26 August 2010

Hands On Scotland: Inverness, Culloden, and Digression

It was a grey, rainy day when we found our way to Culloden Moor near Inverness. The site of the last battle fought on British soil has been preserved, not without difficulties over the years, by the National Trust of Scotland. Properties in private hands had to be acquired, a slow process. Many clan organizations and corporate donors have assisted financially for the Culloden Battlefield Memorial Project (we noted Garfield Weston among them).
If you have the slightest Scottish blood, you’ve likely heard of Culloden: the defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie; the slaughter of the Jacobite army; the subsequent savage attempt at genocide by Butcher Billy, the Duke of Cumberland; the final disintegration of the clan system. The date of 16 April 1746 lives long in memory wherever Highlanders dispersed.
C
Lindsey Bowditch et al., Hilary Horrocks, ed., Cuil Lodair/Culloden (Edinburgh: The National Trust for Scotland, 2010), 6.

The Culloden Visitors’ Centre was recently rebuilt with a roomy cafĂ© and large shop; recordings are available for walking the field itself and each monument thereon. A multi-media walk-through in the Centre details both the government and the Jacobite views of events leading to the climactic battle, very informative with contemporary citations. It’s good that we allowed plenty of time for lingering and absorbing. My disappointment was in the room that proposes to give you a sense of the battle, with sound and film on all four sides to capture the essence. Maybe it works for others, but it didn’t come close for me, because ...    

My “personal” history of Culloden began many years ago with John Prebble’s iconic book Culloden. Then I learned about, and rented, the amazing BBC film Culloden (a website worth reading if you’re Scots or a film fan) by Peter Watkins, based on Prebble’s meticulous research. Made in 1964, Watkins’ then-innovative device was to follow the action as if a television crew were present at the scene more than 250 years ago. It was one of the first films to employ documentary style of a historical event, and to my mind still the most stunning ever (static image below from the website hardly begins to give the sense of the action).


Nostalgia: In 1982 the Ontario Genealogical Society (OGS) held its Annual Seminar at the University of Guelph.
The theme was Scottish—what else? given the university’s renowned Scottish Studies program and its enviable McLaughlin Library collection, arguably the largest outside Scotland itself. Since OGS did not have a branch in Guelph at that time, three members agreed to run the event: Allan Hayne was the seminar chair, Harold Doan was the registrar, and yours truly was the program chair. My first thought was that we must have Donald Whyte. And so we did! It was perhaps his only invitation to Canada and he was as thrilled as we were. Happily for posterity, George Neville, then editor of OGS’ Families, colluded with Donald to publish his Canadian-visit diary in the same issue of Families with the seminar proceedings (Vol. 21, No. 4, 1982). Thus began Donald's fortuitous association with OGS. 
 

At one point in the Saturday afternoon program, I arranged for the film Culloden to be shown. The impact the second time (for me) was as forceful and disturbing as the first. Near the end of the film and after the battle, as I recall, a woman called Agnes MacPhail was “interviewed.” Her traumatic shock was so real after what we’d seen, I was not the only one in tears (again). On leaving the theatre, Bruce MacPhail said to me in an emotional daze, “That was my ancestor!” The moment stays forever with me. Bruce had married a very attractive MacFadyen, a former neighbour of mine, which really has nothing to do with this story. Nor with my McFadyens as best we knew at the time. But you know I love to toss the name around. 

Donald Whyte’s diary displays his low-key humour and his delight with his entire stay, recalling so many various OGS members of those days and the correspondents he could meet in person. May I add that the banquet entertainment, the MacCrimmon piper son of another esteemed neighbour, was well received (Donald: “If he had a fault, it was a certain lack of modesty, but he received a tremendous ovation.”) I only throw that in because the piper will come up in a future blog. Donald is missed by many friends and associates around the world.

