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.

I Suspect Them Greatly

William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, by Sir Joshua Reynolds (died 1792); National Portrait Gallery, London.
William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, by Sir Joshua Reynolds (died 1792); National Portrait Gallery, London.

Yesterday, General Campbell came hither to meet me, and has brought with him four companys of Western Highlanders. He assures me that they will shew no favour or partiality to the other Highlanders; as he knows them best, he must answer for this; for my own part, I suspect them greatly, for those who were with us here before these came, almost absolutely refused to plunder any of the Rebels’ houses, which is the only way we have to punish them, or bring them back.

Duke of Cumberland to Duke of Newcastle, 10 February 1745.

Argylls in Jerusalem

Soldiers of 1st Battalion The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders arriving for parade at St. Andrew's Church, Jerusalem, Palestine, 26 May 1940.
Soldiers of 1st Battalion The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders arriving for parade at St. Andrew’s Church, Jerusalem, Palestine, 26 May 1940.
Highlanders and congregation exiting St. Andrew's Church, Jerusalem, Palestine, after service, 26 May 1940.
Highlanders and congregation exiting St. Andrew’s Church, Jerusalem, Palestine, after service, 26 May 1940.
Dr. Norman MacLean with Colonel Anderson, inspecting troops of 1st Battalion The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, St. Andrew's Church, Jerusalem, Palestine, 26 May 1940.
Dr. Norman MacLean with Colonel Anderson, inspecting troops of 1st Battalion The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, St. Andrew’s Church, Jerusalem, Palestine, 26 May 1940.
Dr. Norman MacLean, quondam Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, then chaplain of St. Andrew's Church, Jerusalem, Palestine, addresses troops of the 1st Battalion The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, 26 May 1940.
Dr. Norman MacLean, quondam Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, then chaplain of St. Andrew’s Church, Jerusalem, Palestine, addresses troops of the 1st Battalion The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, 26 May 1940.

Pray that Jerusalem may have
peace and felicity:
let them that love you and your peace
still have prosperity.

First verse of Hymn 82 in Church Hymnary, 4th ed.; Psalm 122 is invariably sung annually at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland at Edinburgh.

So Much Determined Bravery Can Hardly Be Equalled

Detail of a 1758 map showing layout of Fort Carillon (Ticonderoga).
Detail of a 1758 map showing layout of Fort Carillon (Ticonderoga).

With a mixture of esteem, grief and envy, I consider the great loss and immortal glory acquired by the Scots Highlanders in the late bloody affair. Impatient for orders, they rushed forward to the entrenchments, which many of them actually mounted. They appeared like lions, breaking from their chains. Their intrepidity was rather animated than damped by seeing their comrades fall on every side. I have only to say of them, that they seemed more anxious to revenge the cause of their deceased friends, than careful to avoid the same fate. By their assistance, we expect soon to give a good account of the enemy and of ourselves. There is much harmony and friendship between us.

Excerpt from a letter of an officer of the 55th, or Lord Howe’s regiment.

The attack began a little past one in the afternoon, and, about two, the fire became general on both sides, which was exceedingly heavy, and without any intermission, insomuch that the oldest soldier present never saw so furious and incessant a fire. The affair at Fontenoy was nothing to it. I saw both. We labored under insurmountable difficulties. The enemy’s breastwork was about nine or ten feet high, upon the top of which they had plenty of wall pieces fixed, and which was well lined in the inside with small arms. But the difficult access to their lines was what gave them the fatal advantage over us. They took care to cut down monstrous large oak trees, which covered all the ground from the foot of their breastwork about the distance of a cannon shot every way in their front. This not only broke our ranks, and made it impossible for us to keep our order, but put it entirely out of our power to advance till we cut our way through. I have seen men behave with courage and resolution before now, but so much determined bravery can hardly be equalled in any part of the history of ancient Rome. Even those that were mortally wounded cried aloud to their companions, not to mind or lose a thought upon them, but to follow their officers, and to mind the honor of their country. Nay, their ardor was such, that it was difficult to bring them off. They paid dearly for their intrepidity. The remains of the regiment had the honor to cover the retreat of the army, and brought off the wounded, as we did at Fontenoy. When shall we have so fine a regiment again? I hope we shall be allowed to recruit.

Excerpt from a letter of Lieutenant William Grant of the old Highland regiment (i.e. 42nd).

