A Historical Account for Cogadh No Sith
This is an ancient piobaireachd played either as a brosnachadh, a tune played on the eve of a battle to rouse clansmen to a high emotional state, or, in battle. It was also once commonly known as “The True Gathering of the Clans”. The tune was favored by Cameron of Lochiel's pipers during the Jacobite rebellion of 1745/46.
At the Battle of Saint Pierre in 1813, a piper of the Gordon's played Cogadh no Sith and was killed as he played. A second piper took up the tune and was also killed. A third piper completed the tune.
Probably the best known playing of Cogadh no Sìth was at the Battle of Waterloo when Piper Kenneth MacKay of Tongue played the tune. Kenneth MacKay was a piper with the 79th Cameron Highlanders. As his regiment was forming a square to defend themselves against the charging French Cuirassiers, the proudest cavalry of its day, Kenneth MacKay stepped outside the square and took up his pipe to play Cogadh no Sith. And there outside the square he marched despite the repeated charges of the French cavalry, all the while playing Cogadh no Sìth. Was Kenneth MacKay inspired by his Clan's ancient motto: Biodh treun – Biodh treun (Be Valiant – Be Valiant)?
The square held firm despite heavy casualties – over 300 officers and men killed or wounded. Kenneth MacKay by some miracle was unharmed. The Cameron Highlanders were singled out for special mention by the Duke of Wellington. When representatives of the regiment were invited to Paris to appear before the royalty of Europe, Kenneth MacKay played Cogadh no Sìth for the Tsar of Russia. He was later presented with a set of silver mounted pipes donated by Britain's Prince Regent.
A poem was written on the occasion by Alice C. MacDonnell of Keppoch, a verse of which goes as follows:
From MacKay who stepped without;
‘Cogadh no Sìth’ the soldiers answered
With a loud triumphant shout.
There are few known words to Cogadh no Sìth. Here are some:
War or peace, war or peace,
'S coma leam, 's coma leam,
Alike to me, alike to me,
Cogadh no sith;
War or peace;
Marbhar sa cogadh,
I will be killed in the war
No crochar an sith mi.
Or hanged in the peace.
The last two lines capture the fatalism of Lochiel and his clansmen who came out reluctantly to fight, and fight bravely in the '45 for Teàrlach Ruaidh, Prince Charles Edward Stuart. The words complemented the mindset of the Cameron clan who were accustomed to rally to the cry: ‘come you sons of hounds and I will give you flesh’.
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