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The story behind MacPherson's Farewell

DigiTrad:
MACPHERSON'S FAREWELL
MCPHERSON'S LAMENT


Related threads:
MacPherson [how to pronounce?] (156)
MacPherson was an Egyptian (12)
Chord Req: Macpherson's Rant (5)
Help: 'Brig o' Banff' in MacPherson's Farewell (5)
Lyr Req: Beir Mo Dhuthracht (4)


AllisonA(Animaterra) 08 Nov 00 - 10:08 AM
Robby 08 Nov 00 - 10:23 AM
kendall 08 Nov 00 - 10:27 AM
George Seto - af221@chebucto.ns.ca 08 Nov 00 - 10:54 AM
Mary in Kentucky 08 Nov 00 - 11:10 AM
mg 08 Nov 00 - 11:31 AM
Mary in Kentucky 08 Nov 00 - 12:02 PM
GUEST,Petr 08 Nov 00 - 12:29 PM
GUEST,leeneia 08 Nov 00 - 12:37 PM
AllisonA(Animaterra) 08 Nov 00 - 02:53 PM
GUEST,Bruce O. 08 Nov 00 - 02:56 PM
George Seto - af221@chebucto.ns.ca 08 Nov 00 - 09:44 PM
Joe Offer 20 May 17 - 03:04 AM
GUEST,Ebor Fiddler 20 May 17 - 10:34 AM
Tattie Bogle 20 May 17 - 11:35 AM
GeoffLawes 20 May 17 - 04:22 PM
GeoffLawes 20 May 17 - 04:25 PM
Tattie Bogle 20 May 17 - 07:49 PM
rich-joy 20 May 17 - 08:54 PM
Tattie Bogle 20 May 17 - 09:33 PM
BobKnight 21 May 17 - 03:17 AM
meself 21 May 17 - 11:17 AM
GUEST 20 Mar 18 - 12:23 AM
GUEST,jim bainbridge 20 Mar 18 - 02:57 PM
Dave the Gnome 20 Mar 18 - 03:03 PM
meself 20 Mar 18 - 06:16 PM
Tattie Bogle 20 Mar 18 - 08:32 PM
BobKnight 21 Mar 18 - 04:56 PM
meself 21 Mar 18 - 05:54 PM
BobKnight 22 Mar 18 - 01:03 PM
meself 22 Mar 18 - 04:43 PM
GUEST,Allan Conn 23 Mar 18 - 03:08 AM
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Subject: The story behind MacPherson's Farewell
From: AllisonA(Animaterra)
Date: 08 Nov 00 - 10:08 AM

I'm so excited- Ewan McVicar will be coming to my school next Friday! I asked him for some song suggestions and one of the ones he gave me was McPherson's Farewell. I know this song but I don't know my Scottish history well enough to know: who was he? why was he being executed? Is the song an accurate telling of the truth? I could have sworn I saw a discussion of this but couldn't find the thread when I used McPherson or MacPherson.


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Subject: RE: The story behind MacPherson's Farewell
From: Robby
Date: 08 Nov 00 - 10:23 AM

My knowledge of the background is based solely on an annotation to one of Robert Burns' poems on MacPherson's execution. From what I recall, James MacPherson was convicted of robbery and other crimes late Eighteenth Century Scotland. However, for a time before his capture, he enjoyed the protection of one or more of the Scottish.

I forget whether MacPherson was captured by the forces of the Crown, or handed over by his protectors because of some offense he had committed. In any event, the annotation noted that, although some songs contain the reference to the breaking of the fiddle over a stone or other objects, accounts written at the time of his execution related that MacPherson broke his fiddle over the head of the executioner and then flung himself from the gallows.

I'm sure some of our friends in Scotland should be able to provide more of the background than my poor memory.

Robby


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Subject: RE: The story behind MacPherson's Farewell
From: kendall
Date: 08 Nov 00 - 10:27 AM

I read this story in National Geographic years ago. As I recall, he was convicted of stealing a horse, and was hanged in 1701.


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Subject: RE: The story behind MacPherson's Farewell
From: George Seto - af221@chebucto.ns.ca
Date: 08 Nov 00 - 10:54 AM

I found it on the web a while ago. I don't remember if it was here in the Forum or not. The story isn't in the database with the song.

