The 33rd annual Canmore Highland Games

Two full days of Celtic culture- August 31st and September 1st.

A vein of Scottish culture runs strong through Canmore’s community and is celebrated annually through the Canmore Highland Games. Founded in 1884 as a coal mining town, driven by the expansion of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR). Scottish immigrants and their families settled in Canmore, bringing with them their customs and traditions. Immerse yourself this Labour Day weekend in majestic mountains and the sounds of pipes and drums that bring together the traditions, athleticism, and spirit of Scotland. Canmore may not be the Scottish Highlands, but on August 31st and September 1st, it will feel like it is.

Rich Celtic custom

Feats of strength.

Reflecting rich Celtic custom, the weekend will be filled with music and dance. Highland dancers of all ages, from near and far, will take the stage in dance competitions exhibiting strength, agility, and grace. The air will be filled with the sounds of the hundreds of pipers and drummers who come to win honours at the Piping and Drumming competitions. And the thrill of the closing ceremony, where all bands will join the Massed Pipes & Drums of the Canmore Highland Games, will move you.   Central to the Canmore Highland Games, and a crowd favourite on the festival fields, are the heavy Highland sports. Cheer for the athletes as they throw the hammer, try the stone put, and attempt to toss the caber end over end. These traditional athletic competitions showcase the strength, skill, and endurance of the players.

The Canmore Highland Games also serve as a gathering point for Scottish clans. Clan tents will be set up to share about the history and heritage of various Scottish clans. Perhaps you’ll find your people?   Wander through the Celtic Market to find a kilt or a new tam. Peruse the British Car show. Watch the Sheepdogs at work herding. Enter in the Tug of War! There’s something for everyone. We give cheers to our opening day with the Taste of the Highlands Saturday night, August 31st. Enjoy an evening in a Celtic lounge atmosphere sipping wines and whisky’s, meads and ales from some of the world’s most celebrated producers. Appetizers will be served up by some of Canmore’s finest restaurants.

A vibrant celebration of Scottish culture

Scotland’s Rollin Drones.

Over the two days of the Canmore Highland Games, festival tents will showcase additional entertainment from local bands and Irish Step Dancers. An additional ticket can be purchased for a special Scotch-tasting experience. And be sure to join us for our kitchen party, the Canmore Ceilidh, on Sunday, September 1st. This year, coming all the way from Glasgow, we have the Rollin Drones, a dynamic, energetic, 6-piece bagpipe pop band, here to close out our weekend of events with the party of the summer!

The Canmore Highland Games have grown significantly since their inception, becoming a major event in Canmore’s cultural calendar. Held annually on the Labour Day weekend, the games attract participants and spectators from across Canada and beyond. The event is a vibrant celebration of Scottish culture and summer festival in the Rocky Mountains that you don’t want to miss.

Come celebrate Celtic culture in Canmore, Alberta on August 31st and September 1st. Get all the details and tickets at: www.CanmoreHighlandGames.ca

Scone Palace-The crowning place of Scottish kings

Scone Palace is the family home of the Earls of Mansfield and been in the Murray family for over 400 years. The Palace is rich in history and is today a top visitor attraction in the region. William Murray, Lord Stormont, took the time to speak to the Scottish Banner on its incredible past, some of the gems found both inside and outside the Palace and just why he loves Perthshire.

William Mansfield, Lord Stormont, at Scone Palace.

Scone Palace has a fascinating past as the ancient crowning place of Scottish kings and has hosted some huge names in Scottish history. Can you tell us briefly about some of the history of Scone Palace?

There is the history of Scone Palace and also the history of Scone as a place. Scone as a place has been of significance in Scotland from at least 843 when the first King of Scots, Kenneth MacAlpine, came to Scone and was inaugurated as first King of Scots here. He chose Scone as his Westminster, as his seat of power, and used it for ruling and administering the emerging Scottish Kingdom. Scone is also the first site of a recorded parliament in Scottish history, so it was a coronation site, a site of Parliament and a religious destination, because there was a monastery, and later an Abbey, which were in the grounds here.

Our family came along after the Reformation in 1600. So, we have been here for 400 years as the stewards of Scone and quite a lot has happened in that period as well. Including the rise and fall of the Jacobites, who were heavily associated with the emergence of the Hanoverian state which we managed to transition to support fully. And I think I would say peak Scone was 1842 when Queen Victoria came to visit on her Jubilee tour on her state visit, and that is when our family was really in its pomp, and where Scone was really humming as a place.

High above Scone Palace.

The Palace is not only rich in history but houses some incredible objects. What can visitors to the Palace expect to see?

There are extensive and beautiful collections of various things, and it is quite broad, so that makes it so interesting. There are ceramics, ivories, there are wonderful papier mâché vases which are extremely special. Obviously, furniture of all shapes and kinds, some of which was given to us by famous people like Marie Antoinette, there is also a very nice collection of clocks and ceramics.

But beyond that, there is also some other things like the Moot Hill itself, though not part of our collection, but definitely a physical item of great significance at Scone. The Moot Hill is where the coronations of Scottish kings took place. Macbeth, Robert the Bruce, David the 1st, all the big names of Scottish history are all crowned here, on the Moot Hill. And anyone who comes here can witness that and be part of that tradition. They can go up onto the Moot Hill with its fantastic folklore. The name is also referred to as the Boot Hill, which relates to the soil that was essentially collected there. Soil having been brought in on the boots of all Scots who are coming to witness ceremonies at Scone, and having that soil pour into a mound, the same mound on which the King of Scots would stand to make his vows to the Scottish people. Meaning that that mound quite literally represents all of Scotland. So, I cannot speak about the collection without talking about the Moot Hill as it is such a special place.

State Dinning Room.

Scone boasts 100 acres of woodlands and gardens to enjoy, can you tell us about the magical outdoor space Scone Gardens has to offer?

Most of the outdoor space was designed and laid out at the same time as the palace was refabricated, rather than built, in 1800. It was designed by JC Loudon who was a very famous landscape designer.

Trees are very important to us at Scone, we have some ancient old trees. We have trees in the garden that were planted by recent royalty, current royalty and some more ancient royalties. The oldest tree planted here was by James the 5th of Scotland, which makes it about 500 years old. One of the newer highlights is the newly opened walled garden, which for various reasons was in a very bad state of disrepair until recently, primarily because of the 1st and 2nd World Wars as it was turned over for making potatoes rather than beautiful flowers and plants. So essentially it had to be entirely recreated since then and our gardening team has done a fantastic job and it’s still an ongoing project, which I think makes it quite fun for our visitors, especially returning visitors, because every time they come back they can see the next stage of the evolution.

My favourite thing in the gardens is the pinetum, the legacy of David Douglas son of Scone, who became a highly lauded botanist, and he was the one that put a name to a lot of plants in North America, including the famous Douglas Fir. Indeed, the first Douglas Fir to be planted successfully from a seed outside of North America is in the garden here. People quite literally come on pilgrimage just to visit that one tree, it is like we have a celebrity tree in the garden.

Interestingly guests to Scone Palace once had to be given a door handle to be able to access the rooms of the Palace, can you tell us about any of your favourite fascinating bits of history about the property people may not know about?

I definitely think the door handles is up there because it’s just so quaint and wonderful. I just love the idea of going to stay in the hotel where you are not given a room key, you are given a door handle, and you must wander around with that in your pocket. Another thing like that, which is quite fun is we have a loo which is called the poodle loo. My great grandmother was obsessed with dogs and the wallpaper has poodles on it. And it was not just the wallpaper, there are teddy bears, little China models, books, cards the whole thing is poodles. It is bonkers, but I think it speaks to our family and these places have to be family homes as well as museums.

Queen Victorias bedroom.

People can stay at Scone Palace, can you tell us more?

Yes, not only can you do self-guided tours, but we have also got accommodation within the Palace as well. We have five-star self-catering accommodation for those who would like to come and visit, and I can personally attest to how wonderful that accommodation is because that’s where I stayed during the first lockdown with my then fiancé.  During Covid we isolated ourselves in the Balvaird Wing, which is the most comfortable place to stay in the Palace. So, you can really enhance your trip and come and stay in the Palace, which is something pretty special.

Scone Palace has been in your family for over 400 years. The upkeep of this property must be quite a challenge. How do you manage to balance the property as both an important part of Scotland’s heritage but also as a modern-day business enterprise?

It is very challenging and there’s no shying away from that and you have to approach things now as a business, I think you could get away with not doing that 50 years ago, but now you really need to approach things as a commercial concern and it is greatly challenging.

We are trying to interact more with the local community here. That will be a big sea change that will happen in the coming years for us, because currently we are a pay to play venue. And we are going to be redeveloping our stable block to mean that you don’t have to pay to play, you will be able to visit the stable block and have a nice coffee and a bite to eat, and look at the various shops there without paying to enter the grounds and to enjoy the historic side of it. So, there is a big change on the way there for us, which is very exciting, although a little bit daunting. But again, this speaks to that challenge of everything is about making our business sustainable and our family being at Scone for the future. Whatever we can do to achieve that, we will.

Medieval Archway to Palace.

Scone Palace not only offers visitors a chance to immerse themselves in Scottish history and stunning gardens, but the Palace also offers a fantastic array of events held on the grounds for people to enjoy. Can you tell us about some the events you host and why it is so important for a historic property to offer these diverse range of events for the public?

Yes, there is lots happening here at Scone year-round. We have events such as Paws at the Palace which is our dog specific event. Our family follows in the steps of my great grandmother and loves dogs. We had over 1,000 dogs last year, which is a lot of dogs to have on the lawn.

And there are other events, for example we just had the Garden Fair, which is like the Chelsea Flower Show of Scotland. Which is in its third year and extremely popular already and on its way to being an established gardening event. Next up for us is The GWCT Scottish Game Fair, which is a celebration of the Scottish outdoors.

Otherwise, there is nearly always something happening, an event of some sort, or works of some sort. We have Christmas tours where we do up the palace to look particularly Christmasy and that is pretty magical. We really are quite incredibly busy and there are always things going on. We do not really have a quiet time, the only time it is a bit quieter is January, the team here roll their sleeves up as we do not really have a down month. We keep busy here making ends meet and these types of events help us to maximise profits to keep things running.

Scone Drawing Room.

And finally, Perthshire is full of incredible outdoor spaces and is known as “Big Tree Country”. Can you tell us any parts of Perthshire that you love to visit and why?

That is a very good question, I would say it is one of the walking routes in the area. We are blessed where we are. We are an hour from Edinburgh and all the city life, and we are also less than an hour from some very wild areas. So, we can access a lot of different things very easily. Whether it is nice hiking routes, walking routes, kayaking and things like that. That is all very easily done from here, so I cherish that element of where we live.

Perth has everything that you need for a visit to Scotland. It is within striking distance of whatever you want, if it is castles we can do that, if it’s whisky we can do that very well and if it’s hiking, bicycling, or golf, everything is on the menu here. It is also a great base for day trips such as St Andrews or Edinburgh, so in terms of a hub and spoke visit strategy Perth is perfect.

Scone Palace is located one mile from Perth city centre. For details see: www.scone-palace.co.uk.

All images courtesy of Scone Palace & © ZACandZAC.

Fergus Scottish Festival to welcome Outlander stars

The Fergus Scottish Festival and Highland Games is thrilled to announce that their Featured Guests for 2024 will be Duncan Lacroix, also known as Murtagh Fitzgibbons Fraser, alongside Maria Doyle Kennedy, known as Jocasta Cameron, on the hit TV series Outlander based on the best-selling books by Diana Gabaldon. Canadian actor Charles Vandervaart, who plays William Ransom, was scheduled to appear this year however a filming conflict in Scotland has meant he had to cancel his appearance.

“The Festival team has curated an amazing combination of rare and exclusive VIP experiences. Visitors will have the opportunity to attend autograph/photo sessions and free, engaging panel discussions. Our incredibly popular whisky tasting is back, along with some exciting new experiences this year,” stated Executive Director Elizabeth Bender. “One rare event we are particularly excited to be presenting is a concert at the Fergus Grand Theatre featuring Maria Doyle Kennedy, who is an accomplished musician. Of course, we are sad that Charles will not be able to attend but Duncan is a wonderful replacement.” Bender added.

