Scottie's Diary

- The Gathering 2009

Scottish Homecoming

Homecoming Scotland
The initial motivation for Homecoming Scotland was to mark the 250th anniversary (on 25 January 2009) of the birth of Robert Burns, Scotland's national poet. As the plans evolved and the potential boost to Scotland's tourist industry became evident, a wide range of events and projects developed covering the whole of Scotland, but naturally with a focus on Edinburgh. This was just as well since the leaking roof of the museum at the poet's birthplace in Alloway and the poor state of finance of the charity running the facility meant that it had to be taken over (eventually) by the National Trust for Scotland. It took time to gather the finance for suitable new facilities at Alloway and, as a result, in 2009 the area is more of a building site than a suitable focus for a commemoration! In addition to some Burns-related events, four other themes of the Homecoming became Scotland's culture and heritage, great Scottish minds and innovations, golf - and whisky. Over 300 Homecoming events are running from 25 January 2009 (Burns night) until 30 November 2009 (St Andrews Day). The centrepiece event of the year is The Gathering 2009, on 25 and 26 July, taking place on Holyrood Park in Edinburgh. The clan gathering included Highland games over the two days, a parade of the clans up the Royal Mile and a 'pageant' on the castle esplanade.

Clan Village

Clearly, a major element of "The Gathering" was for clan members from around the world to meet up and find out more about their roots. To aid that, there were nearly 125 clans and family societies in the tented pavilions in the Clan Village, each with representatives to give them a warm welcome, help respond to questions and supply information. Ranging from Agnew and Alexander to Wallace and Young, many had clan flags waving in the breeze and some even had their clan chiefs (with eagle feathers in their bonnets) such as those of Clan Livingstone and MacLean pictured here. Many of the pavilions seemed to be bustling with activity and visiting clan members and a few had pipers to attract attention. Of course, I called in at the Scott pavilion and was given details about the Muster - the culmination of a week-long event at Bowhill House and Country Estate where Scotts, Armstrongs, Elliots and other Borders families will be having their own "Gathering" celebrating local art, crafts, culture and history in a tented village. I also took a picture (see below) of the Scott flag with its motto "Amo" (Latin for "I love").

Highland Games and Pipe Bands
Having arrived after noon, I missed some of the more interesting events of the Deuchars World Highland Games Heavy Events Championship which had taken place earlier in the day. I also missed Prince Charles (known more correctly in Scotland by the title of "Duke of Rothesay") opening the Highland Games and Scottish Festival. But of course he just had to travel a few yards from the Palace of Holyroodhouse, next door, to get there and I had driven the "longest 25 miles in Scotland" (the motorway linking Edinburgh and Glasgow). There was a tug-of-war competition going on when I arrived, but that seemed to be more of a fun event than a serious competition.

Open air events such as these can be badly affected by the Scottish weather, of course. But on the Saturday the sun shone brightly with just some light cloud passing over. Temperatures rose to above 70F (21C) and instead of umbrellas, it was sun cream that was needed! (The second day of the games and festival on Sunday was not so fortunate though - but that's the Scottish weather). On the Saturday 30,000 people enjoyed the day in Holyrood Park though understandably numbers were lower on Sunday.

The games field was also the location for some pipe band performances - the Clan Hay Pipe Band (from Antwerp, Belgium) was presented with a pennant by the clan chief who attached it to one of the sets of bagpipes - describing it as a signal honour for the band. They then proudly paraded around the field with the pennant fluttering in the breeze. Other bands performing in front of the crowd included Canadian Massed Pipes and Drums (see below) and the Red Rose of Lochbuie Pipe band from the Netherlands. All the bands participated later in the march of the clans up the Royal Mile, from Holyrood to Edinburgh Castle.

Red Hot Chilli Pipers

There were, of course, many other activities going on at various locations in Holyrood Park, particularly at the large Main Stage. I had missed the Battlefield Band earlier in the day but I was keen to see the "Red Hot Chilli Pipers". The advertising blurb for their DVD describes their music as "Modern Classics and Rock Anthems fused with all the adrenalin rush created by their passion for the Pipes" and "An abundance of energy with all the power of the Scottish Bagpipes times three and an amazing Rock Band enhanced by Brass, Pipes & Drums and the Red Hot Chilli Dancers." Quite a build-up - and I was not to be disappointed. On wandering over to the main stage, in advance of the time for their performance, I caught the end of the performance by folk singer Julie Fowlis from the Outer Hebrides who was singing mostly in Gaelic. I was soon wishing I had come over earlier and heard more of this captivating singer!

