Shawn L. Bird

Original poetry, commentary, and fiction. All copyrights reserved.

poem- Culloden Moor April 16, 2016

Filed under: Poetry — Shawn L. Bird @ 6:17 pm
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I didn’t see your ghosts

feel your spirits in the air

I didn’t understand what

drove folks to leave there;

On Culloden Moor the Scots

were slaughtered and died

Then drove from their lands

in Canada they arrived.

Their hardy characters

explored from sea to sea,

naming off the rivers,

(and my university).

The brutal battle that was fought

upon this day

led to our confederation

and the TransCanada




Most of what I know about the Battle of Culloden I learned from Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series.  However, it’s very cool that my husband’s ancestor Dr. John Rattray was Bonnie Prince Charlie’s personal physician in Edinburgh, and was saved from the noose afterwards only by the timely interference of his golf buddy and judge Duncan Forbes.  (John Rattray was Captain of St Andrews and one of the signatories of the official rules of golf in 1744.  Cronyism in golf plainly goes back to the beginning of the sport).


History- Leap o’the cask and the Dun Bonnet June 30, 2014

I discovered this article about regional history around Loch Ness that includes the actual recorded story of ‘Leap o the Cask’ and the ‘Dun Bonnet’ as it shows up in Diana Gabaldon’s books.  The story IS about a James Fraser.  This is the kind of historical coincidence that tends to give one goose bumps.

I found the reference here:

James Fraser, 9th of Foyers, was on very friendly terms with Simon, 13th Lord Lovat, later to be executed for his part in the 1745 Rising, and on that account, Foyers joined Lovat in supporting Prince Charles during his short reign in Edinburgh as King James VIII. After the disastrous battle of Culloden in 1746 the ill-fated Prince Charles fled westwards and took refuge in Gorthleck farmhouse on the Foyers estate but was soon alarmed by a party of Red Coats and effected his escape by jumping out of a window. Foyers also escaped from the battlefield and his efforts to elude capture were every bit as romantic as those of Prince Charles.

Foyers was excluded from the Act of Parliament pardoning treasonable offences committed in the rebellion, and was forced to live in hiding for seven years after the rebellion. One of his favourite haunts was a cave, a mile to the west of the Falls of Foyers. One day, on looking out of the cave, the laird saw a Red Coat secretly following a girl bringing food for him and, as to avoid capture was a matter of life and death to him, the laird shot the soldier who was buried where he fell. So Foyers’s whereabouts could be kept secret, the inhabitants used to speak of him by the nickname “Bonaid Odhair” (Dun Coloured Bonnet).

After the Battle of Culloden, the Duke of Cumberland’s troops brought much misery and brutality to the district. The estates were plundered and burnt on a scale never before known on account of the proximity of Foyers to Fort Augustus, where Cumberland and his troops were garrisoned. Many people starved to death and many outrages were committed on their persons. At a change-house, An Ire Mhor (a large piece of arable land), on the road to Inverness near Foyers, a group of soldiers, including an officer, raped a young girl living there with her grandmother and, when the old woman tried to defend her grandchild, she was strangled to death. At a funeral, taking place in Foyers cemetery, one of the starving mourners grabbed a loaf of bread off a passing provisions cart heading for Fort Augustus – uproar followed. The offender was arrested and the troops fired indiscriminately into the funeral party, killing at least one and wounding many others. The bullet holes in the grave stone of Donald Fraser of Erchit, buried in 1730, can still be seen to this day. Another outrage was committed on a boy taking a cask of beer to Foyers in his hiding place – when the boy refused to tell of his master’s hiding place, the soldiers cut off his hands.

I’m particularly bemused that one of the bibliographic sources is History of the Frasers by Alex MacKenzie. It makes you wonder if it was printed by A. Malcolm, doesn’t it? 🙂

Here’s a link to some photos of the actual Dun Bonnet cave:


The Inverness Outlander group were able to go explore the cave.  Here’s a link to their blog post and photos of the day:  Diana said she wouldn’t have gone on this trip because she is too claustrophobic.  🙂



hi story October 5, 2011

I’ve been reading Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series the last week or two. I got the first book from the BC e-book library service, loved it, put in requests for the next two, had to wait a couple weeks, got them, read 1800 pages in 4 days, and now I’m waiting for the next two books to come available. As I wait, I have to catch up on the basement clear out, because the moment they are on the e-reader, I will be travelling to other worlds for a few days.

My own family tree is firmly rooted in the South and West of England, and on Continental Europe (France and Prussia). There are no Scots in my lineage, but there are in my husband’s side. In fact, his  father is the clan genealogist for the Clan Rattray. Their traditional lands are 20 miles north of Perth and Dundee (make an equilateral triangle, and you’ll find the family seat near Blairgowrie at Craighall Rattray). Some clan maps show them as a Highland clan and others as a Lowland clan, since it’s right on the border.

I wondered whether any of the ancestors had been at Culloden, and did some research.  I discovered that the son of his great great great great great great granduncle James was  John Rattray, a surgeon from Edinborough, was in fact at Culloden.  Moreover, he was serving there as the personal physician of Bonnie Prince Charlie.  Kind of makes the heart flutter.

Did I mention my husband is also called John?

Believe it or not, Dr. Rattray was a golfer.  He won the world’s first golf tournament, was head of the world’s first golf club (it later became St. Andrew’s) and is a signatory to the creation of the official rules back in 1744. (see here)  In a historical story that is almost comical (but certainly something that could have been in a Diana Gabaldon novel!) after being taken at Culloden, he was reprieved from the gallows by the intervention of a golf buddy- Lord President Duncan Forbes, Lord Culloden, himself.

The Rattrays are a sept of the neighboring Murray Clan (or allied with, but not actually a sept, according to some sources).   On the other side of the bordering  Murray land, are the Frasers.  Around the time of Culloden, the Rattrays had just won back Atholl Castle from the Stewarts, so I suspect they weren’t on the best of terms.  One wonders about the political initiatives that led to their involvement in the Jacobite uprising.

Knowing something of your family history brings the past alive.  Knowing our people were there, doing this, brings an immediacy to events.  It also makes a historical fiction seem even more possible.

Oh. There’s  a stone circle at Craighall-Rattray, too.

Got goosebumps yet?



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