of the most famous persons in Scottish history is Flora Macdonald. It
was Flora who in 1746, with the help of Neil MacEachain, smuggled Bonnie
Prince Charlie to safety by disguising him as an Irish maid named
"Bettie Burke". Unfortunately, Neil's role in this has
always been downplayed in favor of the more romantic story of Flora and the
Prince (which ironically had no romance at all). There is a British
movie called Bonnie
Prince Charlie, featuring David Niven in the title role, which
almost writes him out of the story altogether! (At the end, the Prince
incongruously thanks Neil and all the others.) Anyway, here is Neil's
"The Saga of Neil MacEachain" by James E. McCaughan:
"Neil MacEachain was born in 1719 in the Howbeg area of the island of south Uist in the Hebredies southwest of the isle of Skye. Neil showed some promise as a lad. He was taken to Paris by Aeneas MacDonald, a Paris banker. Neil spent several years in France while he received an education at the Scots College preparing him for the priesthood. While in France he gained language skills in French, English, Latin, and Greek, which he added to his native Gaelic.
For some unknown reason, Neil did not enter the priesthood. Some time after his education and before the Jacobite rebellion of '45, he returned to Uist and became a
schoolmaster. A position which gave him recognition and position in the community. The night the prince arrived on the island, Neil was having dinner with the chief of
Clanranald, the local minister, and several gentlemen.
Neil's son, Joseph Alexander MacDonald, in his autobiography
'Recollections', describes his father: 'Your grandfather was very gently and naturally silent. I have heard him, however, talk very well. His memory was well stored, full of anecdote and he was a good musician, playing the violin; he was much esteemed and sought after by the society of that
time.' On another occasion he spoke of his father's love for his home in Scotland and his love of salmon fishing.
The Prince and His Cause
Prince Charles Edward Stuart was the son of James VIII. The Stuarts, descendents of James VI or I, had lost the throne of England to the house of Hanover from Europe. Queen Anne was the last Stuart to rule England. The Prince and his father were living in exile in Italy.
Those loyal to the lineage of the Stuarts were known as Jacobites or followers of James. Jacob being the biblical name for James. James VIII was known as the Old Pretender and Charles was the Young Pretender. Charles and his father wanted to rule England.
In 1745 Charles embarked on his crusade to win the throne of England. Charles stopped in France to persuade the French court to aid him in his crusade. While in Paris he stayed at the home of Aeneas MacDonald, the same Paris banker who brought Neil MacEachain to Paris. After receiving some promises of aid, Prince Charles sailed for Scotland on a French ship. He was accompanied by an Irish officer, John O'Sullivan, who was an offficer in the French army and a brilliant military strategist. He landed at Glenfinnen in July, 1745.
The Prince and O'Sullivan, with considerable difficulty, raised an army from the Highland clans. Many were reluctant to support him because both the Prince and his father were Catholic. Others were reluctant because the promised aid from France had not arrived. They prevailed and many chiefs committed to support Charles and fight. The Prince and his army marched into Edinburgh and Charles took up residence in the castle. While in Edinburgh, the Prince proceeded to outfit and supply his army.
Their first military test was at the Battle of Prestopans where they defeated the English army led by Sir John Cope. The Highlanders prevailed and won the battle. The Scots cared for the wounded on both sides. After another victory at Falkirk, the Prince turned his army into England and marched toward London. They met with little resistance and received some encouragement. When they arrived in Derby, they heard that a large English army under the leadership of the Duke of Cumberland, the youngest son of King George II, was marching to intercept them. Prince Charles and his army retreated back into Scotland.
Prince Charles and his army of 5000, exhausted and half-starved, turned to fight the English on April 16, 1746, on the Drummossie Moor at Culloden, northeast of Inverness. The Scots battle tactics of the screaming charge and hand-to-hand combat were of little use and provided no protections from the heavy cannon fire and hail of bullets from the British muskets. The right flank of the Scot's charge were the only Scots to reach the English and they were slaughtered in a low spot, later called the well of death.
