Glencoe Massacre remembered with annual ceremony


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Around 40 people ignored the drizzling rain to gather at the Massacre of Glencoe Memorial last week for the annual commemoration of the treacherous events of February 13, 1692.

Local residents from Glencoe and Ballachulish were joined by several visitors from overseas, including the United States.

Last Wednesday’s events began with a service in St Mary’s Church at Glencoe – conducted by the Rev Amanda Fairclough and assisted by William Mather, president of the Clan Donald Society of the Highlands and Islands – which was also attended by youngsters from Glencoe Primary School.

The traditional procession to the tapering Celtic cross memorial followed, with piper Iain MacGillivray, Commander of Clan MacGillivray – ancient allies of the MacDonalds – leading the way.

Wreaths were laid on behalf of  Clan Donald Highlands and Islands by Mrs Diane Carey-Schmitz of Clan Donald USA; by Ros MacDonald on behalf of Glencoe Heritage Trust (sponsored by Mr and Mrs R Littrell of the USA) and by the National Trust.

In attendance were the High Chief of Clan Donald, Lord Macdonald, and his wife, Lady Macdonald, from Skye; and Iain MacGillivray, chief of Clan MacGillivray.

Also attending in his official herald’s office of Finlaggan Pursuivant to the chiefs of Clan Donald was Tom Miers, currently an elected member of Scottish Borders Council who resides in Kelso in the Borders.

The 23rd Psalm was then sung and young piper Ronnie MacIntosh, from Fort William, played The Lament at the memorial. A Gaelic address was given by Brigadier John Macfarlane of Taynuilt.

Glencoe Heritage Trust’s Ros Macdonald, who was attending the service for the 38th year, said it was good to see such a strong turnout despite the dreadful weather.

‘The weather was not very nice and I felt really sad for the youngsters from the local primary school as they had to wait so long in the rain,’ she said.

‘But it was fantastic to see them and it all went very well. I don’t think there were as many this year as last year, but it was still at least 40 people who made it, which was good.’

Massacre of Glencoe

It was on a freezing cold winter’s morning in the February of 1692 that a regiment of soldiers carried out an act so heinous and contrary to Highland custom that, more than three centuries later, its name still retains the power to evoke strong emotions.

Glencoe is home to one of the most stunning mountain vistas in Scotland, but it is also the place where in the early hours of February 13, 1692, some 38 men, women and children of the MacDonald clan – or the MacIains as they were more specifically known – were murdered by troops acting on behalf of the government and whom they had billeted in their homes.

The MacDonalds had been rebels, but had taken the oath of allegiance to King William and so felt safe to extend the custom of Highland hospitality to Captain Robert Campbell and his 120 soldiers for the fortnight before the massacre.

But Campbell had been told to ‘put all to the sword under seventy’ in an early morning surprise attack, while his hosts were asleep.

It was to be an example of what could happen to other Highland clans considered a possible threat to the new regime in London under King William of Orange.

Among those murdered was chief of the MacDonalds of Glen Coe, Alasdair MacDonald, known as MacIain. As well as those who died by sword, bayonet and musket, others later died of exposure in the bitter winter conditions after being forced from their burning crofts.

Although such violence was not uncommon in the Highlands at this time, what made this shocking was that it had been ‘slaughter under trust’.

But if it was intended as a way of cowering the MacDonalds and their various clan branches into submission, the plan backfired and the memory of the black deeds carried out at Glencoe ensured Clan Donald’s support to the Jacobite risings of 1715 and 1745.

The power of the Glencoe Massacre – or Mort Ghlinne Comhann in Gaelic –  to evoke strong emotions lingers to this day and it is that power that continues to draw people from near and far to the annual commemoration at the memorial.