by John MacDonald (c.1624–c.1710)
Murt na Ceapaich (The Keppoch Murder) and Cumha Nì Mhic Raonuill na Ceapaich (The Lament of the Daughter of Mac Raonuill na Ceapaich) both deal with the murder of two young brothers, sons of the Chief of MacDonald of Keppoch, on 25th September, 1663. Alasdair was only eighteen years old and Ronald was only sixteen. They were murdered in their own house by two cousins and some of the MacDonalds of Inverlair with whom Keppoch was in dispute. Although the poet John MacDonald, known as Iain Lom, names the murderers in his Cumha do Mhac Mhic Raghnaill na Ceapaich agus a Bhràthair (A Lament for MacDonald of Keppoch and his brother) as “two sons of your uncle … and seven of the Seed of Dugald, despoilers of hundreds” there was little demand for justice or revenge. But Iain Lom pursued the matter and eventually seven men were beheaded for the murders. According to tradition, Iain Lom took the seven heads and cleaned them in a well beside Loch Oich before taking them to MacDonald of Glen Garry. To this day the well is known as the Well of the Seven Heads.
For further information see Òrain Iain Luim (Songs of John MacDonald, Bard of Keppoch) edited by Annie M. Mackenzie and published by the Scottish Academic Press for The Scottish Gaelic Texts Society, Edinburgh 1964. Little is known about the sister of Alasdair and Ronald, the composer of the lament. Although she seems to have been away from Keppoch at the time the murders were committed, it is clear from the song that she witnessed the tragedy very soon afterwards.
Murt na Ceapaich
’S tearc an-diugh mo chùis ghàire
Teachd sna ràidibh seo ’n iar,
’G amharc fonn Inbhir Làire
Air a stràcadh le sìol,
Is a’ Cheapach na fàsach
Gun aon àird oirre ’s fiach;
Gum faiceadh Dia, bhràithre,
Gur trom a bhàrc oirnn an t-sìon.
Today I have little reason for laughter as I traverse these roads westwards and look upon the land of Inverlair brimming with seed, and Keppoch a wilderness with nothing of worth there; brothers, may God witness that the storm has broken heavily on us.
Cumha Nì Mhic Raonuill na Ceapaich
Dh’ èirich mise moch Di-dòmhnaich
Ò rò ’s na hù ill ò rò
’S shuidh mi air an tulaich bhòidhich
Fàth mo leann-duibh hò rò
’S daingeann a bhuail iad às gach taobh sibh
Bhràithrean mo ghaoil ò chòin!
Shuidh mi air an tulaich bhòidhich
’S leig mi air an tuireadh bhrònach
Chunna mi taigh m’ athar gun chòmhla
Gun smùid, gun deathaich, gun cheò dheth.
Dh’fhosgail mi doras ur seòmair
Thàinig ur fuil thar mo bhrògan!
’S teann nach d’ òl mi fhèin mo leòr dheth
’S e fuil Alasdair a leòn mi.
Thoir fios uam-sa gu Mac Dhòmhnaill,
Gu Mac Mhic Alasdair Chnòideart
’S gu Mac Mhic Ailein on mhòr-chuan.
Tha mi ’n earbsa Rìgh na Glòire
Gun toir sibh dhachaigh an tòrachd
Càirdean dhuibh fhèin – bràithrean dhòmh-s’ iad.
I arose early on Sunday
Ò rò ’s na hù ill ò rò
And I sat on the lovely knoll
The reason for my misery, hò rò
Strongly they attacked you from all sides
My beloved brothers, ò chòin!
I sat on the lovely knoll
And began the sad lamentation.
I saw my father’s house with open door,
Without mist, smoke or vapour coming from it.
I opened the door of your room,
Your blood ran over my shoes.
I nearly drank my fill of it.
It was Alasdair’s blood that wounded me.
Take a message from me to MacDonald
To MacDonnell of Glengarry in Keppoch
To MacDonald of Clan Ranald across the seas.
I put my trust in the King of Glory
That you will avenge them
They were your relatives – and my brothers.