The Seann Truibhas is the classic and surely the most beautiful of all our Highland Dances. It is most difficult to perform it as it should be danced, and takes years of practice. The words we use to describe the opening and subsequent steps are SLOW, LILTING and SUSTAINED, and for the closing quick steps the contrast of BUOYANT and LIVELY. But just where did the Seann Truibhas have its origins?
Here is the story –
In 1745 Prince Charles Edward Stuart left France and, accompanied only by the seven men of Moidart, landed on the Isle of Eriskay in the Western Isles and crossed the Minch to Loch Nan Uamh.
Here, the Prince met some of the Highland leaders and clan chiefs, among them Cameron of Lochiel, who was the first to call out his clan to fight for Bonnie Prince Charlie. And so, in August of 1745 the Prince raised his Standard at Glenfinnan and thousands of clansmen joined his army and marched with him to Edinburgh to begin the campaign of putting a Stuart, once again, on the throne.
Although the Prince had much success, especially at the Battle of Prestonpans, he then crossed the Border and marched towards London, but sadly he didn’t receive the necessary support he had hoped for and had to retreat back over the Border to the Highlands. It was on the fateful day of April 16th, 1746, that the Scots met the enemy on the moor of Culloden.
Despite a most heroic stand, the tired, hungry and ill-equipped Highlanders couldn’t withstand the cavalry and artillery of the English army.
Prince Charlie managed to escape and for five months he was hunted throughout the mountains and glens. Although the English offered 30,000 pounds (a fortune in these bygone days) for his capture, not one Highlander ever betrayed him!
Flora MacDonald, at the age of 23, was the most famous of the many Highlanders to risk their lives to protect the Prince. They met on the Isle of South Uist and for 11 days Flora hid the Prince.
One dark and stormy night, disguised as her serving maid Betty Burke, Flora bravely took the Prince in a boat and escaped to the Isle of Skye from where a French ship took him “O’er The Water” to France and to safety. So ended the great escape from which came the lovely ballad “The Skye Boat Song”.
“Speed bonnie boat like a bird on the wing
Onward the sailors cry
Carry the lad that was born to be King
Over the sea to Skye.”
After the complete rout of the Highlanders at Culloden Moor, terrible punishments were meted out to the Scottish people, including the banning of wearing the kilt, the playing of the bagpipes and many other Highland traditions. The clansmen detested having to wear grey trews or trousers instead of the tartan kilt and it was 40 long years before they were allowed to wear their national dress again. From this came the dance – “The Seann Truibhas.”
The name Seann Truibhas, meaning old or torn trousers, was chosen in scorn of these trousers, and movements such as the SHAKE, BALANCE, LEAPS and PIVOT TURNS were said to mime attempts of the Highlander to kick them off in disgust. The lively and buoyant steps performed at a faster tempo at the end of the dance show the freedom and joy in the return of the beloved kilt.
The Seann Truibhas is a beautiful dance and the history of Scotland is woven into the steps. When you learn the Seann Truibhas remember the sadness at the loss of the kilt and the joy of its return. Try to show this in your dancing and in your expression. The Seann Truibhas is a dance that shows love and respect so, be sure to show this with the care you give to the technical detail of your steps.
In the book “Dances Of Scotland” by Jean Milligan and D. G. MacLennan the dance is described as a man’s miming solo dance, and the flicking of the fingers and turns of the wrists indicate the derision of the confining trews!