The Battle Of Auldearn
The Battle of Auldearn took place on May 9, 1645 near the village of Auldearn, close by Nairn. The Royalist forces under the Duke of Montrose were opposed by a much larger force of Covenanters and Roundheads under Sir John Hurry. In the end, Sir John hurried off the field.
Gaelic people attributed much of the Royalist success to the heroic but rash exploits of a Highland contingent led by Alasdair MacDonald, better known in his time as Alasdair MacCholla. Despite Montrose's orders, Alasdair led a wild charge that resulted in a huge slaughter on both sides and left Alasdair and his men in dire straits. He probably was one of the last field commanders in Europe to lead his troops on foot and at the front.
Montrose had the good judgement to use Alasdair's wild assault to inspire Huntly's Gordon cavalry to attack the exposed south flank of Hurry's army. This cavalry charge enabled Alasdair to gather the remnants of his force and with the help of Montrose's reserves destroy the enemy center. The rout that followed resulted in a wild chase over the moors for fourteen miles.
The composer is unknown. The likelihood is that it is a MacDonald tune, given the triumphant tone of the music. The Gaelic poet, Iain Lom MacDonald, celebrated Alasdair's deeds on that day with a poem, the first line of which, freely translated, goes: “Health and joy to the valiant Alasdair who won the Battle of Auldearn with his army.”
Iain Lom's presentation of Alasdair created a romantic vision of the hero who was to die in Ireland in the aftermath of the Battle of Knocknanuss, November 1647. Alasdair's commitment was to the preservation of “Gaeldom”, a challenge so nearly won and so tragically lost in the century that followed his death. On learning of Alasdair's death, Iain Lom wrote a poem; a translated excerpt is given here:
my utter woe that Alasdair was dead.
The spirited princely youth would rouse thousands,
when he raised the pipe and the satin banner.
There would be with him unwearied men and young fighters
from the small clumps of thicket where lies the mist.
Your desire was always to have a broadsword basket–hilted
with its biting edge of blue steel.
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