Here are a few sites which give SOME information in each place.

MacPherson's Lament
MacPherson's Lament
MacPherson's Lament


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Subject: RE: The story behind MacPherson's Farewell
From: Mary in Kentucky
Date: 08 Nov 00 - 11:10 AM

George beat me to it! But I can add this link to this story of McPherson in the Digitrad here.

And here is Barry Taylor's midi.

On George's link to Lesley Nelson's midi and info, be sure to check the info at version 1 and version 2. Also, her first link is the same as George's first link.

I noticed that you'll see MacPherson, McPherson, Mcpherson, Farewell, and Lament.


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Subject: RE: The story behind MacPherson's Farewell
From: mg
Date: 08 Nov 00 - 11:31 AM

somewhere on some thread..is a link to a picture of the fiddle....I can't verify of course whether it is or isn't.

mg


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Subject: RE: The story behind MacPherson's Farewell
From: Mary in Kentucky
Date: 08 Nov 00 - 12:02 PM

I found this link to the Clan Macpherson (spelling?) Museum which has a picture of the fiddle. here It also calls our song, Macpherson's Rant!


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Subject: RE: The story behind MacPherson's Farewell
From: GUEST,Petr
Date: 08 Nov 00 - 12:29 PM

I had once heard that the French Canadian tune Hanged Mans Reel referred to Macpherson. (aside from the usual tale based on a(n unknown) man who was sentenced to hang was given a fiddle and told that if he wrote a tune he could be pardoned - but he really wasnt a fiddle player and the fiddle was not tuned properly so thats what he ended up with - not sure if he was pardoned or not) Petr


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Subject: RE: The story behind MacPherson's Farewell
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 08 Nov 00 - 12:37 PM

I heard Ali Bain play the Hanged Man's Reel. He told that story, but then said, "Actually it's Norwegian," meaning the reel itself.

If you have ever heard the unusual and complex fiddle music of Norway, you would believe it. To do that, search for "Hardanger fiddle."


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Subject: RE: The story behind MacPherson's Farewell
From: AllisonA(Animaterra)
Date: 08 Nov 00 - 02:53 PM

Wow! Great links! And great story. I started teaching this song today and they LOVE it! Thank you, all!


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Subject: RE: The story behind MacPherson's Farewell
From: GUEST,Bruce O.
Date: 08 Nov 00 - 02:56 PM

The copy in DT is compounded from Robert Burns' version (The Scots Musical Museum, #144) and verses from other sources. The complete text of the song from the original broadside ballad is in the Scarce Songs 1 file on my website. www.erols.com/olsonw


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Subject: RE: The story behind MacPherson's Farewell
From: George Seto - af221@chebucto.ns.ca
Date: 08 Nov 00 - 09:44 PM

Funny, I couldn't find that version, Mary. I did a search but only came up with a link to the words only.


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Subject: RE: The story behind MacPherson's Farewell
From: Joe Offer
Date: 20 May 17 - 03:04 AM

Here is the Traditional Ballad Index entry on this song:

MacPherson's Lament

DESCRIPTION: MacPherson tells how a woman betrayed him to the Laird o' Grant. He challenges all to a duel in defense of his honor. He breaks his fiddle, "the only friend I hae," rather than see it in bad hands. A rider is coming to reprieve him, so he is hanged early
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1803 (_Scots Musical Museum_ #114)
KEYWORDS: execution betrayal reprieve fiddle outlaw
HISTORICAL REFERENCES:
Nov 16, 1700 - Execution of James MacPherson
FOUND IN: Britain(Scotland(Aber))
REFERENCES (12 citations):
Whitelaw-Song, pp. 346-347, "Macpherson's Farewell" (1 text)
GreigDuncan3 697, "MacPherson's Rant" (6 texts, 6 tunes)
Kennedy 348, "MacPherson's Lament" (1 text, 1 tune)
Ord, pp. 443, "M'Pherson's Farewell" (1 text)
MacSeegTrav 88, "Macpherson's Farewell" (1 text, 1 tune)
Flanders-Ancient3, pp. 163-169, "Mary Hamilton" (2 texts plus a fragment, with the "C" fragment containing parts of "MacPherson's Lament"; 3 tunes; the tune for the "MacPherson" portion is not given)
Silber-FSWB, p. 205, "MacPherson's Farewell" (1 text)
DT, MACPHER* MACPHER2* MCPHERST
ADDITIONAL: James Kinsley, editor, Burns: Complete Poems and Songs (shorter edition, Oxford, 1969) #196,, pp. 306-307, "McPherson's Farewell" (1 text, 1 tune, from 1788)
Robert Chambers, The Scottish Songs (Edinburgh, 1829), Vol I, pp. 83-85, "MacPherson's Farewell"
James Johnson, Editor, _The Scots Musical Museum_ [1853 edition], volume II, #114, p. 117 "McPherson's Farewell" (1 text, 1 tune)
Kenneth Norman MacDonald, "The Gesto Collection of Highland Music," 1895 (reprinted 1997 by Llanerch Publishers), p. 107, "MacPherson's Lament" (1 tune, presumably this)

