Macpherson’s Lament (or Macpherson’s Farewell)

The music and words were written by James Macpherson, a notorious gypsy freebooter who operated in the counties of Aberdeen, Banff and Moray, who was hanged 07 November 1700. Born around 1675, he was the son of a beautiful gypsy woman and a highland laird, Macpherson of Invershie, Inverness-Shire. While still in his youth, his father was unfortunately killed and he was then taken away by his mother. He eventually became the leader of an unlawful gypsy band who exploited the rich and left the poor and less privileged alone. He had the reputation of being the champion of those less fortunate and no cruelty was said to have been perpetrated by him in any way. Macpherson apparently inherited his mother’s good looks and was an immense physical presence. His two-handed sword was of great length and only he could wield it. The sword has been preserved and is kept in Duff House, the residence of the Earl of Fife. Macpherson was also apparently an excellent fiddler, particularly of the reels and strathspeys common to Scotland at the time. On his capture, he composed this air in prison the night before his execution. He also set words to it in Gaelic in which he urged the Macphersons to avenge his death. The story is told that, when brought to the Gallowshill, he played the tune on his fiddle and then offered the instrument to anyone of his clan who would undertake his revenge.

Alas, no one came forward, whereupon he broke the fiddle, threw it into the crowd and flung himself from the ladder. The neck of the fiddle was said to have been carried away by a cousin and eventually preserved at Castle Cluny in Inverness-Shire. Tradition has it that the magistrates of Banff, aware that a reprieve was on its way, put the clock forward and Macpherson died before the specified time. Anecdotal history tells that they were punished for this for many years in that they were forced to keep the town clock 20 minutes behind the right time.

– reprint Jan. 2003

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