Culloden Anniversary 2014

19th April 2014

The anniversary address by this year’s chief

Margaret Bennett

Tha mi a’ cur fàilt’ oirbh uile dhan chruinneachadh an seo – agus ’s e onair mhòr dhomhsa a bhith ga dhèanamh. Ged a tha còrr is dà cheud bliadhna air dol seachad bho Bhliadhna Theàrlaich, tha Latha Chùil Lodair fhathast gu math dlùth ris a h-uile cridhe an seo.

I am honoured to welcome you all, as friends who share the values of our forebears, as we gather together to remember all those who gave their lives 268 years ago – not only those who lie buried here but far beyond this battlefield. As we remember them, we also need to remember that this was not, and is not, a Scotland-England conflict, or Highland-Lowland, it is not a Protestant-Catholic issue, as some may think; there were Protestants and Catholics on both sides and many of Jacobites were Episcopalian. It is not even a cause that can be claimed by a list of clans—there were MacDonalds and MacLeods on both sides; families split down the middle, wives who secretly raised Jacobite supporters behind the backs of their Hanoverian husbands; there were brothers fighting against brothers. The Forty-Five is one of the most complex, and misunderstood, episodes in our history—an episode with far-reaching effects, not only on the Highlands, on Scotland, on Britain but on the world.

When we listen to the Gaelic poetry and songs from the actual time, from the hearts and minds of the men and women who were engaged in Bliadhna Theàrlaich, only then we can have a better understanding of their experiences. Unlike many wars which are fought over land and resources – gold in days gone by, or today’s oil – this was a cause that was rooted in their recognition that the rich culture of the Gael was under threat and could be lost forever if the people themselves did not take a stand.  An unknown woman in Edinburgh sings to her husband:

Brown-haired Allan, wake up and rise
Gather your clan, remember your need of them
Great Scotland will be under sentence of doom
Unless her own people defend her.

Ailein duinn, gabh sgoinn ’s bi ’g èirigh
Tionail do chlann, cuimhnich t’ fheum orr’
Bidh Alba mhòr fo bhinn nam bèistean
Mura dìon a muinntir fhèin i.
Hug o ro hi, hug oireannan
Hug o ro hi, ri ri hiu o
O hithill u hug oireannan.

There’s a timelessness in this trumpet-call – and 268 years on, if our culture is to flourish we ourselves must act.

Some of the bards knew the Prince personally, such as Col. John Roy Stewart of Badenoch who fought in the front line of battle:

Mo chreach, Teàrlach Ruadh bòidheach
Bhith ga dhìteadh aig Deòrsa nam biast;
B’ e siud dìteadh na còrach
An fhìrinn ’s a beòil foidhpe s ìos.
Ach, a Rìgh, ma’s a deòin leat
Cuir an rìoghachd air seòl a chaidh dhinn;
Cuir rìgh dligheach na còrach
Ri linn na tha beò os ar cinn.

Alas, the handsome, red-haired Charles/ should be condemned by that monstrous lord

This is condemnation of Justice, and the truth is brought low, mouth down.

Oh God, if it be your will, /Set this kingdom on  a course

For it has been taken away from us,

Place the true and rightful king over us/ While this generation lives.

But, at the end of the day, after the battle, he saw for himself the reality:

Mo chreach mhòr! na cuirp ghlé-gheal
Tha nan laigh’ air na slèibhtean ud thall,
Gun chiste gun lèintean
Gun adhlacadh fhèin anns na tuill;
Chuid tha beò dhiubh an dèidh sgaoilidh
’S iad a’ bruthadh a chèile air na luing
Fhuair na Chuigs an toil fhèin dinn
’S cha chan iad ach “reubaltaich” rinn.

Alas the bright, white bodies / That are lying on the moorland over there

Without coffins, without shrouds, /Without even burial in holes in the earth

Those that survived have been scattered/ Or packed up against one another in ships.

Nobody could fail to be moved by what he tells.



Margaret Bennett

Margaret Bennett

Others, without names were widowed, orphaned and bereaved, men, women and children who lived through it were only the first of generations to be affected by the aftermath.

But this is not a cue for us to fall into the role of victim – instead it we can choose to turn it into a time to reflect on the impact of that on our language, our culture, our values.

