Alexander Grant (Alasdair Mac Iain Bhain) was a poet and a soldier.
He grew up near Invermoriston in the small and remote village of Achnaconeran (Achadh nan Conbhairean) to the west of Loch Ness, to be a gifted man of sensitivity and strength, a man of thought as well as action, a bard and a fighter who left his Highland home to become a soldier at an early age, probably sometime around 1790.
There was a girl whose heart he had won and would never lose. She was his, once and for all. The lass saw him go and never forgot the man she loved, a man who had a way with words and song and posessed a fighting spirit, ready to tackle all the challenges the world could offer.
Alasdair MacIan Bhain must have been an attractive Highlander in many ways. He answered her love with the same belief, strength and intensity, and of course (being a bard) with a song.
Oran Air Gleann-Na-Moireasduinn (A Song To Glenmoriston).
The bard, in saying farewell, thinks of all the beautiful places, the wildlife, the pleasures there enjoyed – and the sweetheart whom he will “love till the day I die”.
The poet soldier served in France, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, and the West Indies. He lived through the turmoil of the French Revolution, and survived the long and dangerous journey to the West Indies. As with many war poets through the centuries, there was a strong element of homesickness and a deep love of the land where he grew up to be found in his poetry. Especially now that he was so far from everything he knew and loved.
Is Cianail an Rathad ‘s Mi Gabhail a’ Chuain
(Dreary Is The Ocean Road I Am Taking)
This appears to be a more detailed account of the ship in the same expedition:
“For seven weeks of tempestuous weather…continually pumping water out of her hour after hour.”
After years of fighting he wanted to be home, with his family and the woman he loved.
Oran an t-Saighdeir (The soldier’s song)
He describes how the hardships of campaigns all over Europe have aged him prematurely since he was tricked by “the gold” and “the promises.” Rather than the sounding of the pipes for action he would prefer “the lowing of a slim cow on its way to be milked in the glen.”
Finally he was on his way home to Achnaconeran. On his way there, he took ill, suddenly, violently and deadly.
“…at Seann-Talamh, above Drumnadrochit, and within a few hours’ journey of his father’s house, he was suddenly taken ill, and, unable to proceed further, he sought shelter under the hospitable roof of “Bean a’ Ghriasaiche Ghallda,” and there expired.” (Mackay)
The wife of the foreign cobbler (my unauthenticated translation) took the dying man in, but where exactly was this hospitable roof?
And what did the soldier actually die of?
Was it the war wound he had received presumably in Spain?
Theid Mi le m’ Dheoin
(I Will Go Gladly To Glenmoriston – The Land of Young John).
A very moving account of how his health has failed after “A heavy piece of metal has lodged in my body. If you go into the wood you will see a tree twisted because of the way in which its own saplings have grown around it.” The pain, he says, is “the messenger of death” but he still hopes to reach home and recover.
Unfortunately for the returning soldier his hopes were in vain. He did not reach home before he died. Alasdair Mac Iain Bhain was buried as quickly in the Old Kilmore graveyard, mourned by his family, his friends, and the young woman, who loved him. She threw herself onto his grave weeping in a frenzy of pain and sorrow. Suddenly she stopped, and listened intently. There it was again. A sound, a moan that was coming from underneath her, a moan coming from the very grave she was moaning at. Was Alasdair still alive?
His grave was quickly opened and Alasdair Mac Iain Bhain’s body was not found as they had left it; the soldier bard lay face downwards in his grave, he must have turned round after interment. He must have been alive.
His body was removed from Kilmore graveyard, where he would not find rest and taken to the graveyard in Invermoriston, close to Achnaconeran, now to rest forever.
But there is another version to this story where the bard actually made it home and died there. He was not buried in Drumnadrochit but in Invermoriston. But in this version, too, he was buried alive.
We submit the story of his return as we learned it from an old residenter in Achnaconeran. Grant arrived at his father’s house after a long and tedious journey, but was, almost immediately, attacked by a strong colic. He lingered in agonising pain for some time, and, after great suffering, appeared to have died. His remains were interred in Invermoriston Churchyard – Cladh Chalium-Cille. (MacDonald)
In this version, the young woman and Alasdair were betrothed to be married and she went to visit the grave the day after the funeral when she heard groans from beneath the new-laid turf. His grave was opened and he was found auir a-bhial-fodha, lying face downwards.
Whatever graveyard he was buried in, his lover’s cries must have been the last sound Alasdair heard, deep down in the dark, cold soil of his grave, before he turned and died a second time with a final moan from the grave.
Liked the read? There’s more here...
Scotland is a country full of history, stories and secrets. Often, the three cannot be separated. That is what makes this country so wonderful and unique. The stories of this book have been discovered and gathered for Erkenbach’s blog, Graveyards of Scotland, over many years.
Her main sources were historical travel guides from the 18th and 19th centuries, where the finds were scary, beautiful, funny, and sometimes, cruel.This unusual approach to a country’s history has produced amazing results. You don’t have to share the author’s passion for cemeteries to enjoy this book; only a small number of the stories in this collection take place in graveyards, though they do all end in them, so perhaps it helps.
The fairy hill in Inverness, a nitrate murder on Shetland, a family of left-handers, wolves, Robert the Bruce and William Wallace shown in a new light, the secret bay of the writer Gavin Maxwell, a murdering poet and so many things you didn’t know about Scotland, its clans and its history.
sources and further reading:
William Mackay: Urquhart and Glenmoriston. Olden Times in a Highland Parish. Inverness; The Northern Counties Newspaper and Printing and Publishing Company; 1914, p. 414
all songs are quoted from: Glenmoriston.org.uk
Lauchie MacLellan, John Shaw, Alistair MacLeod: Brigh an Òrain – A Story in Every Song. McGill-Queen’s Press; 2001
Alexander MacDonald: Story & Song from Loch Ness-Side. Northern Counties; 1914