The Duke of Cumberland's army pursued the Scots without mercy. The wounded were killed where they lay. The fleeing Scots were hunted down as well. About 3000 Highlanders died in the battle and slaughter.
Late in the battle, the Prince, seeing that all was lost, retreated to a nearby hill, accompanied by O'Sullivan,
O'Neil (another Irish officer from France) and several Scots. It was decided to leave the area lest the Prince fall into enemy hands. Their first night out they stayed in Glengarry.
On the second day, the 18th, they came to the home of Angus Maceachain, son-in-law of of Angus MacDonald of Borradale. The Prince spent the night in the house and the next day in nearby woods. The night of the 19th, he traveled to the home of Angus MacDonald of Borradale. The same home where he had stayed on his arrival in Scotland. He spent eight days here during which time he met with many of his leaders who had also fled from Colloden, among whom was Young Clanranald. The Prince was persuaded to leave the country, since there was no chance of recovering from the defeat.
That night the Prince, O'Sullivan, O'Neil, Donald MacDonald, Donald McLeod, and others set out in a ten oar boat they seized from Angus MacDonald. They left about 6:00 PM. During the night, they ran into a freezing storm and wind. They thought they would perish. At daybreak, Rory MacDonald recognized the harbor at Benbecula, South Uist, and they set out to land there but the wind continued to blow and they landed at the harbor of Roshiness which was only five miles from the home of
Enter Our Hero
The landing on Sunday, April 29th, was observed by a herdsman of Clanranald and he sent word to Clanranald. The Prince also sent word to Clanranald that he wanted to see him. Clanranald and Neil Maceachain came to meet the Prince. After speaking with Clanranald and Neil, the Prince set out for the Isle of Lewis in hopes of meeting a French ship there. This was Neil's first encounter with the Prince, an encounter which would change his life forever. An encounter which would have an impact on the history of Europe.
The Prince and his party returned to South Uist six days later, having given up on a French ship at Lewis. Clanranald promised the Prince that he would find a place of concealment for him. Neil began caring for the Prince on May 6 and continued until July 2, 1746, when he went to the Isle of Skye with the Prince and Flora Macdonald.
After a brief stay in a cottage at Bareness, Neil moved the Prince to his own home at
Corrodale on May 10th. The Prince and his party stayed there four weeks. During this time the Prince looked for rescue by a French ship. When not caring for the Prince and his party, Neil went throughout the area to find out as much intelligence as possible on the movement of the British troops searching for the Prince. With troop movements nearby, the Prince's party and Neil set out toward Benbecula and wound up on a deserted island for eight days. With the arrival of MacLeod troops on the island they set out for South Uist again. Upon landing, they began to march toward Benbecula. On June 12 they set out by boat again and landed back by Corrodale. The next day, Neil moved the Prince's party to a small island nearby. Neil then went to secure supplies for them. He returned with butter, bread, cheese, and a few bottles of brandy. After several more moves to avoid the English troops, the Prince's party was dismissed except for Fergus
O'Neil. O'Sullivan was left under some rocks with the Prince's belongings.
The Prince, O'Neil, and Neil went to the cottage of Flora Macdonald. After waking her, they presented the plan for escape her father had conceived. Flora was to take the Prince to Skye dressed as her Irish maid. Flora refused but Neil did his best to persuade her while O'Neil flirted with her. Flora went the next day to talk with her father. Neil was sent on a journey of thirty miles to secure aid at Benbecula. While nearing that place he was arrested, kept a prisoner all night and then was taken to the captain of the guard. When they arrived, he found that Flora had been arrested also. The captain of the guard was Hugh Macdonald, Flora's father, who had proposed the escape plan originally. They were both released. Flora went to Lady MacDonald to make plans and Neil returned to the Prince as quickly as possible.
