TARTAN DAY SPEECH 2017, By Viscount Dunrossil


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:

  1. Ultimate sovereignty lies with the people, who retain the right to replace rulers who do not honor their wishes.
  2. There is an essential principle of freedom and national self-determination
  3. 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

Clan Means Children

The word ‘clan’ means ‘children’. But in Scotland at least, fewer and fewer young people seem to have very much time for their clan. This raises two questions: ‘Why?’ and ‘What’s to be done?’

In one sense perhaps, the clans have been a victim of their own success. The image of the clan is a marketing miracle and its trademark features – the tartan, the pipes, the castle – have all become clichés of the tourism industry. It’s no surprise that not all Scots want to see themselves as part of something that looks like a tourism package. Unlike overseas clansfolk, Scots don’t need the clans to express their Scottish identity. What’s more, the enthusiasm of overseas clansfolk compared to disengagement at home can make the whole idea of the clan seem rather phoney. So what do clans have to offer for Scots today?

Firstly, the clans are part of Scotland’s national inheritance. They are our living link with the history of the nation, and few families will have changed their clan since the Declaration of Arbroath. Scottish identity is bound up with the clans; turn your back on them, and you turn your back on part of Scotland.

As well as being part of the bedrock of Scotland, the clan is also a part of who we are ourselves. It’s not something we have much choice about. As we look back into our families’ pasts, there it is growing stronger the further back we go. It’s written into our very names. Accepting your clan identity is a matter of owning up to who you are.

Now put yourself in the place of a Scottish youth. If you do discover an interest in your clan, what are you going to do about it? It doesn’t follow that you’ll want to learn to dance the Fling or toss a caber, and there’s no obvious pay-off from joining the clan society. Is there anything else on offer?

Some Scots clearly feel disenfranchised and alienated from their clans. For some, it’s about the Clearances and a feeling of betrayal. For others, it might have more to do with class consciousness. Many just feel there’s no way to take part that suits them. It’s all very well to tell them they should come along and join in; if they don’t see a place for people like themselves, they won’t feel at home.

That’s why I’m putting forward a proposal for a Clans Foundation that will enable people to connect with their clans in altogether new ways. You won’t need to go through the clan society; you won’t need to shake hands with your clan chief. But if you value your clan community, you can play your part to make it work for everyone. And unless you opt out, your society and your chief will learn about what you are doing on behalf of the clan.

Of course, clan identity (like any group identity) isn’t formed around benevolent work alone. That’s why I’m setting up a new Clans Football League. The organisation isn’t quite in place yet, but we already have our first fixture – MacEwens v. Frasers at Moniack in August. And I understand that representatives of the MacDonalds and Scotts are also interested in getting involved for next season. I’d welcome enquiries from other clans that might want to take part in future matches.

The Clans Foundation is not about doing away with the old – indeed, I hope that the existing institutions will actually be strengthened as interest grows. But it is about giving the idea of the clan a newer and stronger underpinning. The Victorian era reinvented the clans for its time, now is the time for us to reinvent the clan for ourselves.

To find out more about the Clans Foundation, please visit my site here: http://thorewing.net/clans/foundation . Do let me know what you think, and if you’d like to get involved.

Thor Ewing is a writer, translator, cultural historian, musician and the founder of the Clans Foundation.



Grandfather Mountain Highland Games

I have been Guest of Honour at several Highland Games over the years and accompanied my father to two or three while he was still alive (good practice, I think). There are, however, few things that can prepare you for the extraordinary atmosphere and scale of Grandfather. It takes place at about 5,000 feet in a natural amphitheatre in the mountains of North Carolina. And attracts between 40 and 50,000 people.

Some may say that the variety of Scottish dress on display is an embarrassment and there should be more education about to dress, but the enthusiasm completely over-shadows the need for correctness.

The welcome is amazing. It takes fully an hour to do a ‘circuit’ of the Games, past all the Clan Tents. At almost every one we were offered refreshments (both liquid – mainly very good whisky – and food). My father once said, while sitting in a cart following McGoofy round Epcot Centre in Florida – honestly – that if we had a dollar for every time we had our photo taken we would be very rich indeed. But it is a pleasure and the visitors are proud to be there and extremely grateful (and surprised) that we would take the time and trouble to travel from Scotland to be with them.

It is extremely good therapy if you are suffering from low self esteem!

