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Lament For MacDonald Of Kinlochmoidart


Like so many others, the origin of the tune is veiled by the mists of time. In 2005 when playing at the British Columbia Pipers' Piobaireachd Club, Jack Lee introduced the Lament for MacDonald of Kinlochmoidart #1, by illustrating that setting as a Lament and setting #2 as a Salute.


There is a tradition that the tune was played as a lament for Munro of Foulis or, conversely, that the lament played for Munro became or was the theme for Kinlochmoidart. There is another view that the tune was an older tune whose name was lost and that it was resurrected in new clothing for Munro's funeral. While serving on the Hanoverian side, Munro was killed at the Battle of Falkirk, 1746. So great was the respect for Munro throughout the Highlands that six Jacobite Chieftains were in attendance at Munro's graveside and had their pipers play this lament in concert. This suggests an older tune well-known to clansmen.


Macdonald of Kinlochmoidart was a respected poet and soldier. He fought on the Jacobite side and was very active in raising support for Prince Charles Edward Stuart. After Culloden, Macdonald was captured, tried and hanged most brutally at Carlyle. Here is a translated verse that expresses the feelings of his clan:

The sun is clouded. The hills are shrouded;
The sea is silent, it ends its roar.
The streams are crying; winds are sighing,
Our Moidart hero returns no more.

Despite uncertainty about the composer and origin, there is no doubt that the tune had a connection with the Jacobite uprising of 1745/46.


Kinlochmoidart Lament – By Roderick MacLeod, 1959


This fine, tuneful piece of music was played by four competitors in the Open and Amateur events at the B.C. Pipers' Society Annual Meet on April 11th this year. Had it been played four times more after the Meet was over, even if it was getting late, I would have sat and listened.


The second and third variations were not played, which I think is a pity, but I know it was no slip on the part of any of them. Laments, to me, are different in character. In one the composers thought seems to be of the person who has passed on, and the tune is built so that the pipes are heard mourning for the departed, and no instrument can do it better. In another, the composer is speaking with the chanter from the depths of his soul to the bereaved relatives, and the pipes wail their sympathy.


Then there is that one that is said to tower above all others, where the composer, who was In the front rank of musicians, sorrows for himself, and when death takes seven sons one can understand his thoughts being principally of his own loss. Others again can be said to be historic or biographic in character and we get a series of pictures in the melody, with a thread of sorrow running through them all.


One of these is the tunefull one I speak of, “Kinlochmoidart Lament”. It is a tale of loyalty, eulogising one of Moidart's devoted clansmen – Donald MacDonald – who befriended Bonnie Prince Charlie, accompanying him on all his adventures, and for this fidelity died at the hand of the executioner.


What is heard in the groundwork of this tune is not what one expects to find in a lament, for it is really a welcome to the French ship “Doutelle”, which, after leaving Eriskay, with Prince Charlie on board, sailed into Loch–an–Uamh, near where Donald MacDonald had his home; and after listening to the Urlar a few times, I fancied I could smell the sea, and hear the rattle of block and tackle, as sails were being lowered on the French barque.


Then, interpreting what the composer had in mind, I could hear the chanter singing in bar after bar

“Hail to the barque,
Blest be her men,
A Prince is nigh,
Let the war-pipes ring,
Furling the sails,
The mariners sing,
Heres to the lad,
Brought home to be King”.

On landing, the Prince makes his way to the home of MacDonald, and again in fancy, I can see those kind people carrying in armfuls of peats to make a good fire for their Prince.


In this place Bonnie Prince Charlie dons the Highland dress, and, to the sound of pipes, and surprise of those present, raises his glass and gives this toast in Gaelic : “Ol deoch slainte Righ Seumas” (Drink to the health of King James). Now, on what sweeter note than that could Highlanders have been called on to start the '45? Then the Prince with a company of men, small in number but mighty in loyalty, and led by brave Donald MacDonald of Kinlochmoidart, left the MacDonald home for the shores of Loch Sheil to take a boat to Glenfinnan.


Here, in variation 1, the tune turns into another strain as the chanter sings in agreeable modulation these words:

“Men muster, pipes peal, the rendezvous
Beside Loch Shelil,
Moidart hears, measured tread, marching men,
By Donald led.
Day dawns, marchers stand, skiffs readied
By the strand.
Boats unmoor, rowers pull, Glenfinnan way,
Far down Loch Sheil.”.

They leave the Moidart shore to the tune of the pipes, and, keeping time to the music, the rowers, pull on the oars to reach Glenfinnan, where the Prince expects to meet his army, raise his standard, and as he said', “Lead them from there to conquer or dle”. l think again of poor wives and sweethearts who sit at spinning-wheels, wet-eyed and sorrowful for brave men who return no more. But the chanter comes in here, and gives, in rowing time, those happy measures in the Doubling of Variation 1:

“To pipers rhythm, oarsmen row,
A friendly tide Is flowing,
The course is for Glenfinnan laid,
As favouring winds are blowing.
The Prince surveys the Moidart glens,
As skiffs are driving forward.
A thousand men from them he'll claim
As his father did before him.
They land on rough Glenfinnan's shore,
Where noisy sea-birds greet them.
No warrior clans or piper bands
Are gathered there to meet them”.

But not too long after their arrival keen ears caught the sound of pipes echoing from the hills around, and streaming, from the glen, armed with sword, dirk and targe, there came men of Glengarry, men of Clan Ranald; of Keppoch; of Stewart; and brave Lochiel. The Prince unfurled his standard, and, with his little army, the “Young Chevalier” went moving forward to prove his fortune.


I cannot do better than quote a couple of verse's by James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd, which suit well here, as the tune changes into the Taorluath:

“Now our Prince has raised his banner,
Now triumphant is our cause.
Now the Scottish Lion rallies,
Let us strike for Prince and Laws!
See the Northern clans advancing,
See Glengarry and Lochiel,
See the brandished broadswords glancing,
Highland hearts are true as steel.”

In the “doubling” there is lots of action, for, growing larger as they go along, the army of loyal Highlanders is driving South, and many skirmishes take place between pursuers and pursued. Into the CrunIuath we come with clashing of claymore and clanging of spear; the shrill cry of the pipes, 'midst call of trumpet and bugle blast, as men are being rallied in the fierce Prestonpans battle where the gallant clansmen, some in their bare feet, put to flight the cavalry of the opposing forces.


There is more fierce fighting, and the Chevalier, like a Victor, still keeps at the head of his army, when, now surrounded by hostile forces, they make a final bid for victory in this desperate adventure.


But growing tired, at times hungry, the little army reduced; on the open plain with no protection from artillery or cavalry, they await on a cold sleety day in April, two hundred and thirteen years ago, the last encounter in which, on Culloden Moor, they lost all but their honour.


So dominant were the pipes in this cause that a loyal piper was executed, as well as the hero of this classical tune, Donald MacDonald of Kinlochmoidart, and, returning again to the “Urlur”, we hear the pipes wailing this mournful dirge.

“The sun I's clouded. The hills are shrouded.
The sea is silent. It ends its roar.
The streams are crying, and winds are sighing:
‘Our Moidart hero returns no more.’”

But that was not the end. The Kinlochmoidart funeral cortege has been a Iong one. From the bells, that started tolling for Donald on that black day, the Scottish national internment has taken up the requiem, and tile hearse of faithful Donald MacDonald of Kinlochmoidart is followed with constant allegiance, and the procession will keep moving slowly along for all time to come, with the bagpipes, wailing “The Kinlochmoidart Lament” in the many lands where piobaireachd is heard.


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