By the Editor
Two hundred and seventy three years ago part of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s rebel army, five clans and their pipers, walked past my front door. How do I know that I hear you ask. Well, I’ve been reading Christopher Duffy’s authoritative tome ‘The ’45 – Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Untold Story of the Jacobite Rising’ and on page 403 it reads:
‘The Prince’s army left Glasgow at first light on 3 January 1746…..one mile out of town the army split into two…Lord George Murray with six clan regiments marched along the short and easy route…to Cumbernauld.’
Part of that ‘short and easy route’ is now Mount Harriet Drive where I live. It is marked by this sandstone pillar and commemorative plaque a few yards from my front door:
As they say in the US, ‘ain’t that somethin’. The idea that these clansmen and their pipers trudged past here all those years ago….How many of them were to die at Culloden only a few months later?
There are many other piping references in the book. Donald Ban MacCrimmon, he of the magnificent lament, died, as we all know, at the Rout of Moy that same year, but earlier, in December 1745 at Inverurie, Aberdeenshire, we read…‘The Jacobites advanced…one hour after sunset on the moonlit night of Decemebr 23….the action ended with the MacLeods [on the Government, or whig side] fleeing over the stubble fields.
‘Nine of the Jacobites had been killed…..some twenty men were wounded on each side and the Jacobites took about sixty prisoners including the highly significant figure of Donald Ban MacCrimmon, who was hereditary piper to the MacLeod of Dunvegan and indeed the most famous piper in the whole of Scotland.
‘He was released on parole, which he broke, and survived to be killed at the Rout of Moy on 16th February 1746.’
Of Moy this estimable book recounts the words of the Whig commander Lord Loudon: ‘We marched to the heights above the water at Nairn, where to my infinite mortification, saw and heard about about mile on my left a running fire from the whole detachment….
‘I got my own regiment at the head…all faced to where they saw the fire. They were ten men deep, and a good many dropping shots, one of which killed a piper at my foot…’ The dead piper was ‘the great Donald Ban MacCrimmon’.
This tragic event gave us one of the greatest, if not the greatest of all piobaireachd, the Lament for Donald Ban MacCrimmon, written in commemoration of his kinsman by Malcolm MacCrimmon. Had Donald Ban not broken his parole and been killed at Moy we might never have had this masterpiece to savour. Here’s a recording of it I made a couple of years ago:
There is more evidence of the pipes during the ’45. Lord George Murray on a setback during the Battle of Falkirk: ‘Our vast loss was that not a pair [sic] of pipers could be got. The pipers, whenever a battle begins, give their pipes to their boys, who take care of them; and the pipers who are commonly as good men as any, charge with the rest’.
Loudon proximity to his piper and Lord George Murray’s concerns at the lack give notice of the awareness officers had for the inspiring effect the bagpipe had on the ranks during battle. When the rebellion was crushed the British Army was not slow to appreciate our instrument and its devotees and this helped it survive the suppression of all things Highland after the ’45.
Those having a tune at the Glenfinnan games next week have the opportunity of playing in one of the grandest settings in all Scotland. As you tune up, remember the pipers who gathered there all those years ago to pledge their allegiance to a cause that was not really theirs and for which they paid a terrible price.
Afterwards, if you feel like a dram, head to the Glenfinnan House Hotel where you will see the atmospheric picture at the head of this article.
- ‘The ’45 – Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Untold Story of the Jacobite Rising’ is published by Cassell; ISBN 0-304-35525-9