Alex Leslie

 Next year Jamie Macnab of Macnab is the Guest of Honour – and the Macnabs are extremely pleased that Jamie is reinvigorating the Society. He will be joined by others, among them Francis Napier, who wrote:

Parade of Tartan, Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, USA – July 2014

I understand from the President of the Clan Napier Society (CNS) that its sister organization, the Clan Napier North America (CNNA) has won its fifth Parade of Tartan ‘Award of Excellence’ since 1985, fighting off over 102 clans at the 59th Annual Grandfather Mountain Highland Games (1997, 2001, 2005, 2010 and 2014!). I thought it was a tremendous news because they were such a small clan and up against 102 clans participating every year.

My family and I have been invited by the CNNA to attend the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games as one of their honoured guests next July. The CNNA are planning to celebrate the 30th anniversary as a formed society and they will attempt to win the sixth Award of Excellence from the Parade of Tartan competition too! The members’ enthusiasm is still as strong as ever.

As a Chief of the Name and Arms of Napier, I hope to attend with my family, which should be fascinating and memorable for them too.

 Lord Napier and Ettrick

A look back at 2014 – Bannockburn Live (just)

Controversy went hand in hand with this event from its inception, to the extent that the Government ordered a hearing into what went wrong. There has been much debate about several issues including the scope of the event, the planning of Armed Forces Day next to it, in both time (the Saturday) and place (Stirling). Many feared that it would become a political football, to be kicked around ahead of the Referendum.

The irony, as many agreed, was that it was a very enjoyable event. The sad thing was that with the expectations so low, the vendors only sent skeleton staff, and so the queues were long and the frustration levels high.

Here is a personal view from The Hon. Kate Nicolson.

I was initially sceptical of the whole concept of the Bannockburn three day event and relieved when it was reduced to two days. I was also amused by the UK government’s decision to award Armed Forces Day 2014 to Stirling, quite clearly not a naval base.

I can only say the organisation proved me quite wrong!

The fact that the site is actually quite small meant that one had the opportunity to see everything. Having agreed to attend the Bannockburn Service of Magnanimity at Dunfermline Abbey on the Friday afternoon it was left to my husband Mark and son Alexander Fraser (who lives & works in Germany) to ‘set up’ our Clan Fraser tent. In spite of it being only five years since the 2009 Clan Gathering in Edinburgh (and in my view much too soon to try to host another Clan Gathering), the powers that be decided that the 2014 Bannockburn commemorative event should include a Clan Gathering – which was promptly cancelled.

This meant that there was always the possibility of Frasers (or indeed anyone else!) from across the globe planning on coming to Scotland and that, although cancelled, coming anyway – therefore we should be polite enough to be there to welcome them. When the family met up in the evening – with very kind friends who had offered to put us up for three nights – the men said that the task had proved simple and efficient (the same for clearing up on the Monday morning!) This was proven the next morning when we arrived having had to dump the car in the nearest village (due to a mass of people on foot queuing for the Box Office) at the behest of a charming police officer. The security staff and the event staff were equally charming and obliging.

The atmosphere of the event on both days was overall calm and happy in spite of a dampish first day. The re-enactment was hugely entertaining and highly popular. The event sold out which must have surprised the organisers, given that they had woefully underestimated the amount of food & drink on sale, resulting in horrendous hour-long queues for both (although at this event there were no queues for the loos!)!

The best moment for us was the sight of the First Minister being ‘buzzed’ by a lone Red Arrow en route home after a spectacular display over Armed Forces Day! The most obvious error was the site’s giant flagpole flying the Saltire rather than the more appropriate Royal Standard of the Bruce!

I think the organisers can be assured that the Bannockburn event was a success and I think most clans present had a steady flow of visitors and our exposure was probably worth the effort.

Kate Nicolson

One thing worth noting – indeed it was noted during the meeting with COSCA and others that followed the AGM – was that there were an encouraging number of Scots – who actually live in Scotland – at the event. Many were surprised to see their clan tent. They thought such things as clans were long dead, and were generally enthused by the fact that they are alive and well. Perhaps we should spend more time promoting clan activities in our own country?