Neil, the Prince and O'Neil set out again for Roshinish. The trip had several harrowing events. After two days of difficult journey, they arrived at Roshinish to find the Skye militia camped near the house. Aided by
some of Clanranald's tenants, they secured some food and again hid out under some rocks. After the militia left the area, they moved in to a small cottage, where they stripped the Prince of his clothes and hung them out to dry.
Neil again moved the Prince toward Flora's home at Nuntown. After they arrived, General Campbell and his troops arrived on the island, only three miles away. Neil and the others gathered their things, their meal, and fled for their boats. After crossing the Loch, they finished their meal at 5 AM.
Lady MacDonald and her daughter were summoned to their home by Campbell. O'Neil was sent away because he was a liability to smuggling the Prince, since he did not speak the local language.
When they arrived at Flora's home, the Prince was dressed in his new female attire which had been made for him. When evening arrived, they went to their boat accompanied by the oarsmen and set out for Skye. They made good progress until about
midnight when they were confronted by gale winds. After a brief rest among some rocks, they continued their journey toward the northwest corner of Skye. They were seen by sentries on Skye and narrowly escaped.
When they arrived on Skye, Flora and Neil left the Prince in the boat and went ahead to make sure the coast was clear.
Neil went back to the boat and brought the Prince to an area behind a hill near Monkstad home. When the way was clear of Skye militia, Neil and Flora moved to the house. Flora had spoken to Lady McDonald, convincing her that the Prince now fell under her protection. Lady McDonald discussed the situation with Donald Roy McDonald. Neil was sent to move the Prince to an area beyond a nearby hill until Lord Kingsburg came to him.
After Lord Kingsburg arrived, they walked on to Kingsburg's home. After arriving late Sunday night, the Prince was fed and bathed 'from head to foot' by Kingsburg and Neil. The Prince slept until early afternoon Monday.
The Prince left in clean female attire since that was how he was dressed when he arrived. After going some distance, the Prince entered the woods and changed into 'suit' provided him by Kingsburg. Neil and Flora had gone ahead and waited in Potree for the Prince. After the Prince arrived, Neil and Flora said their farewells to the Prince, who was turned over to Donald Roy McDonald who was to take him on to the Isle of Raasaay. The date was July 2, 1746.
The Prince moved about throughout the region until the time of his rescue by French ship on October 10. We do not know how much Neil was in contact with the Prince during this time. However, we do know that Neil guided the ship to Lochabar to pick up the Prince and sailed to France with him.
After arriving in France, arrangements were made for Neil to become an officer in Ogelville regiment, a Scottish unit in the French Army. Neil remained in the unit until it was disbanded with the Treaty of Paris. He received a small pension of 20 pounds.
Neil married the daughter of another officer in what his son called a 'barracks marriage'. They had four children; only two survived, a son and a daughter. The son, Joseph Alexander McDonald, entered the French military. He rose through the ranks to the position of Colonel. He survived the French Revolution. He served under Napoleon as a General and received a battlefield
commission to Marshal of France. He later served the government of France after Napoleon."
Historian and Albany Herald, Sir Iain Moncrieffe, in "The Highland
"Neil McEachan... just as much the descendants of Somerled, King of the
Isles, as were Clanranald and Sir Alexander Macdonald of Macdonald themselves... the tremendous vigour
of the old kings burst out repeatedly in the humblest of their scions. Neil MacEachan's son,
for instance, born in exile, became that Alexandre Macdonald, Duc de Tarente, whom
Napoleon made a Marshall of France... advantage to them... that the main line of their chiefs
always held on, with their family records, in the old clan country, part of a continuous
and traceable history."
cannot say for certain whether or not I am related to Neil MacEachain.
I do know that I have cousins related to Flora Macdonald. She had a
half-sister, also named Flora Macdonald, who married a McQueen. These
McQueens intermarried with the McEachins, and there were several daughters
named Flora Macdonald McEachin in honor of their famous relative. This
is detailed in the book "The
MacQueens of Queensdale" by Mrs. Annabella Bunting MacElyea.