Outlander fans will know that on the show the characters played by Maria and Duncan, Aunt Jocasta Cameron and Murtagh Fitzgibbons Fraser, are in an endearing relationship. “In 2022, Duncan Lacroix was our Featured Guest and was a huge hit with our guests. We are incredibly happy to have him back and know that with all the amazing events we have planned, it is going to be a great year.” Bender said.

There will be multiple opportunities to meet both guests up close at the scheduled featured events, and they will also be participating in activities throughout the Festival grounds all weekend. The full schedule is available online at fergusscottishfestival.com, and tickets for the scheduled Featured Guest events with Maria Doyle Kennedy and Duncan Lacroix are on sale. Stay on top of announcements and updates by signing up for their newsletter and following Fergus Scottish Festival’s social media channels.

For more information about the Featured Guest’s and to get your Festival admission tickets, which are on sale now, visit:  www.fergusscottishfestival.com.

Events announced for Robert the Bruce’s 750th anniversary

Historic Scotland sites across the country will hold host to anniversary events.

This month marks the 750th anniversary of Robert the Bruce’s birth on 11th July, Historic Environment Scotland (HES) sites are hosting a range of activities that give visitors the chance to walk in the shoes of the iconic Scottish ruler and learn more about his historic legacy. Visitors can follow in the footsteps of the iconic Scot with the Outlaw King Trail, leading to historic sites connected to Robert the Bruce and the Netflix film Outlaw King. There will also be special talks offered at Melrose Abbey, where Robert the Bruce’s heart was buried.

To mark the special anniversary, HES has joined forces with other organisations in Dumfries and Galloway, a region of Scotland of great significance in the lives of Robert the Bruce and his family, with a programme of events including a children’s trail across Sweetheart Abbey, Whithorn Priory, Glenluce Abbey and Caerlaverock Castle, where little ones can also learn about the life of Scotland’s renowned ruler. Caerlaverock Castle will also host the exhilarating Spectacular Jousting on the 27th and 28th of July.

A true Scottish hero

Alongside themed tours and trails, Living History performances of Robert the Bruce are planned across Historic Scotland sites over the summer including Edinburgh Castle, Dunfermline Abbey and Melrose Abbey. A new range of products has also been launched on Stor, the Historic Scotland shop. Featuring bold and vibrant designs that honour the King who won the Battle of Bannockburn, the range has been created by Scottish designer Allistair J Burt in partnership with Historic Scotland.

Stephen Duncan, Director of Marketing & Engagement at Historic Environment Scotland, said: “Robert the Bruce is a truly iconic figure from history who has connections to a number of our sites. We’re looking forward to welcoming visitors across the country with a range of events to explore and lots to discover about a true Scottish hero.”

The full list of events, activities and the sites involved can be found on the Historic Scotland website at:  www.historicenvironment.scot/bruce.

Former Prime Minister of Australia Kevin Rudd received honorary degree in Glasgow

The University of Glasgow has awarded an honorary degree to the former Prime Minister of Australia, Dr Kevin Rudd, for his dedication to International Relations. Currently the Australian Ambassador to the United States of America, Dr Rudd was recognised for his long and distinguished career in global politics.

Dr Rudd received his honorary degree at a special ceremony in the University’s Bute Hall and gave a keynote speech focusing on The Impact of US China Relations on Global Geo-Politics, Geo-Economics and Climate Change.

Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli, Principal & Vice-Chancellor, University of Glasgow, said: “I am delighted to welcome Dr Rudd to Glasgow and to hear his keynote speech on the impact of US China relations on global politics.In awarding this honorary degree we are recognising the exceptional impact Dr Rudd has made on the international stage for two decades. As Prime Minister of Australia, Minister for Foreign Affairs and now the Australian Ambassador to the United States, Dr Rudd has played a pivotal role in representing his country. Closer to home, Dr Rudd has worked tirelessly to ‘Close the Gap’ on inequalities across Australin life and society. In doing so, Dr Rudd has proved he shares the values of the University of Glasgow and I very much welcome him to our community of world changers.”

Australia’s twenty-sixth Prime Minister

Dr Kevin Rudd served as Australia’s twenty-sixth Prime Minister from 2007 to 2010, then as Minister for Foreign Affairs, before a second term as Prime Minister in 2013. Since leaving government, Dr Rudd became inaugural President of the Asia Society Policy Institute in New York in 2015 and is recognised as a leading analyst on China. In 2020, he was appointed President and CEO of the Asia Society globally and, in 2022, he founded the Asia Society Policy Institute’s Center for China Analysis. In 2019, Dr Rudd was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia for eminent service to Indigenous reconciliation, innovative economic initiatives, and major policy reform, and through senior advisory roles with international organisations. He is co-chair of an Australian charity, the National Apology Foundation, which works to advance reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, building on his commitment as Prime Minister to ‘Close the Gap’ on inequalities in health, education, employment, housing, incarceration, child protection, violence, mental health, traditional languages and digital inclusion facing indigenous communities in Australia.

In March 2023, Dr Rudd became Australia’s Ambassador to the USA. Accepting the honorary degree, Dr Rudd said: “The University of Glasgow proudly boasts the great moral philosopher and modern economist Adam Smith as one of your own, whose writings in The Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations have shaped my own worldview over many years. In the engineering sciences, you also nurtured James Watt, Adam Smith’s great friend and contemporary, who became the inventor of the stream engine, giving rise to what we came to call the Industrial Revolution which transformed the world. I thank this ancient university, founded in the 15th century, and now among the oldest in the world, for awarding me this honorary degree.”

Chariots of Fire story brought to life in Paris

The inspiring story of a Scottish athlete who refused to run on Sundays is being brought to life at the Scots Kirk in Paris. Eric Liddell won a gold medal in the 400m at the 1924 Olympic Games in the French capital – the triumph depicted in the Oscar-winning film Chariots of Fire. He refused to run in the heats of his favourite race, the 100m, because they were held on a Sunday – a day he believed is set aside by God as special and not for work – and chose to preach in the Scots Kirk instead. To mark the centenary of his gold medal victory, the congregation recently hosted two performances of Eric Liddell – the Chariot of Fire.

Produced by the Searchlight Theatre Company, the synopsis of the four person play states: “Set in Paris, during the Olympic Games of 1924, we see the struggles Eric Liddell faces around him in staying true to his principles. When given the chance to become the fastest man in the world, will his convictions buckle? Should he stay true to his beliefs? And can he bring home a medal for King and country?” One reviewer described the play as an “exploration of determination, ambition and faith”.

The Flying Scotsman

Actor Michael Taylor as Eric Liddell and the Scots Kirk in Paris. Photo: Church of Scotland/Searchlight Theatre Company.

Eric Liddell was born in 1902 in Tientsin (now Tianjin) in northern China. His Scottish parents were Christian missionaries with the London Mission Society and he and his elder brother, Rob, went to a boarding school in London. He saw his parents and sister when they returned to the family home in Edinburgh and in 1920 he enrolled in the University of Edinburgh to study pure science. Known as the “Flying Scotsman”, the athlete broke the world record three times before winning the 400m final, which was held on a week day. Valerie Prieur, session clerk at the Scots Kirk, said: “The play is being performed as part of our Eric Liddell commemorations and we are very privileged to have Searchlight bring it here. It covers Mr Liddell’s Olympic Games period, his decision not to run in heats for his favourite race the 100m because they were held on a Sunday, his preaching at the Scots Kirk on the 6th and 13th of July 1924 and his subsequent gold in the 400m.”

The play was created and first performed in 2012 to coincide with the Olympic Games in London and in later years was toured in the USA, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Actor Michael Taylor who played the role of Eric Liddell said: “The play has been on ice for some years but when we realised that the Olympics were going back to Paris, 100 years after they were last held there, we thought the chance to bring this story to life again, in a place that played a pivotal but often overlooked role in this story, is really special. The Scots Kirk is such a significant part of it because that is where he went on a Sunday morning, not knowing whether or not if he was going to be going home from the Olympics with nothing to show for it other than making a stand for God.”

The Eric Liddell 100

Mr Liddell graduated from the University of Edinburgh after the 1924 Paris Olympics, went on to study Theology for a year after which he returned to Tientsin to work as a missionary with the London Missionary Society. He taught science at the Anglo-Chinese college and later decided to become an evangelist in rural China, travelling by foot and bicycle. Following the Japanese invasion of China and the outbreak of the Second World War, Mr Liddell’s pregnant wife and their two children left for the safety of Canada, her birth country, but he decided to stay. He was later classified as an enemy national and sent to the prison camp at Weishien in 1943. Mr Liddell took on a leadership role to meet prisoners’ physical and spiritual needs – preaching sermons and teaching hymns. Tragically, he developed an inoperable brain tumour and died in the camp in February 1945.

A one man play covering Mr Liddell’s life after the Olympic Games is being staged at the Scots Kirk on 6 July. The Eric Liddell 100 is a programme of educational, sporting and cultural events celebrating Liddell’s legacy and aiming to bring his achievements to life for new generations.

The Paris 2024 Games will be the biggest sporting event organised in France and will take place from 26 July to 11 August.

The Eric Liddell 100 is a programme celebrates one of Scotland’s iconic figures. Eric Liddell’s legacy is being celebrated 2024, the centenary of Eric Liddell’s historic success at the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris. For more information see: www.ericliddell.org/the-eric-liddell-100

Main photo: Eric Liddell. Photo:  The Eric Liddell Community and the Liddell Family.

Latest search for the Loch Ness Monster concludes with unexplainable noise captured on hydrophone and potential sighting

The search took place on the 90th anniversary of the first organised surface watch of Loch Ness, Sir Edward Mountain’s expedition with a team of 20 volunteers named the ‘Watchers of the Monster’.

The Loch Ness Centre returned with an even bigger search of Loch Ness as it continues its goal of uncovering the loch’s mysteries. The Quest, which took place on Thursday 30th May to Sunday 2nd June, saw hundreds of budding monster hunters involved in scouring the 23-mile-long loch for unusual activity, both in person and online.  Using the hydrophone to listen for mysterious sounds echoing from the depths of the loch, Alan McKenna from Loch Ness Exploration captured a unique noise to be analysed, a rhythmic pulsing that lasted about 10 seconds. Alan will now isolate the noise in attempt to identify the source of the fascinating sound that he has never heard before.  Evelyn Murphy, age 11, also captured a potential sighting with an intriguing photo, showing a clear break in the water made by an unidentified object or creature.

The Quest took place on the 90th anniversary of the pioneering adventurer Sir Edward Mountain and his team of twenty becoming the first ‘Watchers of the Monster’.  Over the 4 days, as well as the search, a number of other celebratory events took place. The centre hosted a live debate with Alan McKenna from Loch Ness Exploration, Roland Watson, a renowned Loch Ness writer, and eyewitness Richard White, which was held in-person and screened virtually to participants from around the world. The panel told gripping stories, discussed their ongoing research, and dissected eyewitness accounts, all while debating the existence of the elusive monster.

The mysteries beneath the loch

Possible Nessie sighting.

Other volunteers explored the depths of the world-famous loch with Deepscan Captain, Alistair Matheson, the Skipper for the Loch Ness Project. Monster hunters joined Alistair and Alan McKenna for an extended excursion, utilising a 60-foot hydrophone to listen for mysterious sounds echoing from the depths of the loch.

Ashley Range, a volunteer who travelled from Washington State to take part in The Quest, said, “I’ve been obsessed with Scotland and Nessie my whole life, and to be here is just a dream. To be on an actual expedition and out on Deepscan exploring Loch Ness is a dream come true. I definitely believe in Nessie. Although a lot of the evidence can be explained, there is a lot out there that is unexplainable. It’s been an incredible trip!”

Paul Nixon, General Manager of The Loch Ness Centre, said, “The excitement this weekend has proven that intrigue surrounding Loch Ness and its monster is still very much alive. We all want the same thing, to discover the mysteries of the natural phenomena beneath the loch. We’ve been delighted to welcome so many people to The Loch Ness Centre for hour-long centre tours and Deepscan boat trips across the weekend. After another successful The Quest Weekend, we’re more determined than ever to continue our search for answers.”

