The Bards of the ‘Forty-Five by Marjorie F. Macdonald.

The most celebrated bards of the ’45 are Alexander MacDonald (Alasdair Mac Mhaighstir Alasdair) and Duncan Ban Macintyre. Both were involved in the battles of that campaign – Alasdair as an impassioned Jacobite, while Duncan appeared in King George’s Argyllshire militia at Falkirk – he had been hired to take the place of Fletcher of Crannach.

I begin this account with Alasdair because he joined the Prince at the very start. He was of the Clann Raonuill (“the Clanronald”, as they called themselves in those days when the chief signed his name “Ronald McDonald Clanronald”). His elder brother was Aeneas (or Angus) MacDonald of “Dalily” or Dalilea. Although both these brothers eventually became Roman Catholics, they were the sons of an Episcopalian clergyman, the Rev. Alexander MacDonald, known to his Ardnamurchan parishioners as “Maighstir Alasdair” (Mr Alexander). They were also first cousins of Flora MacDonald.

Alasdair the bard had studied at Glasgow University. In 1729 the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge appointed him as catechist and schoolmaster in Ardnamurchan. Later, he taught at Kilchoan and Corryvullin. In 1741, at the Society’s request, he compiled a Gaelic-English vocabulary, for which he used the Irish Confession of Faith and the Book of Common Prayer in Irish; but at Whitsun in 1745 he abandoned his school, and on 14th July of that year the Society dismissed him. A few days later the French privateer Du Teillay (frequently misnamed “the Doutelle”) arrived in Lochnanuamh.

Alasdair was, beyond any doubt, the author of the MS entitled “Journall and Memoirs on P….. C…… Expedition into Scotland &c.; 1745-6: By a Highland Officer in his Army.” This MS came into the possession of the Jacobite Lockharts of Carnwath and was eventually printed in Vol.2 of the Lockhart Papers.

Thus we learn how “Highland Officer” (i.e. Alasdair) went aboard the Du Teillay with “Young Clanronald, Glenaladale and Dalily” and encountered “a Tall Youth of a most agreeable aspect,” dressed in black with “a plain shirt not very clean.” The bard continues, “At his first appearance I found my heart swell to my very throat.” The young man was introduced as an English clergyman, but his shabby attire and dingy shirt could not eclipse the royal “air” which baffled those who tried to disguise him after Culloden.

Is éibhinn liom fhìn, tha e tighinn,
Mac an Righ dhlighich tha uainn,
Slios mór Rìoghail d’an tig armachd,
Claideamh us targaid nan dual.

‘S ann a’ tighinn thar an t-sàile
Tha ‘m fear ard as àille snuadh,
Marcaich’ sunndach nan steud-each,
Rachadh gu h-eutrom ‘san ruaig.

Joyful am I! – he comes,
Son of our rightful, longed-for King.
Regal his bearing, arms become him –
Broadsword and studded shield.

Over the ocean be is coming.
Tall of stature, fair of face,
Joyous rider of the war-horse,
Swift pursuer in the chase.

These Gaelic verses, which I have translated, are Alasdair’s. Before the Prince and the Clanronald men set off from Moidart for Glenfinnan, Charles had appointed the ex-schoolmaster to be his tutor in Gaelic. Alasdair was then sent recruiting in Ardnamurchan, and he returned with “50 cliver fellows” who pleased the Prince so much that he gave the bard a captain’s commission in the Clanronald Regiment. The clans were now gathering, and here let me quote some more of Alasdair’s Gaelic lines, this time translated by John Lorne Campbell in “Highland Songs of the Forty-Five”:

Nì na Gàidheil bheòdha, ghasda,
Eirigh bhras le sròlaibh,
Iad ‘nan ciadaibh uim’ ag iathadh,
‘S coltas dian-chuir gleòs orr’;
Gun fhiamh, ‘S jad fiadhta, claidmheach, sgiathach,
Gunnach, riaslach, stròiceach,
Mar chonfadh leómhannaibh fiadhaich,
‘S acras dian gu feòil orr’.

The reckless, active splendid Gaels
Will rise with silken banners.
In hundreds they’ll encircle him.
Keen to prepare for action:
Fearless, ruthless, sworded, shielded,
Well-armed, keen, destructive,
Like the wild lion’s fearful charge,
When spurred by ravening hunger.

