I’d drink to the health of Charlie

Argyll and Bute

29 June 2021

Anonymous song though perhaps by Alexander MacDonald (1690 – 1770) Researched and sung by Finlay MacLennan


I’d drink to the health of Charlie
Even if it wounded me to death
So that I could see him with his heroes
Coming back to his rightful place.
I’d drink to the health of Charlie.

The letter that raised my hopes
I learnt about on Sunday
That you had caused a rout among the Lowlanders
You left them weak and without direction

Hardy Clan Donald of the heather hills
Were victorious in the fight
Long may the sound of your steel be heard
Coming out of slender scabbards.

Fair Donald from Lochy is with you
With his strong heroes
And grey, blue-black, sharp blades
Good at butchering meat.

When the crown is placed on Charlie
Wax candles will be lit
There will be joyful flames at the top of every castle
And drink swiftly called for.

Why I chose the song

I have a great interest in Scottish history and I wanted to choose a song that was associated with a particular episode in our history. I live in Allt na Ceàrdaich (near Inverness) and I also wanted to choose a song from my area. I have had a particular interest in the Jacobites since I was quite young and I looked on the Battle of Culloden as a good opportunity to find out more about a subject I was interested in. I found this song on Tobar an Dualchais and I really liked the tune. When I researched it further I discovered that it was composed by Alexander MacDonald, a poet who took part in the ’45. I was then certain that this would be an excellent choice for the project.

The author

Alexander MacDonald was born in Moidart between 1690 and 1700 ( we don’t know for sure).His father was a minister for the Church of Scotlandand his family was related to the chiefs of Clan ranald and he was a cousin of Flora MacDonald.

He had no formal school education but his father taught him. He went to Glasgow University where he met his wife, Jane MacDonald. Around 1729 he was teaching in Ardnamurchan. In 1741 he compiled a dictionary, the first new Gaelic book ever published.

He took part in the Jacobite uprising of 1715 and he was greatly involved in 1745. He was very familiar with Prince Charles being his tutor in the ‘language of the Gaels’. Hwent all over Scotland with the Prince and he was an ardent Jacobite.

He often wrote about the Jacobite struggle. After the Battle of Culloden he wrote to encourage the Jacobites and Charles who was a fugitive in France.

The poet died around 1770 in Arisaig.

The song

The song describes how the poet would drink to the health of Charles even if the drink killed him, hoping that Charles and his heroes will return to his rightful place (as King). He also praioses Clan Donald for their fighting prowess.

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