On the search for Nessie.

Looking ahead, The Loch Ness Centre are pleased to announce an upcoming collaboration with a prestigious Scottish university to conduct pioneering research on Loch Ness. This ground-breaking study will be using technology that has never been used on this iconic body of water. Next year’s Quest Weekend is taking place on Thursday 22nd to Sunday 25th May 2025.

For more details see: www.lochness.com/thequest

The Montreal Highland Games 2024: Come for the competitions, stay for the fun

The Montreal Highland Games, established in 1855, are the oldest Scottish festival in Quebec.  Starting with Promenade of Cabers through the streets of Verdun on Thursday; a Wee Ceilidh at the Burgundy Lion Pub on Friday night; and culminating with the Games on Sunday, August 4 on the grounds of the Douglas Hospital in Verdun, we bring Scotland to the city.

Scottish athletic events are fan favourites.

Newly elected President of the Games, Cameron Stevens, sums it up this way, “The current version of the Games are a tribute to all those who came before us. Countless men and women who offered their time and money to preserve Scottish culture in Montreal. We remain grateful to our present-day sponsors and volunteers who continue this tradition. The Games wouldn’t happen without them.”

Co-presenting sponsors are the St-Andrew’s Society of Montreal and Pembroke Private Wealth Management.  “We have more pipe bands than ever this year. We are especially thrilled to welcome the Normandy Highlands Pipe Band, from Rouen, France and the Prince Charles Pipe Band from San Francisco, California” says Stevens.

Wide range of activities

“Come for the competitions, stay for the fun!” represents the wide range of activities occurring alongside traditional Scottish contests at the Games such as Athletics, Piping and Highland Dance. Everyone wants to see who tosses the caber the furthest and the straightest. Fans want to know which pipe band will win their category and which dancer will take home the trophy.

But… there is also the Celtic Mile with the fiddlers’ tent; a whisky tasting station; and numerous clans to meet and greet. There are wee cabers to be tossed, faces to be painted and castles to be bounced in at the Family Village. Medieval knights will do battle in the ring, rugby players will be on the pitch and fans will cheer on the tug of war! Don’t forget the tartans and baubles to be purchased from vendors; and food and drink to buy at the concessions.

Haggis eating contest in the Ceilidh Tent. Who will win in 2024?

Those who know, KNOW, it’s the Ceilidh Tent where the fun never stops. This year the Games are thrilled to welcome back fan favourites Mariner’s Curse along with Scotland’s premier bagpipe Celt-Rockers Gleadhraich.  Hop on the free shuttle bus from the Angrignon métro station and join in the celebration at the Douglas Hospital Grounds, Verdun on Sunday, August 4. Tickets can be purchased on the website.

Follow the Montreal Highland Games on Facebook and Instagram for updates or for more details see: www.montrealhighlandgames.com

Text: Marilyn Meikle, Communications Coordinator, Montreal Highland Games.

All photos courtesy of Peter Matulina.

Ayrshire baker kick off Euro 2024 with Scotland’s first official Tartan Army Pie

Scotland may have already exited the Euro 2024  championships, but one of the largest traditional craft bakeries in Scotland has kicked off this year’s European Football Championship by launching the country’s first official Tartan Army Pie. Ayrshire-based Brownings the Bakers released its latest savoury showstopper ahead of Scotland’s first match against Germany in the Euros.

Made with a traditional Scottish beef mince and tattie filling and a puff pastry top, Tartan Army Pies will hit shelves from 11 June in all 105 Aldi stores in Scotland, more than 100 Spar stores, selected Morrisons, and Brownings’ own six retail outlets in Ayrshire and the pies will be available throughout the summer.

World Scotch Pie Championships

Brownings currently holds the title of the Best Steak Pie in Scotland for its Kilmarnock Pie from the World Scotch Pie Championships. The family firm has twice been named World Scotch Pie Champions for their Scotch Pie, as well as British and Scottish Baker of the Year.

John Gall, Managing Director of Brownings the Bakers, said: “We’re really proud to be kicking off this year’s Euros with the launch of Scotland’s first official Tartan Army Pie. We wanted to create a showstopping pie that not only reflects the quality and heritage of our family craft bakers, but something that the nation could take to its heart as we support our national football team this summer. Our Tartan Army Pie has a traditional Scottish beef mince and tattie filling and delicious puff pastry top, which we hope will appeal to football fans and pie lovers across Scotland.”

Established in 1945, Brownings already has a strong link with Scottish football due to its award-winning Kilmarnock Pie. The company also sponsored Kilmarnock Football Club for three seasons. Despite being a ‘Kilmarnock’ Pie, Brownings’ famous pie is loved by football and pie fans across the country.

Remote woodland – home to Scotland’s oldest wild pine – saved as part of rewilding initiative

A remote ancient woodland, home to Scotland’s oldest wild Scots pine, which is at least 565-years-old – has been saved from being lost forever and given a chance of regeneration thanks to Trees for Life, as part of the charity’s vast Affric Highlands rewilding initiative. The pinewood remnant of some 57 pines, all several centuries old and scattered through Glen Loyne in the northwest Highlands, was at risk from overgrazing by excessive numbers of deer – a key threat to surviving Caledonian pinewoods that prevents them from naturally regenerating. The oldest pine has been dated to at least 1458 by St Andrews Tree-Ring Laboratory, and is believed to be even older. The ancestry of such pines stretches back to the last ice age.

Globally unique

In cooperation with the landowner, whose love of the pinewoods made the project possible, Trees for Life has created a new deer-proof ‘exclosure’ of fencing to protect the woodland, including the most ancient pines, and to allow young seedlings to grow without being eaten. “Glen Loyne’s wild pines and other Caledonian pinewoods are globally unique, and a special part of Scotland’s character and culture. Saving and restoring them offers a major opportunity for tackling the nature and climate crises,” said James Rainey, senior ecologist at Trees for Life.

Trees for Life surveyed the site as part of its four-year Caledonian Pinewood Recovery Project, one of the most comprehensive surveys of the health of Scotland’s pinewoods. The team found that some of the oldest pines were outside an area of fencing which had been erected in the 1990s to protect the trees from grazing pressure. Deer had also breached the fenced area. Trees for Life has now erected 1.5 kilometres of new fencing, and has connected up, extended and repaired existing sections, with the heavy-duty materials having to be transported into the remote glen by helicopter. The pinewood will now be able to naturally regenerate for the first time in decades. “Fencing is only a temporary fix, but for now it’s a vital way of giving these precious pinewoods a fighting chance of recovery until effective landscape-scale deer management can be properly established,” said James Rainey.

The UK’s largest rewilding landscape

Historically part of the royal hunting grounds of Cluanie, the Glen Loyne woodlands would once have been home to capercaillie, wildcat, and lynx. Ordnance Survey maps from 1874 show a more extensive woodland in the glen, but by the 1990s there were only 85 ancient pines left – a number that has since been reduced further to just 57. The nature recovery project has been funded by the family of Harry Steven, who with Jock Carlise wrote The Native Pinewoods of Scotland, published in 1959. This pioneering book recognised the special status of the pinewoods, and documented 35 wild pine populations that had managed to survive centuries of deforestation.

In the 1990s, the work of Steven and Carlisle led to the then Forestry Commission Scotland compiling Scotland’s official Caledonian Pinewood Inventory, which today recognises 84 sites. Glen Loyne, on East Glen Quoich estate, lies within Affric Highlands – the UK’s largest rewilding landscape. Led by Trees for Life and Rewilding Europe, this 30-year community-focused initiative will restore woodland, peatland and riverside habitats over half a million acres from Loch Ness to the west coast, supporting re-peopling and nature-based economic opportunities.

The Caledonian forest once covered much of the Highlands, but today less than 2% survives. The pinewoods are one of Scotland’s richest habitats, and offer refuge to declining wildlife such as red squirrels, capercaillie and crossbills. Trees for Life is dedicated to rewilding the Highlands, including by restoring the Caledonian forest.

 

For further details see: www.treesforlife.org.uk.

New tour of Cathedral gravestones brings Orkney’s past to life

Locals and visitors can delve into Orkney’s fascinating history and colourful characters of the past as revealed by the gravestones surrounding St Magnus Cathedral – through a new in-depth guided tour, available from this summer. The project has been made possible through the support of the Friends of St Magnus Cathedral who’ve helped fund a new Cathedral Curator post – filled earlier this year by Fran Flett Hollinrake who will be well known to many as Cathedral Custodian for many years and gifted local storyteller. During the hour-long tour guided by Fran, folk will encounter the many characters who have shaped Orkney’s trajectory, or been affected by pivotal moments in its past.

Highlights include gravestones of the rich and famous, including the 19th century epitaph of Samuel Baikie of the Orkney family dynasty of Tankerness House. Brother of William Balfour Baikie, the renowned African missionary from Orkney buried inside the Cathedral, Samuel built the striking Town Hall opposite St Magnus Cathedral – and also much of Dundas Cresent. The tour will also showcase five war graves from WWI (three in War Grave Commission style), the mass graves where nave burials were relocated from inside the Cathedral, paupers’ graves – and a gravestone somewhat uniquely featuring the date ‘30 February’.

Wealth of history

Fran explains the tours are aimed at people who want to get a view of Orkney over the centuries – through a grass roots lens, “It’s often said death levels us all, and there is much to be learned by reading between the lines of someone’s gravestone and how their contribution to society was recorded at the time in this most final of ways.” One of Fran’s favourite gravestones is that of Peter Wick, the first Cathedral Custodian, who died in 1902 and whose photo is held by the Orkney Library and Archive: “His main job seems to have been to be stop people from carving their names in the walls of the Cathedral! I think everyone would agree we’ve moved on since then – nowadays the Cathedral is admired around the world and seen as a marvel holding an age of amazing stories. And this new tour of the graveyard is just one way to prise open the lid on that wealth of history.”

Chair of the Council’s Education, Leisure and Housing Committee, Gwenda Shearer, said: “Fascination for Orkney and its history continues to grow the world over, as does local pride in our heritage – so it’s with delight that we are launching this new tour to further celebrate the wonderful history embedded in St Magnus Cathedral.”

St Magnus Cathedral was founded in 1137, and is of international significance. Built from local red and yellow sandstone, the cathedral is mostly Romanesque in style. It is dedicated to St Magnus, Earl of Orkney in the 12th century, at a time when Orkney was part of the Kingdom of Norway. He was killed on the orders of his cousin and rival Hakon, and many miracles were reported after this death. In 1137 Magnus’s nephew Rognvald began construction of the ‘fine minster’ in honour of his saintly uncle; Magnus’s relics remain interred in a pillar of the choir. The cathedral has stood firm against Reformers, Cromwellian troops and wartime danger, and is the most complete medieval cathedral in Scotland.

Visit the Orkney Museums website for more information: www.orkneymuseums.co.uk

New photos of Greyfriars Bobby unveiled

Greyfriars Bobby needs no introduction. He’s one of the most recognizable figures in Scottish history and probably one of the most famous dogs in the world. Yet despite a wealth of literature, and a Disney film, there remain open questions about who exactly this little dog was. Speaking strictly from the photographic record, there are two dogs purported to be Greyfriars Bobby. One, often named Greyfriars Bobby the First, appears in at least five photographs, taken by Edinburgh publisher Walter Greenoak Patterson around 1867. The other, Greyfriars Bobby the Second, appears in a single photograph of unknown date and origin.

Skye terrier

The Traill family and Bobby. Photo: The City of Edinburgh Council, Museums and Galleries; Museum of Edinburgh.

Before we continue, we must sadly put Greyfriars Bobby the Second to bed. In the cold light of day, a single photograph of a Skye terrier, with “Grayfriars Bobby” written on it, is not enough to suppose, as some have, that there was a second dog. Photographs are frequently mislabelled. On the balance of probability, we have no choice but to conclude that Greyfriars Bobby the Second was no Greyfriars Bobby at all, but a Greyfriars Red Herring.

