(these are the last notes of an Auld Sang)
By Richard K. Munro
I can’t remember a time that I did not know this song by heart. This farewell song is from the point of view of the soldier who will be executed: When he sings, “ye’ll tak’ the high road and I’ll tak’ the low road” in effect he is saying that you will return alive, and I will return in spirit.
Why was there a rebellion or Rising as it was called in 1745?
At the time in Scottish history when “Loch Lomond” was a new song, the United Kingdom (which united Scotland, England, and Wales) had already been formed.
But some Highland Scots (Gaels) wanted a Scottish Stewart, not an English King to rule. Many called George II a “wee German laddie” and felt the current government was illegal and unconstitutional.
But like the American Civil War the Scots themselves were divided. Many remained loyal to the Crown (the Hanoverians) but others felt it was now or never so rose up in rebellion.
It was called the “Cause of True Honour” but of course it was doomed to failure.
What chance could a handful of tribesmen have against an Empire and “Britannia’s sons with their long-range guns”?
As my Auld Pop used to day “we won all the songs but lost all the battles.”
Many’s the lad fought on that day
Well the claymore could wield,
When the night came silently lay
Dead on Culloden’s field.
Burned are our homes, exile and death
Scatter the loyal men…….
Led by their Bonnie Prince Charlie (Prince Charles Edward Stuart) the Highland army gained some early victories by dint of daring and sheer courage.
But his army of 7,000 Highlanders were utterly defeated on April 16, 1746 at the famous Battle of Culloden. It was the last battle fought on British soil.
In the aftermath of the battleThe Duke of Cumberland (called “The Butcher”) led brutal reprisals and indiscriminately burned the homes and farms of any Highlander whether or not they had participated in the rebellion.
YOU CAN READ ABOUT THIS in ANDREW ROBERT’S NEW BOOK on George III THE LAST KING OF AMERICA which comes out this fall. It was my privilege and honor to have helped Professor Roberts with the research of the book and its editing. So take it from me this is a wonderful and original book a real tour-de-force!
« Drumossie moor, Drumossie day,
A waefu’ day it was to me !
For there I lost my father dear,
My father dear and brethren three.
Arnold Toynbee said this was the last day of the European Iron Age when the last tribes of White Barbarians (as he called them) were subdued.
The aftermath led to the Highland Clearances ,mass emigration and the suppression of the Gaelic language and Highland dress.
It is this same battle that directly gives rise the LOCH LOMOND song.
After the battle, many Scottish soldiers were imprisoned within England’s Carlisle Castle, near the border of Scotland. “Loch Lomond” tells the story of two Scottish soldiers who were so imprisoned.
One of them was to be executed, while the other was to be pardoned.
According to Celtic legend if someone dies in a foreign land, his spirit will travel to his homeland by “the low road” – the route for the souls of the dead. In the song, the spirit of the dead soldier shall arrive first, while the living soldier will take the “high road” in the Land of the Living over the mountains, to arrive afterwards.
But the pardoned soldier knows he will never meet his comrade again, in the land of the living, and that their defeatedd cause is finished and “will never know a second Spring.”
He remembers his happy past, “By yon bonnie banks … where me and my true love were ever wont to gae [accustomed to go]” and sadly accepts his death “the broken heart it ken nae [knows no] second Spring again.”
The lyrics intertwine the sadness of the Highland soldier’s plight his deep love for his country and his comrades with beautify imagery of Loch Lomond’s stunning natural beauty under Ben Lomond (a ben is a mountain).
My family emigrated from Scotland en masse 1923-1948 so I grew up in Kearny, NJ and Brooklyn, NY among many immigrants.
They passed on to me a love of the traditional and national music of Scotland but also the sad wisdom of these songs which are filled with that the Highlander calls CIANALAS a word that could be translated as deep nostalgia but also a connectedness to the past and heritage and an awareness that the greatest distance between people and places is not the miles but TIME.
One of the lessons you learn from the traditional songs is to persevere, to endure defeat, exile and disappointment and that you have to be prepared to say goodbye to the places and the people you love and that nothing endures forever.
So my parent’s home and my grandfather’s home and his Auld Regiment are now part of “Yesterday’s Seven Thousand Years”. I know there is no home to go back to. But while never forgetting the past I face firmly towards the future and I am very grateful for the safe harbor that America has been to my immigrant family, my children and my grandchildren.
My mother used to say, “Life and love are brief moments in time so let us tell the people we love NOW and appreciate them WHILE they ARE here with us.”
Ah, yes, how sweet was then my mother’s voice in the Martyr’s Psalm.
Tomorrow is my last day of instruction.
My last full day at West High and in the Kern High School district.
So I bid adios and goodbye and farewell.
SLAN LIEBH GU BRATH. SEMPER FI.
We will see you at sundown.
Richard Keith Munro