On 17th September the Highlanders captured Edinburgh, and Charles took Possession of Holyrood. At the Town Cross the trumpets sounded for the proclamation of King James the Eighth of Scotland. In the Scottish capital, thousands of the faithful drank their loyal toasts. Alasdair’s Muse rejoices:

A chomuinn rìoghail rùnaich,
Sàr-ùmhlachd thugaihh uaibh,
Biodh ur roisg gun smùirnein,
‘S gach cridh’ gun treas gun 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.

I translate:

Beloved loyal company,
Your truest homage do.
May your eyes be full of right,
Your hearts be whole and true
A health to Seumas Stuart.
Joyfully pass it round!
But if some hidden fault besmirch you,
Soil not the sacred cup.

Three days after the triumphal entry, Charles and his army marched to meet Cope at Prestonpans. The English general had found himself a well-nigh impregnable position, but Robert Anderson (a son of the laird of Whitburgh) offered to guide the Jacobite army through the morass which guarded Cope’s left flank, and thus enabled the clans to surprise the enemy at dawn and force him to change his dispositions at the last moment. In his journal, Alasdair wrote:

Our march up to the enemy till we came near was without pipe or drum, in the most profound silence till the attack was begun, when all our instruments, tongues and hands were at work. As we were about to engadge … the P. left his guard on the march to the attack, talking earnestly to the Duke of Perth and (Young) Clanronald and giving his last orders and injunctions: but returning to his guard, as I happend to pass near by him, he with a smile said to me in Erse, ‘Gres-ort, Gres-ort,’ that is, ‘Make haste, make haste.’

Alasdair again:

‘Nam brataichibh làn-éidicht’,
Le dealas geur gun chealg,
Thig Domhnullaich ‘nan déidh sin,
Cho dìleas duit ri d’ léine,
Mar choin air fasdadh éille,
Air chath chrith geur gu sealg;
‘S mairg naimhde do ‘n nochd iad fraoch,
Long, léomhann, craobh, ‘s làmh dhearg.

John Lorne Campbell’s translation:

Then with their flowing banners,
With unaffected zeal,
Clan Donald quickly follows,
As faithful as thy raiment,
Like hounds their leashes straining,
A-tremble for the hunt.
Pity the foes they show the ling,
Ship, lion, tree, red hand.

“As faithful as thy raiment” – this refers to the ancient Gaelic rite of exchanging shirts as a pledge of everlasting friendship and mutual defence. The ling is the heather, the badge of all the branches of Clan Donald – “Ship, lion, tree, red hand” refer to the quarterings of the arms of Clanranald: 1. Argent, a lion rampant gules; 2. Or, a dexter hand couped fessways, holding a cross crosslet fitchee in pale, gules; 3. Or, a lymphad, oars in saltire, sable: in the base, undy vert, a salmon naiant argent; 4. Argent, an oaktree vert, surmounted of an eagle displayed or.

At Prestonpans, Hamilton’s dragoons were the foes to whom the Clan Donald – figuratively speaking showed the “ship, lion, tree, red hand.” The effect was instantaneous, as witnessed by a non-combatant – Lord Drummore the Judge, who had ridden out to the field just as day was breaking and had stationed himself about 150 yards from Cope’s left flank. In this position he had a grandstand view of the attack by the Prince’s right wing (the three Clan Donald regiments). They charged in a long, extended line, and the regularity of their formation astonished the Judge, who wrote:

I took particular notice, that tho’ I could see thro’ the Files of that Line which was directly opposite to me, and not above of that Line which was directly opposite to me, and not above 200 yards Distance; I mean, tho’ I could see thro’ from Front to Rear, there was no Man to be seen in the Open: and I thought they could have form’d a close Line in a Moment. I don’t know if I speak so as to make myself understood to a Soldier; but in short, tho’ their Motion was very quick, it was uniform and orderly, and I confess I was surprized at it. The fire of (Cope’s) small Arms appeared to me to begin upon the Right, nor did I observe any Fire upon the Left, before Hamilton’s Dragoons gave Way and went off, not in a Body, but quite broke in two’s or so; and when they were gone, and gone about 400 Yards. I saw the Left of our Foot standing naked, which I apprehend I could not have seen, had there been any Fire upon the Left…

Many an empty Horse came down just by me, and several Dragoons on Horseback; upon which, and that I observed no Motion made by them towards the Enemy, I concluded that all was lost, and that it was full time for a Pen-and-Ink Gentleman to provide for his Safety, which I did by riding off . . . I am persuaded it was the uncouth Manner in which the Enemy form’d and advanced with vast Order and incredible Celerity, which intimidated our Men.

