Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Trad Tuesday: The Battle of Harlaw sung by Old Blind Dogs

The Battle of Harlaw was fought July 24, 1411 between highland and lowland Scots. The highland forces under Donald, Lord of the Isles with Donald Dubh, XI Captain and Chief of Clan Cameron, rose in support of Donald, 2nd Lord of the Isles in his rebellion of 1411. At the heart of this conflict was land. Robert, Duke of Albany, Regent of Scotland, had laid claim to the Earldom of Ross, even though Donald of the Isles had the better claim. Needless to say, Donald disputed the Regent's actions. He raised a large force from amongst his own Clan Donald and from his vassals and followers (amongst whom were Donald Dubh and the Camerons) met the forces of the Regent Albany at Harlaw, near Aberdeen.

The kilted army came down from the Highlands more like a party of marauders rather than a polished force - little did it matter, since their size was reported to be 10,000 men. They descended to Benochie, near the Don, in Aberdeenshire. This hill, a sort of bastion of the Grampians abutting into the Lowlands, has a vantage point over the entire coutryside. Arriving at Harlaw, which was flat moor edging up to the rise of the hill, the Highlanders met those who had come to guard the entrance to the low country. The Highland charge met a compact body of men-at-arms and spearmen who held their own firmly. Wave after wave crashed against the spearmen, with heavy damage on both sides.

The Battle of Harlaw ("Red Harlaw") is remembered as being a particularly bloody affair. The result was indecisive, for casualties were so heavy on each side that they could fight no more. It is recorded that many of Donald Dubh's Cameron followers were killed at Harlaw, although specific numbers were not recorded. Donald of the Isles' forces, joined by Donald Dubh and the remainder of Clan Cameron, had to withdraw the army and retire to their own country.

As I cam' in by Dunideer and doon by Nether Ha'
There were fifty thoosand' heilan' men a-marchin' tae Harlaw
Chorus (after each verse):
Wi' a diddy aye o' an' a fal an' doe
And a diddy aye o' aye ay
As I gaed on an' farther on and doon an' by Balquhain
Oh it's there I saw Sir James the Rose and wi' him John the Graeme
"It's cam' ye fae the Heilan's man, cam' ye a' the wey?
Saw ye MacDonald and his men as they cam' in fae Skye?"
"It's I was near and near eneuch that I their numbers saw
There was fifty thoosan' heilan' men a-marchin' tae Harlaw"
"Gin that be true," says James the Rose, "We'll no cam' muckle speed
We'll cry upon wir merry men and turn wir horse's heid"
"Oh na, o' na," says John the Graeme, "This thing will nivver be
The gallant Graemes wis nivver beat, we'll try fit we can dae"
Well, as I gaed on an' further on an' doon an' by Harlaw
There fell fu' close on ilka side sic straiks ye nivver saw
There fell fu' close on ilka side sic straiks ye nivver saw
An' ilka sword gaed clash for clash at the Battle of Harlaw
The Heilan' men wi' their lang swords, they laid on us fu' sair
And they drave back wir merry men three acres breadth and mair
An' Forbes tae his brither did say, "Noo brither, can't ye see
They've beaten us back on ilka side and we'll be forced tae flee"
"Oh na, na, my brither bold, this thing will nivver be
Ye'll tak yer guid sword in yer haun', ye'll gang in wi' me"
Well, it's back tae back the brithers bold gaed in amangst the thrang
And they drave back the heilan' men wi' swords baith sharp and lang
An' the firstan stroke that Forbes struck, he gart MacDonald reel
An' the neistan straik that Forbes struck, the brave MacDonald fell
An siccan a ptlairchie o' the likes ye nivver saw
As wis amangst the Heilan' men fan they saw MacDonald fa'
Some rade, some ran and some did gang, they were o' sma' record
For Forbes and his merry men, they slew them on the road
O' fifty thoosan' Heilan' men, but fifty-three gaed hame
And oot o' a' the Lawlan' men, fifty marched wi' Graeme
Gin onybody spier at ye for them that marched awa'
Ye can tell them plain and very plain they're sleepin' at Harlaw

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