Post-digression, the BOOKS in the Culloden Visitors' Centre shop!! More weight-breakers for airline luggage allowance! The National Library of Scotland shop and most bookshops couldn't hold a candle to this. Now, lovely stacks of them sit mourning for the spare time I promised them. There’s a Fraser in No Quarter Given✱ calling for my attention. A Gaelic primer and a Lowland Scots dictionary. Numerous Hebrides compilations. I need a Highland hermitage month.
And of course I’ve neglected Inverness, the obvious place to stay for a visit to Culloden. Brief as it was. Family history and whisky-tasting were not our only pursuits. The search for live, hot, bagrock (pipe-rock?) music was not doing too well since live music is frequently not available until weekends and somehow we kept missing the boat, er, bagpipes. Then we met Bridge Street in Inverness and scored with The Gellions, “the oldest pub in the Highland Capital.” Grrreeee and glee! The whole street was alive with the music from the pub. Schiehallion, the band. I know it’s not to everyone’s taste, therefore I spare you a link you might automatically click on and have to watch a lot of beer-soaked Invernessians packed like sardines attempting cool dance moves ... “Schiehallion New Year 2010 (2)” on YouTube has the piper working hard, but falls short of a live experience on a more prosaic night. Better you should have a link to Red Hot Chilli Pipers (PIPERS not PEPPERS!).

Alastair Livingstone of Bachuil, Christian W.H. Aikman, and Betty Stuart Hart, editors, No Quarter Given: The Muster Rolls of Prince Charles Edward Stuart’s Army, 1745-1746, 3rd ed. (Glasgow: Neil Wilson Publishing, 2009) ... it IS available in the colonies ...

Three photographs by CDM and BDM July 2010; the University of Guelph photo is from somewhere on its website that hides from me now.
 

 

22 August 2010

Silent Sundays


Ten Dougall Boys
Thanks, R! Much on my mind.
Photograph by RD, July 2010.

16 August 2010

Hands On Scotland: KIllin

Killin sits in the Scottish Highlands of what used to be Perthshire but after a boundary shift, is now in the Stirling Council region. The beautiful back roads feature almost-hidden quaint B&Bs, evidence of the Trossachs’ popularity as a holiday retreat from the major urban areas. This is Rob Roy McGregor country. The village I was expecting turned out to be more like a 21st century town. Note to self: Stop living in the 18th century. Killin now includes the former surrounding villages of Monemore, Ballechroisk, and others.
  Cousin Lizzie had given very good directions to the old churchyard. Take the path beside and around the back of the hotel which now oddly sits between the church and its burying ground. I already knew that little trace of my Perthshire Frasers awaited. Our mutual gt-gt-gt-grandfather Duncan Fraser lies there (where else would he be?) but no stone is visible. His daughter Janet and her husband seem to be the only sign of several Fraser generations.
This is the parish church of Killin and Ardeonaig, built in 1744, so one solace was that Duncan was baptized here in 1783, and his father John in 1751. The ruins of the mediaeval church that existed by 1317 are in the midst of the burial ground, no longer visible.
A bonus was the memorial erected to the Reverend James Stewart who would have served at the time of the baptisms. His memorial sits in its own enclosure near the front of the church. Note the tribute to his translation of the Bible into Gaelic: this was a major, major contribution to Highland society. 
Back to the burial ground: The older stones are so unkempt and uncared-for, enough to make you cry. Mature trees have grown over many, hiding them. Few of the still-standing stones are decipherable. And naturally there could be plenty lying beneath the sod. The "programme of inspection and repair" and even the "footpaths" are not in evidence.
Members of the Scottish Genealogy Society (SGS) transcribed gravestones here in 1965. Their publication, South Perthshire Monumental Inscriptions, does not include the stone of Janet Fraser and her husband Alexander MacFarlane in the Killin cluster of eight burying grounds. Clearly legible now, the omission is puzzling. Was the stone illegible in 1965? Has someone cleaned it since?
The paucity of Fraser names in the entire SGS publication—flawed as it may be—is startling to me. Here I thought I was at the source of my Perthshire Fraser line. (I have to keep saying “Perthshire Fraser line” because I likely have two Inverness-shire Fraser lines :-) Cousin Lizzie and I don’t know where our Duncan’s probable grandfather, a prior Duncan, came from. The absence of most Highland parish registers before the mid-18th century casts that renowned fine Highland mist over us.
Here is the modern jazzed-up version, with extensions, of the smithy built by Janet Fraser’s husband in the 1880s. Janet herself descended from blacksmiths, father Duncan and grandfather John, but this is not where they worked. Now “The Old Smiddy”is a coffee shop cum teahouse with rooms to let.  
The Breadalbane Folklore Centre is situated in Killin, paying tribute to St. Fillan of Gaelic tales, and to the clans that flourished here—McNab, McGregor, Campbell. A 17th century claymore is among the displays, having been preserved by McGregor descendants. Perhaps a relic once held by Rob Roy himself?

