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Sketches of The Character, Manners, and Present State of the Highlanders of Scotland


D, Page 35. War Cries, Signals, and Distinguishing Marks of the Clans

Of the expedients generally adopted by the Chiefs for summoning their friends and followers, it may not be unacceptable to afford the reader some idea. The warlike disposition of the Celtic clans, their jealousy of wrongs, the numerous concurrent causes of irritation and quarrel, and the nature of the country, over a large extent of which they lived scattered and distant from one another, rendered some signal necessary to give the alarm, and assemble the warriors. The principal signal was the Cross Tarie, or Fiery Cross, a piece of wood burnt or burning at one end, with a piece of linen or white cloth stained with blood hanging from the other. This symbol served two purposes. It was sent round the country to call the men to arms, and it was meant also to show what were the intentions of the enemy

(that is, to burn and desolate the country), and what would be their own fate if they did not defend their honour, their lives, and their properties. The cross was sent round the country from hand to hand, each person who bore it running at full speed, shouting as he went along the war-cry of the tribe, and naming the place of rendezvous. At each hamlet a fresh man took it up, so that an alarm was given, and the people assembled a with celerity almost incredible. One of the latest instances of the Fiery Cross being used happened in 1745, when, by the orders of Lord Breadalbane, it was sent round Loch Tay (a distance of thirty-two miles, in three hours), to raise his people, and prevent their joining the rebels,óbut with less effect than in 1715, when it went the same round, and when five hundred men assembled the same evening under the command of the Laird of Glen-lyon, acting under the orders of the Earl of Breadalbane, to join the Earl of Mar.

The war-cry served as a watchword to individuals in the confusion of the combat, in the darkness of the night, or on any sudden alarm, when assistance was necessary. Each tribe had its own war-cry (or slogan, as it is called in Scotch), to which every clansman answered. The war-cry of the Grants was Craig Eila-chie, from a large rock in the centre of the country of the Grants; that of the Mackenzies, Tulloch-ard; of the Macdonalds, Craig-na-fioch; of the Macphersons, Craig-dui; of the Macgregors, Ard-choile; of the Macfar-lanes, Loch Sloy; of the Buchanans, Clairinish; and of the Farquharsons, Carn-na-cuin. Some families in the border Lowlands employed their names as slogans and watchwords. In the case of the Gordons, whenever assistance was necessary, the cry of "A Gordon! a Gordon! " was sure to be effectual. The cry of "A Forbes! a Forbes! " was equally availing with regard to the Fortieses ; and as these two warlike families were at feud for more than 200 years, they had frequent occasion for their respective slogans, in their countless strifes and rencounters. Besides these cries, they had other marks by which it could be known to what clan, tribe, or district, individuals belonged. One of these was the particular disposition or set of the different colours of the tartan, in the plaid, kilt, hose, and trews. Another mark of distinction was a tuft of heath, pine, or such plant, stuck in the bonnet, as would not fade or cast the leaf. Thus the Macdonalds wore in their bonnets tufts of heath; the Macgregors and Grants a bunch of pine; the Drummonds and Mackenzies wore the holly, the former the plain, and the latter the variegated;

[The Mackenzies occasionally assumed the deer's grass, in allusion to the armorial bearings of the chief, viz. deer's head and horns. In connexion with these bearings, and with the origin of the clan, is an anecdote which will be found in the account of the Seaforth Regiment. This distribution of the distinguishing badges must have been well understood, otherwise interferences would occur, as our evergreen trees and shrubs are not numerous. The Macgregors and Grants carried the same badge, as being of the same descent. Clans inhabiting countries distant from each other, had sometimes badges somewhat similar, although sufficiently marked to distinguish them, as in the instance of the plain and variegated holly of the Drummonds and Mackenzies.]

the Mackintoshes the boxwood, and so on; always taking care, whatever the badge or mark was, that it should be permanent, and not affected by the change of the season, and thus be equally conspicuous in winter as in summer. This was the practice of all except the Stewarts, who generally wore the oak; which, from losing the leaf and decaying, many regarded as ominous of the decline of the family and name, who also considered the oak emblematical, as the leaves, though withered and decayed, still hang by the branches till forced off by the new leaves in spring.

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