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,
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.