The Men of Knoydart

Words: Hamish Henderson / Music: trad
Lyric as sung by Dick Gaughan

Twas down by the farm of Scottas
Lord Brocket walked one day
And he saw a sight that troubled him
Far more than he could say
For the seven men of Knoydart
Were doing what they'd planned
They'd staked their claim, they were digging their drains
On Brocket's private land

"You bloody Reds!", Lord Brocket cried
Wot's this you're doin' 'ere?
It doesn't pay, as you'll find today,
To insult an English Peer
For you're only Scottish halfwits
And I'll have you understand
You Highland swine, these hills are mine
This is all Lord Brocket's land"

"I'll write to Arthur Woodburn, boys,
And he'll soon let you know,
That the Sacred Rights of Property
Will never be laid low.
With your stakes and tapes, I'll make you traipse
From Knoydart to the Rand
You can dig for gold till you're stiff and cold
But not on this 'ere land."

Up spoke the men of Knoydart
"Och, away an shut yer trap
For threats from a Saxon brewer's boy
We just don't give a rap
For we are all ex-servicemen
And we fought against the hun
We can tell our enemies by now
And Brocket, you are one"

At this the noble Brocket
Turned purple in the face
He said, "These Scottish savages
Are Britain's dark disgrace
It may be true that I've let a few
Thousand acres go to pot
But each one I'd give to a London spiv
Before any goddamned Scot!"

"You're a shower of Tartan Bolshies
But I'll soon have you licked
I'll write to the Court of Session
For an interim interdict
I'll write to my London lawyers
And they will understand"
"Ach, tae Hell wi yer London lawyers,
We want our Scottish land"

When Brocket heard these fighting words
He fell down in a swoon
But they splashed his jowls with uisge [uisge : water]
And he woke up mighty soon
He moaned, "The Dukes of Sutherland
Were right about the Scot
If I had my way I'd start today
And clear the whole damned lot"

Then spoke the men of Knoydart,
"You have no earthly right
For this is the land of Alba
And no the Isle of Wight
When Scotland's proud young Fianna [Fianna : warriors]
Are assembled in the van
We'll show the world that Highlanders
Have a right to Scottish land"

"You may scream and yell, Lord Brocket,
You may rave and stamp and shout
But the lamp we've lit in Knoydart
Will never now go out
For Scotland's on the march again
And we think it won't be long
Roll on the day when the Knoydart way
Is Scotland's battle song"

Song Notes

The tune is a variant of "Johnson's Motor Car"

Knoydart was one of the areas cleared during the infamous 19th century bout of what these days would be called 'ethnic cleansing' but which was called at the time by the wonderful euphimism "Land Improvement" and which we now know as the Highland Clearances.

In the early 1930s, the Knoydart estate was bought by former Conservative MP and ex-Etonian, Arthur Ronald Nall-Cain - aka Lord Brocket - whose family had made their money in the brewing industry. Brocket was one of the most vocal British supporters of Nazism, was a friend of Ribbentrop and was a personal guest at Hitler's 50th birthday celebrations in 1939. He continued his support for Hitler and Nazism into, through and after the War and it was probably only his position and wealth which allowed him to avoid imprisonment for treason and assisting the enemy.

He fired most of the estate workers and evicted them from their homes, creating great local resentment, and left the land unproductive, keeping it as a recreational area where he and his cronies could amuse themselves in shooting and fishing, and hiring thugs to act as 'gamekeepers' but whose main function was to keep local people off 'his' land.

After the war, hundreds of local people all over the Highlands - most of whom had just fought a war for 'freedom' - applied for crofting land, land which had been stolen from their ancestors, but were informed by the Department of Agriculture that no land was available. Yet vast estates all over the Highlands were lying waste under the hands of private landlords.

On the 9th November, a group of seven young men who had previously unsuccessfully applied for crofting land, decided that enough was enough. Led by the local parish priest, Father Colin Macpherson, they occupied a small corner of Brocket's estate and began turning it into crofts.

The Arthur Woodburn mentioned in the third verse was the Secretary of State for Scotland in the so-called Socialist post-war government. He publicly boasted that he had never even set foot on the Knoydart peninsula and he raised not a finger to help the crofters. Indeed, he actually rejected the appeal lodged by them under the Land Settlement Act.

Receiving poor legal advice, the Men of Knoydart lost the legal battle but they established a principle which is today becoming a reality in the actions of people such as those of Assynt and Eigg - that our ancient way is for our land to be held in trust by the people who live and work on it and that the concept of individual private ownership of land is absurd.

The "lamp that was lit in Knoydart" is indeed burning brighter all the time.

Knoydart Land Seizures
contemporary article by Hugh MacDiarmid

The Seven Men

The Seven Men of Knoydart were :

Henry MacAskill
Archie MacDonald
Archie MacDougall
Jack MacHardy
Duncan McPhail
Sandy Macphee
William Quinn

Let us never forget them.

And let's make the 9th of November a national holiday.

Other Links

Knoydart is now owned by a trust but it needs support.
You can contact them at:

The Knoydart Foundation,
by Mallaig,
PH41 4PL

Tel: 01687 462906

For further information about Knoydart and other efforts to reverse the neglect of the land :

The John Muir Trust

Knoydart - a wilderness rescued

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