A somewhat historic event took place at the Palace of Holyrood House on Friday 28 November. Organised by Madam Arabella Kincaid of Kincaid and Jamie Macnab of Macnab, the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs (SCSC) hosted a reception for heirs to clan chiefships and heads of families. It was scheduled as a finale to an outstanding year of Homecoming, which saw a myriad of clan events. The Duke of Hamilton kindly allowed the party to take place in his private apartments. He is the hereditary keeper of Holyrood Palace and bearer of the Crown of Scotland, a duty last performed at the opening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999. The Earl of Elgin generously supplied the whisky, being the year of Bannockburn. Some 90 chiefs, heirs and their wives attended; including Lord Lyon King of Arms, Dr. Joseph Morrow, and, Lyon Clerk, Elizabeth Roads. Other heralds present were Sir Crispin Agnew of Lochnaw (chief of the Agnews) and the Hon. Adam Bruce who is heraldic adviser to the Standing Council, and the younger son of Lord Elgin. Also present was the Reverend Neil Gardner, Minister of the Canongate and Holyrood.

The heirs and guests were piped into Holyrood by Pipe Major Canning of the Pibroch Society and welcomed by myself as Convenor, along with The Hon. Alexander Leslie, Vice-Convenor. Additional music was provided by Iona Warren and Iona Munro from Fettes College, playing the harp. Having shared a traditional commemorative toast with Pipe Major Canning to mark the occasion, I gave a short speech stressing the importance of the relationship between chiefs and their clansfolk which stretches way beyond the shores of Scotland.

The aim of the party was to develop a sense of cohesion and camaraderie amongst the heirs, and to introduce them to some of the duties and responsibilities of chiefship. This was supported by a booklet prepared by the SCSC Executive. Greetings came from a number of quarters, but perhaps the most significant was from COSCA in the USA. The President, Susan McIntosh, sent a heartfelt message of affinity and affection for clan chiefs, their heirs and families. She stressed, in the spirit of American generosity, that should any heirs find themselves in America they would be hugely welcomed.

The furthest travelled was Richard Broun younger of Coulston, all the way from Australia. Angus Maclaine younger of Lochbuie had come all the way from Hong Kong. Claire Henderson younger of Fordell is Australian but working in Glasgow.  Many heirs work in London and they made a big effort to get north to Edinburgh. Within Scotland the furthest travelled was Colin, Viscount Tarbat from Strathpeffer, heir to the great clan Mackenzie. From the Isle of Lismore came Catriona, the Maid of Bachuil heir to the chiefship of the Macleays, and her sister Flora Livingstone of Bachuil.

Other heirs present were: John, Master of Lauderdale; Alexander Burnett of Leys, Andrew Carmichael of Carmichael, Patrick Colquhoun of Luss and his brother Fergus, Alexander, the Master of Cranstoun; Ben Eliott of Redheugh, Alistair Forsyth of that Ilk, Harry, Lord Hay; Angus Kincaid of Kincaid and his sister Jessie, Duncan Ban MacIntyre of Camus-Na-H-Erie, Roderick Oliphant of Oliphant, Arthur Macmillan of Macmillan, James Macnab of Macnab and his sister Daisie, Ossian Moncreiffe of that Ilk, William, Master of Napier; Simon, Lord Ramsay; Jamie, Master of Rollo; Fiona Ross of Ross, Francis, Master of Sempill; Dugald Skene of Skene, Henry Trotter of Mortonhall, Ranald Macdonald of Clanranald, and The Hon. Georgina Leslie (heir to the Borthwick chiefship).

Early Tartan

Pictures and early travelers’ descriptions show that tartan was the garb of Highland Scots at least as early as the 1500’s.


What were tartans like before the Proscription? Pictures and early travelers’ descriptions show that tartan was the garb of Highland Scots at least as early as the 1500’s.  This knowledge is due because this is the earliest century that visitors were able to get their travel memoires printed and illustrated. Such early references and illustrations depict “Scottish peasants” but tartan was not limited to the poor. The Countess of Lennox had her portrait painted about 1575 wearing what has become the oldest tartan still woven today, the “Lennox District.”

Pre-1745 tartans were varied in colour and design. Daniel Defoe, an early war correspondent, thought that the Scottish army resembled a crowd of “Merry Andrews” – translation, “clowns.” A number of early 18th century tartans are preserved both in cloth and in portraits.

The majority of the east coast tartans use bright red due to the proximity to the continent. The dye came from the cochineal bug from Persia. The “Ulster Tartan”, discovered in Antrim in 1956 and dated 1600-1625, is today woven in two versions – yellow and brown as found stained by the long burial in soil and in a bright red and green, believed to have been the original colours. The majority of Scottish north and west coast tartans are more blue, black, and green from available natural dyes. However, few of the colours match the so-called “Ancient” palates in use today. 

Many of these Pre-1745 tartans are dissimilar in warp and weft, the “up and down”. Many are also asymmetrical, running from left to right and then simply picking up the pattern and starting over rather than the modern technique of centering a stripe and weaving symmetrically outward in all directions. A modern example of an asymmetric tartan is the “Buchanan.” 