More thinking to do. Why am I getting this sinking feeling that gt-gt-gt-grandad Duncan’s grandfather may have drifted into Killin from Inverness-shire where the Lovat Frasers were concentrated? Lizzie has reached the same hypothesis. He would have been a young and healthy age at the time of the Battle of Culloden. Note to self: Get a grip on your imagination; new Fraser posting needed.

09 August 2010

Hands On Scotland: Edinburgh

At last, my goal in Edinburgh. The Historical Research Room, part of the National Archives of Scotland. The morning walk took less than my estimated ten minutes ... if you disregard the fact that I first went to General Register House instead of to the Garden Entrance for the search rooms, which information I had read several times in advance and apparently forgot in the majesty of it all. I was greeted kindly and  registered with a temporary pass to access the locker room. The same reception person was equally kind in issuing me with a one-pound coin for the locker in exchange for the strange, useless shrapnel in my purse.
By the time I got upstairs—lots of stairs, these are high buildings—my official reader’s ticket magically appeared when another reception person examined my confirmation order for manuscript materials. She then waved me off to the Hysterical Search Room without a road map. I saw some signage for a while, but managed to lose myself briefly in a few dead-end cubby holes and the other reading room occupied by legal types. Or maybe that was on one of my trips back and forth.

Not many people were in the appointed stately room at that hour, but they were intent on what they were doing (because they knew what they were doing). An archivist assigned me to table 22. There were three archivists or facsimiles most of the time, each of whom had different functions I began to realize. The one in charge of document retrieval produced my documents in snappy fashion.

There I was, staring at fragile 200-year old papers folded into that stiff state that every historian fears will disintegrate at the first touch. Approaching the archivist who brought me the material, I asked, “Do you have gloves for handling?” He demurred, “We don’t normally use them.” I tried to hide my surprise (and terror, if chunks of irreplaceable history are going to fall on MY designated table spot). At least I was not having a language/accent problem.

After something like four hours in one very large batch of negative searches—nevertheless contributing to my hypothesis, mostly demolishing it—I decided to have some copies. To be negotiated with the archivist in charge of copies. The best option was to pay and have them mailed. That means money which was downstairs in my locker because I had diligently observed the pencil-and-paper-only code. When I found the locker again, forgetting to memorize the return trail upstairs, the next event had to be finding a bank machine.

A kindly gentleman in the first receptionist’s lobby, a sort of greeter, was more than pleased to direct me to the adjacent shopping mall which required a circuitous route taking five minutes to explain. They are all so kind. On my way, a few remaining pieces of my annoying shrapnel paid tribute to a piper attracting tourists for photos.
At the end of the day I had satisfactorily pursued the desirable manuscripts and online resources. Various copies to follow. I might add they have not arrived yet, unlike photocopies from the National Library of Scotland which were in my mailbox the day after I returned home. The garden entrance is quite lovely, and I was touched to see the memorial to the Mitchells, many of whose monumental inscriptions—cemetery transcripts in North Americanese—I have hoarded over the years.
The National Library doesn’t mess around; they send first class mail. That said, the NLS receptionist was not as kind as the NAS people. She insisted everything goes in the locker except pencil-and-paper. The librarian in charge of photocopies, though, was sympathetic and friendly and agreed that a purse with all your worldly ID in it was eligible for carrying about, although she didn’t know my purse resembled an overstuffed hiker’s backpack. The Library also has many stairs to climb, which I probably did three or four times. Up and down while waiting for book retrieval (they have many enticing articles for sale in their shop), up and down for photocopy money.



Now I’m thinking I didn’t sign out from the National Library of Scotland. Might they still be looking for me?

Did I mention I was in Edinburgh? Ahhhhh. A great Old Town with, surprise, tons of stairs. We’re talking serious climbing. On my way up and down to the Scottish Genealogy Society I spotted some intriguing restaurants with outdoor terraces—dinner potential. Not wanting to admit I’m a lapsed member of the SGS, at their office I requested certain of their monumental inscriptions publications. The volunteers who maintain the office were almost astounded but joyful when I added I wanted to buy them. Four of us spent an entertaining half hour learning to use their credit card machine. A mutually congratulatory and bonding experience, all in all. The excess weight to my take-home luggage made the airline personnel beam with pleasure. No doubt about it, I was dispensing happiness everywhere I went.
    Promises of sin, depravity, and ancient murder mysteries will have to wait for another time. When I stop counting stairs in my sleep.

