomadh bòcan fuilteach, foirmeil,
Thèid le stoirm gu bàs.

Thig curaidhnean Chlann-Chamshroin ort,
Thèid meanmnach sìos ‘nad spàirn;
An fhoireann ghuineach, chaithreamach,
‘S neo-fhiamhach an am tarruinge,
An lainn ghlas mar lasair dealanaich
Gu gearradh cheann us làmh;
‘S mar luas na dreige, ‘s cruas na creige,
Chluinnte sgread nan cnàmh.
Thig mìlidhean Chlann-Iain ort,
Thèid fritheilteach gu d’ champ,
Mar fhaloisg ris na sliabh-chnuic
Us gaoth a’ Mhàirt ‘ga biathadh,
No marcaich’ air each srianach
A rachadh sìos gun chàird –
Cho ealamh ris an fhùdar ullamh,
An t-srad ‘n uair bhuineadh dhà.

Gur cinnteach dhuibh d’ur coinneachadh
Mac Coinnich mòr Cheann-t-sàil’,
Fir làidir, dhàna, cho innealta
Do’n fhìor-chruaidh air a foinneachadh,
Nach ghabh fiamh no somaltachd
No sgreamh roimh theine bhlàr;
‘S iad gu nàrach, fuileach, foinnidh,
Air bhoil’ gu dol ‘nad chàs.
Gur foirmeil, pròiseil, ordail,
Thig Tòisichean ‘nan ranc,
A’ màrsal stàtail, comhnard,
Gu pìobach, bratach, sròl-bhuidh’;
Tha rìoghaltachd us mòrchuis
Gun sòradh anns an dream,
Daoine làidir, neartmhor, cròdha,
‘S iad gun ghò, gun mheang.

Thig Granndaich gu ro-thartarach,
Neo-fhad-bheirteach do d’ champ,
Air phriob-losgadh gu cruadal,
Gu snaidh’ cheann us chluas diubh,
Cho nimheil ris na tigiribh,
Le feachdraidh dian-mhear, dàn’,
Chuireas iomadh fear le sgreadail
‘S a’ breabadaich gu làr.
Thig a rìs na Frisealaich
Gu sgibidh le neart garbh,
‘Nan seochdaibh fìor-ghlan, togarrach,
Le fuathas bhlàr nach bogaichear,
An comhlan feardha, cosgarrach,
‘S mairg neach do ‘n nochd iad fearg;
An spuir ghlas aig dlùths an dèirich
Bidh ‘nan èibhlibh dearg.

‘Nan gaisreadh ghaisgeil, losgarra,
Thig Lachlunnaich gun chàird,
‘Nan soighdibh dearga, puinnseanta,
Gu claidhmheach, sgiathach, cuinnsearach,
Gu gunnach, dagach, ionnsaichte,
Gun chunntas ac’ air àr;
Dol ‘nan deannaibh ‘n aodainn pheileir
Tiochd o theine chàich.
Gabhaidh pàirt de t’ iorghaill-sa
Clann-Fhionghain ‘s sìor-bhualadh,
Mar thuinn ri tìr a’ sìor-bhualadh,
No bile lasrach dian-losgadh,
‘Nan treudaibh luatha, sìor-chonfach,
Thoirt grìosaich air an nàmh’;
An dream chathach, Mhuileach, Shrathach,
‘S maith gu sgathadh chnàmh!

‘S mòr a bhios ri corp-rùsgadh
Nan closaichean ‘sa bhlàr,
Fithich ann, a’ rocadaich,
Ag itealaich, ‘s a’ cnocaireachd,
Cìocras air na cosgarraich
Ag òl ‘s ag ith’ an sàth;
Och, ‘s tùrsach, fann, a chluinntear mochthrath,
Ochanaich nan àr.
Bidh fuil us gaorr dam fùidreadh ann
Le lùth-chleasan ur làmh,
Meangar cinn us dùirn diubh,
Gearrar uilt le smùisreadh,
Cìosnaichear ur biùthaidh,
Dan dubh-losgadh, ‘s dan cnàmh’;
Crùnar le poimp Tearlach Stiùbhart,
Us Frederic Prionns’ fo shàil.