In 1704 the Laird of Grant was able to order his tenants, including MacDonalds, to wear tartan in broad stripes of red and green but no specific design was given. J. Telfer Dunbar was able to count twenty-two tartans in the famous painting of the battle of Culloden.

None of these is worn today. However, some of the pre-1745 tartans are being hand woven today. The tartan of the portrait of the “Piper to the Laird of Grant” has been resurrected. The tartan in the portrait of James Moray of Abercairney has been hand woven and worn by T. Col. Peter MacDonald, TD. 

The most controversial pre-1745 tartan was that of the original Independent Highland “Watch” Companies. The material was woven on Speyside . It was uniform but no design has been preserved other than that it was dark. The late James Scarlett, MBE, believed the original was not the same as the “Government Tartan” of today. After it was regimented in 1740 the “Black Watch” was issued two different tartans, one for the “great kilt” with a red stripe and another for the “little kilt.” The present sett is post-1745 but is not originally a “Campbell” tartan.

Philip D. Smith, Jr. PhD, GTS, FSA Scot

Professor Smith is the President of the American branch of The Scottish Tartans Authority, based in Crieff, Perthshire. As such, he serves on the Board of Governors. He is a member of the Guild of Tartan Scholars (one of seven Internationally) and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. He teaches Gaelic and lectures internationally on tartan.

This article was first published on Panalba.



The Modern Clan is a Modern Asset

Almost accidentally Scotland has ended up with a unique asset in the form of the modern clan.

Tartan, the kilt and bagpipes have given the country an instantly recognisable identity around the globe. It’s an astonishing change of fortune for the Highland culture, once despised as being barbaric across the rest of a nation that applauded its destruction in the 1740s. Today it is so seductive that pipe bands play Scottish music in virtually every country in the world, and registered tartans include Sikh, Singh, California Highway Patrol, Jewish, Lady Boys of Bangkok and even the Law Society of Scotland.

Several factors coalesced in the late 18th and early 19th centuries to bring about this transformation. The publication of the poems of Ossian, supposedly the work of a great Gaelic poet, the equivalent of Homer to ancient Greece, took Europe by storm. It fitted into the fashionable concept of the Noble Savage. Then came the heroism and effectiveness of the Highland regiments in the British army that impressed the world. A few years later, the works of Walter Scott cemented the whole concept into place and he turned his words into vivid spectacle during the famous visit in 1822 by George IV to Edinburgh.

But the clan culture is more than just image. Scots have been emigrating for centuries and the numbers departing accelerated after the ’45 and through the 19th century. In Gaeldom ancestry and family was very important. Ask in Gaelic from where someone comes, and the question is, literally, from what family or line he comes. Kinship defined one’s place in that society and every Highlander could once reel off his ancestors and collaterals back through the generations. In new worlds the old kinship links within Scotland were irrelevant and this knowledge was soon forgotten – to the immense frustration of those of Scots stock today who research their forebears. But the modern clan – and today this includes Lowland names whose family origins were never Gaelic or Highland – allows virtually every descendant of Scots emigrants an instant family with whom to explore their Scottish roots. With the bonus of a shared language, no other nation can provide such a powerful draw or such a strong bond to its diaspora.

Most Scots are oblivious to this. More people and younger people are wearing kilts, particularly as badges of identity at national sporting events or weddings, but they don’t feel the need to associate with a particular clan except, perhaps, to choose the tartan of their surname. Only the tiniest minority take their interest in their clan origins much further. Being natives most feel they have no need to establish a Scottish identity.

This leads to a catastrophic wasted opportunity. There are estimated to be some 41 million people of Scots descent in the English-speaking world. In North America and the antipodes, Highland Games can attract scores of thousands. Unlike their equivalents over here, perhaps 120 Clan Associations will have tents, pulling in new members and creating a welcome for any who claim a Scots ancestry. The centrepiece of these games will be the march of the clans. Many clan associations will have branches throughout North America. All of them look to Scotland as their spiritual home and all want to discover their family and their families’ history here.

And this is where they are so often let down. Some thriving transatlantic clan associations have no equivalent over here. As a result they have no points of reference in the home country. For those that have, too often the Scots clan societies are old-fashioned, inward-looking, unadventurous and prone to internal squabbles. Few look with any great enthusiasm at their North American counterparts and too many feel superior. They feel they are the real Scots and they can find the tiggerish enthusiasm of the diaspora hard to handle. As a result the opportunity to harness the immense good will that the descendants of the emigrants feel towards Scotland, their country of origin, is sometimes rebuffed and dissipated.