Alasdair’s journal dismisses the battle in few words but pays this tribute to the victors:

Now whatever notion or sentiment the low country people (Lowlanders) may entertain of our Highlanders, this day there were many proofs to a diligent spectator amidst all the bloodshed (which at the first shock was unavoidable) of their humanity and mercy; for I can with the strictest truth and sincerity declare that I often heard our people call out to the soldiers if they wanted quarters, and we the officers exerted our utmost pains to protect the soldiers from their first fury, when either through their stuborness or want of language they did not cry for quarters, and I observed some of our privat men run to P. Seton for ale and other liquors to support the wounded. And as one proof for all, I saw a Highlander supporting a poor wounded soldier hy the arms till he should ease nature, and afterwards carry him on his back into a house, and left him a sixpence at parting. In all which we followed not only the dictates of humanity but the orders of our P. in all, like the true father of his country.

After a six-week occupation of Edinburgh the Prince’s council decided on a march into England. Reinforcements had increased their army to between 5000 and 6000 men, but it was still the smallest force ever to invade the southern kingdom. Carlisle was taken, but the general outlook was bleak indeed. Except at Preston and Manchester (where the Prince recruited a regiment), the Scots encountered everywhere a sullen, implacable hostility. By the time they reached Derby, they were being hunted by two converging armies (Cumberland’s and Marshal Wade’s), while a third force had been mustered for the defence of London. Despite the Prince’s impassioned appeals, the council was now determined to retreat. Young Clanronald was the only Highland representative who voted to march on.

Here is Alasdair’s comment:

One thing is certain, never was our Highlanders in higher spirits notwithstanding their long and fatiguing march; they had indeed got good quarters and plenty of provisions in their march and were well paid: so that we judged we were able to fight double our numbers of any troops that could oppose us; and would to God we had pushed on tho’ we had been all cut to pieces, when we were in a condition for fighting and doing justice to our noble P. and the glorious cause we had taken in hand, rather than to have survived and seen that fatall day of Culloden when in want of provisions money and rest &c. we were oblidged to turn our backs and lose all our glory.

The retreat was a nightmare. How bold the English population had now become! Stragglers were murdered; and snipers killed some of the Prince’s hussars. The inhabitants constructed road-blocks to hold up the cannon and baggage wagons, and sniped at the Highlanders toiling to clear away such obstacles. Thanks to these delaying tactics, Cumberland was fast overtaking the Scots. Fortunately, during the most critical stage of the retreat, the Prince had an incomparable rearguard – the Glengarry Regiment, to whom a little-known woman bard of the ’45 (Nighean Aonghais Oig – “the daughter of Young Angus”) paid this tribute:

Tha dream foghainteach, fearail
A Gleann-Garadh ‘s a Cnòideart,
Fo ‘n cinn-fheadhna nach tilleadh
‘S nach gabhadh giorag roimh chomhraig,
Gu borb, armailteach, lìonmhor
A’ dol sios anns a’ chomhdhail,
‘S mairg a thàrladh fo’r buillibh,
A shìl nan curaidhnean còire!

John Lorne Campbell’s translation:

A race valiant and manly
From Glengarry and Knoydart,
‘Neath a chieftain who’s fearless,
Unafraid of a combat,
Wild, well-armed, and many,
Charging down to the contest.
Pity him who your blows meets.
Race of generous heroes!

The daughter of Angus is believed to have stemmed from the Keppoch branch. The same poem celebrates the march of Keppoch to join the Prince, and praises the two Donalds – “dà Dhomhnull” – who accompanied him. These adherents were probably the Chief’s brother Donald (subsequently killed at Culloden) and his cousin Donald MacDonell of Tirnadris, hero of the exploit at High Bridge, which resulted in the capture of two companies of Royal Scots, even before the Prince’s standard was raised at Glenfinnan! (In the Clan Donald history this brilliant affair is erroneously attributed to Keppoch’s brother Donald). On the scaffold at Carlisle, Tirnadris met with undaunted resolution the death decreed by English Law as the penalty for high treason. In those days when death by hanging meant slow strangulation, this law specified that the condemned man must not be hanged till he was dead, but cut down alive for the disembowelling.

