BATTLE OF TEXAS EXHIBIT, SAN ANTONIO
As always, it is a pleasure and a privilege to be here, as we celebrate National Tartan Day and honor in particular those Scots who died here at the Alamo.
My first task is to bring you greetings from various people who do not have the opportunity to be here with you in person.
First, FROM the people of the (still) United Kingdom including SCOTLAND: these are momentous times across the water. This week the British Government formally notified the EU that it is withdrawing from the Union. Brexit has begun. Also this week the Scottish Parliament voted in favor of holding a second Independence Referendum, known locally as INDYREF2. This is certainly a time, as well as an appropriate place, to reflect on the meaning of nationhood, sovereignty and independence.
Secondly, I would like to bring you greetings from the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs and the Council of Scottish Clans and Associations, COSCA: If you’re here for this event and for the Games which follow it, you understand that Scots in the Diaspora tend to identify with the mother country through the medium of clan and family, and both SCSC and COSCA are there to assist you as you explore that relationship. It operates at a level below that of nationalism, but for all that, the love and loyalty it inspires is just as strong, and if anything, somewhat purer and less complicated.
Third, I bring you greetings from the Society of Scottish Armigers and the Court of the Lord Lyon. The Society, of which I am currently the chair and Lord Lyon the President, exists partly to serve as a resource to help Games and individual enthusiasts “get it right” on matters of form and protocol. This Lyon in particular has a long experience with, and a love for, America: he studied for his doctorate in canon law at Georgetown and served for a year as a priest in Iowa. He has made it known that he is keen to encourage more worthy Americans to apply for arms. While this can be a very satisfying accomplishment for an individual and his family, it can be particularly important for clans with no chief: the route to getting a chief, and so to representation on the SCSC, is first to get a set of armigers, who can hold a clan convention.
Finally I want to mention a new organization, GAELICusa.org. The initial goal of Gaelicusa.org is to raise the funds needed to pay for a Visiting Lectureship in Scottish Gaelic Studies at UNC Chapel Hill for the 2018-19 academic year. The University will advertise and fill the position according to the standard, competitive bidding process. I wholeheartedly recommend this to you. There are chairs at American universities in almost every conceivable hyphenated American studies, but not in Gaelic American studies. This is long overdue. As we are here to celebrate and remind ourselves this evening, Scots have contributed as much as any national group to this country, and more than most.
Scholarship matters. It brings the past to life and gives us a lens through which to view and understand the present.
When I first read about the Alamo, the comparison which came to mind was with the heroic stand by Spartan hoplites at Thermopylae in 480 BC, an always doomed stand by heavily outnumbered troops, which dented the morale of the invaders and gave their own side precious time to organize an eventually successful resistance.
But that is not how the defenders themselves understood their action. The historical precedent, which mattered and motivated them, was the struggle for Scottish Independence in the early fourteenth century. The chain that joins these two wars for self-determination, over five hundred years apart, has three crucial links, which Texan historians all too often neglect.
They are national origin, Bannockburn and Arbroath.
First national origin: the displays in the Alamo shrine contain the flags of many states from which the defenders most directly came to Texas. What they obscure is the fact that, as Carl Peterson pointed out, over 80% of them shared a single national origin: they were Scots. And these Scots knew their Scottish history and Scottish literature, especially the poetry of Burns.
Austin, Dallas and Houston are all Scottish names, and while it’s fair to say that the Spanish played a major role in Texas history as the first European settlers, it’s also true that without the Scots, Texas (and for that matter other states like New Mexico and Colorado), would still be part of Mexico today, and America would probably never have become a major power on the world stage.
Second, Bannockburn. This was the great victory in 1314 by Robert the Bruce over King Edward II which played a great part in securing Scottish independence. When I was young, before Flower of Scotland was penned, the anthem Scots used to annoy the English was popularly known as Scots Wha Hae, which Burns wrote in 1793, some forty years before the Alamo, but long enough for the song to have traveled the world. It is also sometimes known by the subtitle, ‘Bruce addresses the troops before Bannockburn’. We believe that this was sung and played every night by the defenders, who saw themselves reliving the struggle of Bruce and his men. Both Scots and Texans faced an enemy with superior numbers led by an autocratic ruler with a better legal claim to the land, who had crossed their southern border and now stood ready for battle. When the defenders wanted to appeal for reinforcements, they sent out a poster entitled “Now’s the day and now’s the hour,” a quotation from the poem. And when the scout rode out with their desperate last appeal he added that the defenders were determined to “do or die,” another quotation from the poem.
If Bannockburn and Burns were the inspiration for the Scots who fought and died here at the Alamo, it is only fitting that modern day Scots come here each year to honor them.
Today, or technically April 6, is now known in this country as National Tartan Day. The date was chosen because on April 6 1320, six years after Bannockburn, Scots signed the Declaration of Arbroath, which has been called the first, seminal declaration of Independence, and the inspiration, directly or indirectly, for all subsequent declarations. What Arbroath asserted was essentially three things, which bear repeating today, but which were quite novel at the time:
- Ultimate sovereignty lies with the people, who retain the right to replace rulers who do not honor their wishes.
- There is an essential principle of freedom and national self-determination
- And you can expect that no-one (certainly no Scotsman) will surrender this freedom while they have life and breath.
The Alamo defenders were Scots who saw themselves as reenacting the battle of Bannockburn, inspired by the message of freedom and self-determination first expressed in the Declaration of Arbroath. “That which no man surrenders but with his life.” They did indeed give up their lives that day. But their cause prevailed. And it is our promise that their sacrifice, and the events and songs that inspired them, will never be forgotten.
Andrew Dunrossil, 2017