An Hardy and Intrepid Race of Men

John Slezer's engraving of Edinburgh Castle, c.1693 showing the Scottish Union Flag being flown above the Royal apartments.
John Slezer’s engraving of Edinburgh Castle c.1693, showing the Scottish Union Flag being flown above the Royal apartments.

SCOTLAND, considering its limited population and extent, has made a distinguished figure in History. No country, in modern times, has produced Characters more remarkable for learning, valour, or ability, or for knowledge in the most important arts both of peace and of War; and though the Natives of that formerly independent, and hitherto unconquered, kingdom have every reason to be proud of the name of Britons, which they have acquired since the Union in 1707, yet still they ought not to relinquish, on that account, all remembrance of the Martial Atchievements, the Characteristic Dress, or the Language, the Music, or the Customs of their Ancestors. If in all these respects they were to be completely assimilated to the English, Scotland would become in a manner blended with England, whilst its inhabitants at the same time could claim no peculiar merit, from old English valour, virtue, literature, or fame; whereas if they consider themselves not only as Britons, but as Scotchmen, there are many circumstances, connected with the more remote, and even the modern periods of their history, which they can recollect with enthusiasm, as the Songs of their Ancient Bards;– the Tales of their former times, when FINGAL conquered, and OSSIAN sung his praises,– their determined resistance to the Roman arms;– their reiterated victories over the Danes, who were formerly the terror of the North;– the renowned atchievements of a WALLACE, a DOUGLAS, and a BRUCE, and other heroes, in their contests with the English, the most warlike nation then existing;– their valour in the service of France, of Holland, and of other Powers;– the share they had in the immortal Victories of the great Gustavus;– the manner in which they have distinguished themselves in more recent times, as at Fontenoy, at Quebec, on the banks of the Ganges and of the Nile, and on so many other important occasions;– their contributing in so material a degree to the revival of Learning in Europe;– their having been the means of establishing some of the most famous Universities on the Continent;– the many celebrated Authors and Artists which Scotland has successively produced;– in short, in the words of a distinguished modern poet, the Scots may be accounted

… a manly race,
Of unsubmitting spirit, wise, and brave;
… thence of unequal bounds
Impatient, and by tempting glory borne
O’er every land,– for every land, their life
Has flow’d profuse, their piercing genius plann’d,
And swell’d the pomp of peace, their faithful toil.

Or if less partial authority be required, than the testimony of a Scottish Poet, let us recollect, that the celebrated Earl of Chatham, on the 11th of January, 1766, expressed himself in the British Senate, when the Military Services of the Scots were under discussion, in the following terms:

I sought for Merit wherever it was to be found. It is my boast that I was the first Minister who looked for it, and found it in the Mountains of the North! I called it forth, and drew into your service, an hardy and intrepid race of men! men who, when left by your jealousy, became a prey to the artifices of your enemies, and had gone nigh to have overturned the State in the war before the last. These men, in the last war, were brought to combat on your side; they served with fidelity, as they fought with valour, and conquered for you in every part of the world.

Perhaps the best mode by which the Scots may be enabled to keep up that National Spirit, which was formerly so conspicuous, that “fier comme un Ecossais,” became proverbial on the Continent, is occasionally to meet in that Garb, so celebrated as having been the dress of their Celtic Ancestors, and on such occasions, at least, to speak the emphatic Language, to listen to the delightful Music, to recite the Ancient Poetry, and to observe the peculiar customs of their country.

— An Account of the Highland Society of London, 1813.

Holds Good in 1915

Recruitment poster from the Great War, featuring portrait and stanza from Burns' I'll Go and Be a Sodger, Museum of the Royal Highland Fusiliers, Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow.
Recruitment poster from the Great War, featuring portrait and stanza from Burns’ I’ll Go And Be a Sodger, Museum of the Royal Highland Fusiliers, Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow.

O why the deuce should I repine,
And be an ill foreboder?
I’m twenty-three, and five feet nine,
I’ll go and be a sodger!

I gat some gear wi’ mickle care,
I held it weel thegither;
But now it’s gane, and something mair-
I’ll go and be a sodger!

I’ll Go And Be A Sodger, Robert Burns, 1782.

Tha sinn ‘san t-sean-nàdur

Tha sinn ‘san t-sean-nàdur
A bhà sinn roimh am an achda,
Am pearsanna ‘s an inntinn,
‘S ‘bar rìoghalachd, cha tèid lagadh.

We’re still of our old nature
As were we ere the Act was passèd,
Alike in mind and persons
And loyalty, we will not weaken.

Am Breachan Uallach, Alasdair Mac Mhaighstir Alasdair.