It was not only those who followed the Prince who were affected by the government’s Acts of Proscription – no matter whether they fought as Jacobites or Hanoverian they would denounce all weaponry and instruments of war and their society would be altered by the end to the heritable jurisdiction of the clans.  But least expected, was the total ban on Highland dress – the humiliation, indignity, the stripping not only of their tradition, their identity but also of the only clothes they knew how to wear. Yesterday was Good Friday, or, as the Gaels say,Latha na Ceusa – the day of the crucifixion, when Christ was stripped of His garments, of dignity recognisable to people the world over. It’s worth taking a moment to remember the actual wording of the Act:  Abolition and Proscription of the Highland Dress 19 George II, Chap. 39, Sec. 17, 1746:

That from and after the first day of August, One thousand, seven hundred and forty-six, no man or boy within that part of Britain called Scotland, other than such as shall be employed as Officers and Soldiers in His Majesty’s Forces, shall, on any pretext whatever, wear or put on the clothes commonly called Highland clothes (that is to say) the plaid Philabeg, or little Kilt, Trowse, Shoulder-belts, or any part whatever of what peculiarly belongs to the Highland Garb; and that no tartan or party-coloured plaid of stuff shall be used for Great Coats or upper coats, and if any such person shall presume after the said first day of August, to wear or put on the aforesaid garment or any part of them, every such person so offending … For the first offence, shall be liable to be imprisoned for 6 months, and on the second offence, to be transported to any of His Majesty’s plantations beyond the seas, there to remain for the space of seven years.

The ultimate indignity is to be stripped of your clothing – and those who had pledged loyalty to King George discovered it brought no rewards for the culture that had also sustained them for centuries was to be decimated, there would be no freedom in their own language.

Reflecting the spirit of the Gael, Duncan Bàn MacIntyre composed his “Oran don Bhriogais” (ode to trousers)  at the loss of the Highland dress – the ONLY clothing Highlanders knew:

 Soraidh leis a’ bhreacan ùr  
Oir ‘s ann air a tha mo rùn                
B’ ait leam e os cionn mo ghlùin    
Ann am pleatadh dlùth mun cuairt.

Farewell to the new plaid/ I have a great affection for it / I enjoyed wearing it always above the knee/ and pleated around my waist.

Gaels were to wait a full generation before the act was repealed by George III in 1782

Meanwhile, it was the perfect lure to fill the ranks of the British army with kilted Highlanders highly trained and with an unquestionable loyalty that had been part of their culture from time immemorial.

Yet in Scotland today we don’t have to go far to sense a tartan cringe – even some eminent historians voice opinions that belittle our pride in wearing tartan, some citing – or blaming – Sir Walter Scott’s role in dressing George IV in tartan during the first royal visit after the Act was repealed. Surely this is a complete misunderstanding of both the facts and the motives:  There seems much more to be gained in recognising that Scott took the very first opportunity possible to dress the monarch in the very fabric and dress that the ruling government had banned. I would consider that a tour de force, if ever there was one. This surely is our cue to reclaim that our confidence and not to cower behind the blame.

Culloden cast a huge shadow over all our people, right across the world. But, as I reminded myself earlier, where there is a shadow there must also be light. You cannot have a shadow without light. And we can walk in that light.

As this year we celebrate Homecoming Scotland 2014, we welcome thousands of returning Highlanders, Lowlanders, some Jacobites – many will wear tartan, despite the fact that generations have passed since their forebears left the Old Country, they tell us that ‘still, the heart is Highland’. As they speak of their Highland forebears, who were Gaelic speaking, they regret the loss of the language, yet today, there are apparently more Gaelic learners in North America than in Scotland.

As we share with them diverse ways of celebrating Highlandness it’s time for Scots the world over, and especially in Scotland, to pay more attention to what is behind their celebrations.

In attending this ceremony of remembrance for all who fought and died at Culloden 268 years ago, we remember not only the individuals who died, but with them demise of the traditional values of the society of the Gael. In gathering together here we re-affirm our commitment to those values: honesty, loyalty, integrity, trust, fairness, faithfulness, justice, devotion — values that are endangered in modern society, and in some areas totally lacking.

And if you go to any great gathering or Highland Games across the world, whether it’s Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina or Braemar in Scotland, before you start to comment on what you see, think on this:  these people attend because they believe in those values, values that they struggle to attain or even to find in the hum-drum of everyday societies. But there, they can be surrounded by them. And it’s in that light that we can go forward, in the hope that the language and the culture that the Jacobites fought for, will be valued and flourish again as it did in the past.