Table of Contents

Articles (please click the links or scroll)

US Tartan Day 2023attended by Donald MacLaren and Andrew Dunrossil

The Scottish Cemetery Project, West Bengal – initiative by Charles Bruce

A Toast to US National Tartan Dayvideo greeting by Donald Maclaren

What do Chiefs do when they are not being Chiefs? interview with the Earl of Cromartie

Two declarations with a common purposeby John Bellasai, President of COSCA

Tartan Day Speech 2017by Viscount Dunrossil

New Zealand’s Scottish Geneby Dr Cathy Gunn

200th Anniversary of Waterlooby Sir Malcolm MacGregor

Clan means ‘children’ by Thor Ewing

Grandfather Mountain Gamesby The Honourable Alexander Leslie and Lord Napier

The Anniversary of Bannockburnby The Honourable Kate Nicolson

Heirs Reception at Holyrood Palace, an SCSC eventreport

Early Tartan by Prof Phillip Smith

Earlier articles, including the Equalities Bill and the Modern Clan


Captain Robert Alec Snow Irving – Irving of Bonshaw

Sir William Alan Macpherson of Cluny and Blairgowrie – Macpherson

US Tartan Day 2023

Our Convenor, Donald MacLaren (DM), was pleased to represent the SCSC at the series of celebrations for the 25th anniversary of Tartan Day in the US, from 5-15 April.

Throughout, he was ably and enthusiastically supported by our new Vice Convenor, Viscount Dunrossil (AD). Though he was already known to many of the American participants, and the organisers, this was a good opportunity to introduce Andrew in his new SCSC position and in which he was warmly welcomed by our hosts at each of the events.

The visit was worthwhile. Through public appearances and the many networking opportunities, it helped advance awareness, and the profile, of the SCSC. It enabled us to set out the core points of what the SCSC is and our priorities; and to demonstrate the relevance and engagement of chiefs today.


Both Convenor and Vice Convenor lobbied Scottish Government officials and the Convenor, directly, Angus Robertson for a re-instatement of the Scottish Clans and Historical Figures Events Fund (successor, until wound up three years ago, of the Clan Events Fund). They acknowledged the previous value of the Fund, not least to the Scottish economy given the significant ratio of revenue from ancestral tourism to the small capital sums awarded to clan and family societies. A Minister for Tourism had yet to be appointed, however, and they could give no date for when the Fund might be set up again. They took our concern and invited us to keep in contact.



– Symposium organised by John Bellassai, in his capacity as Vice President, National Capital Tartan Day Committee. The broad theme of the day’s event was Scottish Identities in America. It covered topics ranging across history, culture and trade. AD gave a stimulating talk on the impact of Scottish-Americans on world history and, in particular, how the Scots’ stand at the Alamo, leading in due course to Texan independence from Mexico, contributed to the eventual emergence of the US as a superpower. DM’s panel offering was mainly on the SCSC today and our current projects (renewed focus on the heirs; licensing, in the context of accuracy and authenticity; and the Chiefs Book).

– Ambassador’s reception. Well-attended, including by Angus Robertson, Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, External Affairs and Culture and a train of Scottish Government officials

– Award presentation by the Scottish Coalition USA, including COSCA and the American Scottish Foundation (Camilla Hellman), to the two former Congressmen, McIntyre (D-NC) and Duncan (R-TN), in recognition of their steering through the 1998 Resolution establishing US Tartan Day 

– Private meeting with the President of the White House Historical Association (A McLaurin), who took a lively interest in the SCSC and asked to be kept informed of developments

New York

– American Scottish Foundation (ASF) formal dinner

– VisitScotland breakfast, with Scottish Government attendance (including Noelle Campbell, Visit Scotland and John Primrose, External Affairs) 

– Gathering in Bryant Park. Cultural performances; and speeches by Scottish Parliament Presiding Officer, Cabinet Secretary, other Scottish political representatives and DM.

