The Oban Times, 8 March 1919
Inveraray, 1 March, 1919
Sir,–a correspondent in the issue of the “Oban Times” of 22nd February enquires for the composer of that grief-stirring lament, “MacCrimmon’s Lament.” It was composed in 1745 by Donald Ban MacCrimmon, piper to MacLeod at Dunvegan, and among other authorities to give this piper the honour of composing this tune is Mr. W. L. Manson, Glasgow, in his excellent volume entitled “The Highland Bagpipe, its History, Literature and Music.”
Donald Ban was considered the best piper of his day, and when the Clan MacLeod left Dunvegan to join the Royalists in 1745 he was deeply impressed with the feeling that he himself would never return again to Dunvegan. The parting of the Clansmen with their wives and children was sad, and Donald Ban, thinking of his own sweetheart, poured forth his soul in the sad wail of this lament as the MacLeod’s were marching away from the Castle. The Clan afterwards took part in a battle, which from the peculiar circumstances is known in history as the “Rout of Moy,” and in this fight MacCrimmon was shot while close by the side of the Chief of the MacLeods.
The Gaelic words usually associated with this lament are supposed to have been sung by Donald Ban’s sweetheart, but they are in all likelihood of much later date. The course, however, is probably as old as the tune. Translated into English they lose much of their plaintive melody and make but a poor means of conveying an idea of the piece to the non-Gaelic rearer [reader?]. Professor Blackie wrote a beautiful translation, which runs:–
Round Cullin’s peak the mist is sailing,
The banshee croons her note of wailing,
Mild blue eyes with sorrow are streaming,
For him lost shall never return, MacCrimmon.
No more, no more, no more, for ever,
In war or peace, shall return MacCrimmon,
No more, no more, for ever
Shall love or gold bring back MacCrimmon.
The breeze on the Hills is mournfully blowing,
The brook in the hollow is plaintively flowing,
The warblers, the soul of the grave, our mourning
For MacCrimmon that’s gone with no hope of returning,
The tearful clouds the stars are veiling,
The sales are spread, but the boat is not sailing,
The waves of the sea are moaning and mourning
For MacCrimmon, that’s gone to find no returning.
No more on the hill at the festal meeting,
The pipe shall sound with the festal greeting,
And lads and lasses change mirth to mourning,
For him that’s gone to know no returning.
The tune has also been turned into an emigrant’s farewell on many occasions, and the last verse of the poem by Sir Walter Scott shows that he accepted the air as such to some extent. He wrote:–
Too oft shall the note of MacCrimmon bewailing
Be heard when the Gael on their exile are sailing;
Dear land! to the shores whence unwillingly sever,
Return, return, return we shall never.
I am, etc.,