AILIS SORCHA NI’ MHIC ‘IC RAONUILL NA CEAPAICH

Alice Claire MacDonnell of Keppoch was Bardess to the Clan Donald Society and is my great great great aunt. She was born Born 31 Jan 1854 (Kilmonivaig) and Died 12 Oct 1938 (Hove).

Monday, 23 Jan 1939 PROBATE
MACDONELL – Alice Claire, of 20 Pembroke-crescent, Hove, Sussex, spinster, died 12 October 1938, at 9 Rutland Gardens, Hove. Administration (with will), Exeter, 23 January, to Angus Charles Majoribanks Maitland, of no occupation. Effects £126 3s 7d.

[Alice C. MacDonell Age 83, 1938 4Q Hove 2b 363] 

Her poems often appeared as introductions and inclusions in a number of mostly Scottish publications during her life, such as Celtic Monthly. Some were also set to music by the likes of Stanley Hawley and Colin MacAlpin. There were also published collections, including:

– Lays of the Heather: poems (1896)
– Songs of the Mountain and the Burn
(1912)
– The royal ribbon
(1920)
– The Crushing of the Lilies
(1927)
– For God and St. Andrew
(1928)
The Glen o’ dreams (1929)

I’ve included an extract below from MacDonald Bards: from Mediaeval Times written by Keith Norman MacDonald, M.D. in 1900. It includes a sketch of Alice and includes some of her poems. Interesting, I found the following reference to Alice in The tartans of the clans and families of Scotland (1938) by Sir Thomas Innes of Learney:

Alice Claire Macdonell of Keppoch, is now Chieftainess of Keppoch and Bardess of Clan Donald.

AILIS SORCHA NI’ MHIC ‘IC RAONUILL NA CEAPAICH
(ALICE CLARIE MACDONELL OF KEPPOCH)

Our famous and well-known clan bardese Miss Alice Clarie MacDonell, is the 8th and youngest daughter of Angus XXII. of Keppoch, and maintains the reputation of her clan and family, and illustrious ancestors from whomshe inherited poetic
gifts of a high order.

Ailis dhonn gur mòr mo ghràdh ort Gruaidh na nàire’s beul an fhurain.

The founder of this brave, poetic, and war-like family of Keppoch, was Alastair Carrach* third and youngest son of John, first Lord of the Isles, by his second wife, the Lady Margaret, daughter of Robert High Steward of Scotland, who in the year 1370 ascended the throne of Scotland by the title of Robert II.

* Curly headed and fair, ” that is shawit Alexander sua that being the countries custome, because Highland men call it the fairest-hared and sua furthe, for this Alexander was the farest-hared man as they say of any that ever was,” &c.

Several reasons have been alleged for the assumption of the surname MacDonell instead of MacDonald by this family. In Maelan’s “Costumes of the Clans of Scotland,” it is stated that Coll of Keppoch, the son of Gilleasbuig, who lived in the end of the seventeenth century, was the first who changed the orthography of the name to” MacDonell by the persuasion of Glengarry, Lord Aros.

That’s not likely, neither was any persuasion necessary, as according to the Black Book of Taymouth, his father, Archibald, signed his name MacDonell, and Donald Glas the second, signed Montrose’s bond in 1665 (at Kilchuimen [Fort Augustus] to unite the loyalty of the Highlanders) as “Donald MacDonell off Keppoch.” The patronymic of the family first was ” Sliocdh Alistair Mhic Aonghuis,” from Angus son of Alistair Carrach, down to the time of Raonull Mòr, when it became Mac-Ranald ” Mac ‘Ic Raonuill.” Up to the time of Alastair nan Cleas, 10th Chief of Keppoch, they always signed ” Mack Ranald” from the patronymic, then it was anglicised from MacDhomhnuill into MacDonell, which is nearer the Gaelic than MacDonald, which was derived from the Latin MacDonaldus, and in all subsequent documents the name and signatures
are MacDonell.

Few families can boast of such a number of bards, both in the direct and indirect lines, and able ones too. The first of them was Iain Lom (and his son), entitled John son of Donald, son of John, son of Donald, sen of Iain Aluin, the 4th Chief, was the most famous. Then we have Donald Donn, Donald Bane of the spectre, Alexander and Donald Gruamach of the house of Bohuntin, Rev. John MacDonald, ” Ni’ Mhi Aonghuis òg,” grand daughter of Angus òg, fifth son of Alistair nan Cleas. A daughter of Donald Glas the 2nd, and sister of the brothers Alexander and Ranald, who were murdered. Gilleasbuig na Ceapaich, his daughter Juliet, and his sons, Angus Odhar, and Alexander, and Coll, and several others, until we come down to the subject of our present sketch.

