A Poem from a Visitor

Our thanks to a recent visitor, Tony Bown, for sharing this wonderful poem with us recently.


The Massacre at Glencoe


I found myself in old Glencoe this wet October day

Your craggy, sculpted mountainside did take my breath away

I was one of many there, and countless more before

Who’d climbed your mountains, studied rocks or traipsed your boggy moor

I climbed the Devil’s Staircase and looked back along the glen

Where ghostly, shadow mountains brought to mind MacDonald men

I wondered if your ghosts were here, whether you still roam

This rugged, stunning, beauteous place you chose to make your home

I'll lay my head here, stay awhile, and pass the night with you

And dwell on that atrocity of 1692


James had been deposed four years, but had his loyal band

Of Jacobite rebellion folk, in the bleak Highlands

These clans, they stood united against the tyrant king

Determined to restore the church, bring order to all things

But above all else you held, the dearest aim for you

To restore to throne the Stuart King, who ruled well over you


But William had other plans, he needed northern peace

His army options better if hostilities did cease

He’d be able to direct his troops fulfilling his main aim

Of humbling France and Louis there, to put the man to shame

“The north we need to pacify by any means we can.

Let the Earl of Breadalbane proceed now with his plan

To bribe our northern rebels, pardon them one and all

So we can fight those in the south and watch their mighty fall”


So, thus, a simple plan agreed but sadly it was foiled

Breadalbane travelled to the king, but ‘was on foreign soil

And where delays abound as Earl Breadalbane heads to France

His Highland trust diminished and this option lost its chance


So came the ultimatum in 1691

Sign terms with King and government before the year is done

Failure to comply will have a drastic consequence

But all who sign, agree this treaty, live in peace from hence


There’s just one final obstacle, James he must agree

Or no rebellion highlander would put name to decree

But James is now in Ireland negotiating true

Remove his battered Jacobites to France he wants to do

In this he had success; his men became an elite corps

And played their part ‘gainst William in the Nine Years War

But negotiations caused delay, so ‘though James signed the line

His message reached the highlanders three days ‘fore the deadline


By the end of 1691 most clans had signed the deal

But Maclain MacDonald was a little slow of heel

His heart was true, and to Fort William he marched in time

But Colonel Hill, commander was not authorised to sign

And although MacDonald rushed and signed as quickly as he could

The powers that be did deem MacDonald’s signature no good


I wonder why your clan was chose as one that broke the codes

Although you were all highland men, some called you thieving rogues

In truth we know of many clans who signed the papers late

But you're the ones who met your deaths; this cruel historic fate

It seems your lack of strength was part of why it had to be

The king’s right man, Dalrymple, heard and scarce contained his glee

“A chance to show example here, and silence clans for good,

A bloody, dirty massacre; we told them that we would.”


Dalrymple’s orders clearly signed in double by the king

And as they passed on down the line, in doubt was left nothing

“Kill all MacDonalds in the glen below age seventy

By Royal command!” Refusal to comply is treachery

Down chain command unchallenged orders past until they got

To sadistic, scheming Hamilton, who came up with the plot:

“We’ll send six score of infantry to stay up in the glen.

They'll all take hospitality from those MacDonald men.

They'll share a drink, a game, a song and meet them in good cheer.

We’ll build MacDonald trust, instil no reason for their fear.

To ensure the action goes to plan we will not tell the men

The reason they are billeted with MacDonalds of the glen.”


Now spare a thought for Campbell, Major Robert of Glenlyon

He’d spent two weeks there with his troops assuming all was fine

His niece had wed Maclain’s own son, they’re practically kin

So when he got his orders twelve hours ‘fore ‘twas to begin

Imagine well his conflict seeing what the order brought

Failure to comply would mean he’d be the traitor sort

And although there is no doubt that Campbell oversaw the slaying

For centuries, erroneously, his clan has held the blame


What happened here that morning is tragic to recall

On that bleak mid-February day so many had to fall

Two score were murdered where they stood but dozens must have died

In vain attempts t’ escape upon the frozen mountain side

MacDonald men, their women, children woken from their dreams

I wonder as I rest tonight, will I still hear your screams?


The Parliament Inquiry later said, “Murder in Trust

Is brutal and unique, and lessons from it must

Be taken from this point, henceforth, and ne’er happen again,

To massacre the way they did in that imposing glen.”


As I sit here amidst this powerful landscape all around

I look back on the history, its power to dumbfound

Ambitious and self-serving men don't value what is ethical

Instead they blindly follow orders, truly quite incredible

I fear that human nature changes little over time

Four hundred years has passed since then and still we “toe the line”

But being here has moved me, and before I finally go

I'll say a silent prayer for the MacDonalds of Glencoe

- Tony Bown

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Glencoe Folk Museum 

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Glencoe Village


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