Let us return to the Glengarry Regiment on the road between Shap and Penrith. Just ahead was the baggage convoy, the overloaded carts continually breaking down as they sank in the sea of mud. Bodies of enemy horse kept appearing on the high ground to right and left, and finally Cumberland’s dragoons came galloping up in the Highlanders’ rear- Fortunately the road was so narrow, between its high hedges, that only three or four mounted men could attack at a time. When the terrified horses reared and wheeled to escape the broadswords that slashed at their noses, the MacDonells would turn and run at top speed after the carts, and then face about to meet the next attack. At Strickland they found 200 horsemen forming up to bar their way; but just as the trumpets were sounding the charge, the Glengarry lads flung off their plaids and raced up the hill to meet the enemy. The trumpets quavered into silence, the trumpeters and their comrades fled for their lives.

Before the battle of Falkirk General Hawley boasted that the Highlanders would never stand up to a cavalry charge – a prediction which was tested when Cobham’s dragoons charged the Clanronald Regiment. Duncan Ban Macintyre, who was in Hawley’s army, recalls the testing:

Bha na h-eich gu cruidheach, srianach,
Giortach, iallach, fiamhach, trupach,
‘S bha na fir gu h-armach. fòghluimt’,
Air an sònrachadh gu murtadh.
‘N uair a thachair riu Clann Domhnuill,
Chum iad comhdhail air an uchdan,
‘S lionmhor spòltaich a bha leònta
Air an 1òn an déidh an tuiteim.

I translate:

Shod and bridled were the horses,
And fearsome to behold,
And the men were armed for warfare,
For the mortal combat trained.
when Clan Donald on the hillside
Met and grappled them in battle,
Many a hacked and mangled man
Was slain on yonder field.

And here is an eyewitness account by the Chevalier de Johnstone, who incorrectly calls Young Clanronald the Chief:

The cavalry closing their ranks, which were opened by our discharge, put spurs to their horses and rushed upon the Highlanders at a hard trot, breaking their ranks, throwing down everything before them and trampling the Highlanders under the feet of their horses. The most singular and extraordinary conflict immediately followed. The Highlanders, stretched on the ground, thrust their dirks into the bellies of the horses. Some seized the riders by their clothes, dragged them down and stabbed them with their dirks, several again used their pistols, but few of them had sufficient space to handle their swords. MacDonald of Clanronald, chief of one of the clans of the MacDonalds, assured me that whilst be was lying upon the ground under a dead horse which had fallen upon him, without the power of extricating himself, he saw a dismounted horseman struggling with a Highlander. Fortunately for him, the Highlander, being the strongest, threw his antagonist, and having killed him with his dirk, he came to his assistance and drew him with difficulty from under the horse.

The resistance of the Highlanders was so incredibly obstinate that the English, after having been for some time engaged pell-mell with them in their ranks, were at length repulsed and forced to retire. The Highlanders did not neglect the advantage they had gained, but pursued them keenly with their swords, running as fast as the horses, and not allowing them a moment’s time to recover from their fright. Then the English cavalry, falling back on their own infantry, threw them instantly into disorder.

On the eve of Culloden the Prince’s army began their night march on Cumberland’s camp at Nairn, a march which was called off by Lord George Murray in defiance of the Prince’s orders. Here is Alasdair’s comment in the journal:

When we had marched within less than three miles of the enemy we were order’d to halt, but by whose advice I cannot say. According to Lord George Murray’s account the morning was too far advanced and the enemy probably had taken the alarm, yet he acknowledges the gentlemen volunteers in the van and many others were for advancing, and also seems to confess that it was the P’s positive orders that the attack should be made, he knowing well the then estate of his army, that they were in want of every thing needfull, and the loss of their money by the Hazard sloops falling into the enemy’s hands making a sudden and bold push absolutely requisite for his purpose. By the acknowledgement since of some of high rank in the Duke of Cumberland’s army the design was not unlikely to succeed, considering the boldness of the Highlanders first attack and the disorder many of the soldiers were in through that days excess…” (The troops had been celebrating Cumberland’s birthday).