Consequently, we must dismiss the hypothesis that Greyfriars Bobby the First died and was replaced prior to 1872 – the “two dog” theory. That so famous a dog could have been replaced by one of a different breed without raising any eyebrows already stretches the bounds of credulity. Perhaps most importantly, it means that Bobby was, probably, neither a purebred Skye terrier, nor a Dandie Dinmont, although they will forever remain an integral part of the legend of Greyfriars Bobby.

Photo: National Galleries Scotland.

So, who was Greyfriars Bobby the First? If you visit Bobby’s display at the Museum of Edinburgh, you will see the three images known prior to 2010.  One shows Bobby with the family of John Traill, another with the family’s children, and one by himself, the Museum’s cabinet card-sized copy addressed to John Traill from WG Patterson. John Traill ran an establishment at 6 Greyfriars Place, at different times described as a coffee house, refreshment rooms, or a restaurant, always with Temperance added to signify that no alcohol was sold. Today, it is part of Alandas Gelato, with nothing but a neon sign reading “where the magic happens” to signify its historical ties to Bobby.

Bobby would visit and be fed at 6 Greyfriars Place, as he would visit other local homes and businesses in-between stints in Greyfriars Kirkyard. As time went on, the Traill family’s role evolved to something like carers or owners, and it is for this reason they were photographed with the famous pooch.  What is rather remarkable is that since 2010, three entirely new photos have come to light. Mine is the latest and the reason for this article.  In 2010, a Flickr user posted an Edinburgh carte-de-visite photo of a small terrier in a cemetery. It was quickly pointed out that the photographer, WG Patterson, the graveyard setting, and the general appearance of the dog, suggested it might well be Greyfriars Bobby. Having compared the photograph to the location of John Gray’s grave in Greyfriars Kirkyard, and the subsequently discovered photos of Bobby, I am confident that not only is this indeed Greyfriars Bobby, but Bobby at the famous graveside he may have mourned at.

A better understanding of Bobby

Friends of Dalry Cemetery volunteer Lani Knott with the newly unveiled photograph of Greyfriars Bobby in Greyfriars Kirk.

In 2022, another carte-de-visite of unknown ownership but with a remarkable resemblance to the renowned canine began to circulate in the media. Fresh on its heels, I discovered a further carte-de-visite in 2023. For the first time, we can assemble all of these photos together and gain a better understanding of Bobby.  One of the first conclusions we can draw (yes, pun intended) is that the previously-known solo portrait is not a photograph, but a traced illustration of the photo I discovered, with some minor changes. Another is that being intended for commercial sale, the images were probably taken in order of saleability until the final, illustrated image was chosen for sale to the public.

Resembling the most strongly a traditional Victorian studio portrait, it is likely that the Traill family was photographed first. However, the inclusion of a family that not all intended customers would have been familiar with, and Bobby looking away from the camera in one photo and blurry-faced in the other, probably necessitated additional photos.  From here it may have been decided that instead of with his current caretaker family, Bobby might be photographed at the famous graveside of John Gray, the man who may have been his former owner. With no further known photos in this Kirkyard series, we can hazard a guess that Bobby may not have been particularly cooperative in terms of adopting a mourning pose when prompted. We can also see from the shallow depth of field that the studio camera had been adjusted for a shorter exposure, probably to maximize chances of keeping a moving dog in focus.

Inability to secure a photo of Bobby suitably reposed may have led Patterson back to the studio, where Bobby was placed, by himself, on an ornamental pedestal. One photo shows his claws, in another they are absent – the photo with claws must have been taken first. Perhaps they were trimmed to soften Bobby’s appearance. His coat, too, is brushed. In my photo, an alert, sitting Bobby, claws hidden and coat smooth, finally has his face in focus.

For the first time, we can truly look Bobby in the face. He is unquestionably a terrier cross, resembling no breed in particular. He has teefs. He looks quite happy.  So why was this relatively good photo made into an illustration for sale? Here, examining the minor changes is revealing. Bobby’s right ear is lowered. His teeth are hidden. His eyes are made to gaze upward, his entire demeanour taking on an air of mournfulness. His body, made blurry by the shallow depth of field, is brought into sharp focus. Finally, Patterson had his sellable image of a sad Greyfriars Bobby. The rest is history.

Text by: Jakob Assarsson, Friends of Dalry Cemetery.

Rare artefacts go on display for first time in new exhibitions in Lewis

Rare objects representing thousands of years of island life, from the Neolithic to the Viking Age, have gone on display in Lewis. More than 40 artefacts on loan from National Museums Scotland, including some displayed for the first time, feature in new exhibitions at Comunn Eachdraidh Nis and the Kinloch Historical Society Museum.

The artefacts were discovered at sites across Lewis and include a unique, complete 2500-year-old pot from Allt Cleascro, Achmore, found buried deep in peat, and an exceptionally rare example of pre-Viking Age Scandinavian craftsmanship.

The intricately decorated bronze mount was converted into a buckle during the Viking period and worn on its journey to Scotland. Brought together for the first time the objects provide an insight into the island’s deep past, revealing how people have lived and thrived in this area for thousands of years.  Na Dorsan opened at Comunn Eachdraidh Nis and charts the history of the Galson area. The objects, discovered on the Galson coastline, tell the fascinating story from the first farmers in the area, some 6,000 years ago, through to the arrival of Vikings on the island.

Unique find for Scotland

Archaeology Homecoming at the newly accredited Kinloch Historical Society Museum, also raises awareness of the area’s rich archaeology. The exhibition highlights remarkable finds like the Achmore pot, and significant features within the local landscape such as Sidival Stone circle.

Dr Fraser Hunter, Principal Curator of Prehistory and Roman Archaeology at National Museums Scotland, said: “It’s been a real treat collaborating on these exhibitions with our colleagues in Nis and Kinloch. These objects help bring the distant past to life, from elegant bone tools from Galson that show the craft skills of the Iron Age to the remarkable Viking-period bronze mount from Ath Linne, which is a unique find for Scotland.”

Photo: Scandinavian cast gilded bronze mount, Lewis. Image © National Museums Scotland.

The Heart of Dunfermline

Dunfermline is Scotland’s newest city; it was awarded this status in 2022 as part of the late Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee Celebrations. Oddly, it’s also one of Scotland’s oldest cities. Like Stirling and Edinburgh, it has a historic quarter with medieval origins, in this case squeezed between the town’s busy shopping streets and Pittencrieff Park.

There are none of the crowds you’d associate with Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, Stirling Castle or Linlithgow Palace. In fact, if tourist Edinburgh’s sheer busyness wears you down, you could do worse than hop on a train to Dunfermline. If you do, you’ll alight at a station that has been speedily renamed Dunfermline City: it was formerly Dunfermline Town. You also get to cross the wondrous Forth Bridge.

The capital of Scotland

Dunfermline Abbey. Photo: VisitScotland/Kenny Lam.

Dunfermline has a very long history. In the 11th century it was the stronghold of King Malcolm III and arguably the capital of Scotland, so its city status was perhaps overdue. Ruins known as Malcolm’s Tower stand in Pittencrieff Park but the name is misleading; what’s visible probably dates only from the 14th century. However, Malcolm’s residence may well have occupied the same site; there’s a lot of ‘perhaps’ and ‘may’ when we talk about a thousand years ago. We do know that Malcolm married his Queen, Margaret, at Dunfermline in 1070.

Margaret was a particularly devout Roman Catholic and founded a religious house at Dunfermline, importing Benedictine monks from Canterbury to get it started. Four of her sons subsequently became kings of Scotland; even her youngest, David 1, came to the throne, in 1124; this year sees the 900th anniversary of his accession. David was determined to see his mother’s religious community become a major abbey and installed Geoffrey, the former prior of Canterbury, as abbot in 1228. David had grown up in England and he wanted to create an impressive building in stone, like the ones down south, for his mother’s foundation. He imported stonemasons from Durham Cathedral and the nave of the structure they built survives in Historic Scotland’s care, dominating this part of Dunfermline still.

Malcolm and Margaret both died in 1093 and were buried at Dunfermline Abbey. So too, in 1153, was David. Margaret’s and Malcolm’s remains were removed to a new dedicated shrine at the eastern end of the abbey church after Margaret’s canonisation. The shrine was a focus for pilgrims for centuries, but Malcolm’s and Margaret’s remains are said to have been removed for safekeeping at the Reformation, sent to the Escorial in Spain, and then lost.

Royal burials continued at Dunfermline for centuries. William the Lion and Alexander III are among those interred in the abbey. Most famously, Robert the Bruce (minus his heart) was laid to rest there in 1329. The last royal burial was Robert, the infant son of James VI, in 1601. The locations of most have been lost; we need Scottish equivalents of those clever people who identified Richard III of England below a Leicester car park.

St Margaret

Abbey and Palace. Photo: David Mcvey.

Talking of car parks, Margaret was said to pray in a cave near the centre of modern Dunfermline. In recent times the area has been built up and a car park covers much of the site, but the grotto was preserved. Accessed by a steep flight of steps and a tunnel, St Margaret’s Cave became Dunfermline’s oddest attraction. Since the pandemic, access has been limited so it’s best to check before any planned visit. Queen (or Saint) Margaret is multiply commemorated around Dunfermline and Edinburgh, even in the name of the new city’s other railway station.

By the time of the Reformation, the abbey St Margaret founded was the third richest monastic foundation in Scotland. Afterwards, many of its buildings fell into decay, but the nave of the abbey church survived in use as the parish church. In 1821, a new parish church was consecrated on the site of the former choir; its tower is ringed in stone with the words KING ROBERT THE BRUCE so’s you know who’s buried there. The site of St Margaret’s Shrine is still identifiable, outside the church to the east, but its glory has departed.

The refectory is the most complete survivor of the monastic buildings at Dunfermline; an impressive gatehouse, which houses exhibition space and the Historic Scotland shop, links it to the monastic kitchens and the guesthouse. The spiral staircase down to the monastic kitchens is the tightest I’ve ever encountered, and as a history buff I’ve encountered quite a few. It’s strictly one person at a time.

Monks had a duty to provide hospitality for visitors and maintained guesthouses. Like hotels today, guesthouses offered different grades of accommodation; guests could be lowly, penniless pilgrims, and they’d get the budget beds. Yet visitors could also be royalty. The remains of one guesthouse survive at Dunfermline, with its earliest remains going back to the 14th century. It probably offered top of the range accommodation and in the 1580s, James VI’s Queen Anne employed the royal Master of Works, William Schaw, to transform the building into a royal palace. Their daughter (later Elizabeth of Bohemia, ‘The Winter Queen’) was born here in 1596 and in 1600 so was their son, the future Charles 1. Charles was the last ruling monarch to be born in Scotland or, indeed, to be a Fifer. His son, Charles II, visited the palace as late as 1650 but it fell into disuse soon after.

The most impressive surviving medieval buildings in Scotland

Abbot House. Photo: David Mcvey.

Abbey, palace and nave are amongst the most impressive surviving medieval buildings in Scotland, but they’ve been much altered over the centuries. The huge buttresses on either side of the nave were added in the 17th century to prevent the structure from collapsing. The southwest tower did collapse in 1807 and was replaced.

Also in Dunfermline’s historic quarter, the 1821 parish church is usually open to visitors. To the north of the kirkyard is the beautifully restored 16th century Abbot’s House, which has a gift shop and cafe on the ground floor. The rest of the building is not usually open to the public but there are occasional open days when you can explore this fascinating survivor.

In more recent historical times, Dunfermline is perhaps best known as the birthplace of Andrew Carnegie. If the city’s most famous son funded New York’s Carnegie Hall, he also funded Dunfermline’s Carnegie Hall. If he funded hundreds of libraries around the world, Dunfermline’s was one of them. The Carnegie Library now has modern extensions housing a gallery, museum and café making it a visitor destination as well as a community resource.

 

It’s a city! Photo: David Mcvey.

