May 24, 2017

“They may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!”


On May 24, 1995, five days after its official premiere in Los Angeles, Braveheart was released to theaters nationwide in the USA.

The movie stars Mel Gibson as the 13th century Scottish rebel leader William Wallace. He also directed it.

It was a major critical and box office success. And, it also generated a famous, oft-recycled and parodied movie quote.

It’s a line Gibson shouts to his men, just before they fight the much larger English army at the Battle of Stirling Bridge:

       “They may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!”

That line is part of the answer Gibson gives after one nervous Scottish soldier suggests out loud that it might be better to retreat and live to fight another day.

Gibson responds by saying:

      “Aye, fight and you may die. Run and you’ll live — at least a while. And, dying in your beds many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!?! Alba gu bràth!”

If you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t seen Braveheart, you can view a clip of this scene online.

In Scottish Gaelic, “Alba gu bràth” (sometimes spelled Alba gu bra, Alba go bragh or Alba go breá) means “Scotland forever!”

The literal meaning of gu bràth in Gaelic is “until Judgment,” meaning the final Judgment day foretold in the Bible. The Irish, who also fought for their freedom against the English, have a similar term: “Erin go bragh” (“Ireland Forever”).

The inspiring speech Mel gives in the film is fictional, but Braveheart is based on true historic events.

William Wallace was a key leader of the Scottish rebellion against the English in the 13th century, during what’s called the First War of Scottish Independence.

At the bloody Battle of Stirling Bridge, fought on September 11, 1297, Wallace succeeded in getting his outnumbered followers to defeat the much larger English army they faced.

That battle, and the legends that arose about Wallace, encouraged the Scots to continue and ultimately achieve the goal of Scottish independence.

Unfortunately, Wallace didn’t live to see it. He was caught, tortured, disemboweled and beheaded before that came to pass, as is graphically depicted in Braveheart.

History buffs have noted that some things in Braveheart stray more than a wee bit from the facts.

For example, the Lowland Scots that Wallace led didn’t wear kilts, like they do in the movie.

And, the bridge that played a major role in the Battle of Stirling Bridge — by creating a bottleneck that prevented English troops from overwhelming the Scots — was nowhere to be seen in the movie.

But somehow, whenever I rewatch Mel’s rousing speech in Braveheart, those seem like nitpicks. Alba gu bràth!

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