Continue reading “Song of the Highland Clans”

The Pipes Always Attended

HIGHLAND FUNERALS.

THE gathering for the funeral of a chief in the old time, comprehended not only the whole clan and its branches, but all its “kin and allies;” and since the Highlanders, like the present Albanians and Rajah-Poots, always carried their weapons, it is scarce necessary to observe that the muster was ”in arms.” The only distinction between the array of a funeral and the array of battle was, that in the former was omitted the “Clogaide,” the “Luireach,” the “Sgiath,” and the “Claimh-da-laimh.” At the funeral of

SIR DUNCAN CAMPBELL OF LOCHNELL,

in the latter part of the eighteenth century, there were present four thousand men; and at that of Simon VIII. Lord Lovat, who died at Dalcrois, five thousand men in arms conveyed his body from the march of his lands at Bunchrew, to the family chapel in the Church of Wardlaw.

“This funeral, however, was inferior in splendour to that of Hugh X. Lord Lovat, who died in his house at Beauly upon the 27th of April, and was buried in the church of Wardlaw upon the 9th May, 1672.

“At eight o’clock of the morning,

THE COFFIN,

covered with a velvet mortcloth, was exposed in the courtyard, the pall above it being supported by four poles, the eight branches of the escutcheon fixed to as many poles driven into the ground, four at each end of the coffin. A large plume surmounted the whole. Two hundred men in arms formed an avenue from the gate to the high road. Four trumpeters standing above the grand staircase sounded on the approach of every new arrival. A sumptuous entertainment was given about mid-day. Between twelve and one the trumpets played the dead march, then the mourners raised the coffin and the pall above it. Two trumpeters preceded and followed the body. A horseman in bright armour, holding a mourning spear, led the van, two mourners in hoods and gowns guiding his horse. At the ferry, two war horses, covered with black trappings, and held by grooms attired in sables, had been placed in ambush, who starting up, here joined the procession. From the west end of the moor to the kirk stile, one mile in length,

ARMED BANDS OF MEN

were drawn up, through whose lines the procession went slowly. The Earl of Murray alone sent 400 of his vassals; the Bishops of Murray, Ross, and Caithness, with 80 of their clergy, were present, and a body of 800 horsemen. At the church stile, the Earls of Murray and Seaforth, the Lairds of Balnagown, Foulis, Beaufort, and Strichen, carried the coffin into the church, which was hung with black. After singing and prayer, the funeral sermon was preached from 2 Samuel, 3rd chapter, 38th verse. At four o’clock the whole ceremonies were over, and the trumpets sounded the retreat. The different clans filed off with banners displayed and pipes playing, the Frasers forming a line, and saluting each as they passed. They then marched to the ferry, and were dismissed.” The preparations in

WINE, BRANDY, PROVISIONS,

and confectionery for such occasions, resembled the purveyance for the vast entertainments of the middle ages. The wines and spirits were furnished in great abundance by the ample commerce with France and Spain; and in latter times condiments, confectionery, and other luxuries, were brought from Edinburgh. At the funeral of Sir Duncan Campbell, abovementioned, four waggon-loads of delicacies were transported from the metropolis—but nothing to the satisfaction of the guests, for at a bad piece of the road in the wood of the “Leitir-Beann,” at the foot of Cruachan, they were all overturned into Loch Awe.

In the ancient Highland funerals all who had far to come, or when the procession had to set off very early, all who were not near neighbours, assembled on the preceding evening, and “waked the corpse,” or kept

VIGIL DURING THE NIGHT.

