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Dance Lord Macdonald's Reel 3940

Reel · 32 bars · 3 couples · Longwise - 4   (Progression: 213)

Devised by
William (18C) Campbell (1790)
800 800 844 866 = 54% (1 turn), 41% (whole dance)
  • Pas-de-Basque, Skip-Change
Published in
Recommended Music
Extra Info
Lord Macdonald's Reel

Not all of those persons for whom a tune was named or a dance devised were completely worthy of the honour done them. The men were not all gallant nor the ladies all charming. Sometimes it was a case of what they were and not who they were. Just such a man was Alexander Macdonald, 1st Lord Macdonald, for whom this tune and dance were named.

The greatest and most far-flung of the Highland clans, the Macdonalds in their various branches spread all over the western isles and the northwest mainland. The main line, the Macdonalds of Sleat, stems from the heroic Somerled who freed his people from the oppression of the Norse. When Somerled died in 1164 he left three sons and from them came the many cadet families of Macdonalds. The Macdonalds of Sleat descend in the male line from Hugh Macdonald of Sleat, half-brother of John Macdonald, last Lord of the Isles, who died in 1503.

After the Jacobite activities of Donald Macdonald in the Rising of 1715, the Barony of Sleat, created in 1625, was forfeited and when it was restored the lairds of Sleat were styled Macdonald of Macdonald.

The eighth baronet, Sir James Macdonald, son of Sir Alexander and Lady Margaret Macdonald, was a young man full of promise and vision, a scholar and a remarkable linguist, who was called after his death the “Scottish Marcellus”. Sir James was injured in a hunting accident shortly after his return to Skye from the Grand Tour and he travelled back to Italy in the hope of a more rapid recovery from his illness than he could attain under cloudy Hebridean skies. He died in Rome in 1766 at the age of twenty-five and, as his university friend Lord Lyttelton said in his epitaph, he was accorded “also from foreign nations, The highest marks of esteem.” He was succeeded by his brother Alexander as ninth baronet.

Sir Alexander was quite a different man from Sir James, the friend of James Boswell. On Thursday, 2 September, 1773, Boswell and Dr Samuel Johnson arrived to spend the weekend with Sir Alexander and Lady Macdonald and a few quotes from Boswell’s famous Journal will give a picture of the man from whom this dance is named.

“We reached the shore of Armadale before one. Sir Alexander came down and received us. He was in tartan clothes. My lady stood at the top of the bank and made a kind of jumping for joy. They were then in a house built by a tenant at this place, which is in the district of Sleat.”

“We had an ill-dressed dinner, Sir Alexander not having a cook of my kind form Edinburgh. I alone drank port wine. No claret appeared. We had indeed mountain and Frontignac and Scotch porter. But except what I did myself, there was no hospitable convivial intercourse, no ringing of glasses. Nay, I observed that when Captain Macdonald and Mr Macqueen came in after we were sat down to dinner, Sir Alexander let them stand round the room and stuck his fork into a liver pudding, instead of getting room made for them. I took care to act as he ought to have done. There was no wheat-loaf, but only a kind of bannock or cake, raw in the heart, as it was so thick. Sir Alexander himself drank punch without souring and with little spirits in it, which he distributed to those men who were accustomed even in their own houses to much better. He gave it with a pewter dividing-spoon which had served the broth. At tea there were few cups and no tea-tongs nor a supernumerary tea-spoon, so we used our fingers.

“I was quite hurt with the meanness and unsuitable appearance of everything … When Mr Johnson and I retired for rest, he said it grieved him to see the chief of a great clan in such a state; that he was just as one in a lodging-house in London. However, he resolved that we should weather it out till Monday.”

Things did not improve the next day. “It grew fair a little before dinner, and I took a little walk with Captain Macdonald, from whom I found that Sir Alexander was quite unpopular, and that all his deficiencies were well remarked.”

“When Sir Alexander was out of the room, I spoke of Sir James. The Highlanders fairly cried. Neither my lady nor Mr Johnson were then present. I cried too, and we drank a bumper to his memory. It was really melancholy to see the manly, gallant, and generous attachment of clanship going to ruin.

“Sir Alexander composed today some Latin verses with which he presented Mr Johnson. After dinner the Knight and I met in Mr Johnson’s room, where I was looking for pen and ink. I fell upon him with perhaps too great violence upon his behaviour to his people; on the meanness of his appearence here; upon my lady’s neither having a maid, nor being dressed better than one. In short, I gave him a volley. He was thrown into a violent passion; said he could not bear it; called in my lady and complained to her, at the same time defending himself with considerable plausibility. Had he been a man of more mind, he an dI must have had a quarrel for life. But I knew he would soon come to himself. We had moor-fowl for supper tonight, which comforted me.”

On 1 October, 1773, the travellers were back in Armadale, their tour of Skye completed. “The house had quite a different air from what it had in Sir Alexander’s time. We made a company of fourteen. We had a good dinner, excellent strong beer got on purpose for me, tea in good order, and a fiddler and a dance at night; then a good supper; and both at dinner and supper, excellent punch … His factor’s hospitality disgraced the knight.”

“I told Mr Johnson this morning that Sir Alexander said to me once that he left Skye with the blessings of his people. Said Mr Johnson, ‘You’ll observe this was when he left it. It is only the back of him that they bless.’”

And one final comment written on 15 October at Erray on Mull. “The penurious gentleman of our acquaintance, formerly alluded to, afforded us a topic of conversation tonight. Dr Johnson said I ought to write down a collection of the instances of his narrowness, as they almost exceeded belief.”

Actually, Boswell underplayed his observations of Sir Alexander In his account, but the baronet even so took offence and wrote an abusive letter to Boswell. As a result, Boswell revised his manuscript as best he could and managed to delete some of the derogatory passages, but before the affair was finished suits and duels were threatened.

In 1776 Sir Alexander Macdonald of Macdonald was created Lord Macdonald in the peerage of Ireland, a ploy to prevent excessive votes by Scots in the House of Lords. He was succeeded in 1795 by his son Alexander.

It is interesting to note that the first Lord Macdonald was considered to be one of the talented amateur composers of his time.

Lord Macdonald's Reel 3/4L · R32
1c set | cast off two (2c+3c up) ; 1c set | cast back (2c+3c down)
1c down the middle {3} and up {3} | cast off (2c up) and face 1cnrs
1c set to and turn corners
Reels3{6} on the sides, Lsh to 1cnr | 1c cross RH to (2,1,3)
Lord Macdonald's Reel 3/4L · R32
1s set, cast to 3rd place, set & cast back to top
1s lead down the middle for 3 steps, back to top & cast to 2nd place to face 1st corners
1s set & turn 1st corners, set & turn 2nd corners
1s dance reels of 3 on opposite sides giving LSh to 1st corners & cross to 2nd place on own sides

Sorry, this browser doesn't seem to do SVG graphics :^(

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