Battlefield Plants and their Uses

In 2015 we wrote a blog post describing the uses for certain plants found on Culloden Battlefield, with particular focus on their medicinal properties; here are four more plants that can be seen at Culloden, along with information detailing what they were used for in the 18th century:

Foxglove (Digitalis Purpurea)


In Gaelic the flowers are called lus nam ban-sith. This translates to ‘fairy woman’s plant’, and is a reference to the legend that the mottled markings on the inner petals are fairies’ fingerprints. Flowering between June and September, foxglove can be found on rough heath-like ground on the battlefield, towards the Jacobite line.

The leaves of foxglove were used to treat dropsy (painful swelling of the body and limbs). These leaves, usually mixed with other herbs, were chopped and taken as a drink. Foxglove contains digoxin, which slows and strengthens the muscles of the heart. It was also used to help treat arthritis and diphtheria; the leaves, mixed with butter and onion, were applied to the joints and the neck respectively.

Willow (Salix)

Willow Tree By Jdforrester

At Culloden the willow tree grows on areas of wet ground and resembles a large bush. The Gaelic word for willow is Seileach.

The flowering willow’s sap was taken to improve vision. Willow bark contains a derivative of salicylic acid, which once powdered, was mixed with water and taken to relieve pain and reduce fever.

In addition to its medical benefits, willow was also used to tan leather, make baskets, make ropes (out of its saplings) and dye wool; the bark produces a reddish-brown colour, and the leaves produce a yellow colour.

Tormentil (Potentilla Erecta)

Tormentil by Anne Burgess

These are small yellow flowering plants that grow on damp heathery ground. Their Gaelic name is Braonan Bachlay, which means ‘earth nut’. Tormentil flowers from June to September.

Tormentil was used for a variety of medical problems: to treat sunburn, the entire plant was boiled in water and acted as a cooling lotion; to treat a sore throat, the flowers and shoots were mixed in a drink form and gargled; to treat sore lips and gums, chewing on the root of tormentil was recommended; and the root was also used, dried or fresh, to help with stomach issues, piles and ulcers, as well as other sores.

Tormentil was also used for dying wool (its roots producing a reddish colour) and for tanning leather and making fishing nets. The roots of tormentil took a while to dig up, and so they were only used if there was no tree bark available.

Rowan (Sorbus Aucuparia)

Rowan Tree by Eeno11

Rowan has a couple of names in Gaelic: Craobh Chaoran, which means ‘berry tree’ and Caorunn, which means ‘wood enchantress’. Rowan trees were strongly believed to ward off evil, with many people carrying a sprig about with them for protection. At Culloden, there is a Rowan tree beside Leanach Cottage.

Rowan bark, applied as a poultice, was used to treat adder bites, and mixed with apples and honey, Rowan berries were used to soothe the throat in cases of wheezing cough.

Outside of medical use, the wood was used to make dwellings (summer sheilings), coffins, sticks for urging on cattle, wheels, barrels and churns, among other things. The berries, fermented, made a juice resembling cider, and, depending on the pot they were boiled in, produced a black or orange dye.

We hope you enjoyed this post. As always please like, comment, tweet and share.

All the best, The Culloden Team


A Little Bit More Gaelic

In 2015, we wrote a blog post offering some facts about the Gaelic language. As it was such a big part of the Jacobite culture, there has been a lot of effort made to include it at the visitor centre, which encourages many questions about the language, including its history, prevalence at the time of the Battle of Culloden and vocabulary. Below is some more information about Scottish-Gaelic:

In the mid-18th century, Gaelic was by no means spoken by the majority of the Scottish population. Its decline is believed to have begun during the reign of Malcolm III of Scotland (1058-1093), who broke with tradition by giving his sons Anglo-Saxon names. Norman French became favoured by the royals and aristocrats, whereas speaking Ingles, later known as Scots, became increasingly common among those outside of the court. By the 1300s, Scots was the dominant language in both written law and literature.

The Bruce, a patriotic poem written in around 1375, was notably written in Scots, not Gaelic, which reflects the shift that had occurred. By 1755, approximately 23% of the Scottish population spoke Gaelic. Of the 23%, many of them lived in the Highlands and Islands; it had always held great importance to the clans, but repeated blows, such as the loss at Culloden, and the subsequent Highland Clearances, diminished its use more and more as the years passed.

Last autumn, Catriona, Culloden’s Head Education Guide, designed a resource pack for the schools that visit throughout the year. In it she included biographies, family trees, timelines and explanations of commonly used terms. She decided to write it as a dual-language booklet, so that the person can read it in English or turn to the back for the Gaelic. This has proved popular with those who have seen it, as there is the opportunity to attempt to read it in Gaelic, whilst knowing the meaning in English.

