Blair Athole (2)
BLAIR ATHOLE . Scottish, Reel. A Minor/Dorian. Standard tuning (fiddle). AB (Kerr): AABB (Lerwick, Songer). Blair Castle is the seat of the Duke of Athole, and lies just northwest of the village of Blair Athole, in the parish of Blair Athole, district of Athole, Perthshire. Still a functional residence, some of its buildings are open to the public. The castle dates to the 13th century when its oldest part, Comyn's Tower, was constructed. It was occupied by the Marquess of Montrose in 1644, and again garrisoned by Claverhouse in 1689 (Claverhouse was killed in the battle of Killiecrankie, and his body brought to Blair Castle where his cuirass can be seen today). Bonnie Prince Charlie and his troops rested at the Castle on their journey south during the Jacobite rebellion of 1745, and the castle was damaged the next year in a bombardment. It was restored as a manor house at the end of the century, minus all fortress-like vestiges, but these were restored in the Victorian era.
In the autumn of 1787 the poet Robert Burns, at that time on a tour in the Highlands, came to Blair Athole with a letter of introduction to the Duke. His Grace was not a home when Burns arrived, but he was cordially welcomed by the Duchess of Athole and stayed a few days at the castle, with the Duke returning before the poet left. He found staying at the same time the Duchess sister, Mrs. Graham along with their youngest sibling, Miss Cathcart, then in her seventeenth year. Burns declared later that the two days he spent there were among the happiest days of his life. He wrote from Inverness soon after to Mr. Walker (later a Professor of Humanity) of Glasgow, who was then residing at Blair Athole, and enclosed his composition "Humble Petition of Bruar Water." In the letter he says:
The "little-angel band"-I declare I prayed for them very sincerely today at the Fall of Fyers. I shall never forget the fine family-piece I saw at Blair: the amiable, the truly noble Duchess, with her smiling little seraph in her lap, at the head of the table; the lovely "olive-plants," as the Hebrew bard finely says, round the happy mother; the beautiful Mrs. Graham; the lovely sweet Miss Cathcart, &c. I wish I had the power of Guido to do them justice.
As fate would have it, the three sisters, known for their beauty all passed away when relatively young. The Duchess survived Burns's visit only three years, and Mrs. Graham five. Miss Cathcart, who was singularly amiable as well as beautiful, was cut off at twenty-four.
Detail from David Allan's painting "A Highland Wedding at Blair Atholl" (1780). The fiddler is thought to be the famous Niel Gow.
Printed sources: Kerr (Merry Melodies), vol. 3; No. 146, p. 17. Lerwick (The Kilted Fiddler), 1985; p. 25. Songer (Portland Collection), 1997; p. 32.
Recorded source: Green Linnet SIF 1047, John Cunningham - "Fair Warning" (1983).
X:1 T:Blair Athole  M:C L:1/8 K:Ador E2|A2 AB AGEG|ABcd edcB|A2 AB AGEF|GABc dBGB|A2 AB AGEG| ABcd e2a2|gedB GABc|c2A2A2||e2|a2 ab agec|ABcd ecBA|g2 ga gedB| GABc dBAG|a2 ab agec|ABcd e2a2|gedB GABd|c2A2A2||