> Folk Music > Songs > MacCrimmon’s Lament

MacCrimmon’s Lament

[ Roud 5134 ; Ballad Index RPG032 ; DT MACCRIM ; Mudcat 66839 , 6041 ; trad.]

Jeannie Robertson sang MacCrimmon’s Lament, in a recording made in 1955, on her 1957 Riverside album Songs of a Scots Tinker Lady. Another recording made by Bill Leader in 1959 was included in the same year on her Topic album The Great Scots Traditional Ballad Singer, and in 2009 on Topic’s 70th anniversary box, Three Score and Ten. A third version, recorded by Bill Leader at a concert in The Angus Hotel, Blairgowrie, Perthshire, on 13 August 1967, was included in 1968 on the Topic album Festival at Blairgowrie. Her Topic album’s sleeve notes commented:

This is a folksong variant of a 19th century translation from the Gaelic. The MacCrimmons were hereditary pipers of the MacLeods of Skye, and the most famous piping family in the world. Pipers came from all over Scotland and Ireland to learn the art from them. The MacCrimmon of the lament was killed in a skirmish during the 1745 rebellion, and foreseeing his own death composed this song before leaving for battle.

Lizzie Higgins sang MacCrimmon’s Lament in 1970 in Aberdeen to Peter Cooke and Ailie Munro. This recording was included in 2006 on her Musical Traditions anthology In Memory of Lizzie Higgins. Another version can be found on her 1985 Lismor album What a Voice. Rod Stradling commented in the Musical Traditions booklet:

Roud has only 6 instances of this beautiful lament; this one from Lizzie, and five from her mother [Jeannie Robertson].

Cha Till e Tuille—Cumha Mhic Criomain (No More Returning—MacCrimmon’s Lament) is a pibroch (complex variations on a theme set for the Highland bagpipe) said to have been composed in 1745 by Donald Ban (‘fair’ haired) MacCrimmon, hereditary piper to Norman, 19th chief of the MacLeods of Harris and Dunvegan, in premonition of his death before the battle of Culloden the following year. Unfortunately for romance, he and his chief were on the ‘wrong’ (i.e. Hanoverian Government) side and Donald was unlucky enough to be the only one killed in the ignominious ‘Rout of Moy’. This was an attempt by the Hanoverians to capture Prince Charles Edward Stuart (‘Bonny Prince Charlie’) quartered at the House of Moy near Inverness, in a midnight attack. The plans for this were discovered by Jacobite spies and the Hanoverians ambushed in a thunderstorm and routed in panic. MacCrimmon’s body was carted back to Inverness for burial. The original Gaelic verses (which themselves have evolved over time into variants) are attributed to Donald’s sister, but lush English variant translations abound. (This pibroch, by the way, should not be confused with a later dedicatory pibroch composed by his brother, The Lament for Donald Ban MacCrimmon as sung and played on the marvellous R. Brown & R.B. Nicol’s Masters of Pibroch Vol 7, Greentrax CDTRAX279).

Isla St Clair has recorded it several times, most recently in The Lady and the Piper, Highland Classics HCLA-C103, where it is followed with its bagpipe tune played by Gordon Walker. As a young girl, Lizzie learned the words of this from a book, and her father taught her its pipe tune. She regarded it as an extremely difficult piece both to learn initially and perform, especially the ‘pipe decorations’.

Dick Gaughan sang MacCrimmon’s Lament on his 1972 Trailer album No More Forever. This track was also included in 2005 on the Honest Jon anthology CD of recordings from Bill Leader’s Trailer record label, Never the Same. Gaughan noted:

I learned this version of MacCrimmon from the singing of the great Jeannie Robertson. I used to often hear Dolina MacLennan sing it in Gaelic when I used to visit her as a teenager at her house in Morningside, usually looking for a bowl of her superb soup.

Isla St Clair sang MacCrimmon’s Lament with quite different verses on her 1972 Tangent album Isla St Clair Sings Traditional Scottish Songs and on her 1993 CD Inheritance. The latter version was also included in 1998 on the anthology Huntingdon Folk 2. Hamish Henderson noted on the first album:

The MacCrimmons, pipers to the MacLeods of Skye, were the most famous piping family in Scotland, and indeed in the Western world. Pupils came from far and wide to receive tuition at their college at Boreraig, near Dunvegan. Some of their great pibrochs—for example, Lament for the Children—are now accounted musical treasures by international critics and musicologists. The repression of Gaelic culture which followed the battle of Culloden seriously harmed but did not destroy their inheritance. Ironically, the MacLeods were on the Hanoverian side in the ’45, and the piper who prophesied his own death before leaving for the field was killed in a skirmish against soldiers of Prince Charlie.

The translation usually sung was written by Professor John Stuart Blackie in the last century. The one Isla sings was made by Geordie Macdonald in 1966. Geordie is a native Gaelic speaker from Lewis.

Isabel Sutherland sang MacCrimmon’s Lament in 1974 on her eponymous EFDSS album, Isabel Sutherland.

Jean Redpath sang MacCrimmon’s Lament in 1975 on her eponymous album Jean Redpath. She noted:

At Borreraig on the Isle of Skye was raised a memorial cairn on which was inscribed in Gaelic: “The Memorial Cairn of the MacCrimmons, of whom ten generations were the hereditary pipers of MacLeod, and who were renowned as Composers, Performers, and Instructors of the Classical Music of the Bagpipe. Near to this spot stood the MacCrimmon School of Music, 1500-1800.”