ST K348 (Full)
Roud #2160
RECORDINGS:
Jimmy MacBeath, "MacPherson's Lament" (on Lomax43, LomaxCD1743)
Davie Stewart, "MacPherson's Rant" (on Voice08)

CROSS-REFERENCES:
cf. "MacPherson's Rant" (subject)
ALTERNATE TITLES:
MacPherson
NOTES: Legends about MacPherson's death are many. The basic one has it that he played this tune before his death and offered the fiddle to anyone who could play it back for him. None could, so he broke the fiddle rather than leave it in incompetent hands. The (ruins of) the instrument are now said to be in the MacPherson clan museum in Inverness-shire.
That MacPherson was a freebooter seems almost certain -- but only spite could have hung him for his deeds; most of Scotland was the same way!
The earliest reported version of this piece seems to have been Burns's, but (given the variations), it seems certain that several traditional forms are older. - RBW
Chambers: "The old ballad, for which Burns substituted the above beautiful verses, is given in continuation, from Herd's Collection of Scottish Songs [1776]."
If there's an argument to be made for lumping "MacPherson's Lament" and "MacPherson's Rant" it might be GreigDuncan3 697A and 697B, which mix verses of both. I think splitting them is the way to go.
Whitelaw-Song is Burns's "Farewell, ye dungeons dark and strong" which Dick has from Scots Musical Museum, 1788, No. 114 (James C Dick, The Songs of Robert Burns (London: Henry Frowde, 1903 ("Digitized by Microsoft")), #311 pp. 292-293). - BS
Last updated in version 3.2
File: K348

Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List

Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography

The Ballad Index Copyright 2016 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.



And the Digital Tradition lyrics:

       MACPHERSON'S FAREWELL

Fareweel, ye dungeons dark and strong,
Fareweel, Fareweel tae thee.
MacPherson's time will nae be lang
On yonder gallows tree.

CHO: Sae rantin'ly, sae wantonly
    Sae dauntin'ly gaed he
    He played a tune and danced it roon'
    Below the gallows tree.

'Twas by a woman's treacherous hand
That I was condemned to dee.
Below a ledge at a window she stood
And a blanket she threw o'er me.

The Laird o' Grant, that hieland sant
That first laid hands on me,
He played the cause on Peter Broon
Tae let MacPherson free.

Untie these bands frae off my hands
And gie to me my sword.
There's no' a man in all Scotland
But I'll brave him at a word.

There's some come here tae see me hanged
And some to buy my fiddle.
But before I do part wi' her
I'll brak her thro' the middle.

He took the fiddle in both of his hands
And he broke it o'er a stone.
Says,"There's nae ither hand shall play on thee
When I am dead and gone."

O little did my mother think
When first she cradled me,
That I would turn a rovin' boy
And die on the gallows tree.

The reprieve was comin' o'er the brig o' Banf
Tae let MacPherson free,
But they pit the clock a quarter before
And hanged him tae the tree.

@outlaw @death @music
see also MACPHER2
filename[ MACPHER
TUNE FILE: MACPHER
CLICK TO PLAY
RG


MCPHERSON'S LAMENT

My father was a gentleman,
Of fame and honor high,
Oh mother, would you ne'er had borne
The son so doom'd to die.

chorus- Sae rantingly, sae wantonly,
Sae dauntingly gaed he;
He play'd a spring (sprig), and danc'd it round (a jig)
Below the gallows-tree.

