Clan Donald and Culloden by Lt. Col. Iain Cameron Taylor

A reappraisal of the part played by the Clan Donald at Culloden is given by Lt. Col. Iain Cameron Taylor in the latest of The National Trust for Scotland’s guidebooks which gives a dramatic account of the battle and of events before and after it. [Culloden, price 2s 6d, postage 6d extra, from the Trust’s offices, 5 Chalotte Square, Edinburgh 2 or at NTS information centres].

Much has been made of the story or legend that the MacDonalds, on being refused the premier position on the right of the line (which it is said they claimed as their traditional position in a Scottish Royal Army since Bannockburn), sulked and refused to charge.

In actual fact by an agreement reached early in the campaign, the Order of Battle or of March was changed each day, and on the 16th it should have been the Camerons’ turn, but Lochiel conceded the place to his Lieut. General and the Atholl Brigade. Certainly some Clan Donald officers protested, but this may have had as much to do with the unsuitable ground chosen for them by O’Sullivan, as with lack of precedence. Yet the soldier-poet, Colonel John Roy Stewart, whose unit was alongside, merely laments that the MacDonalds were not at full strength that day and, though constant and courageous, were stricken in the battle.

Sir Walter Scott relates how MacDonell of Keppoch advanced to the charge with a bitter exclamation, “Mo Dhia, an do threig clann mo chinnidh mi?” – “My God, have the children of my tribe forsaken me?” But Andrew Lang (in the Appendix to Vol. IV of his History of Scotland) proved conclusively that the MacDonalds did not forsake their leader, and if Keppoch in fact used the expression, it was a hasty and irritable one during a momentary hesitation.

The main body of Keppoch’s MacDonells and some of the other detachments had only rejoined the Army the night before, after long forced marches and just in time for the abortive night march. In World War II parlance, they were probably ‘browned-off,’ but were certainly not lacking in spirit and loyalty.

Clan Donald may not have added greatly to their laurels that fatal day, but they assuredly deserved no ignominy. Young Clanranald himself was badly wounded and all three regiments lost many officers and men, including brave MacDonald of Scotus, killed with 20 of his men around him, and Keppoch’s brother Donald. Their casualties, however, were not as heavy as those units in the Jacobite right wing.

It is possible that the legend about the MacDonalds was spread by Whig historians to sow dissension among the clans afterwards, but it has no place in the annals of the Gael.

During Clan Donald’s withdrawal Mackenzie of Torridon advised Keppoch’s men, when they were in danger of attack from Kingston’s Horse, “Keep close together. If we stand shoulder to shoulder these men will be more frightened of us than we of them.” The advice was taken and the men were led safely from the field by Keppoch’s nineteen-year-old natural son, Angus Ban.

A little-known incident of the battle was the gallant covering action carried out on the Jacobite left by Brigadier Stapleton and his Irishmen of Lally’s, Dillon’s and Booth’s Piquets in the second line. Their stand allowed the MacDonalds to retire in safety from the field and avoid being ridden down by the dragoons. The gallant action, however, was costly and more than half the little force lost their lives.