28 August 2020
Do you have Scottish roots? Would you like to make connections with others and find out more about your ancestry? Read on to discover the many reasons you should join a clan society.
Anyone with even a drop of Scottish blood in their veins surely feels some affinity to, and some pride or at least interest in, that part of their ancestry. Along with the centuries - and the many centres - of educational excellence which produced Scotland’s great scientists, engineers, soldiers, explorers and world famous thinkers, this rugged and often breathtakingly beautiful country also gave birth to, and long nurtured, a very special social and cultural treasure: the Clan system.
Clan, meaning “children” in the old Gaelic tongue, referred originally to a close-knit family by blood, but later to a larger and essentially social group. These groupings date back even to prehistoric times. A combination of passionate loyalty to, and the protection provided by, a strong leader, in a defined and sometimes quite narrow geographical area, usually with natural mountain or river boundaries, over the centuries led most people in the area to follow - and eventually when surnames first became common adopt the family name of - that very strong leader. This was the Clan Chief.
The Clan system was historically at its most powerful in the Highlands: that huge north west and most mountainous part of Scotland, where Gaelic was the traditional language. Here the major social unit was the Clan, at least until the Union of the Scottish and English crowns in 1603, after which the Stuart kings and then - much more brutally - the Hanoverian monarchs of the United Kingdom sought to and succeeded in diminishing the historic patriarchal authority of the Clan Chiefs and integrating them into wider society.
However, in contrast to that loss of authority - accelerated as it was by the failure of the great 18thcentury Jacobite risings, which were supported by many of the Chiefs, to defeat the Hanoverian monarchy - it was the mass emigration which followed that failure and the ensuing cruel suppression of all elements of Scottish (and particularly Highland Scottish) culture, traditions and language, which ensured that those very same elements, except for the Gaelic tongue, spread out across virtually the whole of the English-speaking world, and even further afield.
Today it is the Clan Societies, and their often world-wide memberships, which not only remain loyal to their Chiefly families but also keep alive that wonderful traditional spirit of family pride and togetherness, and indeed Scotland’s instantly recognisable cultural identity.
Clan societies today
Is there a Scot anywhere in the world whose heart doesn’t swell at the sight of kilt after tartan kilt swinging, at the sound of massed pipe bands, at the unforgettable rhythms of Scottish country dances, at the miracle of the tossing of the caber, and at the skill with swords of the energetic youngsters who nowadays leap over them with such precision and elegance instead of using them in battle?
If you want to learn more about the history and the traditions, or to meet and share cultural experiences, re-enactments, stories, friendships and conviviality with members of your own wider Clan, at a Gathering in Scotland or a Highland Games anywhere in the world, you surely can’t do better than become a member of your own Clan Society. It may even give you advice and get you discounted accommodation if you visit Scotland and your own local Clan country. There are dozens of these Clan Societies, all run largely by enthusiastic volunteers, of whom I’m one, and many of them are Charities. Finding them through an internet search is not difficult if you have a Scottish family name and base your search on it.
Clan Donnachaidh blogger, August 2020
The writer of this piece is a member of the Council of a leading Clan Society whose clan, Clan Donnachaidh, lays credible claim to be Scotland’s oldest. Its principal family names are Robertson, Duncan and Reid.
It is the only clan which still uses its original Gaelic name. Its Chief, Robertson of Struan, traces his descent back, through the ancient Celtic Earls of Atholl, to the royal House of Dunkeld whose King Duncan’s murder by his kinsman Macbeth was made famous throughout the world by William Shakespeare, and further back still to Scotland’s early Pictish-Dalriadic kings.
Its Chiefs knew personally and supported Bonnie Prince Charlie, as they did Robert the Bruce centuries earlier. The Society raised funds back in the 1970s for what was the first ever purpose-built clan museum at Bruar in Scotland, and did so again only recently for the rescue and repair of the beautiful little church at Struan where its ancestors had worshipped for centuries. Its vibrant website, is living testimony to the value, relevance and indeed fun of belonging to a modern Clan Society.
Images supplied courtesy of the Clan Donnachaidh Society.