A New Battle On Culloden Moor
It was a short, bloody battle that irrevocably changed the course of Scotland’s future. Though it lasted only an hour, the Battle of Culloden (Scottish Gaelic: Blàr Chùil Lodair) on April 16, 1746, ended the Jacobite effort to restore Charles Edward Stuart, Bonnie Prince Charlie, to the throne of Scotland. Approximately 2000 Scottish Highlanders sacrificed their lives that day, and more died during the brutal repression of Highland and Gaelic culture that followed soon thereafter. The sorrow and pain of that day is still felt by many contemporary Scots, as well as those whose ancestors fled Scotland to escape the harsh retaliatory actions meted out by the English in the years following the battle. For those people, Culloden will always be sacred ground, “ground zero” of the centuries-long Scottish battle for freedom from the English invaders.
New invaders have now come to Culloden, developers who want to build houses less 400 meters from the battlefield—and surprisingly, the Scottish government is set to approve those plans.
People in Scotland and around the world have voiced outrage that such a project would even be considered, much less approved. Historic Scotland has given their stamp of approval for the scheme, even though no representative from the government authority has visited the site to see how it might be impacted. The National Trust For Scotland (NTS), which owns and maintains the battlefield and visitor center, has expressed great disappointment in the decision, arguing that the approval creates a ” slippery slope” for future housing schemes, which could result in the the degradation of the historic site at Culloden.
I grew up in Georgia, a Southern state that was the site of many battles during the American Civil War and the American Revolutionary War. My father was a Civil War historian and ardent battlefield preservationist, who taught me from an early age that historic sites are tremendous visual symbols of what was and, more importantly, what should never be again–specifically, being ruled by a monarchy ( the Revolutionary War) or allowing the enslavement of our fellow men and women (the Civil War). When you lose those places where people fought and died for their beliefs, places that are the final resting places of so many souls, you betray their memory. Moreover, you also lose a valuable teaching tool for future generations who will have no tangible connection to their past. Textbooks, photos and videos can only go so far—to truly know your history, you must walk the same ground your predecessors walked, feel that sense of connection and emotion that comes from standing where they stood. Once those historic places are sacrificed for commercial development, they are gone forever.
Do the souls of those long-dead Highlanders still walk the moor at Culloden? Celtic mythology holds that there are “thin places” in the world where different planes of existence touch, and the past can sometimes be felt in the present. If any such place exists in Scotland, it surely must be at Culloden, where sadness seems to hover over the fields like Highland mist. I have walked that moorland where Gaelic war cries of fierce, proud Highlanders once rang through the air, and I believe the spirits of those long-dead men are there still. For me, any encroachment on the battlefield is a defilement of the war graves of brave men—Scots, Irish and even English who fought with the Highlanders—who died for their country, their families and their way of life.
We will always have competing interests in the name of progress, when developers confront preservationists in the modern world. Finding a balance between these two interests is difficult and one side (sometimes both) often believes its arguments have been completely ignored or misunderstood. In the case of important historical sites such as battlefields, however, the bigger picture needs to be carefully considered. Houses can always be built in other places—there will only ever be ONE Culloden.
Read more about the proposed housing development, and the arguments on both sides, here:
To sign an online petition to stop the proposed development at Culloden, click HERE.