Carnegie bought the Pittencrieff Estate in 1902 and donated it to his home town; it is now the popular and elegant Pittencrieff Park which extends to 76 acres and is renowned for its peacocks. The magnificent 17th century Pittencrieff House, restored not long ago, used to be a local museum but is now sadly disused. However, the Carnegie Dunfermline Trust (it was set up by Carnegie in 1903 and owns the park) hope to reopen it as a public facility in the future. It would be a fantastic focal point for the park.

The birthplace of Charles 1, the shrine of St Margaret, the burial place of Robert the Bruce, the legacy of Andrew Carnegie; Dunfermline has enough to satisfy the most demanding history enthusiast.

Text by: David McVey.

Main photo: Dunfermline Abbey. Photo: VisitScotland.

Luca leapfrogs Noah to top Baby Names chart

Luca was Scotland’s top name for baby boys for the first time in 2023, according to new figures released by National Records of Scotland (NRS).  Luca climbed four places to the top spot with 344 baby boys given the name. Last year’s most popular name, Noah, is pushed into second place, while Leo remains third. Jack has dropped out of the top three names for boys for the first time since 1996, falling to fourth place. Isla returns to the top slot for the first time since 2020, overtaking Olivia, the most popular name for girls in recent years. Freya is still the third most popular girls’ name.

Scotland’s bundles of joy

NRS Statistician Phillipa Haxton said: “National Records of Scotland is pleased to welcome all of Scotland’s bundles of joy in 2023.  There are more names in use today than there were in previous generations. The number of different names for boys reached a new all-time high in 2023, as did the number of unique names given to only one child in the year. The same pattern was observed for girls’ names, and the variety of names given to girls is still greater than for boys.”

Some of the names rising in use are associated with movies. Luca is now Scotland’s top name for baby boys, rising from 43rd in the charts before the release of the 2021 Pixar movie of the same name. Meanwhile the names of actors in the summer blockbuster movies Oppenheimer and Barbie further increased in popularity, with Cillian up 24 to 99th in the list and Margot up 57 places to 106th.

New entrants in the top 100 names include Oakley, which rose 64 places to 87th and Mabel, which leapt 102 places to joint 93rd.  Choices for baby names differ across Scotland’s 32 local authorities. Luca was top in seven areas and Isla in eight. Luca and Isla were top in Moray and North Ayrshire but Luca shared the top spot for boys with several names.

A celebration of Scotland at the Melbourne Tartan Festival

With a skirl of pipes, the Melbourne Tartan Festival (MTF) will open with the annual Kirkin’ ‘O The Tartan service at The Scots’ Church, Melbourne on Sunday 30th June. This year will celebrate the 150th anniversary of opening of the current Scot’s Church building on the corner of Collins and Russell Streets, Melbourne. The Parade of Clans will be piped into the church, with each Clan being announced and welcomed in both Scottish Gaelic and English.

The Melbourne Tartan Day Parade on Collins Street on Sunday 7th July is another festival highlight event. More than 200+ pipers, drummers and dancers will be joined by Clan representatives as the official party leads them down Collins Street. Preceding the parade will be displays of dancing and piping on the terrace of the Old Treasury Building from 11.30am with pop-up events around the City, including the Block Arcade.

The Melbourne Tartan Day Parade.

A CBD Scottish Connection guided walk with cultural historian, curator and tour leader Kenneth Park will commence at 10.00am–bookings essential. Tickets for the annual MTF Ceilidh dance with Melbourne Scottish Fiddlers at Collingwood Town Hall on the 12th  July will see 200 dancers take to the floor, for what one enthusiast described as “a better workout than a session at the gym”!

During the month-long festival there will be concerts and recitals featuring Fiona Ross, Graeme McColgan ‘The Scotsman’, The Twa Bards and Claire Patti & Pria Schwall- Kearney, each showcasing different genres of Scottish music. The program includes the Victorian Pipers Association Solo Piping Championships, online and in person lectures, whisky tasting, genealogy, Burns Suppers, poetry in the park and pub and much more throughout the month of July.

The Lord Lyon.

The Main Hall of Melbourne Town Hall will be the setting for a grand and ceremonial welcome befitting the Office of the Lord Lyon at the Gala Dinner and Concert on Saturday 20th July, in what will be the premier event of the Melbourne Tartan Festival.

Dr Joseph Morrow CVO CBE KStJ KC LLD DL FRSE, the Right Honourable the Lord Lyon King of Arms has accepted an invitation to be our Guest of Honour . Guests will be piped in on arrival to enjoy drinks and canapés in the Town Hall foyer before entering the glittering Main Hall for a sumptuous gourmet meal accompanied by an assortment of fine wines, and traditional and contemporary concert style entertainment. This will be a night to remember as we welcome the Lord Lyon King of Arms to Australia.

Visit the Melbourne Tartan Festival website for the full program, with more events being added weekly at: www.melbournetartanfestival.com.au and follow the Facebook page.

Images courtesy of Adam Purcell, Melbourne Ceili Camera.

Mighty McVitie’s-Edinburgh biscuits conquer Britain and beyond

By a long stretch the maker of the best-selling biscuits in the UK, producer of the famed Chocolate Digestives, Hobnobs and Jaffa Cakes, McVitie’s is another example of Scottish inventiveness and ingenuity that started small and then snowballed into massive proportions. Incredibly, sales numbers for 2020 show that McVitie’s outsold its two closest competitors by more than five to one.

It all started in Edinburgh with Robert McVitie (1809-80), an apprentice baker from Dumfries. Robert and his father William established a provision shop in Rose Street, Edinburgh in 1839, from where Robert sold his baked goods. These proved so popular that Robert opened another shop at Charlotte Place near Charlotte Square. Robert married in 1844, and with an eye toward continuing and expanding the family business, sent his two sons Robert Jr and William to study bakery on the Continent.

Royal seal of approval

McVitie’s Rich Tea biscuit. Sean Whitton, CC SA-BY 3.0.

In the 1870s McVitie’s had premises at Antigua Street, East London Street, and Queensferry Street. Charles Edward Price joined the firm in 1875 as sales rep. After Robert passed away in 1880, Robert Jr took over the Queensferry establishment. Robert Jr expanded into Merchant Street in 1884, and a few years later hired biscuit maker Alexander Grant of Forres as bakery foreman. Price’s success as salesman led to the partnership McVitie & Price. Business was so brisk and demand so high that the firm couldn’t keep up the required production, so in 1888 the team established the massive St Andrews Biscuit Works in the Edinburgh suburbs.

The company marked another milestone when in 1892 Alexander Grant developed the Digestive biscuit which became a McVitie & Price flagship product. McVitie & Price received the royal seal of approval in 1893 after being requested to bake the wedding cake for Princess Mary and the Duke of York. Going from strength to strength, surging trade south of the border led the firm to establish a factory in Harlesden, North London in 1902. After Robert Jr passed away in 1910, Alexander Grant became the firm’s main shareholder and managing director.

With the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, the British government called upon McVitie & Price to apply its expertise and factories to producing ‘iron ration’ plain biscuits for the British Army. This venture required the opening of yet another production facility, this time in Manchester, in order to meet the demand. The business continued to grow post-war, and in 1922 McVitie & Price acquired Simon Henderson & Sons, an Edinburgh bakery.

In 1923 Alexander Grant donated a £100,000 endowment for the establishment of the National Library of Scotland. McVitie & Price began focusing primarily on biscuit production from 1924, as biscuits kept well, were easily portable and handy to eat on the run. High-profile travellers who used and endorsed the biscuits included George Binney, who led the Oxford University Arctic Expedition in 1924. The firm’s concentration on biscuits led to experimenting with chocolate and the creation of the Homewheat Chocolate Digestive brand biscuit, now famously known as McVitie’s Chocolate Digestives.

A titan on the British and world stage

McVitie’s Hobnobs. Sargant, public domain.

Pastries were still on the McVitie & Price agenda, however, with the now renowned Jaffa Cake appearing in 1927. Flavoured by sweet Jaffa oranges and a tangerine oil jam, the Jaffa Cake was the subject of a controversy when Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise declared that the item was a biscuit and not a cake, and so subject to VAT. The firm succeeded in proving to the courts that the Jaffa Cake is a cake, and decades later the treat remains VAT-free. Another £100,000 came from Alexander Grant in 1928, this time for the construction of the National Library site on the George IV Bridge in Edinburgh. The deprivations and sacrifices of World War II had a profound impact on McVitie & Price. So great was the effect of these challenges that while the company was producing 370 varieties of biscuits and cakes in 1939, in 1945 only 10 different McVitie & Price items were on offer.

McVitie & Price had more royal involvement when in 1947 they made the more than 2.5-metre-tall wedding cake for Princess Elizabeth and Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten. Working amidst Britain’s food-rationing restrictions, the cake’s ingredients were imported from overseas. In 1948 McVitie & Price merged with Macfarlane, Lang & Co Ltd to form United Biscuits Group. United Biscuits acquired Edinburgh biscuit company William Crawford and Sons in the early 1960s. William McDonald & Sons, the Glasgow maker of Penguin brand biscuits, came into the United Biscuits fold in 1965, followed by Carr’s of Carlisle in 1972.

Yet another McVitie’s breakthrough occurred in 1985 with the introduction of Hobnobs. So popular was this biscuit that McVitie’s brought out its chocolate variant only two years later, soon followed by another hit, Boasters. Adding to its century-long string of successes, McVitie’s introduced its Milk Chocolate Caramel Digestive biscuit in 1999, and in 2004 the product won the Dunk for Britain campaign, earning the title ‘Nation’s favourite McVitie’s dunking biscuit’. In an effort to make its biscuits more healthful, McVitie’s reduced the saturated fat content of its Rich Tea and Hobnobs brands by fifty per cent in 2009. The company performed more royal duties when in 2011 it was commissioned to create a groom’s cake for the wedding of Catherine Middleton and Prince William – a no-bake cake with McVitie’s Rich Tea biscuits as a main ingredient! Marching further on into the 21st century, McVitie’s has introduced McVitie’s Sweeet™, Digestive Nibbles and Digestive Thins. What would Robert McVitie think that well over a century on, his Edinburgh-based bakery is a titan on the British and world stage?

Did you know?

Digestive biscuits

McVitie’s Chocolate Digestive biscuit. Jolly Janner, public domain.

In 1839 two Scottish doctors originated the semi-sweet digestive biscuit as a digestive aid. The high sodium bicarbonate content of the recipe was believed to work as an antacid. A digestive biscuit’s basic ingredients are course brown wheat flour, sugar, malt extract, vegetable oil, wholemeal, raising agents and salt.  In 1851 brown meal digestive biscuits were offered for sale in The Lancet, and Huntley & Palmers of Berkshire advertised digestive biscuits in 1876. The digestive biscuit developed by Alexander Grant and manufactured by McVitie’s was made from a secret recipe which is still in use today. McVitie’s Digestives remain the best-selling biscuit in the UK, with the Chocolate Digestives consistently voted the UK’s number one snack food.

Rose Street

Kenilworth Bar, 152, 154 Rose Street, Edinburgh. Enric, CC SA-BY 4.0.

Sandwiched between George Street and Princes Street, the narrow Rose Street was constructed in 1770-81 as a secondary east-west road running from St Andrew Square to Charlotte Square. Originally lined with three-storey houses, as of 1820 more and more shops were in operation on Rose Street. This trend progressed until by the mid-20th century the entire street was devoted to shops and bars. The street became pedestrian-only in the 1980s. The Eagle Buildings (1904) and Kenilworth Bar (1899), the latter named after one of Sir Walter Scott’s Waverly novels, are notable establishments on the street.

Jaffa oranges

Sliced McVitie’s Jaffa Cake. Asim18, public domain.

Named for the ancient Canaanite port city, now part of Tel Aviv, Jaffa oranges were developed by Arab farmers in the mid-19th century. Also called the Shamouti, the Jaffa orange is oval with a thick, deep orange-coloured peel. Due to the thickness and toughness of its peel the Jaffa travels well and so is an ideal fruit for export. Despite its hardy skin, the Jaffa is easy to peel and the flesh tastes sweet and is almost seedless.

