At this time each year local historians recall the events of January 17, 1746 when the Highland army of Bonnie Prince Charlie routed General Hawley’s Redcoats on the south muir of the town in appalling winter weather.
The Battle of Falkirk Muir, as it is usually called, was the second last battle fought on British soil and it still provokes a lot of interest from visitors. Thankfully, unlike the much earlier Wallace battle in 1298, we do have places to go and things to see.
The battlefield itself includes most of South Bantaskine Park and it is possible to follow the route taken by both Redcoat and Highlander and see some of the land features that played an important part in the action.
The deep ravine that separated the powerful Clan Cameron from the muskets of Barrell’s Regiment and stalled the Highland advance at a critical moment in the battle is still there with the battle monument at its south end. Surprisingly it took 181 years for the local community to raise this simple obelisk. When it did happen on June 4, 1927, it was a very big event masterminded by the editor of The Falkirk Herald, Fred Johnston.
The Duke of Atholl, a descendant of the Jacobite General Lord George Murray, unveiled the plaque and laid Lord George’s sword and white cockade on the plinth while Wallacestone Pipe Band played for the huge crowd on the day.
Perhaps the most obvious reminder of the events of 1746 is the fine set of stained-glass windows in the Howgate Centre depicting the Prince, Lord George and Sir John Drummond. They were first installed in South Bantaskine House around 1860 by the Wilson family whose ancestors had taken part in the battle and who owned much of the battlefield. They were stored for many years in the old tannery building in West Bridge Street.
Not far from South Bantaskine in Dumyat Drive stands a little copse of trees which tradition says is the burial place of a number of Redcoat soldiers killed during the battle, and in Canada Wood to the west of the monument you can still find ‘Charlie’s Stones’ which we are told mark the place where the Bonnie Prince stood during the battle. Not far away was the ‘Pretender’s Well’ which, a century ago, was a place to visit on a country walk but has long disappeared.
In the Parish Churchyard in Falkirk town centre stands the elaborate tomb of Sir Robert Munro of Foulis, who was chief of the Clan Munro.
He was not a Jacobite but the commander of the Redcoat regiment that bore his name, a reminder if we needed one that the Jacobite rising was not Scotland versus England but a civil war in which many Scots fought and fell on both sides. The only other tomb from the battle tells the same story. William Edmondstone of Cambuswallace was also a Redcoat officer who died on the Government side.
In 1745 on his way south at the start of the Rising, Prince Charlie called in at the Edmondstone home near Doune where William’s sister had kissed his hand and his bolder cousin ‘preed his mou’ (kissed his mouth).
Despite this loyalty to the Stewart cause William was a commissioned officer in the British Army. It was the way families ensured their survival whatever the outcome.
Confusing times indeed.