Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Dead in Culloden's Field

This is a line from the Skye Boat Song.  My mother sang this song to me when I was very young.  Sang in her gentle soprano voice, as a lullaby.  The song can be sung in 3/4 time, a waltzing journey into sleep.  Recently I have learned more.  In 1746 young Charles Edward Stuart, heir to the Scottish throne, came ashore at the head of Moray Firth.  The great heights of the Highlands rose before him. He could hear the sea birds calling, the waves lapping..  He was embarked on war with England, set on gaining her crown to unite the two countries under Stuart, Catholic rule.  He had put out a call to the Highland clans to muster on Culloden Moor and stop the Crown forces who marched north for the battle.  First a faint sound, then the full reedy drone of bagpipes, and then the clansmen in small bands moved on the horizon, cresting the hills and turning down to meet the young prince at the sea.  Imagine it.  The soft light of fog.  The heather.  The sea stretching behind him.  Close your eyes and hear it.

Romance and patriotism were no match for the well trained Red Coats.  In 46 minutes it was over.  Bonnie Prince Charlie escaped over land, and then by boat to the Isle of Skye and was later exiled by the prevailing English monarch.  The sweet song my mother sang was about this disastrous encounter.  Here are the words:

Speed Bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing,
Onward! the sailors cry.
Carry the lad that's born to be King
Over the sea to Skye.

Loud the winds howl, loud the waves roar, 
Thunderclouds rend the air.
Baffled our foes, stand by the shore,
Follow they do not dare.

Though the wave leap, soft shall ye sleep
Ocean's a royal bed.
Rocked in the deep, Flora will keep
Watch by your weary head.

Many's the lad fought on that day,
Well the Claymore could wield.
When the night came, silently lay
Dead in Culloden's field.

Burned are their homes, exile and death
Scatter the loyal men.
Yet ere the sword cool in the sheath
Charlie will come again.
Odd lullaby for a baby.  Sing along:

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