The full name of the military officer who is the subject of this song is Alasdair Mac Colla Chiotaich MacDhòmhnaill (this translates to, “Alexander the son of the Coll the Left-Handed MacDonald”). He was born in Scotland but buried in Clonmeen, County Cork, Ireland in 1647 after the Battle of Knocknanuss. This was during the Irish Confederate Wars, between the armies of Confederate Ireland and the English Parliamentarian forces.
Though the Irish lost, Alasdair Mac Colla’s bravery became well-known. After repeated attacks, his ranks continued to reform and continue fighting. After surrendering to a promise of quarter, he was shot anyway as a prisoner, causing even more bitterness towards the loss of such a famous leader.
In Ireland and Scotland, Gaelic melodies were composed in his honor, called “praise poems.” They commemorated him in the tradition of the Hebrides and Highlands, turning his deeds into tall tales now equitable with mythology for the Irish people.
The song was from the 1640s but Capercaillie is a traditional Gaelic band named after the turkey-like bird that used to proliferate the Highlands.
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