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Carles With The Breeks – Part One


Events linked to this Carles With The Breeks go back to what might loosely be called a feud between the Sinclairs and the MacKays that began circa 1620. James MacKay, Seumas–an–Tuim, was a vile man – a murderer, cattle thief and bully – who was to outlive his enemies and die in bed at an old age. James was constantly at odds with Sinclairs and their Grant associates. Before matters were settled members of other Clans became involved including MacGregors and Campbells. The enmity spanned a period of more than 50 years.


Sinclair, Earl of Caithness, went deeply in debt, partly as a result of his feud with MacKay. Campbell of Glenorchy took over debt owed by the Earl of Caithness, his brother in law, with the Earl's estate as security. Five years after the Earl's death in 1675, Glenorchy invaded Caithness to enforce his agreement with the Earl. His force overwhelmed the locals at Alt nam Meirlach, close by Wick. The words ”The carles with the breeks are flying from the field“ described Sinclair's trews–wearing gentlemen who, being mounted, were able to flee the scene and escape the cruel fate of the foot soldiers.


The piobaireachd played by the Campbell piper was the song of Seumas–an–Tuim, James MacKay, in which these fateful words appear:

Ye women of the glen, Ye women of the glen, Ye women of the glen, Is it not time for you to rise, And James-an-Tuim driving away your cattle.


The tune was given the name Breadalbane's March when Glenorchy became Earl of Breadalbane. It was played by Glen Lyon's piper as a warning before the massacre of Glencoe, “Ye women of the glen, awake.”


The above paraphrases Haddow.


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