Friday, 30 May 2008

Clan Associations

Scotland's clans may have been broken at Culloden, and decimated further through the economic changes in Scotland in the 18th and 19th Centuries, but many still survive in the form of Scottish clan associations. A few years ago, on the sea stack of Dun Eistean, Isle of Lewis, I interviewed Angus Morrison, of the Clan Morrison Association, for a BBC documentary, and he recalled how in the previous year a gathering of Morrison descendants from around the world had met on the sea stack, observing that it was probably the largest gathering of Morrisons at the location of the clan's old fort in four hundred years. In recent times, interest in the ancient Scottish clans has grown around ther world, helped in recent times by the growth of the internet. The Reuters news agency has an article that describes how the spread of the clan association around the world is on the increase, though not at home here in Scotland. (See Internet turns Scottish clans into global tribe).

Richard Carmichael of Carmichael is quoted on his role as a modern day chief: "It's very difficult to take on a role that's historic and redundant. In the 80s, we often heard that the clans were finished because no one lived in the locality any more. A few of us fought hard to defy that and the clan has got back on course. The world wide web has made the global clan a reality."

Carmichael then comments on how this interest has not been pursued here in Scotland:

"To Americans, Australians, Canadians and New Zealanders, it's a completely staggering fact that I'm still living here near 1,000 years after the name began. The disinterest in the UK is quite marked. To them, it's just about an old building right on their doorstep."

I think there is more to it than that. Many people in the past felt a sense of betrayal by their clan chiefs, when they were abandoned to economic forces and political and cultural ruin, and their descendants have long memories! Sheep were deemed more profitable, and whole communities forcibly ripped apart, leading to mass emigration to the Americas and beyond. Ironically, the growth of the clan associations is in a lot of respects being carried out abroad by the descendants of those who were abandoned by the chiefs. There is a seductive attraction to the symbols of the old Highland way of life - the individual histories of the various clans, the tartans, the kilts, the piobarachd, the Gaelic language, all of which is perceived to be uniquely Scottish. But where the clan associations, and their modern chiefs, are really succeeding is in the fact that they are bringing together people from all over the world who through a different path of history might have found themselves living in villages next to each other today.

It should be pointed out that a significant proportion of Scots in Scotland today have absolutely no connections to the clans whatsoever, and never did! So if you find clan affiliation in your ancestry, embrace it wholeheartedly, and if you don't find it, don't despair, put a kilt on anyway, and then go off and look for your real history - it won't be any less Scottish...!


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