– Lecture by the Lord Lyon on the Lyon Court’s work and the granting of arms to Robert Burns. Small, mainly academic audience. Lyon appreciative of SCSC attendance 

– Tartan Day parade on 6th Avenue. Before the march, two adjoining streets filled with about 60 clan and family societies, St Andrew’s and other associations and pipe bands.

The Scottish Cemetery Project

The historic Scottish Cemetery in Kolkata, West Bengal, has been awarded a heritage plaque by the Indian National Trust for Art & Cultural Heritage @INTACHIndia for its status as a Grade One Heritage Site.

Over 350 monuments have been restored as part of the conservation programme, led by the Kolkata Scottish Heritage Trust. The cemetery has been replanted as an urban forest. A community programme provides education & outreach activities for families nearby. #BroomhallHouse

Read more @TT_My_Kolkata

A Toast to US National Tartan Day, 6 APRIL 2021

A video greeting

To introduce myself: I am Donald Maclaren of Maclaren, Chief of my clan and Convenor of the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs.

The individual matters. And each person matters. And especially Scottish persons whether at home or (and I don’t use the word diaspora: it is not our word) those of Scottish descent overseas.

But there is something greater than ourselves and our individual identity. That is the identity that we derive from our origins, our kin and our ancestral lands. There is no more vibrant expression of that identity for us scots than our tartan. It defined us in battle. It defines us still today.

I imagine that there are some of us who don’t manage to wear the kilt every day. No doubt excuses can be made if you find yourself on the trading floor of wall street or if you are toiling in the vineyards in Oregon or a farmer in Oklahoma.  For all scots, however, the tartan is never far from our mind. And the importance of Tartan Day is that it keeps it proudly at the forefront.

On behalf of all the chiefs who are members of the Standing Council – both heads of clans and of families – I am honoured to send greetings on this special day. Our congratulations to the Scottish Coalition USA and the National Tartan Day Capitol committee and to all those involved in this very human celebration.

It is, after all, a celebration of the great kindred that we are part of. And of something even greater and more enduring than any one of us.

A toast to the tartan and to tartan day.

Captain Robert Alec Snow Irving RN (Retd.), Clan Chief & Chief of the Name and Arms of Irving of Bonshaw – 1930-2021

A full obituary can be found on the Clan Irving website

Captain Robert Alec Snow Irving RN (Retd.), FIL & Arabic linguist, 19th Clan Chief & Chief of the Name and Arms of Irving of Bonshaw, died peacefully aged 90 years at home February 17th 2021

Captain Robert Irving was born in Valletta, Malta, on 4th November 1930 and revisited it 9 years later from the UK when his parents decided it was probably safer than Britain at the onset of the Second World War.

Events proved otherwise and he was evacuated with his mother and sister to Alexandria in 1941 where his father joined them after his Marlborough class warship was sunk by an Italian submarine.

Captain Irving first met his future wife Elisabeth at a Naval colleague’s 21st birthday celebration and six years later they married on 3rd November 1956. He has three sons, four grandsons and three granddaughters.

Captain Irving’s professional life divides easily into two parts: 32 years in the British Royal Navy and 39 years as a translator of Arabic.

At 20 years old, he spent two years at sea in the Korean War, which gave him a valuable introduction to the Royal Navy.

Retiring from the Royal Navy in 1980, Captain Irving worked as a freelance Arabic translator for various government departments, the Serious Fraud Office, major law firms and a variety of commercial companies and individuals, covering a wide range of subject areas.

In 2014, the Lord Lyon King of Arms conferred the recognition of Chief of the Name and Arms of Irving of Bonshaw on him as direct descendant of William Irving of Bonshaw upon whom the honour was first conferred in the 1670s.

He was very proud to be part of this ancient Border Clan and its 19th Clan Chief which, unlike some others that were less fortunate, did not submit to the English Crown in the 16th century and has a documented history that goes back 600 years and beyond.

Sir William Alan Macpherson of Cluny and Blairgowrie, TD

From the Clan Macpherson website

We are saddened to have to bear the news that the 27th Chief of Macpherson, Sir William Macpherson of Cluny and Blairgowrie – ‘Cluny’ to all – died peacefully at home on the 14 February 2021, surrounded by his family.