I've spent my life in rioting,
Debauch'd my health and strength,
I squander'd fast, as pillage came,
And fell to shame at length.

Farewell, yon dungeons dark and strong,
The wretch's destinie!
M'Pherson's time will not be long
On yonder gallows-tree.

O what is breath but parting breath?
On many a bloody plain
I've dar'd his face, and in this place
I'll scorn him yet again.

But vengeance I never did wreak,
When pow'r was in my hand,
And you, dear friends, no vengeance seek,
It is my last command.

Forgive the man whose rage betray'd
MacPherson's worthless life;
When I am gone, be it not said,
My legacy was strife.

He took his fiddle in both his hands
And he broke it all a stone,
Saying there's nae a han' shall ply on thee
When I am dead and gone.

Now farewell light, thou sunshine bright,
And all beneath the sky!
May coward shame disdain his name,
The wretch that dares not die!

O reprieve was coming o the Brig o' Dans
for tae set MacPherson free,
For they set the clock a quarter before
And they hanged him from a tree.


@outlaw @death @music
recorded by Jeannie Robertson on Heather and Glen
filename[ MACPHER2
AJS


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Subject: RE: The story behind MacPherson's Farewell
From: GUEST,Ebor Fiddler
Date: 20 May 17 - 10:34 AM

The title "McPherson's Rant"? Well just play it in Rant rhythm ("Potato Crisps, Potato Crisps") and there it is!


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Subject: RE: The story behind MacPherson's Farewell
From: Tattie Bogle
Date: 20 May 17 - 11:35 AM

Yes, and don't forget the bit about the clock being advanced by quarter of an hour, so that the reprieve did not get there in time to prevent him being hanged: as in the last verse there, a real sting in the tail! (Brig o' BANFF, not Dans!)
And the rant bit is as in: "he is having a good old rant" - nothing to do with rant dance timing! (Tho' I guess that was your little joke, Ebor?)


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Subject: RE: The story behind MacPherson's Farewell
From: GeoffLawes
Date: 20 May 17 - 04:22 PM

MacPherson's Rant - Davie Stewart


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Subject: RE: The story behind MacPherson's Farewell
From: GeoffLawes
Date: 20 May 17 - 04:25 PM

This should do it
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sjuODBw_Kzo


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Subject: RE: The story behind MacPherson's Farewell
From: Tattie Bogle
Date: 20 May 17 - 07:49 PM

Some great and spirited singing there, Geoff! Some strange chords there: not objecting, but "jist sayin' " they're not the ones I'd have picked! Thanks for the link.


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Subject: RE: The story behind MacPherson's Farewell
From: rich-joy
Date: 20 May 17 - 08:54 PM

Here is another "MacPherson's Lament",
: nobly played in 2008 by Canadians, Rawlins Cross, whilst it was SNOWING (as you can HEAR from the whistle and pipes!)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9HQkM0RCfu0

My late Beloved requested this particular one at his Wake, so it always brings on the tears :)

Cheers,
R-J


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Subject: RE: The story behind MacPherson's Farewell
From: Tattie Bogle
Date: 20 May 17 - 09:33 PM

Very nice version, and so sorry for the reasons behind it.


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Subject: RE: The story behind MacPherson's Farewell
From: BobKnight
Date: 21 May 17 - 03:17 AM

One of McPherson's crimes was that he was a "Gypsy" of course he wasn't a gypsy at all. He was a Scottish traveller, but that was enough to get you hung in that period of Scottish history. The clue is there in one of the verses when he refers to himself as a "rovin boy."


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Subject: RE: The story behind MacPherson's Farewell
From: meself
Date: 21 May 17 - 11:17 AM

It is really quite a romantic story: Jamie MacPherson - and much of it seems to have some documentation behind it, although I can't attest to that. From this distant viewpoint, it's hard to judge the criminality of MacPherson or the political shenanigans involved in his persecution/prosecution.