Text by: Eric Bryan

Main photo: McVitie & Price’s Digestive factory sample, 1870-1900, Victoria and Albert Museum. Gryffindor, CC SA-BY 3.0.

The Glengarry Highland Games-75 times perfection

When the crowds start flooding the gates of this year’s Glengarry Highland Games on August 2 & 3, they will be following in the footsteps of thousands of fans who have made this festival one of the most popular in Canada and one of the premier Celtic events in North America.

This year’s 75th edition of the Games in Maxville, Ontario, will include the traditional Scottish events of highland dancing, fiddling, heavy events and piping that everyone has come to love and enjoy.  To celebrate its 75th, the Games has added many special events making for two jam-packed two days of music, tradition and heritage.

The Games will host this year’s World Scottish Highland Games Heavy Events and welcomes the best in the sport to our infield. Friday night’s famed Tattoo will headline Canada’s Celtic Ambassadors, the Barra MacNeils, and to honour the 100th Anniversary of the RCAF, the RCAF Pipes and Drums will also perform. To the delight of many long-time Games fans, long-term Games MC Reg Gamble has been selected as this year’s Guest of Honour.

At Saturday’s breath-taking Games closing, the massed drum fanfare will return based on the hugely enthusiastic response to the performance at last year’s Games.  Many more surprises are in the works for this milestone celebration of Scottish heritage and the welcome is out to all to come and discover the magic at the 75th Glengarry Highland Games.

The 75th Glengarry Highland Games will take place August 2 & 3 in Maxville Ontario. For details see: www.glengarryhighlandgames.com

Paisley Museum weaves new chapter in textile history

Paisley’s rich textile history is being brought back to life, as part of a pioneering partnership which is helping the next generation of conservators to make their mark on Scotland’s biggest cultural heritage project. As part of the £45 million refurbishment of Paisley Museum, textile conservation students at the University of Glasgow, have conserved items of clothing dating from the 1830s through to the early 20th century. They include a children’s dress and bonnet, as well as a crinoline ‘cage’ skirt and even a knitted woollen water polo uniform.

UK’s only textile conservation programme

The University is home to the UK’s only textile conservation programme and, as a global leader, attracts students from across the world. The partnership with OneRen, the charity which is leading the refurbishment of Paisley Museum, provided a unique opportunity for students to work on objects which will go on display, rather than back into museum stores. The textiles, in many cases, were dirty, laden with decades of industrial dirt and soot and required delicate, painstaking work to transform them. The results have been phenomenal, with marked differences in before and after photos. However, the work of a textile conservator is not about making objects look as good as new.

The team helped conserve 13 objects in total, with more being worked on this academic year. One of the more unusual pieces conserved is a knitted swimsuit from the early 20th century that belonged to a member of the Irish International water polo team. It was exchanged with William G Peacock, an Olympic water polo player who trained at Paisley’s Corporations Baths in Storie Street.

Scotland’s largest cultural heritage project

Sean Kelly, Collections and Conservation Manager at OneRen, said: “The work done by the students and the team at the University of Glasgow has been exceptional, helping to bring these incredible objects back to life. This has been a fantastic partnership, bringing benefits for both the conservation and care of these textiles and for the next generation of conservators. Of course, what’s even more exciting is that these items will soon be on public display at the refurbished Paisley Museum, where everyone can see for themselves the students’ outstanding work. The refurbishment of Paisley Museum is Scotland’s largest cultural heritage project, creating a world-class attraction with community and partnership at its core. I want to extend my thanks to the team at the University of Glasgow for their continued support and their part in making the new museum a reality.”

Paisley Museum & Art Gallery in Scotland is set to reopen in 2025 with a new public courtyard, a 26% increase in gallery space, hundreds more objects on display and new learning, community-making and social spaces.

Embracing our Heritage: Scotland In The Class Program extends free resources to educators and families

In a world where cultural diversity is celebrated, preserving heritage remains paramount. For Jennifer Licko, leader of the Scotland In The Class initiative, nurturing a deep connection to Scottish heritage begins in the classroom and extends into family homes across the United States.

What truly sets Scotland In The Class apart is the personal connection of its creators to their Scottish heritage. These are not just teachers, but individuals with a profound understanding and love for their culture. They have crafted a program that resonates deeply with both teachers and students, ensuring that Scottish heritage is not just taught, but felt in the classroom.

At the core of Scotland In The Class lies a commitment to inclusivity and accessibility. Offering a comprehensive celebration unit for school spanning art, music, physical education, history, and reading, the program ensures that every grade, from kindergarten to fifth grade, has access to standards-based lessons that seamlessly integrate Scottish culture into the classroom experience.

From captivating lessons on Robert the Bruce to lively Highland Dance tutorials, educators have access to a wealth of materials designed to engage and inspire young learners, all available for free. Moreover, by understanding families’ pivotal role in shaping cultural identity, Scotland In The Class extends its outreach beyond the classroom.

Torchbearer for Scottish heritage

Parents and grandparents are invited to explore the program’s kids corner newsletters, which offer enriching activities centered around Scottish history, culture, and tradition. By fostering meaningful connections between generations, Scotland In The Class empowers families to celebrate their heritage together.

Moreover, the Scotland In The Class program is not just a resource, but a collaborative effort. It invites Scottish organizations and clans to utilize these materials in their own communications, fostering a sense of community and heritage preservation among members. Your involvement is crucial in this journey of cultural celebration and preservation.

The significance of the Scotland In The Class initiative is not just in its practical offerings, but in its role as a torchbearer for Scottish heritage. By embracing our heritage from a young age, we lay the foundation for its preservation into adulthood. Jennifer Licko and her team understand this profound truth and are dedicated to ensuring that future generations carry forward the torch of Scottish heritage with pride and reverence. Your participation is vital in this mission.

As we navigate an increasingly globalized world, initiatives like Scotland In The Class serve as beacons of cultural preservation and celebration. By visiting the website, educators, families, and organizations can access a wealth of free resources to ignite a passion for Scottish heritage in children’s hearts everywhere.

So, let us embrace our heritage, nurture our roots, and sow the seeds of cultural legacy for generations to come. After all our unique threads of heritage weave the most beautiful stories of all.

Visit the website to see all the available resources at: www.ScotlandInTheClass.com.

Glasgow tunes up for Scotland’s biggest week of bagpipes this August

Piping Live! festival and the World Pipe Band Championships get set for summer of sound.

Glasgow is set to host Scotland’s biggest week of bagpipes this summer, with the return of Piping Live! from Saturday 10th – Sunday 18th August, and The World Pipe Band Championships on Friday 16th and Saturday 17th August. The world’s biggest piping festival, Piping Live! attracts over 30,000 attendees to Glasgow each year, with an eclectic programme of events for pipers and music lovers alike to be held at venues across the city. Run by the National Piping Centre and now in its 21st year, the festival will have lively concerts, captivating recitals, hard-fought competitions, engaging workshops and energetic sessions involving 700 musicians on the musical menu across its nine days, including a swathe of free and ticketed events.

The World Pipe Band Championships – a major event which Glasgow first hosted in 1948 and the city has staged every year since 1986 – attracts thousands of pipers and drummers from all over the world to compete in the ultimate ‘battle of the bands’. Organised on behalf of the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association by Glasgow Life – the charity which delivers culture and sport in Glasgow. Social media sensation Ally Crowley-Duncan, known online as Piper Ally with a combined following of over 4 million for her innovative piping content, will be flying in to take part in Piping Live!. Originally from New York, Ally will be performing and hosting a Q&A as part of the Street Cafe, taking part in the Piping Live! Big Band, and acting as a secret judge in competitions across the week.

The sound of the pipes to the streets of Glasgow

Celebrated piper, composer and teacher John Mulhearn pictured at the lanuch of Piping Live 2024 outside The Pipe Factory in Glasgow’s Eastend.

Ally the Piper, said: “Being part of Piping Live! is like standing on the grandest stage of bagpipe mastery. It’s where the world’s finest gather to showcase their talents and where every note carries the weight of centuries of tradition. To be invited back to this world-renowned festival is an amazing moment for me in my musical journey and I can’t wait to share the experiences I have with all of my followers. Even though my career in bagpiping largely exists outside of the traditional, I’m immensely grateful for the opportunity to stay connected to the community, and immerse myself once again in the atmosphere of Piping Live! and I am really looking forward to being back in the beautiful country of Scotland and reconnecting with old friends, having first taken part with the Scotia Glenville Pipe Band (now the Capital District Youth Pipe Band) in 2012.”

The spectacular sonic week includes the iconic Piping Live! Big Band welcoming pipers and drummers of all ages and abilities to join the festival’s mass participation event, filling the city centre streets with music as they march from Mansfield Park in Partick to Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Also taking place are free, open-air performances by pipe bands from across the globe taking place each day. Including sets from the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo Pipes and Drums, the City of Angels Pipe Band from LA, and Old Scotch Pipes and Drums from Australia, these performances offer a fantastic chance to experience world-class piping in the bustling heart of the city centre. In Glasgow’s West End, the iconic Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum will host a recital by an amazing international artist each day of the festival at 2pm, showcasing bagpiping traditions from around the world in the breathtaking Centre Hall.

Finlay MacDonald, Artistic Director for Piping Live!, said: “We are proud and excited to be able to bring the 21st edition of Piping Live! to the city of Glasgow. We are thankful to our supporters, performers, participants and funders who have continued to support this event through some challenging times for the creative industries. As the popularity of piping and traditional music continues to grow and thrive, we have created a diverse, inclusive and engaging programme, showcasing the breadth and depth of the piping traditions whilst celebrating world, indigenous and modern traditional music. There are opportunities for pipers of all levels and ages, whether in competitions, at our Big Band event, or for those who fancy a go, our come and Try Sessions. You don’t have to be a piper to enjoy and take part in Piping Live!, Piping is for everyone and we look forward to bringing the sound of the pipes to the streets of Glasgow.”

The very best pipe bands on the planet

L-R Young piper Emma Hill, Croft No. Five drummer, Paul Jennings, renowned bagpiper and BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year 2023 finalist Ailis Sutherland, and celebrated piper, composer and teacher John Mulhearn.

The week will come to a fitting crescendo with The World Pipe Band Championships at the iconic Glasgow Green with bands competing from across Scotland and the world in all grades. This year’s ‘Worlds’ promises another fiercely-fought competition involving the very best pipe bands on the planet. Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association Chief Executive, Colin Mulhern, said: “Last year’s spectacular World Pipe Band Championships, which attracted a fantastic attendance from bands from almost every corner of the globe as well as spectators from near and far, demonstrated just how much this iconic event means to the international piping community, and how much interest there is in the music of Scotland’s national instrument. This year’s ‘Worlds’ promises another superb showcase of piping and drumming, and – judging from the number and very strong contingent of bands already signed up – we can look forward to an incredible, hard-fought contest.”

Glasgow Life Chair and Glasgow City Council Convenor for Culture, Sport and International Relations, Bailie Annette Christie, said: “As a UNESCO City of Music, Glasgow has a great international reputation as a fantastic destination for lovers of all types of music, and there’s certainly nowhere better to enjoy world-class piping.  With the city hosting both the world’s biggest piping festival and the pinnacle of the global piping competitive calendar, Glasgow is looking forward to resounding with our national instrument’s very best talent in August. Celebrating Scotland’s culture and music and providing fantastic entertainment, Piping Live! and the Worlds are firmly established highlights of the city’s summer events programme. Attracting thousands of pipers and spectators, boosting Glasgow’s visitor economy and further enhancing its international profile, these much-loved events are extremely important to our city.”

Piping Live! 2024 takes place from Saturday 10th – Sunday 18th August. For more information and tickets see: www.pipinglive.co.uk.  The World Pipe Band Championships take place on Friday 16th and Saturday 17th August. For more information and tickets see:  www.theworlds.co.uk.

The War Wolf at Stirling Castle

In 1304, Edward I, the Hammer of the Scots, besieged Stirling Castle. It was ‘game over’ for the Scots when a monstrous weapon called The War Wolf arrived on the scene. Robert the Bruce looking on as the terrifying trebuchet flings a pot of “Greek fire” at Stirling Castle makes a memorable opening scene to the epic film Outlaw King. But it’s quite likely that this dramatic episode really happened, and that the War Wolf isn’t just the stuff of legend!

