Archive for the ‘legends & tales’ Category

“MacPherson’s Farewell”
Farewell, ye dungeons dark and strong,
The wretch’s destinie!
MacPherson’s time will not be long
On yonder gallows-tree.
Sae rantingly, sae wantonly,
Sae dauntingly gaed he,
He play’d a spring, and danc’d it round
Below the gallows-tree.
— Robert Burns

The brash, fiddling Scottish highwayman James MacPherson was born about 1675, the son of “a beautiful gypsy woman” and the Highland laird, MacPherson of Invershire. Captured at last, the brigand ended his career on the gallows with a grand gesture, at Market Cross in Banff, on a cold November morning. The stories tell that the bold brigand MacPherson stepped onto the scaffold with his fiddle to play his last tune, “MacPherson’s Farewell” (or MacPherson’s Rant,” a rant being a type of dance tune), after which he offered his fiddle “to anyone in the crowd who would think well of him.” When no one came forward, the outlaw scornfully broke the fiddle over his knee (or in a dramatic variant, smashed it across the head of his executioner, then dove off the platform to his death). In a nice touch of imagined reality, the Clan Macpherson Museum at Newtonmore displays an old broken fiddle, supposedly the one James MacPherson played on the gallows.

With some Scottish blood in my lineage, I confess the tale warms the cockles of my heart. What a way to go!

For more on the story and variants in North America, see the excellent article by Andrew Kuntz, “MacPherson’s Farewell: (Last Request: Music and Legends of Condemned Fiddlers),” from which I got this story above. First published in Fiddler Magazine (North Sydney, Nova Scotia, ed. Mary Larsen Holland), the article is also available online as a PDF:

from Canadian Folk Music Bulletin


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