The Cameron Men
The name Cameron originates from the Gaelic words ‘cam’, meaning wry or crooked, and ‘sron’ meaning nose, suggesting that the progenitor of the Clan Cameron had a crooked nose!
Cameron is one of the most popular in the Highlands, and the name of Lochiel, the Chief of the Clan, has always stood for everything that is honourable and good.
The home of clan Cameron is in Lochaber, in Inverness-shire, and is part of the beautiful, rugged, and wild region of Scotland which is littered with glens, and mountains, and lochs.
It is very common in the Highlands to connect a family name with the places they are from: for example the MacDonalds with Glencoe; the Stewarts and Appin; and the MacGregors, MacNabs, and the MacLarens with Balquhidder. It’s no different with the Camerons and Lochaber.
There are many great lochs in Lochaber, including the isolated Loch Treig which has a small islet in it which is called Council Island. It was on this island where the Chief of the Camerons would meet other chiefs, in particular with the MacKintoshes, to settle any dispute. Council Island was an ideal meeting place because the two chiefs could meet without risk of one setting an ambush for the other. The Cameron Chief would be escorted by his men to the meeting, and then on a hillside, overlooking the loch, is the Watch Rock, a large boulder where the Cameron sentinels would keep an eye on the meeting and their Chief.
Fort William was a fort built during the times of Oliver Cromwell, and was used as headquarters for the English troops who had been sent north to keep the Camerons in order. It is said that even long after the other local clans had submitted to the English forces, the Camerons held strong, resulting in many a fierce skirmish between to them and the invaders. On one particular occasion Lochiel and his men found themselves in a tight spot when defending one end of a mountain pass, another band of English soldiers started to advance on them from the other end. To most it would have seemed that capture was inevitable, but not to these Camerons. They carefully, and in formation, retreated, walking backwards to remain facing their enemy, up the steep, snow covered hillside, leaving the English looking on in amazement, unwilling to follow.
Highland soldiers were very much accustomed to many hardships, particularly when at war. One story tells of a Cameron fighter who felt disgraced by the actions of one of his sons one night when sleeping outdoors during the campaign against Cromwell’s men. It was wintertime, and snow covered ground. The Cameron son decided to make a pillow out of a large snowball. On seeing this, the Cameron father flew into a rage, kicking the snowball from under the sons head, saying, “Are you become so like a woman that you cannot sleep without such luxury?”
The Camerons were devoted followers of the Stewarts. They fought at the 1689 Battle of Killiecrankie in support of James VII against the government troops supporting William of Orange. At the battle, which saw victory for the Jacobeans, it was Lochiel’s tactics to “fight immediately while the men were in good heart” which proved to have been successful.
They also supported the 1715 Jacobite rebellion. By this point the Cameron chief, Sir Ewen of Lochiel was an old man of 86, but his son Allan accompanied the Old Pretender, James Francis Edward Stuart, when he landed in Scotland from France. It is claimed that on the morning that the Old Pretender landed in Peterhead, Sir Ewen Cameron awoke from his sleep at his home in Lochaber, and shouted to his wife, Jean Barclay, Lady Cameron, “Wife, wife! The King has landed! The King has landed – and our son Allan is with him!”
Lady Cameron told him that it was just a dream, but Sir Ewen repeated what he said, and insisted that a large bonfire was built. Then the best alcohol in the house was brought out so that all his ‘lads’ – his affectionate term for his clansmen – and friends could drink to the King’s health.
Despite thinking that he was foolish acting so rashly because of a dream, Lady Cameron followed her husbands instructions in helping to organise festivities to celebrate the landing of the James Stuart. And so everyone in the area was invited to celebration, which, in true Highland fashion, last for a number of days.
After a few days had passed, news finally began to filter through to Lochaber that Prince James had in fact landed in Scotland, along with Allan Cameron, at around the exact same time that Sir Ewen Cameron awoke and made the announcement to his wife.
Donald Cameron, known as the ‘Gentle Lochiel’, was grandson of Sir Ewen and he was one of the first nobles to called
upon when Bonnie Prince Charlie arrived in Scotland. Cameron could see that the Prince’s campaign was essentially futile, as he had neither the money nor the resources that would be needed, and pleaded with Charles to wait until he had some more definite support. However, the Young Pretender was impatient, and angrily said, ‘In a few days, with the few friends that I have, I will erect the Royal Standard and proclaim to the people of Britain that Charles Stuart has come over to claim the crown of his ancestors. And Lochiel may stay at home and from the newspapers learn the fate of his Prince!’
However, Lochiel responded, ‘No! I’ll share the fate of my Prince, and so shall every man over whom Nature and Fortune has given me power!’
So, in 1745, when Charles, and his 150 followers, went to erect his standard at Loch Shiel in Glenfinnan he was devastated to see the place deserted. But then the distant sound of pipes could be heard, and they were getting nearer and nearer, and soon the notes of a Cameron pibroch could be clearly heard, along with the regular tramp of feet, and a line of tartan could be seen coming down the hill. Before too long the line of men, which was eight hundred strong, arranged into regular formation. It was the Cameron men, much to the relief of the Prince. Then, and only then did he give the Marquis of Tullibardine his banner to unfurl, and so began the great ‘Rising of the Forty-Five’.
Lochiel kept his promise to Bonnie Prince Charlie, giving his all in service to his Prince and to the cause; even getting wounded at the battle of Culloden in 1746. Sir Donald Cameron accompanied Charles back to France, where they failed in persuading King Louis XV to attempt another rebellion. Donald never returned to Scotland. He later took charge of a French regiment in 1747, and died in Flanders the following year.
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