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.



 Please click here to read more eyewitness accounts of the Highland Clearances in Strathnaver from