04 August 2010

Hands On Scotland: Isle of Coll

Sometimes a longing can be transmitted across generations. Racial memory? This poem, Coll of the Waves by John MacFadyen (Iain Hyne), translated from the Gaelic, resonates among a surprising number of Collach descendants, long-separated from their island origins.  
        Fair gem of the ocean,
        Sweet Coll of my song,
        With joy and devotion
        To you I belong.
        I yearn for the island
        I left with a tear
        But soon I’ll return
        Now that summer is here.
After 182 years, my McFadyen spirit returned to the Isle of Coll. And yes, it was summer. Cliad Beach above.
Family historians often have many overseas ancestral “homes.” This was a very special one for me. What inexpressible feelings to walk among the deserted croft remains, touch the deteriorating burial stones, explore the pristine beaches and hills, enter some of the old dwellings. Of course I did not find the family black house or “lone shieling” which disappeared along with most of the old inhabitants. A few crofters’ houses have been renovated here and there. But I was able to visit Toraston and Cliad, last known communities of my McFadyens. Each seems to have only one farmhouse now.

After near depopulation, Coll has attracted some permanent incomers over the last half-century. Still, a few among the approximately 200 inhabitants have ancestral ties to the island. The Killunaig burial ground near Toraston has many McFadyen markers, of which only the most recent can be deciphered. It doesn’t take long for the sea air and thriving moss to wreak its natural course. I did not reach another almost inaccessible burial ground at Crossopol, a daunting distance even for a 4-wheel-drive vehicle, which we didn’t have, across private land. But my people are here under the soil at Killunaig where the overgrown foundation of the ancient church can be seen.
Ballyhough was another community for McFadyens, not of my known line, but who knows before 1776? It’s now the home of Project Trust, founded by Nicholas Maclean-Bristol, the first NGO in Britain to educate and send “gap year” kids to foreign countries as aid volunteers. They learn from community life on Coll to prepare for experience in new places. The bond is so close that some of the volunteers have chosen to settle on Coll; some have children who in turn work with Project Trust. Maclean-Bristol, author of the brilliant history, From Clan to Regiment, Six Hundred Years in the Hebrides, lives in the 15th century Breacachadh castle. It was my great pleasure to spend a couple of hours with him in this historic setting where my ancestors were clansmen and soldiers for Maclean of Coll.
Coll is one of Scotland’s great but little-known natural beauty spots. The present inhabitants deal well with the occasional tourists who are often birders or hikers or those who just plain want to get away to an idyllic, unspoiled location. The beaches and dunes on the Atlantic side are so amazing they take your breath away.
One must book well in advance for the 7-room Coll Hotel or the smaller B&B Tigh-na-Mara! Otherwise, you can be one of the infrequent campers to be seen among the isolated dunes. The locals rightfully expect due consideration for opening and closing their gates when tramping across their fields. Sheep and cattle are part of the livelihood. Signs everywhere in the Highlands and Islands are in two languages: Gaelic and English.
Arinagour is the main community, and you look quite at home if you’re wearing rubber wellies or crocs. That's the main street above. The hotel has a jolly lively pub—I expect because it’s the only pub on the island. Any local event is cause to repair to the pub for celebration or discussion. Visiting yachtsmen are regular customers. Soccer and golf were prime topics during my stay. Not to ignore the finer points, the barman tells us the Coll Hotel’s own whiskey is blended “right over there,” waving in the general direction of a windswept promontory, nary a cottage visible. I think of 250 years ago when the island reportedly had up to thirty distilleries! (After several tries, my photo of the pub has wandered off into bloggerland limbo ...no, hang on, I found it!)    

        “Yet still the blood is strong, the heart is Highland
        And we in dreams behold the Hebrides.”
        -- Canadian Boat Song, author unknown, sometimes attributed to John Galt.

I left with a tear but with dreams come true.

Photographs July 2010 by BDM and CDM.