To end today’s post, here are some common Scottish surnames and their Gaelic meanings:

The prefix Mac- means son in Gaelic, so Macdonald means son of Donald and so on.

Duff is derived from the Gaelic dubh, which means dark.

Buchanan comes from a Scottish place name that means house of the canon.

Cameron means crooked nose (Gaelic: cam – crooked / sròn – nose).

Murray is derived from the Scottish region Moray and means seaboard settlement in Gaelic.

We hope you enjoyed this little insight into Scottish Gaelic. As always please share, tweet, like and comment.

All the best, The Culloden Team

The Story of the Quaich

What is a Quaich? It’s a question we hear quite a bit here at Culloden with Quaich’s on show in both our exhibition and gift shop and luckily the story behind this unique item is a good one to tell.

Before we go any further though we need to tackle the tricky subject of pronunciation. Most people tend to pronounce Quaich as ‘quake’ with a hard ‘k’ sound and, to be fair, this is pretty close but us Scots are fussy. So, it you want to be perfect, you have to be able to master the Scottish ‘ch’ sound which is made from the back of the throat and does not have the more clipped sound of the ‘k’. It’s the same sound that is found in the likes of loch and dreich.

A selection of Quaichs in our shop


So, with pronunciation sorted now we need to discover what exactly a Quaich is? In its simplest terms a Quaich is a traditional Scottish drinking cup. It’s formed from a central bowl like depression with two lugs (or handles) on either side. Traditionally they were made from wood but have transformed over the years and now are often seen made of pewter or silver. Initially Quaichs were used to offer a drink of welcome or farewell to guests as they entered or left the home. The most common fillings were whisky and brandy but there were sometimes larger Quaichs which were used for ale. Indeed there is some research to suggest the largest Quaichs could up to one and a half pints of ale.

Part of the Quaichs beauty is in the ceremony behind its use as it passed from one person to another. This is also why it is sometimes called the ‘cup of friendship’ or the ‘loving cup’. Of course there are some slightly less romantic outlooks as well. The two handles means that as the cup is passed from one person to another both hands are required to hold the Quaich. This can be both a sign of friendship and bonding as well as a tool for ensuring that no one is holding any weapons in their hands when you meet them.

A lovely Quaich by Heathergems


There have also been a couple of different designs in Quaichs for different reasons. For the untrustworthy Quaichs could be made with a glass bottom so that the drinker could still see everyone whilst they drank. For the romantics Quaichs could be made with a double glass bottom which could hold a lock of a loved ones hair so that the owner could drink to their love.

Quaichs have been around for centuries, in 1589 King James VI of Scotland gave a Quaich to Anne of Denmark as a wedding gift and this tradition is still followed today. Quaichs even enter the Jacobite story. In 1745 a Quaich travelled south from Edinburgh to Derby with Prince Charles Edwards Stuarts Jacobite army and it is thought this was one of the first times the Quaich made its way so far below the Scottish border.

Ceramic Quaichs by Robert Blamire


Today Quaichs are used mainly for special occasions such as weddings and christenings and often have engravings to make them special personal gifts. They are also quite commonly used at Burns night during a Burns supper and other traditional Scottish events.

We hope you enjoyed our short insight into Quaichs. As always please like, comment, share, tweet and let us know if you have a Quaich of your own.

All the best, k & D


Sing me a song..

Without social media being available in the 18th century other methods had to be used to communicate, songs played an important role in influencing popular sentiment both for and against the Jacobite cause.

Today relatively few Hanoverian or pro-government songs have survived over time but there are many Jacobite songs that have been written and recorded through the centuries.

Many Jacobite songs are in Gaelic as many Highlanders, though not all, fought on the side of ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’. Many of the great Gaelic poets of the 18th century were Jacobite supporters and composed songs on the subject including Alexander MacDonald.

Moidart-born Alexander MacDonald is considered one of the finest Gaelic poets of the 18th century and was also among the first to join Prince Charles when he arrived at Glenfinnan. It is also said that MacDonald was called upon to try to teach the prince some Gaelic though if this is true it seems it did not go that well. Nevertheless, MacDonald saw himself as a propagandist for the cause through his poetry, and wrote many inspiring songs during the campaign and afterwards, when he continued to write optimistically of a return of the rightful King. Some of his songs include : Òran Nuadh — “A New Song”, Òran nam Fineachan Gaidhealach — “The Song of the Highland Clans” and Òran do’n Phrionnsa — “A Song to the Prince,”

Many years after the Jacobtie risings finished songs were still written though by this stage they often romantised the history and were sentimental of the Jacobite cause.  Such songs include ‘My Ain Countrie’, ‘The Skye Boat Song’ and ‘Will Ye No Come Back Again?’ 