It took the stage hands a full half hour to get the sound system and the musical instruments set up for the Red Hot Chilli Pipers. I began wondering if I should go back to the Highland Games - after all, I was only here to take a few pictures of the Chilli Pipers for my photo library, wasn't I? Fortunately, I stayed put - nearly at the front row, near the stage. After the introductory fanfare of the introduction to the film "2001, a Space Odyssey", the bagpipes, drums, electric guitar, trumpet, trombone, saxophone and keyboards burst into a frenetic mixture of exciting rock and bagpipe music - with a bit of jazz thrown in for good measure. Dressed in black kilts and shirts and a red lion rampant emblazoned on the back of their shirts, their loud, raucous, energetic, rhythmical music blasted out and got the feet tapping and the audience clapping. I had heard recordings of the Red Hot Chilli Pipers and read about them, but nothing prepared me for the sheer energy of their live performance! While far from the traditional pipe bands, these entertaining guys are highly qualified pipers and drummers - and it showed. No wonder they are much in demand at concerts around the world.

The arrival of the Red Hot Chilli Dancers on stage just added to the entertainment. This sort of Highland Dancing would no doubt horrify the judges in the Royal Country Dance Society but fitted perfectly the free-wheeling rock band. I have a short (too short) video clip on the Rampant Scotland site to give you a flavour. The pipers and drummers must have been exhausted by the end of the show - the audience could have taken more and more though! Since seeing them at the Gathering, I've bought a video of the Red Hot Chilli Pipers and downloaded some of their music tracks - it's playing, loudly, while this is being typed... and my feet are tapping!

Other Activities
After the red Hot Chilli Pipers I then wandered around some of the other events on show. Highland Dancing (the traditional kind) is always colourful and entertaining and there were intermediate, pre-national and pre-championship medal competitions in a large - and very popular - tent. On the "Wee Stage"

For those looking for general genealogy research advice there was "Scotland Lives" which was a large auditorium and exhibition area where there were experts giving advice on how to access the ScotlandPeople online resource. There was also the opportunity to find out about the Heraldry Society of Scotland and exhibitions by Scottish Antiquaries, Scottish Tartans Authority and Dundee University.

I managed to see a bit of a demonstration of the making and tuning of bagpipes but when it came to audience participation in Scottish Country Dancing I beat a hasty retreat! I had intended to pop into the Scotland Lives Auditorium to hear Diana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander series of romantic Scottish novels and also Charles McLean talking about his "Whiskypedia" but somehow missed them both! There was also an all-day Talisker Whisky tasting experience but mindful of that drive back to Glasgow decided to give that a miss...

Being A Tourist

Like many of the visitors to Edinburgh for the Gathering, I took the opportunity while I was there to take some photographs of some of the Capital's tourist attractions. Of course, being a local Scot, I've been to Edinburgh many times and still go there on a regular basis to meet up with friends and former colleagues. But there is always some new vista to photograph and with the weather so good, with sunshine and blue skies, it was too good an opportunity to miss. Besides, due to a combination of bad weather and ill health, my collection of new pictures for next year's Rampant Scotland Online Calendar is somewhat sparse at the moment and needs to be enhanced. So while on my way to Holyrood Park I took a number of pictures of the Scottish Parliament, the Palace of Holyroodhouse (seen below) and other sights along the Royal Mile.

March Up The Royal Mile

Without a doubt, the highlight of the entire day was the march of the clans - in alphabetical order - from the gates of the Palace of Holyroodhouse up the entire length of the historic Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle. Around 8,000 marchers from over 125 clans, interspersed by seven pipe bands (and the Lonach Highlanders too) walked the one mile and 107 yards - all of it up-hill, climbing 560 feet from start to finish. There were many chiefs with their eagle feathers in their bonnets leading their clans (that's the head of clan MacIntyre in the picture here), but the march really belonged to the individual participants from around the world as well as Scotland.

