Saturday, April 16, 2011

265 Years After Culloden

This morning I travelled from my home in Nairn past Balbair where the government army camped prior to the Battle of Culloden, past the Loch of the Clans, past Kilravock Castle where the Duke of Cumberland reputedly had breakfast, and on to the site of that battle, 265 years ago on Drumossie Moor, where I attended the annual commemoration service.

It was perhaps appropriate that I approached from this direction since I am a Lowlander. I served in the British Army, in a regiment that stood in the Government front line that day. But one of my ancestors died fighting with the Jacobites in the 1715 Rising. So, like many Scots, my sympathies are split. I abhor Cumberland's cruelty following that battle. Equally, I condemn the arrogance that led to the whole misconceived enterprise, undertaken with no foreign assistance.

Seventy years earlier the 'Brahan Seer' had written "Oh! Drumossie, thy bleak moor shall, 'ere many generations have passed away, be stained with the best blood of the Highlands. Glad am I that I will not see the day, for it will be a fearful period." And so it was. An awful slaughter, the beginning of the end of the clan system.

As a tour guide, I am often at the battlefield. It's a familiar routine, explaining the battle to visitors. But I have never heard a Gaelic prayer, never heard a Piobaireachd, (the great pipe lament), spreading out over this familiar field. It becomes a different place, especially when surrounded by Highlanders who have been there numerous times before, and will come again, to pay respect.

Surrounded by descendants of those who died, I am even more appalled that for 76 years there were no markers at the mass graves of  a thousand or more members of the Jacobite Army who fell that day. It was only in 1822 that Duncan Forbes of Culloden erected the present stones; the great grandchildren of the Inverness women who dug those graves told him which mound was which. It was only some 30 years ago that the 1835 road which bisected the graves was diverted to a discreet distance.

 The swallows are recently arrived in Highland farmyards, baby rabbits scuttle on field fringes, skylarks sing over rough pasture and black-faced sheep that have been overwintered on the low ground are heading back to the hills. Just as it was in 1746.

And just as in 1746 Highlanders are dying for a cause that they cannot fully understand, not in the sleet of Drumossie Moor but in the dust of Afghanistan. As Allan Campbell, President of the Gaelic Society of Inverness, commented this morning, 'It is extraordinary that we never learn the folly of war'.


Carol said...

Alastair...When you took me and David to Culloden my heart was twisted so tightly I could hardly breathe just the thought of so many men,young and old,who died there so brutally is heart wrenching. This weekend we celebrated the 150th anniversary of the first shot that started our Civil War/the War between North and South.I go to Gettysburg and the feeling gets worse. When we hear about a large corporation belly aching about how they cant build a casino on a battlefield where thousands died or we hear more about movie stars getting drunk or arrested then we hear of the soldier/s that was just gunned down/blown up and dies leaving parents,siblings,a wife and child behind just makes me want to scream.But then again with one son who's been over in the Middle East twice and one there now I'm kinda touchy on the topic. Both the men at Culloden and Gettysburg fought for what they believed would make things a better place for the rest of us.It shouldn't matter where the battlefields are as long as the ones who have fallen are remembered for what they fought for and how they did so without question.If you need an answer to their 'why' I believe it would be so their children and their children's children would have a better future then what they were living at the time. It took years and years for the monuments,grave markers,restoration of farms, houses,battefields museums, learning centers to come about. But that should not take the place of the respect due to them,prayers and rememberance of all they have done and examples of courage these men/boys/women have shown long as we pay attention and never forget....

Gerald said...

War is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

Your article is very well done, a good read.