Reid Harlaw – 600 years after the battle

We will not dwell on the history. There was a battle at Harlaw ( or Cath Gairbheach ) 600 years ago which has been written about often.  The ballad Battle o’ Harlaw (which you can listen to here) has been passed from generation to generation and is probably the source for what most folk know of what went on in the Garioch that July day, 600 years ago.

You will find no attempts to glorify the battle or lionise those who fought and fell on this blog, but we think that Harlaw was a major event which deserves to be commemorated. We were indeed pleased to learn that both Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire Councils were planning a series of special events to mark the 600th anniversary and were particularly pleased to learn that the six “missing plaques” would be created and affixed to the monument almost 100 years after it was initially erected.

Monument with Bennachie behind (yes, those are the new plaques you can see!)

It came as a shock to find that the public appear to be being excluded from the actual ceremony and wreath-laying at the Harlaw Monument on the 600th anniversary as, according to the Aberdeen Council website :

“The official ceremony and the reception are private and for invited guests only. The site of the Battle of Harlaw monument will open to the public at 3pm so they will be able to view the new interpretation panel.”

We can accept that the reception (in Inverurie, not at the monument) isn’t open to the general public ( although it may well be funded by them 😉 ), but on what grounds are the public being excluded from paying their respects to the fallen at the wreath-laying?

Who drew up the list of invited guests? Who was on that list and why were they there?

The Harlaw Monument is just that – a monument at the side of a minor road with a short layby in front of it nothing much else. Now there’s not much parking room but surely the council could just have said “No parking will be available on site, please walk or cycle to the monument?” You’ve guessed it … one, two, three … This is Aberdeen so they apparently simply decide to exclude the public.

On 24th July 1411 Aberdeen Provost Davidson was in need of the citizens of Aberdeen and they came and they died on the field of Harlaw.

On 24th July 2011 Aberdeen Lord Provost Stephen does not want to be troubled by the presence of citizens.

Well not unless they are his invited guests that is – a wee bit like the buffet he wants to spend £4,000 of Aberdeen’s Common Good Fund on for the unveiling of the portrait of himself for which an additional £10,000 of the Aberdeen Common Good fund was allocated.

Now this raises another important question.  Despite being in Aberdeenshire,  the Harlaw Monument (and its site) is listed as Aberdeen Common Good Land (As revealed by Freedom of Information request ENQ7571 ). Can Aberdeen City Council arbitrarily exclude citizens from their own common good like this?

A citizen informed us that she had contacted the Aberdeen City Council Events team to enquire about attending the wreath-laying ceremony – at the time of writing she had received no response. As the ceremony is tomorrow any response she receives will be too little, too late.

Sniffing about a bit, we started to uncover some interesting facts … initially we came across this blog post from 16th July 2011 which contains some gems. In a section discussing musical provision at the event, we find a letter apparently from the headie at Inverurie Academy :

“The real action is at 1.00pm when transport leaves Inverurie Academy to go to the harlaw monument for the commemoration at 1.15pm. If you could be playing to welcome them as they arrive that would be great, and then a lament at the end as they leave.”

A lament would indeed be most appropriate given the shoddy way in which the general public appear to have been treated.

Before we go on, note that the headie appears to have failed to capitalise the proper noun harlaw – you know Harlaw – the event 600 years ago that we are discussing 😉

We go on to read

“Although the road will be closed it would be ok for you to take your car up to get there before others – I would suggest that if you were there for 1.00pm that would be fine. There is parking available.”

So our earlier concerns about parking were apparently unfounded … the lay-by isn’t very big but tonight we noted that a corner of a park ( that’s what we call fields up here 😉 ) opposite the monument – has already been cut and has two gates open – perhaps the council have arranged for the farmer to provide a convenient parking location?

Mention of the road closure is interesting though this in itself shoud not stop the public from walking or cycling to the monument. On further investigation we find no mentions of a road closure in the list of closures posted on Aberdeenshire Council’s website.

We then came across the some documents from the Battle of Harlaw Action Group and in an action note from their 9th May 2011 meeting we see the following recorded :

“In relation to the road closures, Provost Howatson advised that (1) the Garioch Area Manager had dealt with this and had arranged for the necessary road to be closed from 9am – 4pm, however this may be reduced to a smaller period of time, and (2) they would arrange for the necessary amount of Stewards to be on duty on the day.”

Assuming the road in question is the one past the Harlaw Monument … why has notice of the road closure not been posted on the Aberdeenshire Council website ?

The action notes from the 23rd June 2011 Battle of Harlaw Action Group Meeting show that “Two buses had been booked by Aberdeen City Council, to hold a total of 100 people.” but we are sure that the Common Good funded Aberdeen Civic Car will be out for a run too. We also see that “It was suggested that there may be no requirement for Aberdeenshire Council to book additional buses” … we would love to think that this was because the Aberdeenshire attendees have opted to walk from Inverurie to the monument 😉

One final gem from the 23rd June 2011 Action Note :

“Stella Evans (Corporate Communications Team) advised that she was still progressing the idea of taking a photograph of the Lord Provost beside the grave of Provost Davidson (who died during the Battle of Harlaw) …”

Oh, in the name of the wee man. We don’t know what’s worse here – the perceived cheesy photo opportunity or the fact that the BATTLE OF HARLAW ACTION GROUP find it necessary to put “who died during the Battle of Harlaw” after Provost Davidson’s name.

One of the six new plaques fitted to the monument, this is the Davidson shield

It is sad that the council(s) have seen fit to try and exclude members of the general public from the wreath-laying ceremony. The public may not sport hand-made brown brogues but this is their history too and they have as much right to participate in the commemoration as any  “civic dignatory” or “clan chief“.

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This entry was posted in Aberdeen, Aberdeen, Aberdeen City Council, Aberdeenshire, Aberdeenshire, Aberdeenshire Council, Architecture, history, Scotland and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Reid Harlaw – 600 years after the battle

  1. This is brilliant stuff. Why are hiding your light under a bushel?
    Dorothy Bothwell

  2. William Leslie says:

    I am a Canadian Leslie. Many Leslies died in the Battle of Harlaw and helped save the City of Aberdeen. I travelled to Aberdeenshire to attend the ceremony on Sunday July 24. I was a member of a small group of Leslies who had travelled here for that purpose. We spent a considerable amount of money at hotels, restaurants, busses, taxis, to be here. Then we found out that we could not attend or get anywhere near the monument.
    Have you noticed that one of the new shields is the coat of arms of Macdonald. This is a war memorial to the dead soldiers of 1411. Do you think they turned over in their graves? I know the many dead Leslie soldiers did. I know that the Macdonalds of today are as good people as any Scots but this is a war memorial to the dead of 2011. The Macdonalds being honoured while so many other families continue to be unmentioned and ignored, is an unbelievable insult and travesty. If Aberdeen wanted to hounour the Macdonalds, why did they not raise a separate memorial in the City? I would have no objection to that.

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