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Saturday 31 January 2015

MacGregor of Roro

Of all the clans, the MacGregors are perhaps the most romantic, especially given that their very name was proscribed by 1603. The background to this was that in Balquidder, Perthshire, in 1589, was the scene of a heinous crime committed by a band of Glencoe MacDonalds, when John Drummond of Drummond-Ernoch, the king’s forester in Glenartney, was murdered while out hunting in order to supply venison for King James VI’s wedding feast.
Earlier that year, the king’s servant had cropped the ears from MacDonald poachers who had been caught red-handed stealing the king’s deer. Needless to say, they had not forgiven the king’s forester, and when the opportunity arose they descended into Breadalbane, caught and summarily executed him and took away his head. They then, allegedly, headed to Glen Vorlich where they showed their gruesome trophy to Stewart of Ardvorlich’s wife, the royal forester’s sister, which, so the tale goes, broke her mind. The MacDonalds then made for Balquidder safe in the knowledge that they would get shelter and protection from the MacGregors. Led by their chief, Alasdair of Glenstrae, the MacGregors marched along with the fugitive MacDonalds to Balquidder kirk, where the head was set up and each one passed by laying their hands upon it and swore an oath to take the guilt of Drummond’s murder upon themselves and to defend the Glencoe men from all comers. The personal affront to King James earned the MacGregors, who, it would seem, were found guilty by association—and on whom the blame for the murder was firmly pinned, despite the fact that they had not taken any part in it—the extreme displeasure of the Privy Council, as their proceedings, leaving but little to the imagination, relates:

The Lordis of Secrete Counsaill being credibillie informeit of the cruell and mischievous procedings of the wicked Clan Gregour, sa lang continewing in blude, slauchtaris, heirshippis, manifest reiffis and stouthis, commit upoun his Hienes peceable and gude subjectis inhabiting the cuntreyis ewest the Brayis of the Hielandis[…]the cruell murthour of umquhile Johnne Drummond of Drummanerynoch, his Majesteis propir tennent and ane of his fosteris of Glenartnay[…]be certane of the said Clan, be the counsale and determinatioun of the haill, avowand to defend the authouris thairof quhaevir wald persew for revenge of the same, quhen the said Johnne wes occupiit in seiking vennysoun to his Hienes at command of Patrik, Lord Dummond, stewart of Stratharne and principall forrester of Glenartnay[…]eftir the murthour committit, the authouris thairof cuttit of the said umquhile Johnne Drummondis heid, and caryed the same to the Laird McGregour; quha and the haill surename of Mckgregour purposlie convenit, upoun the nixt Sonday thaireftir, at the kirk of Buchquhidder, quhair thay causit the said umquhile Johnis heid be presentit to thame, and thair, avowing the said murthour to haif bene committit be thair commoun counsale and determinatioun, layed thair handis upoun the pow, and, in eithnik and barbarous maner, sweir to defend the authouris of the said murthour, in maist proude contempt of oure Soveranne Lord and his authoritie, and in evill example to utheris wicked lymmaris to do the like, giff this salbe sufferit to remane unpunist.

This episode reveals that the MacDonalds and MacGregors were prepared to protect one another in the face of a common enemy. Due to their contempt for central government, both clans were to suffer a series of proclamations made against them. The ‘wicked Clan Gregour’, following the Battle of Glenfruin, suffered a political disaster: not only were they outlawed, but their name very name was proscribed and under such conditions they became a broken clan, many of whom were reduced to being caterans. Later, the MacDonalds of Glencoe became scapegoats in the infamous Massacre of Glencoe which the Williamite government saw as ‘a proper vindication of the publick justice to extirpate that sept of thieves.’
Such is the probable background to the following anecdote recorded by Calum Maclean and transcribed shortly thereafter on the 10th of June 1951 from the recitation of John MacDonald of Highbridge, Brae Lochaber:

MacGriogair à Ruadh-shruth

Nuair a bha an ruaig air na Griogaraich, thàinig iad gu taigh seann-chailleach agus chum i am falach iad. Is bha an ruaig gan leanachd gu math dlùth agus thàinig an tòir chun an doraist. Agus mar sin mar a labhair i an t-òran, smaoinich iad gun robh na Griogaraich an deaghaidh falbh. Thuirt i:

A bheil sgeul air Cloinn Ghriogair,
Na am bheil fhios dè ’n taobh ghabh iad?
’S iad bu chuideachda dhomh-sa
Didòmhnaich seo chàidh.