We were fortunate to have had his guidance, support and leadership for an incredible 50 years and the world will have benefited from his 94 years on this earth.

His phrase “first amongst equals” doesn’t even start to mark the presence he had. Through his work in law (what better epitaph could someone wish for that the phrase used by an interviewer “He made Britain a better place for me to live”) to his leadership at the after-ceilidh-ceilidh he was a man who left his mark on those he met.

To his son Jamie and daughter Annie, their families and Lady Hilary we offer our condolences and to him thanks for being part of his life. May he rest in peace.

Sir William was the 27th hereditary chief of the Clan Macpherson of Cluny (Cluny-Macpherson) and on the 18th of June 2019 he passed his 50th year as our Chief. He was educated at Summer Fields, Oxford; Wellington College, Berkshire; and Trinity College, Oxford. During the period 1944-1947, Sir William served in the Scots Guards, transferring to the 21st Special Air Service Regiment (Territorial Army) with whom he served until 1965. He has served as the Honorary Colonel of the 21st SAS since 1983.

In 1962 Sir William married Sheila McDonald Brodie. They have three children: Annie, the late Alan Thomas (younger of Cluny) and James Brodie (Tanistair of the House of Cluny-Macpherson). The family’s home is Newton Castle, Blairgowrie, Perthshire. Blairgowrie has been the home of the Macphersons since 1787, when it was purchased by James “Ossian” Macpherson as the agent for Cluny’s ancestor.

Sir William was a Judge of the High Court of England and Wales (Queen’s Bench Division) where he served as Presiding Judge of the Northern Circuit until his retirement in April 1996. Before his appointment as a judge, Sir William was a Queen’s Counsel practising in London and abroad.

What do Chiefs do when they are not being Chiefs?

John Mackenzie, 5th Earl of Cromartie, explains how the Scottish Mountaineering Trust is helping to preserve wild places and inspire youngsters in Scotland and beyond.

Castle Leod, John Mackenzie’s home

I was a member of the Scottish Mountaineering Club, which made pretty good profits from guidebooks in the Nineties. That helped fund the Scottish Mountaineering Trust, which is like an independent branch of the Scottish Mountaineering Club. The profits from the guidebooks have since run out – we still publish, but now people really want stuff online. So we are looking for people or organisations who are interested in preserving wild places.

We’re run by experienced mountaineers – we don’t have property or shareholders or employees. We’ve helped well over 400 organisations, including the National Trust, with mountain safety, repairing paths… We’re doing something that actually helps Scotland. But we’ve also helped medical and scientific expeditions to the Andes. It is a remarkable organisation, and one that I’m very proud to be a trustee of.

The beginning

I started mountaineering at the age of 12 when my uncle took me on a winter route, and I’ve never looked back. I’m a rock climber and a winter climber, and I like hill walking. I haven’t climbed in the Himalayas, but I’ve been to most other places – a lot in Europe, but mainly Britain. I’ve also done a lot of pioneering new routes – well, hardly ‘new’ routes, as the rock has been there for several hundred million or 1,000 million years!

Equipment was a rope when I started. I think, ‘How did I get away with it as a student!’ I’m more cautious with age, which is only the distillation of near- misses. I’m not the kind of person who says: ‘Let’s just go see what it’s like.’ I put in a lot of homework and I’m very aware of weather. It’s better to err on the side of caution – there’s no excuse for folks going up hills in high heels.

Some things that young people are doing now are just fantastic –things that I could comprehend but I couldn’t do, as much as I would like to. You watch a youngster on a climbing wall and think: ‘Bloody hell, how are they doing that?’ The walls have helped to increase people’s technical ability, which is in part funded by the SMT – they should have all the support we can possibly give them to keep people safe and to encourage them to think outside the box.

I’m 72 but I’m still quite fit. One of the great things about mountaineering is I think it keeps your mind young. You’re always aspiring to something better. You’ve always got ambitions, stuff that we’ll probably never achieve, but it doesn’t stop the dreaming and excitement.

