The Last Sabbath in Strathnaver Before the Burnings

By Bernie Bell
The story goes, that in a short time after, a crow built her nest in the deserted church.

Poetry Corner : The Last Sad Sabbath

The Last Sad Sabbath

(Celtic Magazine) by Annie Mackay
Twas not the beacon light of war
Nor yet the “slogan” cry
That chilled each heart and blanched each cheek
In the Country of Mackay
And made them march with weary feet
As men condemned to die
Ah! Had it been their country’s foe
That they were called to brave
How loudly would the piobrachd sound
How proud their “bratach” wave
How joyfully each man would march
Tho’ marching to his grave
No! ‘Twas a cruel sad behest
An alien chief’s command
Depriving them of house and home
Their country and their land
Dealing a death-blow at their hearts
Binding the “strong right hand”
Slowly and sadly down the glen
They took their weary way
The sun was shining overhead
Upon that sweet spring day
And earth was throbbing with the life
Of the great glad month of May
The deer were browsing on the hills
And looked with wondering eye
The birds were singing their songs of praise
The smoke curled to the sky
And the river added its gentle voice
To nature’s melody
No human voice disturbed the calm
No answering smile was there
For men and women walked along
Mute pictures of despair
This was the last sad Sabbath they
Would join in praise and prayer
And men were there whose brows still bore
The trace of many scars
Who oft their vigils kept with death
Beneath the midnight stars
Where‘er their country needed men
Brave men to fight her wars
And grey-haired women tall and strong
Erect and full of grace
Meet mothers of a noble clan
A brave and stalwart race
And many a maiden young and fair
With pallid tear-stained face
They met upon the river’s brink
By the church so old and grey
They could not sit within its walls
Upon this sunny day
The Heavens above would be their dome
And hear what they would say
The preacher stood upon a bank
His face was pale and thin
And as he looked upon his flock
His eyes with tears were dim
And they awhile forgot their grief
And fondly looked at him
His text “Be faithful unto death
And I will give to thee
A crown of life that will endure
To all eternity”
And he pleaded God’s dear promises
So rich so full so free
Then said “Ah friends, an evil day
Has come upon our Glen
How sheep and deer are held of more
Account than living men
It is a lawless law that yet
All nations will condemn
I would not be a belted knight
Nor yet a wealthy lord
Nor would I for a coronet
Have said the fatal word
That made a devastation worse
Than famine, fire or sword
The path before each one of us
Is long and dark and steep
I go away a shepherd lone
Without a flock to keep
And ye without a shepherd go
My well beloved sheep
But God our Father will not part
With one of us I know
Though in the cold wide world our feet
May wander to and fro
If we like children cling to Him
With us He’ll ever go
Farewell my people fare ye well
We part to meet no more
Until we meet before the throne
On God’s eternal shore
Where parting will not break the heart
Farewell for ever more”
He sat upon the low green turf
His head with sorrow bowed
Men sobbed upon their father’s graves
And women wept aloud
And there was not a tearless eye
In that heart-stricken crowd
The tune of “Martyrdom” was sung
By lips with anguish pale
And as it rose upon the breeze
It swelled into a wail
And like a weird death coronach
It sounded in the vale
“Beannaicht’ gu robh gu siorruidh buan
Ainm glormhor uasal fein
Lionadh a ghloir gach uile thir
Amen agus Amen”
And echo lingering on the hills
Gave back the sad refrain
Methinks there never yet was heard
Such a pathetic cry
As rose from that dear hallowed spot
Unto the deep blue sky
‘Twas the death wail of a broken clan
The noble clan Mackay
And ere another Sabbath came
The people were no more
Within their glens but they were strewn
Like wreck upon the shore
And the smoke of each burning home ascends
To Heaven for ever more.
MacKay Clan Strathnaver Museum Credit: B Bell

Related link: Strathnaver Museum Needs Some Help!

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5 replies »

  1. I’m not an atheist.
    At the same time, I don’t have a religion.
    Those people did, though.

    That’s not the root of what it’s about.

    I half expected someone to pull me up about that – it’s simple enough – Annie Mackay is writing of folk who did have that belief – I don’t even know if Annie Mackay herself did.

    One thing I do know – a religious faith can help people in hard times – my Mother’s faith held her up and got her through some very hard times.

  2. Can you tell me when the poem was written. I am researching my MacKay family and found this poem most interesting.

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