As the clans turned back, old Mr Hepburn of Keith wept and declared. “‘This is the finishing stroke!” as indeed it was. The Prince’s men were now committed to challenging the enemy, with all his cannon and his cavalry, in daylight on the open moor. If they had retired beyond the River Nairn to the purely defensive position proposed by Lord George, Cumberland could have marched straight on to Inverness and seized the last of their irreplaceable food supplies: His advance had cut them off from the “laigh of Moray”. and the famine-stricken Highlands had already been eaten bare. Of the battle of Culloden, Duncan Ban Macintyre (now openly Jacobite) wrote:

‘S goirt an sgeul a bhith ‘ga innse
Na chaidh dhith oirnn de na daoine
Na thuit dhiuhh latha chùil-lodair
‘S a fhuair an dochann anns a’ chaonnaig.
Thàinig an trup orr’ o’n cùlaibh,
Triùir mu’n aon duin’ air an aodainn.
‘S nam faigheadh iad cothrom cùise,
Rinn iad diùbhail mu’n do sgaoil iad.

Which I translate:

Bitter is the tale to tell
of Culloden’s fatal day
And our men who on the moorland
Got their death-wounds in the fray.
From behind them came the horsemen,
Thrice their number were before.
Had they but an equal combat,
Havoc they’d have wrought that day.

The allusion of the horsemen (coming from behind) is to the pincer movement of Cumberland’s cavalry, which almost succeeded in surrounding the last of the Jacobite units remaining in the field – the Mackintosh Regiment, the three Clan Donald Regiments and the small remnant of the valiant Chisholms from Strathglass. That pincer movement could never have developed if Lord George had not refused to take any of the measures urged upon him by O’Sullivan, the Duke of Perth and the Camerons, and repeatedly ordered by the Prince, to secure the Culwhiniac enclosures on his right.

There is not a shred of truth in the story, which first appeared some 50 years later, to the effect that Keppoch’s men, in their rage at being placed on the left, refused to follow their Chief, and that he went to his death in a one-man charge. The manner of his demise was very different and is related in four eyewitness accounts, printed in Andrew Lang’s History of Scotland, Vol. 4. See also Dr Evan Barron’s “Inverness and the MacDonalds.” Dr Barron rightly concludes that the three Clan Donald Regiments did everything humanly possible in the hopeless situation in which they had been placed. They suffered very heavy casualties, as the accounts from both armies testify.

The story of the ’45 ends, as it began, among the Clanronald. They did not accept Culloden as the finish. Until King George’s navy found their ammunition dumps, they waged a mini-war of their own against the invaders of their territory. The contemporary press was full of their exploits. And when the ammunition ran out, there was still the Prince to shelter from the hunters who brought the hangman’s noose and the cat-of-nine-tails to loosen the tongues of men for whom £30,000 had no appeal. Well might Alasdair boast:

Ged spìon sibh an eridhe asainn,
‘S ar hrairnchean sìos a shracadh.
Cha toir sibh asainn Teàrlach
Gu bràth gus an téid ar tachdadh.

John Lorne Campbell’s translation:

Though you tear our hearts out,
And rend apart our bosoms,
Never shall you take Prince Charles
From us, till we’re a dying.

In July, in the hope of cornering the Prince, the military authorities set up a cordon of troops all the way from the head of Loch Hourn to the head of Loch Shiel. The sentries were posted within sight of each other. Before dark, huge fires were lit, and the soldiers patrolled continually from post to post. But one night Charles slipped through the cordon with Glenaladale and his brother John, Borrodale’s son John, and Donald Cameron of Glenpean. For five months after Culloden, while the Prince was hunted from place to place all over the West Highlands and Islands, he was seldom without at least one officer of the Clanronald Regiment. And, of course, Flora herself was of the Clanronald.

Alasdair did not live to write his Prince’s funeral elegy. That task fell to the young schoolmaster of Gairloch, William Ross. Alas, there is space here for only two verses of this poem which, to my mind, is the finest ever written on the ’45. The translation is John Lorne Campbell’s.

Tha gach beinn, gach cnoc, ‘s gach sliabh
Air am faca sinn thù triall,
Nis air call an dreach ‘s am fiamh
O nach tig thu chaoidh nan cian.

Soraidh bhuan do’n t-Suaithneas Bhàn.
Gu Là Luain cha ghluais o’n bhàs,
Ghlac an uaigh an Suaithneas Bàn,
Is leacan fuaraidh tuam’ a thàmh.

Each hill-slope and mountainside,
On which we ever saw thee move,
Now has lost its form and hue
Since thou ne’er shalt come again.

Farewell to the white Cockade.
Till Doomsday he in death is laid,
The grave has ta’en the White Cockade,
The cold tombstone is now his shade.