I Would Sing the Heroes’ Praise


28 June 2021

A song by John MacLean Researched and sung by Callum Ross


Regardless, I would sing the heroes’ praise
wherever I would drink a dram;
regardless, I would sing the heroes’ praise.

This Dr MacDonald of whom I speak
is undeniably a crofter’s son;
he defeated the laird of Novar –
he kept him out of Parliament House.

I have the greatest affection for that fine man
who stood faithfully in the struggle;
he has now defeated them all,
and he has been returned regardless.

The rags were always ready
to circulate their empty propaganda
telling us in every way
that young Novar would bring us justice.

I truly admire that hero
who won the great esteem of Highlanders;
he has defeated his enemy,
and he will reduce the land-rent for us.

Dr MacDonald is full of valour;
Lewis in the north rose to support him
and Ross-shire of the hardy men;
It was the Black Isle that kept the flag flying.

All my esteem goes to Roderick
who has been honoured by this northern district;
he has now been placed among the nobility
so that he can uphold justice.

MacDonald Cameron was there from the outset;
he has the care of many towns;
if he gets the goodwill of every one,
we need not have any fear for justice.

Dr Clark is a truly fine gentleman
and we would have been much the worse without him;
he defeated Sinclair
and he will rid us of cold and hunger.

Jesse Collings is behind us
to support us in the courts,
and there is no factor under the crown
who will extract a double rent from us next year.

The Sutherland folk who did not stand
as firmly as they ought in the struggle
could have had the gentle Sutherland,
who would have brought gloom to Duke and Marquis.

How proud we can be –
with Dr MacDonald and MacFarlane,
and Fraser-MacIntosh, the hero,
the people of Sutherland are a disgrace.
(Translation by Donald Meek )

Why I chose this song

I found this song in the book “Tuath is Tighearna” by Donald Meek and it aroused my interest. Although I was not familiar with the story, the song and the story interested me. It reminded me of other praise songs we have in many areas of the Highlands, praising the living and the dead likewise. I had not read any political ones like this one and after reading it I thought it was interesting to create a new version of a praise-poem like this, especially these days, although this was written in 1885! It felt very contemporary to me. The song was written on behalf of the crofters and country folk and I wanted to commemorate and bring their victory to your attention nearly a hundred and thirty-five years after this particular day.

The author

The author, John MacLean belonged to Drynie Park, Mulbuie, in the Black Isle and he lived during the nineteenth century. He witnessed the general election of 1885 and he was active in the local branch of the “Highland Land Law Reform Association”. As well as being a member, he was also appointed poet to his local branch. As such, it is likely that MacLean composed other poems to the association and to his companions.

The song

This song commemorates the victory of Dr Roderick MacDonald in the general election of 1885. The Doctor beat his opponent Novar, to the delight of the country people who supported him in the hope that there would be improvements to the land and to crofters’rights. Although Novar had the support of the newspapers, he failed to win.

More information

MacLean was from Drynie Park, Mulbuie, a village near Muir of Ord in the Black Isle. Because the song is about an election, mention is made of the Black Isle, Ross-shire and Sutherland likewise. According to the poet, the people of the Black Isle were active in the campaign, hoping for improvements to land and crofter’s rights in the Black Isle; “It was the Black Isle that kept the flag flying”.

“Fear Nobhàr” is Munro-Fergusson of Novar, to the north-east of Evanton, Easter Ross. “Novar” stood for the Liberals. He failed to win the support of the country people although the newspapers (“the rags”) gave him support and praise. Despite their “help” he wasn’t the winner.

Mention is made of the Duke of Sutherland and the Marquis, people who would not support crofters and traditional reformers. The same disrespect was shown to the country folk as MacDonald’s victory would bring “…gloom to Duke and Marquis”.

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