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Subject: RE: The story behind MacPherson's Farewell
From: GUEST
Date: 20 Mar 18 - 12:23 AM

Here is the info I have compiled on him:

MacPherson-
The illegitimate son of a Highland laird
Parents: MacPherson of Invereshie, beautiful Tinker or gypsy girl that he met at a wedding
reared in his father’s house
uncommon personal strength
became an expert swordsman, and a renowned fiddler, and eventually became the leader of the gypsy band

death of his father, killed attempting to recover a spread of cattle taken from Badenoch by reivers
reclaimed by his mother's people. The gypsy woman frequently returned with him to his father’s house
While he led a robber band, no act of cruelty, or robbery of the widow, the fatherless, or the distressed was ever perpetrated under his command

a dispute with an aspiring and savage man of his tribe wished to rob the house of a man whose wife and two children were dead was the cause of his being betrayed.

he was betrayed by a man of his own tribe, and was the last person executed at Banff previous to the abolition of heritable jurisdictions.

Duff of Braco, ancestor of the Earl of Fife, organised a posse to catch him and he was tried before the Sheriff of Banffshire (8 November 1700), along with certain Gypsies who had been taken with him

captured several times but always escaped from his enemies. In Aberdeen, his cousin, Donald, and a gypsy named Peter Brown, aided by the populace, rescued him from prison. Shortly afterwards, he was again captured, but was once more rescued, this time by the Laird of Grant. THE PEOPLE HELPED BREAK HIM OUT

he and his band of followers would come marching in with a piper at their head.

“Fyllen, culpable, and convick" and sentenced "For sae muckle, as you, James MacPherson, are found guilty of being Egyptians and vagabonds and oppressors of his free lieges. Therefore, I adjudge and decern you to be taken to the cross of Banff to be hanged by the neck to the death".
The magistrates allegedly were punished for this and the town clock was kept 15 minutes before the correct time for many years. Even to this day the town of Macduff has its west-facing town clock covered so the people of Banff can't see the correct time!




When he came to the fatal tree, he played the tune to which he has bequeathed his name upon a favourite violin, and holding up the instrument, offered it to any one of his clan who would undertake to play the tune over his body at his lyke-wake: as none answered, he dashed it to pieces on the executioner's head, and flung himself from the ladder.




Most complete song I can make:

I've spent my life in rioting,
Debauch'd my health and strength,
I squander'd fast, as pillage came,
And fell to shame at length.
Chorus:
Sae rantingly, sae wantonly,
Sae dauntingly gaed he;
He play'd a tune, and danc'd it roon' (Some versions say “Spring” not “Tune”)
Below the gallows-tree.
My father was a gentleman,
Of fame and honour high,
Oh mother, would you ne'er had borne
The son so doom'd to die.
Chorus
Ach, little did my mother think
When first she cradled me
That I would turn a roving boy
And die on the gallows tree
Chorus
Farewell, yon dungeons dark and strong,
The wretch's destinie!
M'Pherson's time will not be long
On yonder gallows-tree.

'Now farewell house and farewell friends,
And farewell wife and bairns;
There's nae repentance in my heart,
The fiddle's in my arms—'


I've liv'd a life of sturt and strife;
          I die by treacherie (Note: Said upstart he argued with…?)
It burns my heart I must depart
          And not avenged be.


Chorus
O what is Death but parting breath?
On many a bloody plain
I've dar'd his face, and in this place
I'll scorn him yet again.
Chorus
But vengeance I never did wreak,
When pow'r was in my hand,
And you, dear friends, no vengeance seek,
It is my last command.
Chorus
Forgive the man whose rage betray'd
MacPherson's worthless life;
When I am gone, be it not said,
My legacy was strife.
Chorus
It was by a woman's treacherous hand
That I was condemned tae dee
Aboon a ledge at a windae she stood
And a blanket she threw o'er me
Chorus
Untie these bands frae aff o' my hands
And gie tae me my sword
There's no a man in a' Scotland
But I'll brave him at his word
Chorus
There's some come here tae see me hang
And some tae buy my fiddle
But afore that I dae part wi' her
I'd brak' her through the middle
Chorus
He took his fiddle into both of his hands
And he brak' it o'er a stone
Said, Nae ither hands shall play on thee
When I am deid and gane
Chorus
Now farewell light, thou sunshine bright, "
And all beneath the sky!
May coward shame distain his name,
The wretch that dares not die!
Chorus
A reprieve was coming o'er the brig o' Banff
Tae set MacPherson free,
But they pit the clock a quarter afore
And they hanged him from a tree.
Chorus
Sae rantingly, sae wantonly,
Sae dauntingly gaed he;
He play'd a tune, and danc'd it roon'
And they hanged him from a tree.