The Skye Boat Song (800)_tcm4-575637
The Skye Boat Song

The Skye Boat Song is probably one of the most well known songs and is a Jacobite lament describing how Bonnie Prince Charlie, disguised as an Irish woman, was rowed from Uist over to the island of Skye to hide from Government soldiers.

 ‘Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing
Onward, the sailors cry!
Carry the lad that’s born to be King
Over the sea to Skye.’
Verse 1:
‘Loud the winds cry, loud the waves roar,
Thunderclaps rend the air.
Baffled our foes stand by the shore.
Follow they will not dare’
Verse 2:
‘Many’s the lad fought on that day
Well the claymore could wield,
When the night came silently lay
Dead on Culloden’s field.’
Verse 3:
Burned are our homes, exile and death
Scatter the loyal men.
Yet ere the sword cool in the sheath
Scotland will rise again!’
The words were actually written by an Englishman, Sir Harold Boulton, about 120 years ago. He used a Gaelic song format, a rowing song called an iorram, and the tune is said to come from the Gaelic song ‘Cuachan nan Craobh’ or ‘The Cuckoo in the Grove’. Since then many people have covered the song including Rod Stewart and Tom Jones.
Songs and poems were a key part to the Jacobite Risings with both sides using their power to influence the public and record the events of the time. Hopefully this short introduction has been interesting and you can always search for the songs online to have a listen. As always please blog, share, tweet, follow, comment and spend an evening enjoying the songs of the Jacobites if you can.
All the best, K & D

A little bit of Gaelic

Today we thought we’d explore a little bit about the history of Scottish Gaelic. Here at Culloden, or Cùil Lodair, we get quite a few questions about the language as we are lucky enough to have dual language elements in our centre. So, we thought we’d use this opportunity to give a bit more information about the language.


Gaelic is a Celtic language thought to originate from the north east corner of Ireland, which slowly spread its way across to the western areas of Scotland. Scottish Gaelic is a close relative of Welsh, Cornish and Breton, but shares a more intimate relationship with Irish and Manx Gaelic. These three Gaelic or Goidelic languages descend from a common ancestor, spoken in Ireland in the late first millennium BC and early first millennium AD.  In Scotland, Gaelic became established as the main language and played a part in distinguishing the different cultures of the Highlands from the Lowlands of Scotland. The language has strong connections to the Highland clans, with laws and customs fully written and spoken in Gaelic.

As the influence of the lowlands grew and swept north into the Highlands, so did the English language that we now speak today. Gaelic declined slowly over the centuries and there were several historical events which had an impact on the language, including the Act of Union with England in 1707 and the Highland Clearances following the Battle of Culloden. Gaelic however left its mark across the whole of Scotland and its influence can be seen in the names of Scottish places, mountains, on official buildings and on bilingual road signs on the west coast and islands.


The Gaelic alphabet only contains 18 letters (the letters j, k, q, v, w, x, y, and z are not used) and looks a little different to the English one, with accented vowels and different letter sounds to get accustomed to. The roots of the language are closely connected to nature and the ancient Scottish landscape. There are more than 100 words for mountain and over 40 for bog. Indeed the letters themselves were named after plants and trees, for example, the letter ‘a’ is ailm, which translates to ‘elm’ in English.

Today the Highlands and Islands of Scotland account for 55 percent of Scotland’s Gaelic speakers. It is most widely spoken in communities in the Outer Hebrides, as well as island communities on the Isle of Skye, and to a lesser extent, Argyll & The Isles. The Highlands is also known as Gáidhealtachd, the ‘land of the Gaels’, and proudly celebrates its Gaelic heritage. Interest in the language continues to grow, with various Gaelic language courses available, dedicated television and radio channels and cultural events taking place to celebrate contemporary Gaelic culture. Thanks to this the language is enjoying an increase in speakers and learners, with many young people choosing to learn the language of their ancestors, Inverness itself now hosts a Gaelic school and many schools offer Gaelic as an option to study.

Due to a high number of Scottish emigrants in the 18th and early 19th centuries, Gaelic communities have also emerged across the world, most notably in Canada, in the Nova Scotia region, but also in New Zealand, Australia and other regions in North America. If you are interested in learning Gaelic be sure to check out for more information and resources.

To leave you we thought we’d give you a quick taster of Gaelic with a few key phrases:

Good Morning – Madainn Mhath  – pronounced ‘Matdeen va’

Good Afternoon – Feasgar Math – pronounced ‘Fessger ma’

Goodbye – Mar sin leibh – pronounced ‘ Mar shin leyv’

Thank you – Tapadh leibh – pronounced ‘Tapa layv’

A hundred thousand welcomes – Céad míle fáilte – pronounced ‘Cade meelah fallcha’

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this post and as always please like, share, tweet, follow, comment and be inspired to learn a little Gaelic.

All the best K & D.