What is a typical lord?

My dad was the archetype of a clan chief in many ways. There is a great connection between the land and the people, but that shouldn’t be confused with paternalism – that’s more of a 19th-century concept. It isn’t that – it’s the ties of blood that Mackenzies around the world share. I suppose, in truth, we are all cousins, distant cousins, but there is a tie of blood and you can tell that is important when we have our international gathering every five years.

I don’t really use my title; it is an anachronism in some ways. But when I pop my clogs I’m hoping my eldest son will take over. Or someone else – that itself isn’t important. What’s important is the ties of clanship or blood, in the best sense of the word, that transcend race and religion. Or they should do. In the climbing world I would never use the title; I’m just plain John Mackenzie. You stand or fall by what you do on the hill, and who wants to be known for something they haven’t earned?

Living in a castle is cold. Central heating? That’s a joke. It’s a hell of a lot warmer than it was in my father’s time, though – I’ve been told about them breaking the ice in the morning to wash themselves! He was a prisoner of war for five years – he was one of the unfortunate ones who were captured at Saint-Valery – so I expect it made him pretty tough. Running a castle is a bit like breastfeeding a dinosaur. But I love it, it’s fantastic. S 

As told to Anna Solomon. Visit The Scottish Mountaineering Trust.

Two Declarations With A Common Purpose: The Link Between 1320 and 1776

By John King Bellassai*

We’ve just wrapped up another annual celebration of Tartan Day–observed each year on 6th April, the anniversary of the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath.  Parties and parades behind us for yet another year, it is only natural that we reflect on the significance of it all for those of us in the Ancestral Diaspora. This is especially timely, given that next year we will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Tartan Day holiday, which has now firmly taken root in communities all across our land.  (As I’ve pointed out before, the real meaning of Tartan Day is contained in the plain wording of the standing resolutions of both houses of the U.S. Congress that authorize its observance:  To recognize and celebrate the many contributions of Scots, and Scottish-Americans, to the founding and subsequent development of the United States.)

Many of our Scottish cousins love to come over and help us celebrate Tartan Day, this year including the First Minister.  But they still tend to wince at the name (which we actually borrowed from the Canadians), as being romantically Victorian, maybe even a bit brigadoonish.   That is short-sighted on their part.  Even more than the thistle or the saltire, the tartan is a universally recognized symbol of the Scottish ‘brand’—not just something highland, but something quintessentially Scottish.  After all, it is well-documented that lowland ladies widely wore tartan shawls and wraps to protest the Union in the earliest days of the 18th century—a sentiment that many in modern Scotland seem to be embracing once more.  And a piece of simple tartan has even been found stuffed inside a clay pot, buried at the base of Hadrian’s Wall, wrapped around a fistful of 1st century Roman coins.  So tartan has been a commonly recognized symbol of “things Scottish” for a long, long time.  And here in America, 32 of our 50 states—typically states with heavy Scottish immigration in their respective histories–now have officially adopted their own tartans, registering them with the Scottish Tartans Authority.

The romance of the name “Tartan Day” aside, many, maybe most, in Scotland and even some here in America still pooh-pooh the claimed inspiration for our Tartan Day holiday being found in the Declaration of Arbroath. But should they so quickly dismiss the link?  I think not.  Much recent scholarship supports it, and an actual analysis of the structure of the two documents, even some striking similarities in phrasing, suggest that 1320 was indeed a powerful inspiration for 1776.  Not the only one, to be sure, but an important one, nonetheless.

The key to understanding the link between the two “declarations” lies in the fact that the American Revolution came right on the heels of the Scottish Enlightenment and that the works of many Scottish philosophers and academicians were being widely read, and deeply appreciated, in the American colonies in the decades immediately preceding our break with Britain.  Though all estimates tell us that Scots immigrants to the American colonies prior to 1776 made up less than 10 percent of the general population, their influence on the worldview held by the educated segment of the population was far out of proportion to their numbers.  Why so? 