The Hammer of the Scots

An illustration by Jim Proudfoot showing the siege of Stirling Castle in 1304.

After defeating William Wallace at the Battle of Falkirk in 1298, Edward I of England needed a further six years to grasp full control of Scotland. But by April 1304, nearly all of Scotland had been reconquered by “the Hammer of the Scots”. William Wallace was hiding in the countryside, soon to be betrayed to the English. The Scottish nobles had surrendered, submitting to Edward’s rule in exchange for the return of their lands. Only at Stirling Castle did any resistance remain. Sir William Oliphant was the governor and held the castle with about 25 men. On the ramparts, he still defiantly flew the Lion Rampant flag, a symbol of the Scottish crown. In March, Edward had the garrison declared outlaws at his parliament at St Andrews. Preparations began to extinguish the final glimmer of resistance in Scotland.

Edward decided to flex his authority in Scotland as he prepared to travel to Stirling. He no longer had to rely on troops and supplies from England alone. Now, he could order his Scottish subjects to help him take their individual castles. Scottish earls and lords were ordered to send men and horses to Stirling to assist the siege effort. They were also told not to allow their people to try and provision the garrison. Edward did not just want men, though; Stirling was one of the most defensible castles in Scotland and it would require more than bows and arrows alone for it to fall.

Materials for siege engines were shipped from Newcastle and Edward ordered the churches in Scotland to strip their roofs of lead and send it to Stirling. On top of “all the iron and great stones of Glasgow”, five carts from Brechin, 12 from Dunfermline and 22 from St Andrews arrived at the castle filled with lead to be used by the English engineers for their siege engines. By the time Edward arrived at Stirling on the 22 April, the siege was ready to begin. Oliphant attempted to delay the inevitable by asking for permission to send a messenger to the guardian of Scotland, John de Soules. Considering that de Soules was in France at the time, his request was unsurprisingly denied.

The War Wolf

An interpretation of the siege by Heath Gwynn.

When the bombardment began, the “Hammer of the Scots” appears to have wanted to simply pummel this last stronghold of Scottish independence into submission. To do so, he arranged possibly the largest array of siege engines ever assembled by the kingdom of England. The Scots were to be left with no doubt about what another uprising would bring. 13 catapults and trebuchets hurled projectiles at the castle day and night. Robert the Bruce, the future king of Scots, was said to have been present during at least part of the siege. In fact, he provided Edward with several siege engines. It’s possible that Bruce’s experience at Stirling contributed to his policy of destroying castles during his own campaign against England.

Against all odds, Stirling Castle held out against Edward’s siege. For three months, Edward watched on as the catapults flung boulders and fire at the castle walls. He was determined to see it fall. Oliphant must have been fairly surprised too. The defences were holding out and still had plenty of salted beef to feed the men. Little did he know that Edward’s engineers had been working on something special…

Five master carpenters and 50 workmen had been tirelessly assembling massive wooden beams, winches and an enormous counterweight into one of the largest trebuchets ever. When Oliphant saw it in its final stages of construction he knew that it was over. He surrendered in an attempt to save his men and the castle from the destructive power of Edward’s hugely expensive new toy. However, Edward was not in a particularly generous mood. This was to be the final nail in the coffin of the Scots and he wanted them to know it. He had a gallery constructed for the ladies of the court to view this humiliating spectacle. The fearsome engine was christened the “the War Wolf”. When its 140kg missile was released, it shattered Stirling Castle’s curtain wall. Oliphant and his men were publicly humiliated and sent to England for imprisonment.

Political theatre

The siege had shown the overwhelming resources Edward had at his disposal and his attitude towards Scotland. This was not merely a military operation. Unlike most sieges, Edward did not want to break the castle’s mighty walls just to gain a military advantage, Oliphant had already given up. Instead, he designed a piece of pure political theatre. He did not allow the garrison to surrender, so he could make a public spectacle of his power in the form of the world’s largest trebuchet.

Edward wanted to quench any thirst for resistance in grand and ultimately humiliating style. In showing himself to be overwhelmingly powerful and resourceful, it was not just Scottish military forces that he wanted to crush, it was the idea of an independent Scottish kingdom, an idea of which he had become the destroyer. It was in this atmosphere of total defeat that a young Robert the Bruce launched his campaign to become king of Scots.

Want more stories from Stirling Castle? Then head on over to the dedicated section of the Historic Environment Scotland blog where there’s tales of queens, kings, tournaments and ghosts. And if you’re visiting the castle, grab one of the brand-new guidebooks. They’re packed with research, reconstructions and riveting reads to enhance your experience of the iconic stronghold. See: https://blog.historicenvironment.scot/category/stirling-castle

Historic Environment Scotland is the lead public body established to investigate, care for and promote Scotland’s historic environment. For more details see: www.historicenvironment.scot

By: James Macivor. Text and images courtesy of Historic Environment Scotland.

Main photo. Stirling Castle today. Photo: VisitScotland.

 

2024 Australian Pipe Band and Drum Major Championships

After a 63 year recess, on the 13th April 2024 the Australian Pipe Band Championships returned at last to where it all started, the Victorian goldfields town of Maryborough. Maryborough was the site of the very first Australian Pipe Band Championships on New Year’s Day 1961. On that day, New South Wales Police band won Grade 1, the 17th Battn, Royal New South Wales Regiment won Grade 2, and Knox Grammar (Sydney) won both Grade 3 and the Juvenile Grade.

Singapore’s Lion City Pipe Band.

Forward 63 years, on a beautiful, clear autumn day the 2024 Championships began with a Street Parade along Maryborough High Street. The Mayor, Councillor Liesbeth Long, took the salute from 15 bands. The Parade was led by 2022 Australian Drum Major Champion Dominic Strudwick-Andersen from the Australian Federal Police Pipe Band and, in a nod to the very origins of the championships, headed by representatives from three bands that had competed in 1961 – Hawthorn Pipe Band (Victoria), Knox Grammar (Sydney), and Scotch College (Melbourne).

At 10.08 precisely, the Championships proper began in the stunning setting of Princes Park, Maryborough. The Maryborough Highland Society played host – as they did in 1961 – with the championships being run by Pipe Bands Victoria (PBV), the local branch of Pipe Bands Australia, under the direction of PBV Chair, Mrs Karen Wallace. The State Member for Ripon, Ms Martha Haylett MP, joined the Mayor, PBV Chair, and President of Maryborough Highland Society to formally open the Championships.

Thirty-five bands competed across all seven grades, from Grade 1 to Juvenile Novice B, carefully assessed by three panels of adjudicators, including three international adjudicators. The two white-picket fenced contest circles were embraced by adoring crowds all day, crescendo-ing to the highlight performances by Grade 2 Emmanuel College Highlanders from the University of Queensland and Australia’s only active Grade 1 band, the “local” Hawthorn Pipe Band.

Home of the Australian Championships

The championships were fiercely contested across all grades, especially Grades 4A, 4B, and Novice A. The winners? Grade 1 – Hawthorn Pipe Band (uncontested); Grade 2 – Emmanuel College Highlanders UQ (uncontested); Grade 3 – City of Melbourne Highland Pipe Band; Grade 4A – Scotch College (Melbourne) Pipes and Drums; Grade 4B – Maryborough & District Highland Pipe Band; Novice A – The Scots College Sydney; Novice B – Scotch College (Melbourne) Pipes and Drums No.2.

Drum Major Championship.

As the sun began to sink slowly westwards, the crowds were delighted by the Drum Major Championships. While there were only two competitors, the contest was of the highest standard. Both participants were immaculately turned out, each attaining perfect scores for Dress. With slightly better flourishing, Sgt Benjamin Casey (Pipes and Drums of the 5th/6th Battalion, Royal Victoria Regiment) narrowly edged out reigning champion Dominic Strudwick-Andersen (Australian Federal Police Pipe Band). Thanks to Coastal Scottish from Western Australia for being the duty band for the contest.

Clans on display.

The magnificent day closed with the famous Girl on a Drum, a Maryborough specialty where a local Highland Dancer performs her art on a Bass Drum held high. Amazingly skilled, and slightly scary! Congratulations to all participants. A highly successful day, most fitting of the “home” of the Australian Championships. As expected of Victorian hospitality, the day closed with a ceilidh at the Maryborough Highland Society. The sounds of the pipes and drums rolled on into the night, as did the stories of success from the day.

Text by: Professor Euan M Wallace AM, Secretary, Pipe Bands Victoria.

Images courtesy of Mal Nicolson.

Main photo: Albury Wodonga Pipes and Drums.

Gates reopen to famous castles and gardens across Scotland

As Aberdeenshire’s iconic Craigievar Castle, and the community-run Braemar Castle recently opened their doors following extensive multimillion pound refurbishments, visitors should make the most of the blooms and sunshine with a visit to these and many more of Scotland’s estates, walled gardens and castles as they reopen for the season. Whether an afternoon picnic amongst nature or stepping back in time to marvel at the ancient tales and architecture, find the latest gardens and castle news as well as unique events taking place across Scotland below, to inspire the ultimate day out during a break away.

Castles reopening

Braemar Castle, Aberdeenshire.

Over twenty Historic Environment Scotland (HES) sites have reopened their doors to welcome visitors, as well as several heritage locations too. This includes Lochleven Castle, which famously held Mary Queen of Scots imprisoned in 1567; Iron Age archaeology at the Broch of Gurness; dark historical tales from Hermitage Castle, Spynie Palace, Newark Castle and Scotland’s only circular castle, Rothesay Castle, following essential conservation work. For the full list of reopenings and prices for admission, please visit: www.historicenvironment.scot

Braemar Castle, Aberdeenshire

Built by the Earl of Mar in 1628, Braemar Castle has been a hunting lodge, fortress, garrison and family home.  An iconic 17th century landmark in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park. The castle’s future rests with the small community of Braemar, and over the past ten years the village has been working to raise funds and gradually conserve and restore the castle to provide even better facilities for future visitors. As a result of the communities’ efforts, Braemar Castle is opening its doors following a £1.6 million restoration programme to re-render the exterior.

Craigievar Castle, Aberdeenshire

An example of the best of Scottish Baronial architecture, Craigievar Castle fits naturally amongst the rolling hills of Aberdeenshire. The elegant pink tower of Craigievar Castle was completed in 1626 and is amongst the most loved in Scotland.  The castle is currently undergoing a major conservation project to carry out essential maintenance work, including refreshing the lime wash that gives Craigievar its distinctive and beloved pink colour.  Visitors will be treated to a grand reveal in in the coming months, when the new exterior is unveiled.

Gardens reopening

Crawick Multiverse, Dumfries & Galloway.

Kailzie Gardens, Scottish Borders

Kailzie Gardens is a renowned garden and woodland a mile east of Peebles in the Scottish Borders, with 20 acres to explore. Kailzie Gardens also boasts the popular Courtyard Café that has become a firm favourite with locals. Their seasonal shop offers local produce, gifts and plant sales, as well as a children’s nature trail and a chance to have a go on the Gardener’s 18-hole putting green, or a game of pétanque.

Amisfield Walled Garden, East Lothian

A hidden gem lying on the outskirts of Haddington in East Lothian, Amisfield Walled Garden dates back to the late 18th century and is one of the largest walled gardens in Scotland, with extensive herbaceous borders, fruit and vegetable beds, wildflower meadow, orchard and woodland to explore. The Garden is currently being restored and developed as a community garden by the Amisfield Preservation Trust and a band of volunteers, providing a venue for education and training for people of all abilities.

The Japanese Garden at Cowden, Clackmannanshire

Those looking to embrace serenity should look no further than the beautiful grounds of The Japanese Garden at Cowden. The woodlands and gardens are adorned with an array of exceptional plants and flora which are elevated by the tranquil essence of its Japanese-inspired design and structures, creating a unique and utterly authentic bridge between Scottish and Japanese culture. Numbers in the garden are restricted so that its peaceful atmosphere is not compromised, but despite that, 40,000 people still visit every year. Today Cowden has a team of full-time gardeners, a thriving cafe, and the Stewart Adventure Woodland where children can let off steam.

