Editorial – The Scottish Banner Says….

July 2019 (Vol. 43, Number 01)

Gracing our front cover: Knox Grammar School Pipe Band from Australia, part of Piping Inverness.

The Banner Says…

Bringing Scotland’s past to present

Scotland has always been a leader in preserving the past. From historic sites to vast genealogy networks of information, the past is never too far away. I was recently sent a fascinating film trailer of footage shot in the 1930’s, which shows a side of Scottish life few ever experienced. Filmed by an American who became spellbound by Scottish, and more specifically Gaelic culture, the film shows a life that does not exist anymore and creates an incredible historical document for all of us to enjoy.


The new film celebrating the footage collected by Margaret Fay Shaw recently premiered at an event in South Uist. Created by the National Trust for Scotland’s Canna House archivist, Fiona J Mackenzie, Solas (Gaelic for light) uses rediscovered film shot by the US-born folklorist who dedicated her life to documenting Gaelic song.

Folklorist Margaret Fay Shaw first came to Scotland as a teenager from Pennsylvania, in 1920. She was orphaned at an early age and her family decided to send her to St Bride’s School in Helensburgh, in an attempt to get Scotland-the home of her forefathers-to ‘sort her out’. It was in Helensburgh, at a school recital, that Margaret first heard Gaelic being sung by Victorian song collector, Marjory Kennedy Fraser, and she decided there and then to make Gaelic song her ‘life’s quest’, to find the ‘pristine version’.

Margaret spent six years living in the remote hamlet of North Glendale, South Lochboisdale, South Uist, between 1929- 35 and over the course of these years, she became one of the world’s first female photographers and cinematographers, documenting a disappearing way of Hebridean life.

Margaret Fay Shaw left the world a fascinating collection of images and invaluable film of a lifestyle which no longer exists. She not only took film and photos in the Outer Hebrides but also on the Isle of Canna, where she lived with her husband, fellow folklorist John Lorne Campbell, from 1938 when they bought the island, until her death at the age of 101 in 2004.

Historically important

This film collection was recently re-digitised by the National Trust for Scotland, who have cared for the island since 1981, to ensure its preservation for years to come. In the process of carrying out this work archivist Fiona J Mackenzie uncovered some previously unseen film, including footage of such historically important events as the first plane landing on the Cockle Strand on Barra, 1936.

Solas uses Margaret’s images, films and words to tell the story of her life and the people in that life. Using two broadcasts which Margaret made for the BBC in the 1950s and the words of her close friend and companion, Basque born Magda Sagarzazu, their own recorded voices tell how their lives were affected by the islands, the people, the animals, crofting, the birds, the songs and the sounds.

The film also uses samples from the sound archive recorded by John Lorne Campbell during the 1930s and 40s in the Hebrides, primarily Barra, South Uist, Eriskay and Canna. During the production of the film, musicians spent a week in Canna House, using the films to produce a suite of new music. This includes actual sounds from Canna House, such as, the front door, the Canna Steinway piano, John Lorne Campbell’s bugle, Margaret’s typewriter and the servant’s bells which all make an appearance in the music.

In this issue

Another film which is now being released in the UK is the new Robert the Bruce movie. The film takes place after Robert the Bruce was crowned King of Scotland following William Wallace’s torture and execution. Whilst not quite a sequel to Braveheart, this film picks up from that story and promises to take viewers on a brutal journey as Bruce leads his country to a hard-fought independence battle. The Scottish Banner was fortunate to be one of the few international publications to get some images and release details at time of press ahead of its Edinburgh International Film Festival world premiere. I, like many, look forward to seeing this release.

I remember growing up in Canada and on those crisp days going out on a school field trip to tap Maple trees for sap. Now a Scottish company in Perthshire is looking at what Canada has done for decades and using similar techniques to create a healthy Birch Water product. Birch water is the birch sap collected from birch tree and perfect for those of us who are moving away from sweet drinks to a healthier choice. Birch water contains antioxidants, vitamins and minerals and is packed with electrolytes, such as calcium, manganese and zinc, providing ideal hydration properties. Birch water also contains saponin, which is known for lowering cholesterol content. With with over 91,000 hectares of birch woodland in Scotland the potential is endless and untapped.

The Lewis Chessmen are the most important chess pieces in history. Found on Lewis in 1831, the Lewis chess pieces are regarded as one of the most well-known archaeological finds from Scotland. Believed to be Scandinavian in origin, the pieces have been preserved in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh and the British Museum in London and believed to be 900 years old. Of the 93 pieces, 5 pieces have been thought lost with their whereabouts unknown for many years, but one was recently found in the Scottish capital. The piece purchased for £5 in 1964 goes to auction this month and adds another intriguing layer to Scotland’s incredible story.

Celebrating 43 years

This issue marks our 43rd year of producing the Scottish Banner. When my parents decided to start the Scottish Banner, they could never know the life the business would have and the travels it would take. It began out of humble beginnings above our then Scottish restaurant and pub and over 500 issues later we present you with the Scottish Banner of today.

The Banner simply would not be still be here if it wasn’t for the many thousands of loyal readers and advertisers who have supported us over the decades. There is no denying in 2019 this is not an easy business to be in, but the Scottish community is strong and vibrant and that has been a great part of our lifeline, so as you read this issue we thank you for helping us continue and keep telling the old and new stories of Scotland.

Have you got a story on how Scotland’s past is being told today? How has the Scottish Banner touched you over our 43 years?  Share your story with us by email, post, social media or at: www.scottishbanner.com/contact-us

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