The notes to participants recalled that in 1822 Sir Walter Scott had persuaded Scotland's leading figures to wear tartan to celebrate the Royal visit of King George IV. He even managed to persuade the king to wear a kilt on what became known as the "King's Jaunt". So we were all encouraged to emulate that precedent. While many of those taking part were indeed in full Highland attire, not everyone had the 500 or more to get a kilt for the occasion - but there was nevertheless plenty of tartan on display with scarves, tartan sashes and tartan trews. (Don't tell anyone, but I haven't worn a kilt since I was 12 years old and so only had a tartan tie and scarf..)

My original intention had been to get at least one photo of every clan participating so that I could create a complete photo library. But the initial muster at the gates of Holyrood was a bit of a melee and to my surprise, the gates opened and the initial clans began marching instead across the palace forecourt! So I missed the Agnews to Cunninghams... I did pretty well after that, catching well over 100 clans from Currie to Urquhart - that's the Gregor clan in this graphic. I could only photograph a selection of clans after the Scotts, however - understandably I wanted to catch up with them to join them on the march. I've taken 180 of the photos of the clans n this march and created a Photo Library so that you can see them all!

When I did catch up with the Scott contingent in the march I immediately felt I was part of the family! All the way up High Street bystanders were waving and cheering - it was estimated that there were around 20,000 there to watch the parade, sometimes standing six deep. From time to time the march came to a halt and there was an opportunity for some jovial exchanges between the marchers and those watching (some of whom had come out from local bars to cheer us on). I'm glad to say that a jovial collection of lassies from the Scott clan were only too willing to interact with the crowd on a number of occasions!

A DVD covering the highlights of The Gathering has been produced and is available via the Gathering Web site at a price of 15. Note that the DVD will not be sent out until after 31 August - and that the only payment method appears to be PayPal. Some video clips have appeared already on YouTube. Many are just of short duration but Gathering 2009 is of good quality and lasts more than five minutes. There is also a Slide Show (created by a MacFarlane, with lots of shots of that clan and with a sound track provided by a MacFarlane piper).

Clan MacLeod

Aisling's Children

Having marched to the Edinburgh Castle esplanade, surrounded by the tiers of seats normally used for the Edinburgh Military Tattoo each year, all I had to do was find my seat. It turned out to be high up on row "X" - any further and I'd have needed a rope to scale back down the castle rock... Good view though!

"Aisling's Children" presented a pageant of Scottish historical events involving the descendants of "Aisling MacLean" - (Aisling, pronounced "Ashling" means "vision" in Gaelic). With 200 actors and some dramatic visual and sound effects, the performance started in the present day as a slightly bewildered "Colin MacLean", a distant descendant of Aisling now living in Australia (complete with bush hat) stumbled onto the esplanade. During the hour-long show there were snippets of Scottish history ranging from the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320, through victory at Bannockburn, defeat at Flodden to the civil war that ended at Culloden and then the Highland Clearances that caused many Scots to emigrate to the four corners of the world, helping to found countries like Australia, Canada, the USA and New Zealand. It is estimated that two million Scots emigrated between 1820 and the start of the First World War. Many became highly successful and often they kept alive their Scottish traditions. As the pageant emphasised, although they had left Scotland, Scotland never left them.

There maybe wasn't much evidence during the day of Robert Burns, whose birth 250 years before had been the catalyst for Homecoming Scotland and the Gathering 2009. And yet his proclamation "That man to man the world oe'r, shall brithers be for a' that" was integral to the whole day. Particularly in Scotland, the clan concept plays little part in our culture - loyalties are more likely to be towards particular towns and cities - or football teams - than to people with the same surname. But as we marched up the Royal Mile with our tartans and flags there was a feeling of kinship and shared roots. And with so many Scots there from over the seas, there was a strong reminder of the impact that previous generations had made as they spread to every part of the world, taking a wee bit of Scotland with them.

We had also been fortunate enough to experience one of those perfect Scottish summer days which are all the more enjoyable because of their rarity. There has been a suggestion in the media that another Scottish Homecoming and Gathering might be held in perhaps five years time. While there is a danger that this year's event has had some success because of its uniqueness, I for one would look forward to a second helping! And with the knowledge gleaned this year, I would expect to take even more pictures next time round! If you want to learn more about this year's events see the Homecoming Scotland Website. There is also an official Gathering Website.

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