By the time we had finished lunch and made our way to the Glencoe Visiting Center, the sky wasn’t just raining drops, but entire torrents of rain. (Someone told me that the weather we had on the 4th of July was similar to a winter storm – just as the ocean/bays keep the weather moderate in summer, they do the same in winter.)

We watched a DVD and were then sort of stuck because of the rain, although I did brave it for a few moments. We wandered around the exhibits and then to the gift shop. I wanted to check out a European bird book and also purchase a couple little things.

When I went up to the counter, the clerk asked me where I was from in the States. (Funny I didn’t have to tell him I was an American.)


“Oh, Chicago,” he said, face lighting up. “A good city.”  He paused, “The Windy City.”

“Right,” I agreed.

“But not because of your weather. The city was named that after your windy, hot-air politicians.”

I smiled. “I’m impressed. Many people in the States don’t realize that, but you’re exactly right.”

He then proceeded to tell me a joke about an Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman with great expression and enthusiasm. The whole thing was astonishingly funny, not because the joke was that funny, but because it is an old, old joke that I’ve heard many times  – except I’ve always heard it being a Priest, a Rabbi and a Minister. I think he was ready to impress me further with his knowledge, but the line behind me was getting impatient.  Just another very friendly person.


The story of the Glencoe Massacre isn’t so funny.

And cruel is the snow that swept Glencoe
And covers the grave of Donald
And cruel was the foe that raped Glencoe
And murdered the house o’ Macdonald.
(refrain from Ballad of Glencoe, written by Jim McLean in 1963)

It all started in 1688 when William, Prince of Orange, rose to the throne of England.  He was at war with France and now he had England on his side. The people of Scotland, however, weren’t so sure. Passing over several events – this led the Scottish Highlanders to rebel (Jacobite uprising) wanting James back on the throne.  One of the ensuing battles was the Battle of Dunkirk.

On the way home from the battle, the Maclains of Glencoe (part of the MacDonald clan) took a sidetrip and looted Campbell land.  The wars continued and James’ attempt to return to the throne was defeated in 1690.

William of Orange put a political spin on it all and offered Highland clans a pardon for their part in the Jacobite uprising – IF they took an oath of allegiance by January 1, 1692. The oath had to be in front of a magistrate.

The Highland chiefs sent word to James (who was in France) and asked him for permission to sign. James wasn’t sure what to do – he wanted his throne back and therefore, didn’t want to apologize to the usurper.  But the deadline got closer and he was still in France, so he sent word to go ahead and take the oath.

Word got back in the middle of a snowy, cold December. Some of the men were immediately able to take the pledge, but Alistair MacLain of Glencoe waited until the last day – thinking he would have no problem getting to Fort William to take the oath as instructed. But the magistrate at FW said he could not administer the pardon and sent Alistair to Inverary with a letter addressed to Colin Campbell saying he had made it to Fort William before the deadline.

Stick with me here.

Three days later, Alistair arrived at Inverary – then he had to wait three more days for Colin Campbell to get back from spending New Year’s with his family.  All was well, or so it seemed.

Still with me?

In late January/early February, 120 men under the command of Captain Campbell passed through Glencoe. The MacDonalds (thinking all was well and everyone appropriately pardoned) welcomed them and for two weeks, the Campbells enjoyed the MacDonalds friendly hospitality. The Campbells and the MacDonalds had a great time celebrating the New Year.

On February 12, Captain Drummond arrived to give instructions to Captain Campell. That night Captain Drummond played cards with Alastair Maclain and made plans to dine with him the next day.

What the MacDonalds didn’t know (after being hosts for two weeks) is that Drummond brought the kings order for Robert Campbell and his men to massacre the MacDonalds because Alastair had NOT made the oath deadline.

This is by the Kings’s special command, for the good and safety of the country, that the miscreants be cut off root and branch …

The next morning, Alastair Maclain was killed before he even got out of bed.  The soldiers destroyed the glen, killing men and burning their homes so that at least 40 women and children also lost their lives in the cold.

The rampage was considered “murder under trust,” which (under Scottish law) is considered much worse than ordinary murder.

To conclude a long story, the Highlanders didn’t forget and the memory of the Glencoe Massacre was used to inspire the next Jacobite uprising in 1745.


Glencoe means weeping glen and indeed, when the glen is wet with rain, waterfalls spring out of the mountain transforming the mountains into an eerie but beautiful grandeur as the mountains indeed seem to be weeping for the lost MacDonalds.

So, in a way, if we had to have a relentlessly rainy day – Glencoe was the place to be.

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