600th Anniversary of the Battle of Red Harlaw Commemorated

Written by Albert Thomson and James McQuiston

"Gin onybody spier at ye, For them they took awa'‚

Ye can tell their wives and bairnies, They're sleeping at Harlaw."

On July 24, 2011, six hundred years to the day, the bloody Battle of Harlaw was commemorated by the descendants of those who died, and of those who survived. The remembrance has continued. On October 24th, a newly-formed group known as "Freens of Reid Harlaw" held their first meeting not far from the battlefield, near Aberdeen, Scotland. At that meeting, plans were made to carry the memory of Harlaw forward by participating in events, collecting songs, poems and other memorbilia of the battle, creating a website, and expanding membership in their organization.

The anniversary of the 1411 battle fell on a Sunday and the participants in the ceremony woke to a cold, windy, overcast day. The battlefield, that early morning, was a lonely place, foreboding with the moans of the wind whipping around the century-old monument standing proud in the memory of those who fought that fateful day.

As the sky lightened, short bursts of sunlight reflected off the new, brightly painted crests that, at long last, adorned the structure - spectacular crests representing the City of Aberdeen, the Earl of Mar, Irvine of Drum, Clan Donald, Clan Maclean and Clan Davidson - all but the crest of Sir Andrew Leslie of Balquhain, for the Leslie contribution would be unveiled elsewhere.

The anniversary was marked by a number of events starting at St. Nicholas, the "Mither Kirk" of the City of Aberdeen, and burial place of Robert Davidson, the Lord Provost who was killed at Harlaw. This church is also the ancient burial place of the Irvines of Drum.

The service was led by Reverend Stephen Taylor. A prayer, in memory to the fallen, was also given by Peter Morgan, Roman Catholic Bishop of Aberdeen. The service was attended by many invited guests from the clans and families involved, including Lord Provost Peter Stephen of Aberdeen.

Afterwards, there was a commemorative service on the battlefield in the shadow of the monument which was originally erected in 1914, by the Aberdeen Town Council. With the peaks of Bennachie in the background, and dark clouds gathering, prayers were said by Reverend Brian Dobby from Chapel of Garioch, and the monument, with the additional shields bearing the newly installed coats-of-arms, was re-inaugurated.

This was followed by a private ceremony organized by Reverend Allan Maclean of Dochgarroch to mark the occasion when Red Hector Maclean of the Battles and Sir Alexander Irving of Drum killed one another in close combat. This ceremony began with Brigadier John Macfarlane reciting a shortened version of the "Brosnachadh," the clans incitement to battle. Thereafter there was an exchange of swords by Sir Hector Maclean and David Irvine of Drum, the current clan chiefs, in a poignant ceremony of reconciliation and friendship.

This was followed by a lone piper playing a Lament to Red Hector of the Battles. The scene was truly haunting, with the monument immediately behind the piper, and a dark, foreboding Bennachie in the distance.

The ceremony concluded with the laying of wreaths.

The final event of the day was the service at the Chapel of Garioch to mark the occasion, and also the unveiling of the Leslie's Cross to replace the original, which once stood on the battlefield. The location of the original has been lost in time and was originally erected in memory of the six sons of Sir Andrew Leslie of Balquhain and other Leslies killed during the battle. The unveiling event was organized by David Leslie who restored Leslie Castle in the 1980. Clan Leslie members from the US, Australia and New Zealand joined their British counterparts at the service and unveiling ceremony.

To mark the occasion, a new song, "The Flower o' the Leslies," by Andy Brownlie, was sung in church. The service ended with the new Leslie's Cross unveiled and standing proudly in the Chapel of Garioch Churchyard. The cross contains a time capsule with copies of the dedication booklets, and swatches of Leslie Tartan, amongst other items of interest.

Light refreshments followed in the church hall where a short play entitled "Red Harlaw" was performed. The play was commissioned by Aberdeen City Council and was written my Mike Gibb. The anniversary of the battle was also marked by the Scottish Culture and Traditions Association (SC&T) through a song competition – the winner being announced at the Aberdeen Tartan Day, on 29th July. The winner was Tom Clelland with his song "Carrion Craw."

Other songs and poems have been written and collected to commemorate the "bloodiest battle on Scottish soil." Information on where to acquire a DVD of the play, copies of Harlaw-based songs, and information of the Freens of Reid Harlaw will be found on this website. Additional information can be gained by contacting Albert Thomson

A retired police officer, Albert is a member of Clan MacThomas Society and the Clan Chattan Association. Clan Chattan fought at Harlaw, alongside Donald of Harlaw, Lord of the Isles. Thomson is also a member of the Aberdeen Shoemakers Incorporation, a trade open to people with an interest is keeping the history and traditions of the craft alive. As such he is a Burgess of Guild and Trade in the City of Aberdeen. City burgesses fought at the Battle of Harlaw. Albert has also played an important role in organizing the Freens of Reid Harlaw, and, along with his wife Linda, lives just a short distance from the battlefield.

Co-author of this article, Jim McQuiston, is surnamed for Donald of Harlaw's grandson, Uisdean Macdonald, Chief of the Skye Macdonalds. McQuiston will be managing this website to help the "Freens" keep the memory of this significant battle alive. In a past issue of Highlander Magazine, McQuiston explored many of the reasons behind this famous event. That article will be posted elsewhere on this website. For more information in these areas, contact Jim McQuiston

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