'Now farewell house and farewell friends,
And farewell wife and bairns;
There's nae repentance in my heart,
The fiddle's in my arms—'










References:

https://www.rc.umd.edu/reference/qr_budge/1809/v01/i01/a02/a02.html
WIKIPEDIA
https://www.gutenberg.org/files/18500/18500-h/18500-h.htm
http://www.online-literature.com/robert-burns/2443/
https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/robert-burns
https://www.rc.umd.edu/reference/qr_budge/1809/v01/i01/a02/a02_notes.html#note2
https://www.rc.umd.edu/reference/qr_budge/1809/v01/i01/a02/a02.html


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Subject: RE: The story behind MacPherson's Farewell
From: GUEST,jim bainbridge
Date: 20 Mar 18 - 02:57 PM

No better version of this song than by Davy Stewart 'the Galoot'- listen to it sometime!!


There used to be a cafe in Banff called the 'Broken Fiddle' with an amazing mural of McPherson's story - is it still there?


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Subject: RE: The story behind MacPherson's Farewell
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 20 Mar 18 - 03:03 PM

The big I remember was that he was accused of being a "gypsy" and keeping unruly merkats! Never quite figured it out.

DtG


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Subject: RE: The story behind MacPherson's Farewell
From: meself
Date: 20 Mar 18 - 06:16 PM

I believe he was convicted of walking like an Egyptian ... ! And Egyptians like cats, so it all fits together.


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Subject: RE: The story behind MacPherson's Farewell
From: Tattie Bogle
Date: 20 Mar 18 - 08:32 PM

A merkat or mercat is a market: nothing to do with meerkats or any other sort of cats. Miaow!


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Subject: RE: The story behind MacPherson's Farewell
From: BobKnight
Date: 21 Mar 18 - 04:56 PM

Let me say this again - although he was accused of being a gypsy, he was NOT a gypsy. That was down to the ignorance of the authorities. His name, "McPherson" is as Scottish as you can get. He was a Scottish traveller. His major crime was that he was a "Gypsy" enough to get you hung at that time in 17/18th century Scotland. The verse about the pardon coming over the "Brig o' Banff," was a later addition, as the Brig O' Banff wasn't built until much later.


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Subject: RE: The story behind MacPherson's Farewell
From: meself
Date: 21 Mar 18 - 05:54 PM

You speak with some authority. Everything I've read, though - which admittedly is not a great deal - states with similar authority that his mother was a gypsy (presumably, he took his name from his father, so that is irrelevant). So ... source?


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Subject: RE: The story behind MacPherson's Farewell
From: BobKnight
Date: 22 Mar 18 - 01:03 PM

There are very few gypsies in Scotland even to this day. The settled population referred to all travelling/nomadic peoples as gypsies, they did then, and they still do now.
For instance all those "gypsy" reality shows on TV in recent years - none of them were gypsies - they were all Irish travellers, or "Pavee" as they are sometimes known. Just because the settled population doesn't know the difference and refers to Scottish, Irish, or English traveller's as gypsies, doesn't make them gypsies. Likewise in McPherson's time - the only scource in those times, would be people who didn't know the difference.


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Subject: RE: The story behind MacPherson's Farewell
From: meself
Date: 22 Mar 18 - 04:43 PM

Okay, sounds reasonable - I'll keep an open mind on the subject.


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Subject: RE: The story behind MacPherson's Farewell
From: GUEST,Allan Conn
Date: 23 Mar 18 - 03:08 AM

Firstly saying that I don't know anything about the actual history so not adding to that and Bob may well be right in suggesting the condemned man wasn't part Romany. Who knows!! However whilst it is probably true most people wouldn't have known the difference between travellers in general and Romany travellers - it of course doesn't mean there were no Romany travellers in Scotland. Also whatever his last name was it would not be relevant to whether his mother was Romany or not!


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Mudcat time: 24 September 11:33 AM EDT

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