Battle of Harlaw Commemorated in Aberdeenshire

Ross Herald, Angus Hay and Gordon Casely at the battlefield

Sunday 24th July saw the beginning of a week of celebrations in and around Aberdeen to commemorate the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Harlaw.  This is one of the salient events in the history of north east Scotland, when the Lord of the Isles, intent on making good his claim to the earldom of Ross, mounted an attack on the Albany supremacy in Scotland.  Having taken Ross, Donald of the Isles pressed southwards with his army of 10000 highlanders intent on burning Aberdeen, the richest city in the north.  The townsfolk and local lairds were forced to mount their own defence and brought the highlandmen to battle at Harlaw near Inverurie, under the command of Robert Davidson, provost of Aberdeen, and Alexander Stewart, Earl of Mar.

The battle's outcome was inconclusive, but the highlanders withdrew back to the north, while the people of the north east breathed a sigh of relief.  This remains the greatest threat the city has faced in its 1000 year history and its anniversary has been remembered ever since.  All the families of the north east, the Hays included, were involved in the battle and, 600 years on, they gathered together with the descendants of the highland clans who fought on the other side to recall these brave deeds of long ago.

Slains and Finlaggan Pursuivants at St Nicholas Kirk

Sunday 24th July, the anniversary of the battle itself, began with a church service at St Nicholas church, the 'mither kirk' of Aberdeen, already a place of some antiquity by the time of Harlaw.  The service included hymns sung in the Doric - the vernacular language of the north east - and contribitions from the provost of Aberdeenshire and from Peter Stephen, the current Lord Provost of Aberdeen and successor to Robert Davidson who fell at Harlaw 600 years ago.  Hays were well represented and John Stirling, Slains Pursuivant to the Chief of Clan Hay, was included in a procession that saw the coats of arms of the major families present paraded before the congregation.  In a moving ceremony, Sir Lachlan Maclean of Duart and David Irvine of Drum, the direct descendants of two of the main protagonists at Harlaw who slew each other in hand to hand combat, exchanged swords.

The church service was followed by a further commemoration at the site of the battle itself, the centrepiece being the impressive monument constructed on its 500th anniversary, which involved the Finlaggan Pursuivant to the High Chief of Clan Donald, Slains Pursuivant and Charles Burnett, Ross Herald at the court of the Lord Lyon King of Arms.  Tea followed in the nearby town of Inverurie where we were entertained by the magnificent fiddle playing of Paul Anderson, justly regarded as the greatest fiddler of his generation and by the premiere of Reid Harlaw, a play based on the battles events commissioned by Aberdeen City Council and written by Mike Gibb.

One of the key casualties of the battle was local laird Sir Andrew Leslie of Balquhain who fell with all seven of his sons, and the day was rounded off with a further commemoration at Chapel of Garioch organised by the Leslie family.  A great day of commemoration of one of the major events from our family's past.