Hamish Henderson describes this song as “a folksong variant of a 19th century translation from the Gaelic.” There is controversy as to why the poem was written, the translation I found reads:

MacCrimmon will never, will never return.
In war or in peace, he will come no more;
With riches or otherwise MacCrimmon will return not:
He will not come ever till the Gathering-day.

Hamish it was, too, who introduced me to the singing of Jeannie Robertson, from whose version this was learned. That fine singer died this spring and the most fitting tribute I can pay her is to cherish the tradition that she bore in such grand style.

Ian Manuel sang MacCrimmon’s Lament on his 1977 Topic album of Scots traditional songs, The Dales of Caledonia. This track was also included in 1996 on the Topic anthology CD Ancient Celtic Roots.

Heather Heywood sang MacCrimmon’s Lament in 1993 on her Greentrax CD By Yon Castle Wa’. She noted:

I first heard this from the singing of Dick Gaughan around 1972. The MacCrimmons were hereditary pipers to the MacLeods of Skye. The lament refers to Donald MacCrimmon who died in 1745. The MacCrimmons were reputed to be the finest of all pipers with pipers travelling from all over to study under them. (A sort of 18th century ‘Folkworks’.) The tune which follows is extracted from the piobaireachd MacCrimmon’s Sweetheart.

Mick West sang MacCrimmon’s Lament in 1997 on his Lochshore album Right Side o’ the People. He noted:

This is a translation from Gaelic of “Cumha Mhic Cruimein” or “Cha till E ’Tuille”. Legend has it that the composer of the pipe tune Donald MacCrimmon foresaw his own death at the ‘Rout of Moy’ in 1746 and composed his own lament.

Carolyn Robson sang MacCrimmon on her 1999 album All the Fine Young Men. She noted:

The MacCrimmons were legendary pipers from Skye and Donald MacCrimmon reputedly wrote this air just before his death in 1745.

Elspeth Cowie sang MacCrimmon’s Lament on her 2000 CD Naked Voice.

Barbara Dickson sang MacCrimmon’s Lament in 2001 on her CD For the Record.

Alison McMorland sang MacCrimmon’s Lament in 2007 on her and Geordie McIntyre’s Greentrax CD White Wings.

Fiona Hunter sang MacCrimmon’s Lament in 2014 on her eponymous CD Fiona Hunter. She noted:

Legend has it that during the Jacobite Rebellion on 1745, Donald Ban MacCrimmon foresaw his own death in battle and was inspired to compose this beautiful air. The Gaelic words have been attributed to MacCrimmon’s sister and the Scots translation I sing has been around since the early nineteenth century.

Robyn Stapleton sang MacCrimmon’s Lament in 2015 on her CD Fickle Fortune. She noted:

Whilst visiting Dunvegan Castle on Skye, Sir Walter Scott heard a beautiful lament being played on the pipes. It was a lament written by piper Donal Ban MacCrimmon on the premonition of his own death. Scott was so moved by the piece that it inspired him to write this song, MacCrimmon’s Lament, in his memory. I learnt the song from the singing of Jeannie Robertson.


Lizzie Higgins sings MacCrimmon’s Lament

Around Coolin’s peaks the mist is sailin;
The banshee croons her note o wailin.
My own blue een wi sorrow is streamin
For him that shall never return, MacCrimmon.

Chorus (twice after each verse):
No more, no more, no more forever
Shall love or gold bring back MacCrimmon.

The breeze on the braes are mournfully moanin,
The brooks in the hollows are plaintively moanin.
My own blue een wi sorrow are streamin
For him that shall never return, MacCrimmon.

MacLeod’s withered flag from the grey castle sallies,
The oars are unseated, unmoored are the galleys,
Gleans war-axe and broadsword, clan target and quiver,
For him that shall never return, MacCrimmon.

Isla St Clair sings MacCrimmon’s Lament

A misty road unfolds round Coolin
A dirge of woe the banshee is croonin
But my blue e’en they wail and seething
Since thou art gone and no returning.

The breeze o’er the ben is gently stealing
As doon their braes the burnlets come creeping
Birds in high trees they wail and seething
Since thou art gone and no restoring.

O’er the doon at e’en your piping is silent
Nor echoing hills in like replying
My lover’s fond kiss is fondly quieted
Since thou art gone, for I, for ever.

Cha till, cha till, cha till MacCrimmon
In peace nor in war return no never
No treasure nor road shall bring MacCrimmon
Till dawns the glad day that joins us ever.

Jean Redpath sings MacCrimmon’s Lament

Round Cuillin’s peak the mist is sailin’
The banshee croons her note of wailin’
But my blue een w i’ sorrow are streamin’
For him that will never return—MacCrimmon.

No more, no more, no more forever
In war or peace shall return MacCrimmon
No more, no more, no more forever
Shall love or gold bring back MacCrimmon.

The beasts on the braes are mournfully moanin’
The brook in the hollow is plaintively mournin’
But my blue een wi’ sorrow are streamin’
For him that will never return—MacCrimmon

No more, no more, no more forever
In war or peace shall return MacCrimmon
No more, no more, no more forever
Shall love or gold bring back MacCrimmon.