Miss Alice MacDonell was educated by private tuition, and at the convent of French nuns in Northampton, finishing off at St. Margaret’s Convent, Edinburgh. She gave early promise of the bardic gift by stringing couplets together, and running about the romantic Braes of Lochaber, listening to wonderful tales of battles and chivalry, weird romances, fairy tales, Ossianic poetry, and lovely Highland music, all tended to foster the poetic talent, and lay the foundation of that intense patriotism and grand martial spirit which pervades much of her poetry, and which would have satisfied even Alistair Carrach himself. Besides her numerous accomplishments, Miss MacDonell is very well read in Shakespeare, ancient and modern poetry, history, and romance. For several years some of her poems have been published in various Highland papers, but they were not published in book form until 1896, when her ” lays of the heather” appeared a goodlysized book of 206 pages dedicated to Prince Rupert of Bavaria, thepresent representative of the Stewarts, containing 53 pieces of different lengths, and of a martial, descriptive, and sentimental character. As might be expected her first poem is to her beloved native glen. “Lochabair gu Bràch” (Lochaber for ever), written for a historical work, entitled ” Loyal Lochaber,” by Mr W. Drummond Norie.

In all thy moods I love thee,
In sunshine and in storm,
Lochaber of the towering bens,
Outlined in rugged form.
Here proud Ben JNevis snowy crowned,
Rests throned amid the clouds ;
There Lochy’s deep and silvery wave
A Royal city shrouds ;
Whose waters witnessed the escape
Of coward Campbell’s dastard shape,
Disgrace eternal reap:
Whilst fair Glen Nevis’ rocks resound
With Pibroch Dhu’ renowned;
From Inverlochy’s keep.
Grey ruined walls, in after years
That saw the great Montrose,
MacDonald’s, Cameron’s, men lead forth
To victory ‘gainst their foes.
Oh ! Lochaber, dear Lochaber,
The rich red afterglow
Of fame that rests upon thy shield,
Unbroken records show.
” 0, Lochabair, mo Lochabair fhèin gu bràth ”
(Oh, Lochaber, my own Lochaber for ever.)

The next is ” Lochaber’s sons” (the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders) in which mention is made of the ties that existed between the Camerons and the Keppochs. Allan Cameron of Erracht’s mother was a sister of the gallant Keppoch of the ’45, and she it was who designed the tartan of the 79th, a blending of the colours of the MacDonald and Cameron tartans. Another significant poem is to the Clan Donald, on their first formation as a society since the ’45, which breathes intense patriotism throughout.

Rouse ye children of MacDonald,
From each far and distant shore !
Hands outstretched across the ocean
Cling in fancied grasp once more.
Helpers of the weak and suffering,
As the knights of ancient lore ;
Hearts that never knew dishonour
Beat as loyal as of yore.
Wake again, O great Clann Dhomhnuill ! (The Clan Donald)
Let not duty call in vain :
In the vanguard of the battle,
Form your serried ranks again.

Miss MacDonell has been as successful in her choice of titles, as in the subject of her poems, and no one can go through the work without seeing that the author is capable of still greater things, ” The Highland Brigade,” at the battle of the Alma, consists of 133 lines, is an excellent poem, and enough to rouse any Highlander’s enthusiasm.

“The Bonnie Scots Greys” (second to none), is an equally fascinating poem ; ” The thin, red Line,” and ” The passage of the Gare,” are likewise well chosen. ” The Rush on Coomassie,” ” A Soldier’s vow,” ” The Lad with the Bonnet of Blue,” II ” The wearing of the tartan,” ” The spell of the mountains,” ” The plaint of the mountain stream,” ” Sunset,” and many others are very good and reflect great credit upon the authoress, but she is not done yet. Since the ” Lays of the Heather” was published the following further poems have come from her pen :— ” How they won the Red Hackle” (about the 42nd); ” Gillean an Fhèilidh ” (the lads with the kilts); “The lassie wi’ the tartan,” ” A Rùin,” (term of endearment), ” The Dream Glen,” ” Sea Dreams,” ” The Parting on the Bridge,” ” When Distant Hills Look Near,” ” Through the Zone of Fire” (Flora MacDonald), “The Doom of Knocklea,” “The Taking of Abu-Hamed,” ” The Song of Sleep,” ” Never go Back,” ” Friendship,””Haunted,” ”TheDargaiHeights,” ” Cill Charoil,” ” My Picture,” ” Parting,” ” On the eve,” and several others not yet published. Some stanzas of one of the unpublished ones— ” The Doom of Knocklea ” are appended, ” The Doom of Knocklea” (suggested by an incident in the Highland evictions.)