The answer lies in the fact that 18th century Scots immigrants included many well-educated clergymen and graduates of Scottish universities—Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Aberdeen—the seats of the Enlightenment.  These two classes of immigrants, clergymen and university graduates, were well-acquainted with the works of Adam Ferguson, Francis Hutcheson, David Hume, Lord Kames and others that espoused the so-called “Common Sense Philosophy” then prevalent among the educated classes in Scotland.  Both at the grammar school level and in the majority of the six universities in the American colonies (four of which were founded by Scots), Scottish immigrants predominated in the teaching ranks; as a result, these Scottish Enlightenment works were widely read and debated among both faculty and students in America. 

We know that far from being an obscure document, the Declaration of Arbroath was well known  in Scotland in the years immediately preceding the adoption of the Treaty of Union in 1707, because it featured in the so-called “pamphlet wars” that swirled around that event.  Moreover, we know the Declaration of Arbroath itself went through at least four mass printings in Scotland in the decades between 1707 and 1776—showing that it was widely read and its sentiments appreciated.   But did this knowledge really cross the Atlantic?

In many ways, the key to understanding how the Scottish Declaration of Arbroath came to influence the American Declaration of Independence is to understand the relationship between William Small and Thomas Jefferson.  Small was born in Scotland in 1734 and emigrated to America in 1758, settling in Virginia, where he became a professor of rhetoric at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburgh.  But prior to emigrating, Small had attended Marischal College in Aberdeen, graduating in 1755.  And while a student there, he studied under William Duncan, Professor of Natural Philosophy, whose 1748 work, Elements of Logick–the dominant logic treatise of its time–waswidely read, both in Scotland and in America.  Jefferson studied under Small at William & Mary, graduating in 1761; through Small he became well acquainted with the work of Duncan. The two men, Jefferson and Small, remained life-long friends.  In his autobiography, Jefferson described Small as his mentor.    

In March of 1764, shortly after graduating from William & Mary, Jefferson purchased a copy of William Robertson’s The History of Scotland, which addressed in great detail the events of the Scottish wars of independence, culminating in the Declaration of Arbroath.  We also know that Jefferson’s mother’s family, the Randolphs, who numbered among the Virginia gentry, claimed descent from Thomas FitzRandolph, Early of Moray, nephew of King Robert the Bruce and himself a signer of the Declaration of Arbroath.  And we know that Jefferson was aware of this claimed descent on his mother’s side. Doubtless this purported connection with a signer of the Declaration of Arbroath affected Jefferson’s appreciation of the events of 1320.  A review of the catalog of his library at Monticello shows that Jefferson later owned works by almost all the great thinkers and writers of the Scottish Enlightenment, including Hutcheson, Hume, Ferguson, Kames, Adam Smith, and others—a life-long interest he kept.

The structural organization of the American Declaration of Independence is a logical syllogism and this suggests Jefferson was inspired by the logician and rhetorician Duncan, whose work was taught to Jefferson by Small.  Jefferson’s document conforms to the structure recommended by Duncan for conveying the maximum degree of conviction and certainty—a series of five propositions–(1) that all men are created equal; (2) that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; (3) that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; (4) that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men; and (5) that when any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it.  This is followed in the Declaration of Independence by a so-called “self-evident” major premise: That when government becomes tyranny, men have a right to rebel against it.  This entire structure conforms carefully with Duncan’s rhetorical standards for proving any proposition, as contained in his 1748 treatise.

