The Clans Today
It was not until the latter part of the 18th century - after the repeal of the tartan proscription act in 1782 - that communities in Scotland felt safe to dust off those aspects of Scottish culture that had not been lost in the 'ethnic cleansing' after the Battle of Culloden.
Although not in the Highlands, Falkirk dipped a toe in the water in 1781 with a society to encourage 'social intercourse' and it wasn't long before Scottish music, dance, Highland dress and even bagpipes found their low-key way back into the public eye. In 1800 the Braemar Wright's Society organised a procession through the now famous Highland town and other societies followed suit. Traditional games events followed but it wasn't until 1822 and King George IV's levee in Edinburgh that such archetypal Scottish cultural pursuits officially came out the closet to great Royal approval. Queen Victoria's love affair with Scotland and her 'adoption' of the Braemar Games was another important step in the rehabilitation process and from then, Scottish events and societies have gone from strength to strength.
In Emily Donaldson's 'Scottish Highland Games in America' David Webster tells how in "1847 the Philip Laing sailed from Greenock to Otago, New Zealand with 247 colonists on board. The passengers passed the time dancing jigs and reels and listening to the music of their beloved bagpipes; the men exercised themselves by wrestling." The games had spread to New Zealand! In 1836 they also arrived in America, courtesy of the Highland Society of New York: In 1861 Canada was next with inaugural games in Antigonish, Nova Scotia and soon they were springing up wherever émigré Scots had settled.
Nowadays, with an estimated Scottish Diaspora of some 60 million, the appetite for games and Celtic festivals seems to continue unabated. In the United States 44 out 50 states have their own events - an amazing 257 stretching the length and breadth of the country. From Athena Caledonian Games in Oregon, 2,400 miles south east to the Peace River Celtic Festival in Florida: from the San Diego Highland Games in California, 2,700 miles north-east to Maine Highland Games.
Canada has over 70 such events reaching from Victoria Highland Games in British Columbia, 2,800 miles east to the Gathering of the Clans in Pugwash, Nova Scotia. A quick detour of 5,300 miles would take you to Waikiki, Hawaii and the Hawaiian Scottish Festival. Australia, Barbados, Czechoslovakia, England, France, Japan, Portugal, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain . . . and of course, not forgetting the 'old country' - Scotland. In total almost 480 Scottish events inspired by the 'almost lost' culture of a tiny Celtic nation in the North Sea.
For those who prefer a gentler sort of social intercourse, there are the many hundreds of St Andrew's and Caledonian Societies - independent organisations that have sprung up in all corners of the world wherever Scots have congregated with common goals in mind. As would be expected they tend to proliferate in the English speaking world but also extend to other countries such as Bahrain, Dubai, Indonesia, Mexico, The Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Singapore and Thailand.
A consistent thread running through their objectives is their encouragement of the study of Scottish culture and their acting as organising bodies for sporting events and social gatherings. Many of the north American organisations have a long and illustrious history. The Illinois St Andrew Society is a good example: "Organized in 1854 to sustain the Scottish heritage in music, literature, history, cultural exchanges and dance, and to assist fellow Scottish immigrants in adjusting to the rugged pioneer mid west. Offers a wide variety of programs, groups, and committees for Scottish genealogy, history and business, as well as the Scottish Home for elderly Scots."
Jumping forward 145 years to 1999 when the Mid-Maryland St. Andrew's Society was founded "by a diverse group of people of Scottish descent and people who love all things Scottish . . . we promote the growth of clan societies and Scottish organisations . . . and we support and host Scottish events such as an annual St Andrew's Dinner, a Burn's night Supper and a Kirkin' o' the Tartan . . ."
The St. Andrew Society of Moscow (yes . . . Moscow, Russia!) offers slightly different but no less commendable objectives: "The aim of the Society is the promotion of the Scot's identity and customs in Russia through fellowship between Scots, Russian nationals and citizens of all other countries who love Scotland. Our major objective is to provide support to the Tomilino Children's Shelter, a home for abused children between the ages of 3 and 19. We are proud and privileged to assist the Director Irene Abramova to maintain the family orientated safe haven, by not only providing economic help when required, but in providing professional advice to assist Irene in dealing with the many legal and property problems relating to the Shelter and its future . . ."
When Bonnie Prince Charlie was 48 years old, Robert Burns was born in humble surroundings in Ayrshire, destined to be feted around the globe as the poet of the people who promoted the concept of the 'brotherhood of Man'. Now there are over 400 affiliated Burns Clubs and many more unofficial ones including hundreds in the former USSR where his egalitarian principles held great sway. Indeed the largest Burns suppers in the world are said to be those in Moscow & Beijing! At one time, every Carnegie library in the USA, (some 3,460) had a bust of Robert Burns and today there are more than 180 statues of him in public places. Such is his popularity in Japan that 'Comin thru the Rye' is said to be played at pedestrian crossings in some cities when the lights change.
As the conventional clan system began to disintegrate in Scotland under the diverse pressures of imported feudalism, Culloden, the Clearances and the natural breaking up of extended family groups in more modern times, a large void was created in many lives. Nowhere was this more so than amongst the tens of thousands of displaced clansmen and their families who found themselves - more often than not, unwillingly - adapting to life in some far flung country, thousands of miles distant from their familiar culture and surroundings.
Despite the hardships and cruelties that many of them had left behind, there was a longing for the old order and a romanticised view of the homeland. Their formation of clan societies partly assuaged those needs and these organisations have been hugely supplemented by the St Andrews Societies and Caledonian Clubs mentioned earlier. In an era of great interest in Genealogy, more and more such clan organisations are being formed each year - many of them for non-Highland families, eager to find their place in the grand order of things and discover what historic genes they've inherited. The passage of time and of generations, dulls the memory and many of today's clan societies show great respect and even reverence to the descendants of the very chiefs who ousted their forebears so cruelly from their traditional clan lands.
The most audience-friendly exports are undoubtedly Scottish country dancing and the pipes and drums and there are hundreds of organisations for both — dance clubs in almost 20 countries ranging from Austria to Japan and Sweden to Kenya. Pipe bands fare even better, many of them in unexpected places - Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Poland, Spain, Hong Kong and Japan to name but a few.
Article by Brian Wilton of the Scottish Tartans Authority, reproduced here by kind permission of the House of Edgar, Perth.