Whistle ! for food in your eerie lone,
Gold Eagle of Cnoc-nam-beann !
Folds there are none, but the granite stone.
To steal for thy young on Cnoc-nam-beann,
The thatchless roof, and the ruined wall,
Will echo back to your hungry call,
No song in the shelling, nor cow in the stall,
To tell of the kindly haunts of men
As the lonely winds sweep up the glen.
Ochon!
Whistle ! and cry in your haunted cave,
Spirit of him who was called Knocklea,
Ye stand on the brink of an open grave
With the forms of the dead for company.
The red deer roams on the bare hillside,
No sound of life on the moorland wide
Ye scattered afar in the day of your pride :
Nor living nor dead, are ye lonesome then,
As the wintry winds sweep up the glen
And moan ?
The ship went down as it left the shore,
Freighted with sorrowing human lives ;
The waves brought back to thy castle door
Aged mothers and year-old wives.
Above the wail of the tempest’s shriek,
The curse of the strong and the cry of the weak
Rose high o’er the blackened boulders peak,
For the ruined hearth and the empty pen
As the lone wind swept the evicted glen
Of the Dead!
Ye were strong as ye laughed in your cheerless mirth,
For the peasant lives who had perished there !
They wished to remain in the land of their birih,
Behold! how their Godhath heard the prayer !
The gloom of the rocks on thy dwelling fell.
There is neither laughter nor tear in Hell!
Souls of the just with their God are well,
How fares it with thee in thy cursed den,
When the lone winds sweep the leafless glen.
O’erhead ?
Whistle and cry to your hunting hounds,
The white Doe lies in the bosky park,
W hoop ! and away, the dead man bounds,
For you are living and they are stark.
Fingers point Lo their grass grown homes,
Little ones weep on their own grave stones,
The forest echoes give back thy groans,
Till the tenantless walls are peopled again
With living children and lusty men.
Thy Doom !
Ware the river and haunted cave !
Ware the forests of dark Knocklea !
Ware the cursed where the pine trees wave !
Ware the torrent that tumbles free !
There evil walks in the train of night
With the man accursed in the day or his might,
Here men have perished in fearsome plight
Who answered the cry for the aid of men
That shrieks and raves thro’ the wind swept glen.
In gloom !

(Set to music by Colin MacAlpin.)

Our clan bardess has also immortalised the heroic conduct of Brigadier Hector MacDonald at Omdurman in verse and song—” Our heroe’s welcome ” must be familiar to most Highlanders.

From the crash of cannons’ roar
And the flash of ringing steel,
Toilsome march, and swift Bivouac,
Broken by the trumpets peal.
From the desert Afric s sands
Long renowned in battle story;
Omdurman’s undaunted field
Where thy name is linked in glory.
Ciad’s ciad mile fàilte*
Dear to soldier’s heart the laurels,
When a glorious deed is done ;
Dearer when from grim oppressions
Broken chains, the wreath is won.
Dearer still, when hearts that love thee,
Honour in thy honours claim,
When the race of Conn united
To the world their rights proclaim.
Ciad’s ciad, &c.
Maidens ! softly touch the clàrsach,
Sing your sweetest songs tu-day,
Pipers ! rouse the magic chanter,
Loud Cian Coila’s gathering play,
Clansmen ! nledge with Highland honours,
Highland cheer, our heroe’s name,
Till tìle Highland hills re-echo
Back again our Hector’s fame.
Ciad’s ciad mìle fàilte.

* A hundred thousand welcomes.

Miss Jessie MacLachlan, the famous Scottish vocalist, sang the above song at the London banquet given to Colonel Hector MacDonald, which was set to music by Mr Colin MacAlpin. Miss MacDonell’s latest poem is ” The mother land,” extending to sixty-three lines, which has just been published, 1899, in the year book of the MacDonald Society. It breathes the same fervent patriotism so characteristic of many of her poems. The following quotation will give an idea of the poem as a whole.

THE MOTHER LAND

Upon thy kindly breast once more,
Heart to my heart, cheek to thy cheek, red lips
Of honey, scented heather beil, and myrtle sweet
and wild,
Keening soft lullabys from out their mossy depths,
In the sound of the swift brown burns, and the
winds
Lilting under the feathery fronds and the clustering leaves,
Trailing away down the rocky banks where the
berries grow.
0 ! but thou givest rest sweet mother land !
With thy cool delicate airs, and the songs,
The old time songs of the hills, Dearghull and
Naoise sang
In their wattle hut by the side of the Etive loch,
Cuchullin sang in the far-off isle of the mists,
And Ossian sang away there by the fairy haunts of
Treig,
Songs of the perfect life in the land of Atlantis out
by the setting sun.

Miss MacDonell’s last poem, published in the October number of the ” Celtic Monthly,” shows no falling off on her previous productions. It is in praise of the Paladin of the Soudan, ” Major-General Sir Archibald Hunter, K.C.M.G., who so distinguished himself in the recent Soudan campaign, and who gained for himself not only the reputation of being one of the bravest of the brave, but a far higher and rarer quality, that of chivalry—by his mother’s side a Graham, showing that he follows in the footsteps of those two knightly Paladins of his cian, Montrose and Bonnie Dundee.” The first and last stanzas are quoted to give an idea of the poem.

1 Not mine the right thou gallant son,
Nor yet the skill to sing thy praise;
Till some more powerful hand shall wake
His tuneful lyre with polished phrase.
Some bard from out thine own cian Graeme,
So far renowned in Scottish fame,
His clansmen’s deeds inverse pjrtrays,
A Bister Scot her right may claim.

5 Worthy of that brave cian art thou
That owned a Clavers, a Montrose,
Beneath their knightly banners furled
Thy name shall also find repose.
Nor courtly ways with these are sped,
Nor chivalry with these arc dead,
So long as Scottish names disclose
One with such knightly virtues bred.
Our bardess is still singing away, and long may
she continue to do so, a wish which, I am sure,
the whole cian Donald will heartily endorse.
” Gu m a fada beò thu’s ceò dheth do thighe.”

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