High on a hill outside Inverness Castle - which although once an active Castle now houses the Sheriff Court - stands a statue of Flora MacDonald. She surveys her domain with her dog at her feet. Flora is an imposing woman on a high plinth; her statue is a favourite with pigeons and children. She has one of the best views in Inverness, overlooking the River Ness and Inverness Cathedral.
A heroine committed to Bonnie Prince Charlie’s cause, Flora MacDonald helped smuggle the prince from Bernbacula to Skye following his defeat at the Battle of Culloden. Prince Charles Edward Stewart – also known as Bonnie Prince Charlie and The Young Pretender - travelled from France to Scotland in 1745, and achieved a series of victories following his landing on Scottish soil including the taking of Edinburgh and Carlisle. His impetuous advance, without backup from the Continent, caused him to withdraw, losing his gains and ending up with huge losses on the bloody battlefield of Culloden.
Flora’s adventures are commemorated in The Skye Boat Song, a traditional song from the late nineteenth century which has been recorded by numerous artists. I am struck by the fact that it is a song I learned in childhood, I think probably at school (I realised on moving to Scotland that my education in England had been sadly lacking in Scottish history and literature), for the words and melody come to me without thought. Yet I did not learn the true history behind the words until I lived in Scotland.
Flora MacDonald was born in 1722 on the island of South Uist. Following her adventures with Bonnie Prince Charlie she married Allan MacDonald in 1750 and they had seven children – five boys and two girls. Flora and her family moved to America in 1774, but her husband was captured during the American War of Independence and she returned to her roots whilst waiting for his release. She and her husband spent their last years on the Isle of Skye and Flora died aged 68.
So what did this Scottish heroine do that was so spectacular? She supported Bonnie Prince Charlie at a time when he had a huge price on his head. She helped him travel from Bernbacula to Skye, dressing him as an Irish woman - Betty Burke - to avoid capture. Her reward, some days after her Prince had moved on – a stint in the Tower of London (a prison many did not emerge from alive).
Flora MacDonald was a woman ahead of her time. Without knowing the outcome she took risks and survived them for a cause she believed in. She survived and thrived, a legend in her time whose commitment to her country is honoured centuries after her death.