The women relieved each other in watching the coffin in the funeral chamber, while the men sat in the hall—the more weary asleep, but the greater number, especially if it was winter, “round the light of the oak,” listening to traditionary tales or poetical recitations, generally of a sombre cast, and delivered in an undertone. At day-break a breakfast was set out, well furnished even among the inferior orders, with beef, venison, or goats’ flesh, salmon, trouts, heaps of hens and eggs, and abundance of claret and brandy. Whisky was unknown until the Covenantic and Anglican persecutions put down the abundant commerce with the Catholic countries.

As soon as the meal was concluded, “Thog iad an Corp”—

“THEY LIFTED THE CORPSE,”

and the procession set forth. The women followed to the first burn, where, as at that which the dead had already passed, they once more took leave for ever. In the short halt which attended this separation, and in which tears flowed afresh, the “deoch-falbh,” the parting drink, passed round in profound silence, as if the departed gave the “deoch-an-doruis” on that threshold which he should cross no more. The dark column then passed forward, and if it was winter, and the day was bad, with a stern, quick, determined pace; for if the roads were ill, and the waters swollen, it should be a march of toil, sometimes of danger, when the fords were deep and the torrents strong. All near the coffin, and these were continually exchanged from front to rear, relieved the bearers every forty or fifty yards, so that if the distance or the shortness of the light required haste, the bier was borne forward with surprising velocity. Two men with bottles, always replenished, preceded the head of the column about three hundred yards, and gave drink to all whom they met, but with a kind and saddened hospitality. If the deceased was a person of rank, the clan standard was cairied before the coffin, but furled.

THE PIPES ALWAYS ATTENDED,

but followed immediately after the bier, a small space being warded round the piper, by four men, who joined their drawn swords before and behind him, to keep off any pressure of the crowd. In the present decay, or rather extermination of ancient customs, it has been supposed that the pipes should precede the coffin, as they preceded its inmate when alive. But the contrary was the invariable custom; because the feet being borne forward, the pipes attended the head. It was an undeviating form that the piper preceded in a wedding, but followed in a funeral.

In the vast parishes of the Highlands, where the ecclesiastical rebellion destroyed all the local chapels, and, in many instances, threw a plurality of cures into one, the church is now placed at the distance of a day’s journey from many of the inhabitants. Often, therefore, the coffin must be borne from twenty to thirty miles, and through many a deep and violent torrent; and yet the bearers will perform this progress in five or seven hours. It was, and is still by the people of the glens, considered

DEROGATORY FOR A HIGHLANDER

to be carried in a hearse. It is by the hands of “his people,” “shoulder high,” that they feel a sad pride and consolation to render their last services to the dead. When the late Glengarrie died, a question was made in Inverness if a hearse would be used at the funeral? but the clansmen bent their brows and said, “that it might be sent, but that it would never go past Drumnadrochaid,” for that ”the people would never see Mac Mhic Alasdair carried to the grave in a cart.” His own feelings, indeed, would have sympathised with theirs; for one of ourselves being dangerously ill, and obliged to be borne from Invergarrie to the steamer, he disliked the idea of the carriage being used; upon such an occasion it appeared to him too near the hearse; and when it was proposed, “No,” he said, “he shall be carried in his plaid, shoulder high, like his father’s son, and the pipes before him”—which, indeed, should have been, could we have had strength to bear it.

THE FUNERAL OF GLENGARRY

himself was the last which bore—probably shall be the last which will bear—a Highland character. The funeral of the late Chisholm was attended by a great train of carriages, and nearly a thousand people, but the coffin was conveyed in a hearse, and there were neither pipes nor tartans, nor any attribute of a Highland gathering. One of the chiefs present having heard an expectation of this absence, made inquiry upon the subject, and received for answer that “it was desired that no Highland dresses should be present.”

— John Sobieski and Charles Edward Stuart, Tales of the Century or Sketches of the Romance of History Between 1746 and 1846, Edinburgh, 1847.