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Near the head of Loch nan Uamh (Loch of the Caves) between the sea and the A830 which winds its way from Fort William to Mallaig, there is a simple grey cairn with a bronze plaque standing on a rocky headland.
It isn’t a big grand cairn as memorials go. Blink and you will miss it, which would be a pity as it has become part of Highland history. For here, in 1746, Charles Edward Stewart, the Jacobite prince of the ’45, stepped into a little boat that took him out to a frigate which carried him off to France and away from Scotland forever.
There is no written record of the exact spot where the Prince embarked from; it was left to the tradition bearers of the area to remember and pass on to a local historian, and Jacobite to make sure it was not lost. That man was Francis Cameron-Head of Inverailort, whose family had fought along
with the Prince at Culloden.
Mr Cameron-Head, who died in 1957, was an active and enthusiastic member of the 1745 Association – a non-political body, whose objectives were, and still are, to record and preserve the memory of those who actively participated in, or who had connections with the ’45, to mark the appropriate historical sites and to endeavour to safeguard the Jacobite heritage.
Up until around the time of the Second World War, there were still many people living in the area who were well versed in the oral traditions of Arisaig, Moidart and Morar, and could go back with ease to the time of the ’45 and beyond.
One of them was James MacDonald, whose family had lived for many centuries on the nearby Ardnish peninsula and at Ghaoideil overlooking Loch nan Uamh. James MacDonald, or Seumas Ruadh as he was known on account of his red hair, had no doubts about the location as his stories of the prince had been handed down from father to son.
It was from him that Francis Cameron-Head passed on the information to others in the 1745 Association who decided that a cairn be raised to mark the historic headland. At noon on October 4, 1956, after several years of research, fundraising and planning, the cairn was unveiled.
Throughout the previous night, fierce winds and hail storms lashed the west coast of Scotland. The next morning the first snow of the year lay on the surrounding hills and a brisk north-westerly icy wind whipped up the waters of the loch. Shortly after 11am, however, 200 people were taking
their place. They came from across Scotland, England, Kentucky USA and Lochaber.
On the summit of the promontory stood the cairn, draped in the St Andrew’s Cross and the flags of loyal clans. Shortly after noon, the skies darkened and the heavens opened. A savage hail shower swept through as the pipes heralded the arrival of the Hon President of the 1745 Association, the
Countess of Erroll, 28th Hereditary Lord High Constable of Scotland, descendant of Lord Kilmarnock, who was beheaded in 1746 on Tower Hill, London, for supporting the Stewart kings.
Escorted by her husband, Captain Iain Moncrieffe of Easter Moncrieffe, Unicorn Pursuivant of Arms, and by Donald Cameron of Lochiel, direct descendant of the Gentle Lochiel, Lady Erroll took her place by the cairn. There she was received by Francis Cameron-Head of Inverailort, a descendant of the Camerons of Glen Desssary, and by Seton Gordon, the well-known author and naturalist.
In his opening remarks, Cameron-Head spoke of the strongly royalist principles of the Jacobites of today and their loyalty to the Queen. The Countess of Erroll said that it gave her much pleasure to unveil the cairn in memory of Prince Charlie and all who were loyal to his cause.
Under her hand, the saltire fell away. The beautiful silk banners of the clans were lifted off the cairn and planted in the ground round the monument. A bouquet of white and blue flowers (the colours of the saltire), were presented to Lady Erroll by 10-year-old Simona Howie, Lochailort.
Angus Macpherson, Invershin, Hon Piper to the Association and a descendant of James Macpherson, piper to Cluny of the ’45 and from a long line of renowned pipers, stepped forward to play his part in the ceremony. A grave and dignified figure, he paced slowly in front of the cairn, playing first the groundwork of the piobaireachd, My King has Landed in Moidart, followed by The Prince’s Salute, ending with a special setting of Lochaber No More, taught to him by his father Malcolm Macpherson, 70 years before.
It was said that the clear, full, bell-like notes, rising above the sound of the waves, proclaimed not only a master of his art, but a spirit in tune with the great days of the past. As the music of the pipes swelled, chiming and reverberating through the silent company, the rain stopped and weak sunshine briefly illuminated the scene.
When Mr Macpherson had finished, Cameron-Head announced that he would play Prince Charlie’s Farewell to Moidart, a tune composed at the time of the Prince’s departure known only to his family and preserved by them which, until today, had not been heard in public for 210 years. He said: ‘My mother used to play it by ear on the piano, and later I made a pipe setting. I have been keeping it for just such an occasion as this.’
Seton Gordon, in thanking the Countess of Erroll, recalled the title of Hereditary Lord High Constable of Scotland had been given to her ancestor by Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn. There were those, Seton Gordon said, who had no sympathy with Prince Charlie or with the Jacobites. But this cairn was raised to the memory of those who were ready to die for a cause which seemed good to them, and who would not have betrayed the prince for a reward which, in the present currency, would amount to £100,000.
A local choir sang Will Ye No Come Back Again? in Gaelic. Hail, wind and rain returned, sweeping the promontory but, far from complaining, the crowd seemed exhilarated, as though the harshness of the weather gave them the opportunity to realise, and almost in some sense share, the hardships of the ’45.
Lochiel, in thanking Francis Cameron-Head, paid high tribute to him and to the splendid part he had played in promoting and organising such a unique and moving ceremony. The choir again sang in Gaelic, this time God Save the Queen and then along with the crowd began to disperse across the hill to Inverailort Castle to have lunch with Mr and Mrs Cameron-Head.
John Mackinnon from Arisaig, the builder of the cairn, was present but one man was missing, James MacDonald the crofter from Borrodale who had started it all, died two weeks before the unveiling. History though has a nice habit of repeating itself and last week his grandson, James J MacDonald,
now living in Skye and a well known stonemason, returned to undertake some urgent repairs to the cairn.