’S iad bu chuideachda dhomh-sa, 7rl.
Bha Griogair mòr ruadh ann,
Làmh chruaidh air cùl claidheamh.

Bha Griogair mòr ruadh ann, 7rl.
Gam bu shuicheantas giuthas
Ri bruthach ga dhìreadh;

Gam bu shuicheantas giuthas, 7rl.
Crann caol air dheagh-locradh,
Iteag dhosrach an fhìrein;

Crann caol air dheagh-locradh, 7rl.
Iteag dhosrach an fhìrein,
Is ma thèid thu ’n taigh-òsta,
Na òl ach a h-aon ann.

Ma thèid thu ’n taigh-òsda, 7rl.
Gabh do dhram na do sheasamh,
Bi freasdlach dha d’ dhaoine.

Gabh do dhram na do sheasamh, 7rl.
Air eagal ’s gun tig iad
Is gu faigh iad leat fhèin thu.

Air eagal ’s gun tig iad, 7rl.
Ged is luaineach an seabhag,
Nì iad seòl air a fhaotainn.

Ged is luaineach an seabhag, 7rl.
Is ged is carach an fheòrag,
Gun glac iad le foil i.

And the translation goes something like the following:

MacGregor of Roro

When the MacGregors were on the run they arrived at the house of an old woman who hid them. And they were being pursued closely and the pose arrived at the door. And it was in this way she said the song, they thought that the MacGregors had fed. She said:

Is there any sign of the MacGregors
Or which way did the go?
They were in my company
This Sunday last.

This Sunday last, etc.
Big Red-haired Gregor was here,
A strong hand with a sword.

Big Red-haired Gregor was here, etc.
Whose emblem was a pine tree
Rising up from the brae.

Rising up from the brae, etc.
Smooth shafts well shaped
Set with the eagle’s fine plumage.

Smooth shafts well shaped, etc.
Set with the eagle’s fine plumage.
And if you go to the tavern,
Only have one dram.

If you go to the tavern, etc.
Have your dram standing,
And be watchful to your men.

Have your dram standing, etc.
In case they come
And capture you.

In case they come, etc.
Although the hawk is flighty
A way is found to capture it.

Although the hawk is flighty, etc.
And though the squirrel is cunning
It may be caught be stealth.

For good measure on the very last page of The Highlands (1959), Calum Maclean writes the following, including a verse translation of a variant of the above song:

Almost all Highland Gaels know the three lovely songs about Clan Gregor; the poignant lament of the widow of Gregor Roy MacGregor, who was beheaded at Taymouth in 1570; the song of Clan Gregor and the song to MacGregor of Roro in Glen Lyon. In all these songs there is stark intensity and sincerity and burning words have been wedded to wistful and enchanting melodies. To MacGregor of Roro, “whose heritage it was to be in Glen Lyon”, the advice is given:
When you go to the tavern, drink only one drink. Drink your dram without sitting and be attentive to your men. Spurn not any vessel but accept even a ladle or baler. Turn winter into autumn and stormy spring into summer. Make your bed among the crags and let your sleep be light. Though rare is the squirrel, a way can be found to capture it. Noble as is the hawk, often it is caught by stealth.

SSS NB 11, pp. 992–93
Charles Fergusson, ‘The Macgregors of Roro’, The Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness, vol. XXIV (1899–1901), pp. 413–28
Calum I. Maclean, The Highlands (London: B. T. Batsford, 1959)
Colm Ó Baoill (ed.) Meg Bateman (transl.), Gàir nan Clàrsach: The Harps’ Cry (Edinburgh: Birlinn, 1994), pp. 54–59, 218.

A romanticised depiction of a MacGregor by R. R. McIain, reproduced from The Clans of the Scottish Highlands (1845)

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