Alice Macdonell of Keppoch

Recent DNA testing has established a connection between Clans Macnab, Cameron, and MacPhee and Grant, hence we not only have a connection with Alice Macdonell’s sentiments but also, most probably, with her ancestry.

Born in 1854 at Kilmonivaig in the Scottish Highlands, Alice MacDonell was the youngest child and eighth daughter of Angus McDonnell (titled Angus XXII of Keppoch) and his wife Christina (née MacNab). Her great-great grandfather was the Keppoch who led the MacDonalds at Culloden. She was steeped in the Jacobite sentiment of her ancestors, composing about the heroics of the Rising for example. She was Bardess to the Clan MacDonald Society. The Macdonells of Keppoch go back to the 14th century when they were granted the Isle of Lewis by David II in 1343.

 To a poet like Alice Macdonell of Keppoch, tartan is symbolic of the many threads which go to make up Scotland and which bind Scots, whether at home or scattered around the globe, to their homeland and to other Scots. The Weaving of the Tartan was published in 1894, though it may have been written at an earlier date.

The Weaving of the Tartan

I saw an old Dame weaving,
Weaving, weaving
I saw an old Dame weaving,
      A web of tartan fine.
“Sing high,” she said, “sing low,” she said,
“Wild torrent to the sea,
That saw my exiled bairnies torn,
      In sorrow far frae me.

And warp well the long threads,
The bright threads, the strong threads;
Woof well the cross threads,
      To make the colours shine.”
She wove in red for every deed,
Of valour done for Scotia’s need:
She wove in green, the laurel’s sheen,
      In memory of her glorious dead.

She spake of Alma’s steep incline,
The desert march, the “thin red line,”
Of how it fired the blood and stirred the heart,
      Where’er a bairn of hers took part.
“‘Tis for the gallant lads,” she said,
“Who wear the kilt and tartan plaid:
‘Tis for the winsome lasses too,
      Just like my dainty bells of blue.

So weave well the bright threads,
The red threads, the green threads;
Woof well the strong threads
      That bind their hearts to mine.”
I saw an old Dame sighing,
Sighing, sighing;
I saw an old Dame sighing,
      Beside a lonely glen.

“Sing high,” she said, “sing low,” she said,
Wild tempests to the sea,
The wailing of the pibroch’s note,
      That bade farewell to me.
And wae fa’ the red deer,
The swift deer, the strong deer,
Wae fa’ the cursed deer,
      That take the place o’ men.”

Where’er a noble deed is wrought,
Where’er the brightest realms of thought,
The artists’ skill, the martial thrill,
      Be sure to Scotia’s land is wed.
She casts the glamour of her name,
O’er Britain’s throne and statesman’s fame;
From distant lands ‘neath foreign names,
      Some brilliant son his birthright claims.

For ah! – she has reared them amid tempests,
And cradled them in snow,
To give the Scottish arms their strength,
      Their hearts a kindly glow.
So weave well the bright threads,
The red threads, the green threads.
Woof well the strong threads
      That bind their hearts to thine.

Culloden Moor (Seen in Autumn Rain)

Full of grief, the low winds sweep
O’er the sorrow-haunted ground;
Dark the woods where night rains weep,
Dark the hills that watch around.

Tell me, can the joys of spring
Ever make this sadness flee,
Make the woods with music ring,
And the streamlet laugh for glee?

When the summer moor is lit
With the pale fire of the broom,
And through green the shadows flit,
Still shall mirth give place to gloom?

Sad shall it be, though sun be shed
Golden bright on field and flood;
E’en the heather’s crimson red
Holds the memory of blood.

Here that broken, weary band
Met the ruthless foe’s array,
Where those moss-grown boulders stand,
On that dark and fatal day.

Like a phantom hope had fled,
Love to death was all in vain,
Vain, though heroes’ blood was shed,
And though hearts were broke in twain.

Many a voice has cursed the name
Time has into darkness thrust,
Cruelty his only fame
In forgetfulness and dust.

Noble dead that sleep below,
We your valour ne’er forget;
Soft the heroes’ rest who know
Hearts like theirs are beating yet.