Ed Mooney’s History Challenge week 19- Culloden

Ed Mooney’s great history challenges are on Wednesdays of each week. All are welcome to join!

For the challenge I am  resurrecting a piece I had written as an added page to a previous post about  Dunvegan Castle on Skye with apologies to anyone who may have already  read it.  The image is the memorial cairn at the famous battle of Culloden, in the Scottish highlands.

culloden horses

This is a site well worth the visit  and I’m sure it has the same effect on the onlooker as on those who visit the monument of 9/11 or the Viet Nam War Memorial. It is another of history’s stories of honour and courage, power, greed and futility. Culloden is a bleakly beautiful moor lying at the gateway to the highlands just outside of Inverness.  In season, Scottish thistle, heather and wild flowers bloom in the peaceful fields.  The old thatched farmhouse that was a silent witness to the battle in 1746 still stands, with highland cattle and horses grazing nearby.

Culloden Battlefield at peace, Inverness-shire

Culloden Battlefield at peace, Inverness-shire

The Culloden Memorial Museum has a 360 degree theater inside the building that gives you the impression of being in the middle of the battle. Before entering the movie you walk down a darkened hallway as though you are trudging through the night rain, hungry, tired, poorly armed and thinking with dread of what the day ahead might bring. From the shadows, you can hear the voices of commanders and clansmen encouraging you onward in the glorious hope that,Bonny Prince Charlie will sit upon the stone of destiny as king, and your small croft of ancestral land with sheep, cows, and “hame”  will not be lost. Some of the men wrote poignant letters to wives and families they would never see again.

Many of them were armed only with swords or sticks and I tried to imagine what it must have felt like going against a fully equipped army of carbine and canon.  They had the pipers to spur them on but in the end 2000 highlanders lay dead or dying. Those who survived the battle and escaped were hunted down and executed. The Jacobite Rebellion was over and with it the old way of life of Scottish chiefs and clans.   The highland clearances continued ruthlessly and many Scots emigrated to the New World.


At any rate, it’s impossible to walk out dry eyed  after watching the film and I was deeply moved as I walked through fields that had been steeped in blood and were now strewn with the solemn marker stones bearing the names of those clans that fell so long ago. I thought perhaps I was walking on the ghosted bones of some of my own ancestors among those MacPhersons, Dhonnachaidhs, MacLeods and Murrays. Their names are echoes in the piper’s tune and their dust is fused with the earth of Culloden Moor.

culloden ghosts

Background:  The Irish and French supported the Jacobites against the British and fought alongside them. The French tried to warn the highland commanders that they were ill prepared to face the English but there was no turning back. The Irish Brigade shouted  “Cuimhnighidh ar Luimneach agus ar Feall na Sassanach”  or Remember Limerick and Saxon Perfidy!

The Highland clearances were also known as  Fuadach nan Gàidheal, the “expulsion of the Gaels”

over the sea to skye

“Bonny” Prince Charlie escaped with the help of Flora MacDonald to the Isle of Skye and then to France.  He had been an incompetent military leader and sadly died in exile, a drunken and broken man.

There were  Lairds and clans who did not support the Jacobite cause. The Jacobites were predominantly Roman Catholic Highlanders and adherents to James VII of Scotland.

The Chief of the Clan MacLeod on Skye supported the Hanoverians but the MacLeods of Raasay, Lewis fought with the Glengarry Regiment on the Jacobite side and were later punished by Norman Macleod.

The Robertson’s  (Gaelic- Donnachaidh) fought with the Athol Brigade for the Jacobite cause.

When  Samuel Johnson, a prominent English essayist, along with Boswell, also an author, visited Scotland in 1773,  Johnson wrote in his account “we came to late to see what we expected.” – A Journey to the Hebrides

The Ghosts of Culloden

(Robertsons / MacLeods are branches of my  family)