These facts aside, did the 1320 Declaration directly influence the 1776 Declaration?  Apart from both declarations being of similar length and signed by approximately the same number of “worthies” (39 bishops and nobles at Arbroath, 56 delegates at Philadelphia, appointed by the 13 colonies), many of the clauses in Jefferson’s declaration closely echo sentiments in the Declaration of Arbroath, even down to a similarity in many of the words used:   For example, both summon God to be their witness as to the rightness of their cause (the Scots calling him “the Supreme King and Judge”, the Americans calling him “the Supreme Judge of the World”).  Each contains a list of grievances against the tyrannical actions of a far-away English king as justification for them to take up arms.  Each declares that the assent of the governed is a key ingredient in the new political order it is advocating—for the Scottish people in 1320, to throw off the English yoke and choose their own king (The Bruce), from among their own citizens; for the Americans in 1776, to throw off the English yoke and set up a new form of self-government (a constitutional republic) by which to govern themselves.   And each says that if the new government does not meet the peoples’ expectations, they may change it, yet again.  Each says the freedoms for which they fight are meant to apply to all their citizens (the Scots listing “Jew and gentile alike”).  In each instance, the signers pledge to support and defend each other. And in each instance, the signers say they enter into this written compact for freedom alone, to which cause they pledge their lives and their sacred honor. 

Once drafted, Jefferson submitted his Declaration to the assembled members of the Continental Congress, which referred it to committee, where it was amended and finalized.  Two other prominent Scottish immigrants were among the members of that Continental Congress—John Witherspoon and James Wilson—and each argued forcefully for its passage in the debates which followed.  The Rev. John Witherspoon emigrated from East Lothian to New Jersey in 1768; James Wilson emigrated from Fife to Pennsylvania in 1765.  Both men were extremely well educated Scots and certainly knew of the Declaration of Arbroath, not only the wording itself but the history of its adoption. 

The first of the two, Witherspoon, was a Presbyterian minister—the only clergyman among the delegates—who had become President of the College of New Jersey (later renamed as Princeton University).  The second, Wilson, was an accomplished lawyer who went on to become an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.   Drawing on their strong educational backgrounds as graduates of Scotland’s leading universities, both men contributed strong support to Jefferson’s Declaration.

Witherspoon, sixth President of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton), was educated at the Universities of St. Andrews and Edinburgh. He was ordained a minister in the Church of Scotland in 1745 and only emigrated to America after actively being urged to do so by Benjamin Rush, who visited Paisley expressly to recruit him behalf of the college.  During his 25 years in the job, Witherspoon transformed the small Presbyterian college, founded primarily to train clergymen, into the preeminent university in America.  A delegate from New Jersey to the Continental Congress and the only clergyman among them, Witherspoon actively served on over 100 committees and was the most outspoken among the delegates on behalf of full political separation from Britain.  Throughout his academic career, Witherspoon was an eloquent and outspoken proponent of the “Common Sense” Philosophy espoused by the Scottish Enlightenment scholars Hutcheson, Hume, Reid, Kames, and others, which he taught at Princeton.  

Witherspoon not only himself signed the Declaration of Independence, but in the decade preceding it, educated many of the first generation of political leaders in the new United States of America.  From among his students came 12 other members of the Continental Congress, each of whom signed the Declaration of Independence, plus one American President (James Madison), one American Vice President (Aaron Burr), 37 federal judges (three of whom later became U.S. Supreme Court justices), 28 later U.S. senators, and 49 later U.S. congressmen.  President John Adams once said of Witherspoon, “I know of no character, alive or dead, who has done more real good for America.”

Wilson, known in America as “James of Caledonia”, was also a delegate to the first Continental Congress, but from Pennsylvania. He had attended the universities of Glasgow, St. Andrews and Edinburgh before emigrating and thus was equally well read in the works of the Scottish Enlightenment as were William Small and John Witherspoon.  Imbued with the ideas of the Scottish Enlightenment, he moved to Philadelphia in 1766, to begin teaching at the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania), which awarded him an honorary Master of Arts degree.  Wilson began to read the law at the office of John Dickinson a short time later; after two years of study he joined the bar in Philadelphia, setting up his own practice in nearby Reading, Pennsylvania in 1767.  Wilson was very highly regarded by George Washington, who in his memoirs praised Wilson’s abilities and temperament.  A leading legal theorist in colonial America, he was one of the six original justices appointed by President Washington to the U.S. Supreme Court shortly after the Constitution was adopted in 1789.