A cultural bond can be used to create an economic bond. $10.4 billion was invested by the US in Ireland in 2004, only $3b less than investment in the whole UK. Of course Ireland is independent but the entire nation woos its diaspora and has copied Highland clans and tartans, knowing full well the advantages these can bring.

‘I have attended a number of meetings in Canada and the USA where some Scottish Minister was doing the rounds or other Scottish organisations wanting to talk to local people. Never have they come up with plans on what we can do to help. They tell us a tiny amount about their organisations or what is happening in Scotland and expect us to read their minds about why they have come or what we might be able to do to help…The local Scots seem to want business handed to them on a plate. ‘Do you mean we have to do some work to get the business? Unless there is a grant I’m not interested!’ That’s from Alastair MacIntyre who hosts the Electric Scotland website in Ontario with 35,000 pages and 1.5 million downloads a month.

We could change this by embracing our diaspora this summer. The Gathering will be the first International Clan event in this country since 1977. The last was great fun, well attended and left no legacy. This time we should use it for the benefit of this country.

First published in the Scotsman newspaper in March 2008

The Clan System Started before 1400

The first of a series of articles, written by Scottish experts and published by Panalba.

By  James Irvine Robertson

By 1400 the population was well settled. The isles had a strong dash of Viking blood but the Picts and the Scots had joined together and absorbed the more ancient Celtic tribes that had preceded them.

The Pictish kingdoms had evolved into earldoms. Royal power waxed and waned according to the effectiveness of the occupant of the throne. In the west the Lordship of the Isles was at its zenith. Great barons controlled much of the Lowlands but authority was weak in the Highlands and the people banded together in clans for mutual protection. Swords were the ultimate arbiters for the control of land. The people of the clans were those who were already living in its territory, but this was not necessarily true of the chiefs.

One of the best documented descents of clan chiefs is the Clan Donnachaidh – the Robertsons. They were Scots, incomers from Ireland during the Dark Ages. Their ancestors had been the Celtic earls of Atholl. In 1390 the clan tumbled into history when they joined with their Stewarts neighbours to raid Angus. By then the chiefs’ family had been in situ for, perhaps, 500 years and their blood had long mingled with the indigenous population to create a kinship grouping. It was the same with the Stewarts. In 1816 4000 people in Atholl knew of their descent from Alexander Stewart, the Wolf of Badenoch. All over the Highlands the chiefs’ blood mingled with that of their clan.

Some chiefs likely emerged from the ancient Pictish aristocracy, particularly in the far north – Sutherland, Mackenzie, Macrae, for example. Others were Gaels from Ireland – Ross, Lamont, Macgregor. Some come down from Vikings – Clan Donald, Macdougall, Macalister, Macleod, Sinclair. A great slew of them were continental adventurers who came north, particularly during the reign of David II, obtained estates and went native – Stewart, Lindsay, Fraser, Menzies, Murray, Gordon. The Campbells seem to have been of British stock from the kingdom of Strathclyde.

Sir Iain Moncreiffe of that Ilk wrote that 30,000 Scots could trace their descent from King Robert Bruce, and that a million other Scots descended from him but could not show it. A glance at the record reveals that descendants of Margaret, daughter of Robert II, passed Bruce’s blood to the Macdonalds of Sleat, of Antrim, of Keppoch, of Glencoe, of Glengarry, of Clanranald, the Mcleans of Duart, the Sutherlands, the Macintoshes, the Macphersons, the Camerons and the Mackays. Granddaughters of Robert II married Duncan, Ist Lord Campbell and Fraser of Lovat. The Robertsons, Murrays, Gordons, the Drummonds, the Lindsays, Lyons, Dunbars, Hays, Douglas, Graham, Buchanans were all soon linked to the royal house of Stewart. And every subsequent marriage between members of such a family and another would carry the genes of Bruce into fresh kinship networks.

What is a Clan?

The clan system is closely bound up with Scottish heraldry. The best definition of a clan provided by a heraldic authority is contained in Nisbet’s “System of Heraldry”, published in 1722 Continue reading

Who is a member of a Clan?

Every person who has the same surname as the chief is deemed to be a member of the clan. Equally a person who offers allegiance to the chief is recognised as a member of the clan unless the chief decides that he will not accept that person’s allegiance. Continue reading