Ye Jacobites By Name

What is a name? It is a label we use to define a subject. It provides a convenient definition – shorthand. It has been useful for human tribes for as far back as we can know using “Us” and “Them.” Human history abounds with examples too numerous to mention, and I will use many here.

I became more interested in the subject during an exchange with my brother about the Scottish Jacobite Rising of 1745 (the ’45) that has ramifications today in the United Kingdom’s BREXIT crisis. Bonnie Prince Charlie arrived in Scotland to reclaim his father’s (King James) throne, deprived of the family in an overthrow that replaced the Catholic king with Protestant William & Mary, and ultimately led to the Treaty of Union of 1707 that helped create today’s United Kingdom. The ’45 was a complicated armed rebellion of Scots, Irish, and French, against the British crown (with whom many Scots fought along with German mercenaries). Some would categorize it in monarchical terms as a Catholic claimant against the Protestant pretenders.

I associate my family primarily with the Jacobites because our Scottish clan (Clan Donnachaidh) fought with the Jacobites and I have significant Irish and French ancestry. Also, however, I have notable English, German, and Protestant ancestors. So, who knows? I have visited many of the important sites of the ’45 during visits to Scotland and they are eerily memorable.

I became more interested in this when in discussion with my brother I was reminded of a song – “Ye Jacobites By Name.” The original was an anti-papist screed that we no longer hear. What is heard today is Robert Burns’ rewrite that, while still anti-Jacobite, is less anti-Catholic and more anti-war.   I first heard it as the Seven Nations’ version, and I still think it is the best:

Seven Nations took some minor liberties with the language, and here are the modernized words of Burns:

Robert Burns —

Ye Jacobites by name lend an ear, lend an ear
Ye Jacobites by name lend an ear
Ye Jacobites by name your faults I will proclaim
Your doctrines I must blame, you shall hear.

What is right and what is wrong by the law, by the law
What is right and what is wrong by the law
What is right and what is wrong, a short sword and a long
A weak arm and a strong for to draw.

What makes heroic strife famed afar, famed afar?
What makes heroic strife famed afar?
What makes heroic strife, to whet the assassin’s knife
Or hunt a parent’s life with bloody war.

Then leave your schemes alone in the state, in the state
Then leave your schemes alone in the state
Then leave your schemes alone, adore the rising sun
And leave a man alone to his fate.

Then leave your schemes alone, adore the rising sun
And leave a man alone to his fate…
And leave a man alone to his fate.

Here is another version accompanied by the haunting beauty of the land that was at stake:

A few things struck me about this tune. The title is “Ye Jacobites By Name.” It seems an appeal to those who are drawn to the Scottish independence cause that they will be labeled as supporters of a Catholic Usurper and, therefore, “[y]our doctrines I must blame.” And so why do it? Furthermore, there is the matter of right and wrong “by the law,” and the issue of raw power. And so what if the Bonnie Prince is seen as a romantic hero in lands far away, if it leads to death at home? The appeal here is definitely to what is right, lawful, and practical. Forget the heroism of being labeled a Jacobite and live a quiet life!

A Jacobite response is a tune written by an Irishman “Mo Ghille Mear” (My Gallant Hero), that is still sung today. The most beautiful version by the Choral Scholars of University College Dublin, in Gaelic:

One of the many English versions (the maiden is Ireland, and the gallant hero is Bonnie Prince Charlie):

Once I was a gentle maiden,
and now I’m a weak and worn-out widow,
my spouse powerfully ploughing the waves
beyond the hills and far from here.


My gallant lad is my hero,
He’s my hero, gallant lad,
I found neither sleep nor happiness
since my gallant lad went far away.

I am incessantly unhappy every day,
grieving sorely, showing signs of tears
as the lively lad was sent away from me
and, my sorrow, no news is told of him.


No cuckoo speaks sweetly in the evening
and there is no cry of beagles in the hazel forests,
nor summer mornings in misty valleys
since the lively lad was sent away from me.


A noble proud young cavalryman,
a cheerful young man with a most pleasant appearance,
a most agile grasp, swift in battle,
cutting down hordes and crushing champions.


He is like Aonghus Óg,
like Lughaidh Mac Chéin of the big blows,
like Conor the venerable son of renowned Nás,
the delightful leader of music’s embellishment.


Let a story be sung on tuneful harps
and let lots of quarts be filled on the table
with high spirits faultless and unclouded
to find life and good health for my lion.


since my gallant lad was reported to be far away.

There is even a version by Sting and the Chieftains (with altered English words):

The English/German/Scots Loyalist Law/Power Protestant Realists won the war against the Scots Nationalist/Irish/French Catholic Heroic Romantics, and today we have a United Kingdom, for now. But who sings with more passion and certainty? What tugs at our hearts and what at our minds?  Is one or the other more “legitimate?” We have divided on labels, doctrines, law, passionate certainty, power, and in countless other ways so that we know who is “Us” and who is “Them.”

We are warned against dichotomization by Charles Williams, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and many others. Yet, it seems the most naturally human thing to do so that we can know our tribe. We use right/wrong, left/right, good/evil, Republican/Democrat, realist/romantic, etc. in countless ways to divide. What language or tools do we use to unify across the divides?