One of only six men to sign both the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the Constitution in 1789, Wilson contributed greatly to the constitutional debates of the 1780’s which led to the formulation of the modern American tri-partite political system, consisting of co-equal executive, legislative and judicial branches, as embodied in the U.S. Constitution.  And it was Wilson who convinced Congress to directly state that all powers of government, any government, are ultimately derived from the people—a characteristically Scottish notion and one which had been clearly articulated by the Scots in the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

[This article appears in abbreviated form in the current issue of Scots Heritage Magazine.  It is reprinted here in its entirety with the permission of the editors of that publication.]

* John King Bellassai is President of the Council of Scottish Clans & Associations (COSCA) and Vice President of the National Capital Tartan Day Committee.  (His maternal grandfather, John King, after whom he is named, emigrated from Killearn, in Stirlingshire, to America in 1910.)

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, The initial goal of 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

New Zealand’s Scottish Gene

Guest Article by Dr Cathy Gunn, Edinburgh and Auckland

First impressions of my adopted home were of similar natural beauty, but otherwise a world apart from Scotland. The climate was a good deal warmer, the plant life more tropical, and most houses on a single level with timber walls and an iron roof. No tenements here!


It wasn’t long before the strength of New Zealand’s Scottish connections began to emerge. Walking past a popular beachfront wedding venue one day, I spotted a tall, handsome Maori man in full highland dress. A sight for sore eyes indeed – and I had to ask! He was a McDonald, honoring family tradition by getting married in his grandfather’s formal attire. His Maori connection was obvious, although the depths of those cultural traditions remain unknown to many New Zealanders.


The next surprise was the Auckland City Christmas Parade. Along with colourful floats carrying jolly men in red suits, elves and ruddy nosed reindeer, marched more pipe bands than I had ever seen in one place. The connection between Santa Claus and pipe bands escaped me, and those poor folk were marching in woollen kilts, jackets and bonnets in the height of New Zealand summer! It didn’t make sense, but it still tugged on my heartstrings, as the sound of the pipes always has and always will.


My next encounter with New Zealand’s ‘Scottish gene’ was at the Waipu Highland Games. This small north island town is where Reverend Norman McLeod landed his flock after the clearances. They moved from Ullapool to Nova Scotia and Australia before settling in New Zealand in 1854. The New Years Day Games have run for 142 years, and often host international championships. Like so many Scottish events, there are mutton pies, tattie scones and ‘your other national drink’ to sustain the crowds. The serious business is followed by a lively ceilidh, and a wee dram or two.


The Waipu Games are just one of many events held annually around the country to celebrate the Scottish heritage of citizens of various ethnic blends and origins. Scottish music and dance, Burns Suppers, Kirkin o’ the Tartan, Gaelic and Clan Societies are part of the vernacular for a small but significant number of New Zealanders. A Scottish accent is a great conversation starter and often leads to stories of a granny or granddad that sounded like they walked out of Glasgow yesterday after 63 years away! Apart from areas of general discontent around the legacy of colonization, which many Scots can understand, I have often received a special welcome because I am Scottish.


Many old, familiar cultural traditions are alive and well in my adopted country. Some are echoes from the point of migration. Hence the phrase ‘more Scottish than the Scots’ for a diaspora that maintains traditions long since changed in the homeland. Others are a lovely fusion of immigrant and indigenous cultures, reflected, for example, by the music trio Pacific Curls, ‘an inimitable combination of Pacifica, Maori and Celtic influences, with taonga puoro (traditional Maori instruments) and Scottish fiddle’; or weaver Roka Ngarimu-Cameron ‘combining traditional indigenous methods with European technologies, showing the similarities between Maori cloaks and Scottish kilts.’ In a different vein, a ceremony at the Gathering in Edinburgh 2009 to honour the late Squadron Leader John Mahiti Wilson noted similarities between Scottish Clan and Maori Tribe (Iwi). One of NZ’s first WWII Maori fighter pilots, and a high profile lawyer in civilian life, John Mahiti Wilson was of Scottish and Maori descent. So whether the elements are traditional and ‘pure’ or modern infusions, the ‘Scottish gene’ really has become a core part of New Zealand culture.