The Weaving of the Tartan – a poem by my great great great aunt

My great great great aunt Alice Claire Mcdonell of Keppoch was born at Keppoch in 1855, the year her father died from small pox, whilst caring for the victims of an epidemic in Glasgow. She was the great great granddaughter of Keppoch of Culloden – XVI Chieftain, killed at Culloden. She is also known as the Clan Donald bardess and I found a poem today by her about tartan (see below), and according to the source the tartan, was for her, “symbolic of the many threads which go to make up Scotland and which bind Scots, whether at home or scattered around the globe, to their homeland and to other Scots”. She wrote a number of poems which were published in magazines at the end of the 19th century. This poem was published in 1894, though it may have been written at an earlier date. Interestingly, the oldest sample remaining of an actual MacDonald tartan is possibly a MacDonnell of Keppoch tartan the Keppoch chief gave Prince Charles Edward in 1745.

The Weaving of the Tartan
I saw an old Dame weaving,
Weaving, weaving
I saw an old Dame weaving,
A web of tartan fine.
“Sing high,” she said, “sing low,” she said,
“Wild torrent to the sea,
That saw my exiled bairnies torn,
In sorrow far frae me.

And warp well the long threads,
The bright threads, the strong threads;
Woof well the cross threads,
To make the colours shine.”
She wove in red for every deed,
Of valour done for Scotia’s need:
She wove in green, the laurel’s sheen,
In memory of her glorious dead.

She spake of Alma’s steep incline,
The desert march, the “thin red line,”
Of how it fired the blood and stirred the heart,
Where’er a bairn of hers took part.
“‘Tis for the gallant lads,” she said,
“Who wear the kilt and tartan plaid:
‘Tis for the winsome lasses too,
Just like my dainty bells of blue.

So weave well the bright threads,
The red threads, the green threads;
Woof well the strong threads
That bind their hearts to mine.”
I saw an old Dame sighing,
Sighing, sighing;
I saw an old Dame sighing,
Beside a lonely glen.

“Sing high,” she said, “sing low,” she said,
Wild tempests to the sea,
The wailing of the pibroch’s note,
That bade farewell to me.
And wae fa’ the red deer,
The swift deer, the strong deer,
Wae fa’ the cursed deer,
That take the place o’ men.”

Where’er a noble deed is wrought,
Where’er the brightest realms of thought,
The artists’ skill, the martial thrill,
Be sure to Scotia’s land is wed.
She casts the glamour of her name,
O’er Britain’s throne and statesman’s fame;
From distant lands ‘neath foreign names,
Some brilliant son his birthright claims.

For ah! – she has reared them amid tempests,
And cradled them in snow,
To give the Scottish arms their strength,
Their hearts a kindly glow.
So weave well the bright threads,
The red threads, the green threads.
Woof well the strong threads
That bind their hearts to thine.

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