Ceud Mìle Fàilte!

NEWS FLASH: Reports Of The Scottish Clan System’s Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

This is the latest in a dialogue with Scottish blogger Phoenix45.org.

Thank you Phoenix45.org, for your latest comments in our ongoing dialogue.  The beauty of this is we are actually dredging up areas of potential agreement.  If we can last long enough.  For instance, P45 says this:

I have no problem with the diaspora and their heritage, it is a shared heritage after all“.

Wonderful.   Then he continues:

But to be fawning over some person because they are the clan chief sickens me in the same way that someone using some ancient feudal title, such as baron, sickens me. For it is the monarchy, and by extension the peerage, which is the root of all corruption in this country. The good folks of USA managed to throw off the yoke of the monarchy in 1783, we are still inflicted by it.

[1]  Yes. Good. It IS a shared heritage – in many but not all respects.  Scottish American tradition is a new and still evolving thing that comports with our own unique experience.  Kirkin’ of the Tartan – where did THAT come from?  Certainly not Scotland, yet the custom is the product of bits and pieces of Scottish tradition that Scottish ancestral emigrants in America formed up into a new way to celebrate and communicate who they are.  We are reminded that heritage is not a static thing.

[2]  1 7 7 6 .  P45 – Consider cutting loose of this idea that our independence happened in 1783.  Leaders of 13 British colonies declared those colonies to be separate and independent States – free from all foreign influence – in 1776.  Indeed, by July 1776, TJ simply declared what already was a fact for patriots in North America.  The Sons of Liberty didn’t ask permission. That’s why we called it a ‘declaration’ and that declaration is dated 1776.  Bada Bing – Independent.

[3]  Feudal titles and clan chiefships are separate and distinct things.  Certainly not all chiefs enjoy royal titles and the title has nothing obligatory to do with clanship or chiefdom.  Our respect for the role of a clan chief and for the chiefs who actively support their clans today predates and is not dependent on or affected by royal titles.  It stands on its own and it flows from distinct origins.  General conflagration of clanship and feudal thing-a-ma-jingers is a mistake.  It is not a crime that many folks are keenly interested in both.  P45’s view of the influence of feudal principles is entirely as valid as anyone else’s and I’m staying clean out of that.

Today, the relationship between clansfolk and chief is as varied as the clans and their histories. Generally, it is a modern relationship built on basic respect, hard work, loyalty, mutual obligation, shared interest in a unique heritage and a good deal of fun.  Not all hereditary chiefs recognize and embrace their clan heritage and obligations.  Of those that do, not all actively engage with their clan.  Those that do mix it up with their clansfolk are pretty good guys and gals.  They are just people who happen to have an assigned role in a very old tradition.  Believe it or not, we tend to get to know them well, many are our friends and we are all working together to figure out the best way to make our ancient cultural traditions relevant and a force for good in the 21st century.

[4]   “Fawning”?  Despite P45’s inference to the contrary, in the clan tradition clan chiefs are actually not due unearned adulation and they are not granted unbounded power without accountability.  The clan tradition is very much a two way street – as ‘designed’ and as in operation with the Diaspora today.

[5]  Reports Of Our Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated.  Contrary to popular belief and the Duke of Cumberland’s best efforts, the Scottish clan system did not ‘die’ in 1746 although in large part it did head off shore and kept its head low for a few generations.  Who can argue with that.  It did not take long for Scots to organize in the New World however, and much of that organization formed along clan and family lines.  Today we have several highland games traditions that are actually approaching two centuries of continuous celebration.  The Scottish clan system is alive and well and we have much to offer to the world as has been our practice.

[6]  It is NOT true that an Gàidhealtachd committed suicide despite the best efforts of the British empire to save it. Despite the fact that clanship and clan chiefs have been the punching bag of British history and opinion for centuries lets do recognize that most of the vile displays of this wounded cultural tradition were NOT organic developments of the clan system in Scotland.  P45 mentions the clearances.  In fact, clearance and removal were progressive mandates offered to cure a ‘problem’ created by implementation of progressive improvements brought to the highlands from outside.  Sheep walks and kelp harvests and 2 1/2 acre crofts were enlightened British ideas that would undoubtedly improve the poor gael’s life – or so it was said.  Clearance and removal looked to the future not the past as if the two must be mutually exclusive.

Enlightenment ideas came as a foreign flood that transformed and eventually drowned Gaelic culture.  Clearance and removal were not indigenous concepts in the Gaelic north and west. Of course they were antithetic to the clan based culture there.  The ‘clearances’ were foreign tools employed to remove the ‘barbaric’ and inefficient Gaelic past to make way for the progressive and much improved future.  Clearance and removal were as much hallmarks of the enlightenment in Scotland as was The Wealth of Nations, coming straight out of 18th and 19th century urban centers of modernity to be brutally imposed on an already crippled indigenous culture in the highlands and islands.

If anything P45, today’s descendants of those families cleared from the highlands and islands ought to be just a wee bit hacked off with you modern progressive enlightenment types who claim to have all the answers and do not very much value your history and heritage – or that of others.   That combination did not work out well for our ancestors and it worries us today.  It is time to stop blaming the decline of Gaelic culture on hard partying bubba clan chiefs and an oppressive and primitive clan tradition.

People who were cleared from their ancestral lands in Scotland were not victims of their chiefs or their culture.  Clans had effectively dealt with troublesome chiefs and outside interlopers for centuries. Rather, Gaels and their chiefs and their culture were, over the course of a couple hundred years, fairly thoroughly and intentionally cleansed from the land by a conquering force that was too often voracious, technologically superior, extraordinarily impatient, blind to heritage, infallible and spreading like wildfire as empire across the globe.

[7]  “We couldn’t care less …”  A good deal of P45’s most recent comments magnify his point that today’s Scotland, as a national unit, simply does not give a flying fruit about its family history or cultural heritage – at least not any part that involves a clan or a chief.  I wonder about this.  From our perspective and from the increasing popularity of clan and heritage based events in Scotland P45 appears to be wrong.  Interest in heritage seems to be on the upswing in Scotland especially among young families.  While some might think such ancestral inquiry and celebration is a waste, we of course think its is a good thing and will continue to promote it.

[8]  British Humor.  P45 said: “For it is the monarchy, and by extension the peerage, which is the root of all corruption in this country.”  Now I’m rolling on the floor.  That’s a funny one P45 – you nut!  Certainly rampant corruption could not possibly saturate America’s republican democracy.  Not in a million years.  And there are only nine planets and one universe.

Scottish Americans believe that the past is important.  We are no longer satisfied with other people’s versions of our history. We will discover our heritage anew this time for ourselves and this time without political motivations. Rediscovery is a kick but it can be a painful process as well – for us and others.  It must be endured however if we are to allow history to do its job.  We believe that understanding who we are in part by understanding those who came before us is an important element to a well lived life.   We invite P45 to throw away the textbooks that doggedly purvey that old story of the “tragedy that is Scotland” and join us in this most exciting and important journey to discover who we really are and who we can become.  Stop asking for permission.  Bada Bing.

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