The Royal Scots Cap Badge


Black Donald's March


It may never be clear whether this majestic tune is a Cameron or a MacDonald piobaireachd. Although Haddow linked this piobaireachd to the first Battle of Inverlochy, 1431, he also suggested that it would not have been in its present form. This battle saw the King's army under command of the Earls of Caithness and Sutherland losing to the warriors of the Lord of the Isles. Unlike Harlaw, at this battle the Camerons fought on the King's side against MacDonald of the Isles.


Both Clan Cameron and Clan MacDonald have an arguable claim to the tune. The MacDonald leader at the first Battle of Inverlochy was Black Donald Balloch, a kinsman of Alexander MacDonald, 3rd Lord of the Isles. Also, a MacDonald supporter could claim that losers don't compose a stirring piobaireachd after a loss and, therefore, ithe probability rests with it being a MacDonald tune. However, if the origin of the tune predates Inverlochy, that argument doesn't prevail – the tune could celebrate a time when the Camerons fought beside the Lord of the Isles, for example, at ‘Red’ Harlaw, 1411.


MacDhomhnuill Duibh was then the patronymic of Lochiel Cameron Chieftains and remains so to this day “until tomorrow and so on forever”. With two Donald Dubhs in the caste, the mystery may never be resolved.


Was the tune played during the battle? Or, was it played as a brosnachadh before the battle to stir the blood and the fighting spirit of the Gaelic warriors? Or, did the tune have its roots in a poem that in the ancient Gaelic custom would have been sung and, if so, might it have been sung to warriors on the eve of battle? Or, could it have been a short pipe tune that foreshadowed the blossoming of piobaireachd as we know it today? In either of the latter two scenarios, the emergence of a full–blown piobaireachd could have followed one or two centuries after the first Battle of Inverlochy, triggered perhaps by some other battle in some other place or by a bard's song at a clan gathering.


That process of transformation continues to this day. The tune and its echoes can be heard in a quickstep march or a modern-day “Celtic” song.


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