The Skye Boat Song

I wrote this last fall, after we knew George was singing it on/in Heritage.  I thought I’d give you the rest of the story.  This won’t take anything away from George’s singing of this beautiful song, and a favourite of Phil’s, but it will show the difference in the way the Highlanders and the Lowlanders of Scotland view Prince Charles Edward Stuart, aka Bonnie Prince Charlie.


Subject : The Skye Boat Song

Posted Date: : Sep 28, 2010 2:25 PM

I have read so many comments about The Skye Boat Song, which George is singing in the new Heritage show.  Of course, I have to wait to hear it.  But it reminds me of both sides of the story of this song.

First of all, I should mention that Phil has called this one of his favourite tunes ever written, that he did not write.  I know he has recorded it on two of his releases – Scottish Tranquility and Highland Cathedral.  So I am not surprised he had added it to the CT repertoire.

I have always loved the romance of the song.  I have heard the Corries sing it, along with all of their other songs about the Bonnie Prince, Charles Edward Stuart, and thought the man a hero.  Perhaps from a highlander’s point of view he is.  But from the point of view of a couple of lowlanders, Dick Gaughan, and Ed Miller, the Bonnie Prince is not seen as a hero, but a traitor to their beloved Scotland.

You see, the story is:  The Highland clans brought the Bonnie Prince back from France to lead them in an assault against the English at Culloden.  The fight absolutely devastated the clans, killing off whole septs, and even whole clans.  They are buried, many of them anonymously, at Culloden Field.  During the battle, the Bonnie Prince stayed out of the line of fire, and escaped afterwards to a cave on the Isle of Skye, where Flora MacDonald picked him up in a rowboat and carried him to Uist where he escaped back to France.  There is a monument to Flora MacDonald at the mouth of the Clyde tributary into Glasgow.

Here is a follow-up to that story, and you can make up your own minds.  I myself still like the romantic story, but I can see the other side of the coin as well.

You see, after the battle of Culloden, when so many of the Highlanders were slaughtered and the Bonnie Prince escaped from English hands, the English decided that the Scots no longer deserved to live in the Highlands, that they were more fit for sheep, and many were transported to America.  The tartans and the bagpipes became outlawed for the Scots, being taken for ceremonial uses by the rulers of England, and if a Scot was caught with either, he was arrested for treason.  Thus the difference between the ancient tartans and the modern tartans.  Even now, the Black Watch Pipes and Drums are used for ceremonials for Queen Elizabeth, though the Scots are once again allowed to wear their family tartans, and play the bagpipes.  But Scotland, even with its own parliament and two flags, is still under the flag of the United Kingdom.  If I remember correctly, the rampant lion flag, the flag of the Scots rulers, is either not an official flag at ceremonies, or has only lately become so.  As for the stone of the kings seat of Scotland, it is not really known if the stone is still in London, or in hiding in Scotland.  Bonnie Prince Charlie died broke and drunk in France.

So there are Scots who think the Bonnie Prince a hero, and those who believe him to be the ruin of Scotland.  All because of Culloden and the beginning of the end for the Highlanders.

Carol Stepp

About carolstepp

Music is about the most important thing in my life, and I follow a large number of musicians, particularly Irish, Scots, Classical, Crossovers of any of these. I was writing a blog about Celtic Thunder regularly on MySpace, and now I have left them after a year, and will start writing my blogs here. I am 70, retired, living on Social Security, and have a lot of social network fans.
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