“…a name that will be mentioned in history, and if courage and fidelity be virtues, mentioned with honour.”
Engraved on Flora MacDonald’s memorial at Kilmuir
Fionnghal NicDhòmhnaill was her Gaelic name, but most will know her as Flora MacDonald. She lost her father, Ranald MacDonald, at a young age and saw her mother abducted by and married to Hugh MacDonald of Armadale, Skye. From that moment on she was under the care of the chief of her clan, The MacDonalds of Clanranald.
June 1746, Flora was 24 years old and living on the island of Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides. As fate would decree, she was in the right place, at the right time for the right reason. Bonnie Prince Charlie took refuge on that very island after the disastrous Battle of Culloden. The Hanoverian government had a firm control of the local militia, but the MacDonalds were secret supporters of the Jacobite cause. Captain O’Neill, the prince’s companion, asked for Flora’s assistance.
The escape was simple, yet brilliant. Flora’s stepfather, Hugh MacDonald provided a pass to the mainland for Flora, a manservant, an Irish maid, Betty Burke, and six men to crew a boat. Bonnie Prince Charlie was Betty Burke. They managed to reach Kilbride, on the Isle of Skye where Flora arranged for help in the neighbourhood. The prince escaped, but Flora was arrested and imprisoned for a short time in the Tower of London.
Flora MacDonald lived to see many adventure on both sides of the Atlantic. Yet, she will always be known, first and foremost, as the woman who saved Bonnie Prince Charlie.
The Skye Boat Song recounts the daring escape of Bonnie Prince Charlie, disguised as an Irish women.
Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing
Onward, the sailors cry!
Carry the lad that’s born to be King
Over the sea to Skye.
Loud the winds cry, loud the waves roar,
Thunderclaps rend the air.
Baffled our foes stand by the shore.
Follow they will not dare
Many’s the lad fought on that day
Well the claymore could wield,
When the night came silently lay
Dead on Culloden’s field.
Burned are our homes, exile and death
Scatter the loyal men.
Yet ere the sword cool in the sheath
Scotland will rise again!