The Highland Clearances
"The Last Sabbath on Strathnaver Before the Burnings"
a poignant poem by Annie Mackay, Scotland: 1883
'Twas not the beacon light of war,
Nor yet the slogan cry,
That chilled each heart, and blanched each cheek,
In the country of Mackay,
And made them march with weary feet,
As men condemned to die.
Ah! Had it been their country's foe
That they were called to brave,
How loudly would the Piobrach sound,
How proud their "bratach" wave;
How joyfully each man would march,
Tho' marching to his grave!
No! 'Twas a cruel, sad behest,
An alien chief's command,
Depriving them of house and home,
Their country and their land;
Dealing a death-blow at their hearts,
Bending the "strong right hand".
Slowly and sadly, down the glen
They took their weary way,
The sun was shining overhead
Upon that sweet spring day,
And earth was throbbing with the life
of the great glad month of May.
The deer were browsing on the hills
They looked with wondering eyes;
The birds were singing their songs of praise,
The smoke curled to the sky,
And the river added its gentle voice
To nature's melody
No human voice disturbed the calm,
No answering smile was there,
For men and women walked along,
Mute pictures of despair;
This was the last Sabbath
They would join in praise and prayer.
And men were there whose brows still bore
The trace of many scars,
Who oft their vigil kept with death
Beneath the midnight stars,
Where'er their country needed men,
Brave men to fight their wars.
And grey-haired women, tall and strong,
erect and full of grace,
Most mothers of a noble clan,
A brave and stalwart race,
And many a maiden young and fair,
With pallid, tear-stained face.
They met unpon the river's brink,
By the Church so old and grey,
They could not sit within its walls
Upon this sunny day;
The heavens above would be their dome,
And hear what they would say.
The preacher stood upon the bank,
His face was pale and thin,
And as he looked upon his flock,
His eyes with tears were dim,
And they awhile forgot their grief,
And fondly looked at him.
His text: "Be faithful unto death,
And I will give to thee
A crown of life that will endure
To all Eternity."
And he pleaded God's dear promises,
So rich, so full, so free;
Then said, "Ah friends, an evil day
Has come upon our glen,
How sheep and deer are held of more
Account than living men;
It is a lawless law that yet
All nations will condemn.
I would not be a belted knight
Nor yet a wealthy lord,
Nor would I, for a coronet,
Have said the fatal word,
That made a devastation worse
than famine, fire or sword.
The path before each one of us
Is long, and dark, and steep;
I go away a shepard lone,
Without a flock to keep,
And you without a shepard go
My well beloved sheep.
But God, our Father, will not part
With one of us, I know,
Tho' in the cold wide world our feet
May wander to and fro.
If we, like children cling to Him
With us He'll ever go.
Farewell my people, fare ye well,
We part to meet no more,
Until we meet before the throne,
On God's Eternal shore,
Where parting will not break the heart.
Farewell for evermore."
He sat upon the low green turf,
His head with sorrow bowed;
Men sobbed upon their father's graves,
And women wept aloud,
And there was not a tearless eye
In that heart-stricken crowd.
The tune of 'Martyrdom' was sung
By lips with anguish pale,
And, as is rose upon the breeze
It swelled into a wail,
And, like a weird death coronach,
It sounded in the vale:
Beannaicht' gu robh gu siorruidh buan
Ainm glormhor uasal fein
Lionadh a ghloir gach uile thir
Amen agus Amen.
(Blessed be His glorious name forever
May His Glory fill the whole earth
Amen and Amen.)
And echo lingering on the hills
Gave back the sad refrain.
Methinks there never yet was heard
Such a pathetic cry
As rose from that dear, hallowed spot
Unto the deep blue sky,
'Twas the death wail of a broken clan -
The noble clan Mackay.
And e'er another Sabbath came,
The people were no more
Within their glens, but they were strewn
Like wrack upon the shore,
And the smoke of each burning huse
Ascends to Heaven for evermore.
The text given, Psalm sung, are all as it happened.
In a short time after a crow built her nest in the deserted church.