Da Gairdins, Shetland

This 60-acre site (of which one third is maintained woodland and gardens) is an area of outstanding natural beauty on the Westside of Shetland. Avid wildlife watchers can experience the diversity of Shetland’s wildlife as, due to its proximity to the sea and the salt marsh dividing the gardens between the sea, the area is a magnet for nesting and migrating birds. Wander around and sit on one of the many benches to witness firsthand the fact that Shetland is not a tree-less landscape like many would believe, but instead is an oasis of life, with a surprisingly mild climate, thanks to the North Atlantic Drift which surrounds this captivating location.

Carolside House & Gardens, Scottish Borders

Carolside is an 18th century mansion set in beautiful parkland flanked by wooded hills, nestling in a bend of the River Leader. Carolside is one of Scotland’s finest Private Gardens and is best known for its collection of historic roses, many of them rare today and is home to the National Collection of Gallica Roses.

Crawick Multiverse, Dumfries & Galloway

Located near Sanquhar and spanning the equivalent of over 36 football pitches, Crawick Multiverse is a unique location of outstanding artistic and historical interest and is not to be missed. Designed and constructed on the site of a former open-cast coal mine by renowned landscape architect Charles Jencks between 2011 and 2017. Feel the spiritual and astrological magic of the landforms through the striking landscape, opt to have a picnic in the Sun Amphitheatre, photograph the incredible 360 views of the site and Upper Nithsdale Valley from the Northpoint or peer inside the ‘cave’ of the Omphalos; there’s plenty to see and do.

Main photo: Japanese Garden at Cowden. Photo: Tom Langlands Photography.

Tartan Week celebrated in New York City

New York Tartan Week 2024 was packed full of events hosted by the St. Andrews Society of the States of New York, New York Caledonian Club, the American-Scottish Foundation (ASF) and Clan Campbell.  Alongside the leading organizations events were events hosted or co-hosted with Scottish Government, VisitScotland, Carnegie Dunfermline Trust, National Library of Scotland and Fringe Society.  Amongst the leading visitors from Scotland were Sir Jim Walker of Walkers Shortbread and Charles Lord Bruce who offered closing remarks at the ASF Tartan Day Observance.

Grand Marshal Dougray Scott.

The week was capped off with the 26th annual New York Tartan Day Parade taking place up Sixth Avenue led by Grand Marshal, Dougray Scott. Music was at the centre of the American-Scottish Foundation program this New York Tartan week, shining the spotlight onto several artists who brought great new music to through their performances at two of ASF’s events, the Supper Club and the three days of lunchtime concerts at Bryant Park. Camilla Hellman, President of the American Scottish Foundation noted “The ASF was delighted to be joined this year by new artists, some of whom are well known yet to audiences here. It was such a great lineup of talent”.

Pipe bands always a crowd favourite.

Amongst these artists were: Jai MacDowell, 2011 winner of Britain’s Got Talent, who performed for the very first time in the United States at both the Supper Club and at Bryant Park for the Tartan Day Observance on Friday and Scotland on the Terrace on Sunday, The Laurettes, an all-female Scottish Band who returned once again to New York Tartan Week, playing at the Supper Club and Sunday’s Scotland on the Terrace, and Noisemaker, who worked together with Ainsley Hamill in showcasing their songs from their new production Snow Goose.

Scotland’s cultural voice

Leading the bands.

Claire and Scott Gilmore of Noisemaker said: “Tartan Week is a hugely important event for us as Scottish artists based both in Scotland and in the US, to gather and share our culture, our music, and our work, with the wider Scottish-American community It is an opportunity we’d never otherwise have access to. It’s both beneficial to our artistic development and partnerships, while also deeply meaningful to us as Scots.  This year was particularly special to showcase some artists we’ve come to know through our projects and productions back home. To come together in New York as part of the ASF events and have them perform alongside with us was a privilege and, again, underlines why Tartan Week is so uniquely important to maintaining Scotland’s cultural voice on an international stage.”

ASF also worked with the National Library of Scotland to bring to life scores from the 17th and 18th century that award winning New York based fiddle player, Calum Pasqua, then played with guest friends.  Several of the pieces performed were taken by Robert Burns to set his lyrics too. Calum Pasqua said: “To watch the growth of Tartan Week in NYC, warms my heart knowing our traditions have been revealed to the masses, and are now flourishing. It was an honour and a privilege to share my Scottish fiddling with ….. I couldn’t have asked for a more attentive and interested audience to perform my music for. I simply cannot wait for next year!”

The American Scottish Foundation.

Alongside the musical programming, ASF and the Carnegie Corporation also hosted Scotland’s Dunfermline: Ancient Royal Capital and Newest City and a Tea and Talk with the National Library of Scotland entitled The Rediscovery of Lost Burns and Scott Literary Treasures, which spotlighted how the priceless treasures of Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott, part of the Honresfeld Library were rediscovered and brought home to Scotland in 2022.

All images courtesy of Greenhouse/Ben Chateauverts/American Scottish Foundation.

Scotland’s most celebrated historian announced as the Patron of the Scottish Flag Trust

The distinguished academic Sir Tom Devine announced as the Patron of the Scottish Flag Trust at the birthplace of the Saltire. In April Prof Sir Tom Devine was at Athelstaneford the birthplace of Scotland’s national flag the Satire or Saint Andrew’s Cross as he formally took up his new role as Patron of the Scottish Flag Trust. Sir Tom, the Sir William Fraser Professor Emeritus at Edinburgh University, (the world’s oldest professorial chair in the field) takes over the role from the late Winnie Ewing. The Scottish Flag Trust was set up in 1984 to promote the use of the Saltire, one of the oldest national flags in Europe, and is responsible for the establishment and upkeep of the Flag Heritage Centre in Athelstaneford and the national Saltire Memorial.

The announcement comes at a busy time for the charity which maintains the Saltire Memorial and Flag Heritage centre at Athelstaneford. Saint Andrew’s Day, 30 November 2025 will be the 60th anniversary of the unveiling of the Saltire Memorial in Athelstaneford Parish Church. The Trust are mid-way though fundraising for a series of major projects to transform the visitor attraction with ambitious plans for new historic interpretation and improved accessibility which will opening up the site to wider groups of visitors. The Trust is working to implement a new landscape masterplan and renovation of the Saltire Memorial.

The symbol of Scotland

Commenting Professor Emeritus Sir Tom Devine said: “Everyone in Scotland no matter their political outlook can support Scotland’s Saltire and back the restoration of this important site. With the Euro 2024 a few months away there is no better time to rally behind Scotland’s saltire, it is a symbol which all Scots can be rightly proud. I am honoured to become patron of the Scottish Flag Trust in succession to Dr Ewing and lend my enthusiastic support to the fundraising efforts underway now and in the future.”

Trust Chair, David Williamson added: “The Trust is delighted to have Sir Tom as our new Patron as we continue our ambitious programme of restoration and renewal at the birthplace of Scotland’s national flag. The Scottish Flag Trust promotes the Saltire as a welcoming symbol for all Scots whether they are Scots by birth, by choice or through their family roots.”

The St Andrew’s Cross or Saltire is Scotland’s national flag. Tradition has it that the flag, the white saltire on a blue background, one of the oldest flags in Europe originated in a battle fought in East Lothian, near the village of Athelstaneford in the Dark Ages. Today the flag flies proudly all year round from the Saltire Memorial in Athelstaneford parish churchyard to celebrate this special connection. The history of the battle and the adoption of the Saltire as the symbol of Scotland is told in the Flag Heritage Centre through a unique audio-visual presentation. The Scottish Flag Trust promotes the Saltire as a welcoming symbol for all Scots whether they are Scots by birth, by choice or through their family roots.

The Scottish Flag Trust is a registered Scottish charity which maintains the Saltire Memorial and the Flag Heritage Centre at Athelstaneford and promotes the proper use of the Saltire.  The restoration and renewal project will see a new accessible pathway with interpretive timeline telling the history and adoption of Scotland’s national flag from 834AD to the present. The work is being funded through crowdfunded donations at: www.saltire.scot.

Gather the Clan this summer at the Sherwood Park Highland Gathering

The Sherwood Park Highland Gathering returns to Broadmoor Lake Park in Sherwood Park, Alberta, on July 22 and 23, 2024! More than 12,000 people attended last year’s Sherwood Park Highland Gathering with over 400 competitors participating. Saturday offers an amazing cultural experience with sanctioned events in pipes, drums and massed bands, along with highland dancing and heavy events, also new this year will be a Corporate Tug O War.

Saturday evening from 6 pm – 11 pm, you’ll find a family friendly Ceilidh featuring local Edmonton band, Celtara, with their uniquely identifiable Canadiana Celtic sound along with the North Stratton Pipe Band and Celtic Ceilidh Dance Academy. Sunday you’ll find sheep & duck herding demonstrations, other canine capers and a Viking village.

Both days you will also find Food Trucks, a Celtic marketplace, Kids Zone, pet rest area & beer gardens!  The Highland Gathering will be open from 9 am to 4 pm both days. Parking is available on-site and we are also encouraging cyclists to ride down and park in our special Cycle Parking area.

Bring your lawn chair and enjoy these action-packed, fun-filled days in Sherwood Park.

For more information, to purchase tickets or to volunteer, please visit:  www.sphg.ca.

The Mackay Scottish Bluewater Fling- Celebrating Mackay’s Scottish heritage

When John Mackay, the leader of a party of predominately Scottish explorers (and the first white men to visit the area), first saw the Pioneer River, the lifeblood of the tropical North Queensland city that would later bear his name, he described it in his diary as ‘picturesque….and unlike anything we had previously seen’. Over 160 years later, that same river is once again the beautiful blue backdrop to another Scottish party – the annual Mackay Scottish Bluewater Fling.

The Bluewater Fling is a free, outdoor, family-friendly community event that celebrates Mackay’s Scottish heritage. The event showcases local and visiting performers including pipe bands from across Queensland, Celtic rock bands, soloists, and Highland dancers. A number of stalls selling Scottish wares and foods and an on-site licenced venue also helps to keep the crowds entertained on the day.

This year’s Fling will be held on Saturday 31 August, at the Bluewater Quay, the ‘town square on the river’, in Mackay’s central business district. Given the idyllic tropical location and winter date, the only thing more certain than having perfect weather at the Bluewater Fling, is having a good time! The entertainment starts with a massed bands at 1.30pm and performances continue until 4.30pm. From there, performers and supporters move to a local indoor venue for the free ‘Fling Afterparty Ceilidh’, where it has been commented that the party really gets started! Live music and ceilidh dancing continues until late into the evening.

Passion for the pipes and drums

One of the highlights of the Bluewater Fling’s programme, the massed bands parade across the Forgan Smith Bridge, which spans the iconic Pioneer River (purported to be one of the bluest rivers in the country, thanks to its sandy base). The Bluewater Fling is an opportunity for pipe bands from North and Central Queensland to come together and share their passion for the pipes and drums. Bands confirmed to be attending this year’s Fling include Townsville Memorial Pipes and Drums, Townsville and Thuringowa Pipe Band, Veterans and Families Pipe Band, 3RAR Pipes and Drums and the Rockhampton Highlanders Pipe Band…but there is always room for more!

The Bluewater Fling is hosted by the Mackay and District Pipe Band, who have been bringing the rich sound of the pipes and drums to the people of Mackay since 1926. In honour of the previously mentioned founder of their home city, John Mackay, the band wears the crest and ancient tartan of Clan Mackay. The band is made up of fifty musicians, tutors, students and supporters from across the Mackay area, ranging in age from children to nonagenarians.

The event is the brainchild of Deborah Orr, a thirty-year veteran of the band and for many years, the band’s Pipe Major. The first Bluewater Fling was held in 2016 and after its runaway success, the band decided to make it an annual event. It continues to grow every year and has expanded to include other events over the course of the weekend, including a meet-and-greet on the preceding Friday night and said rambunctious ceilidh on the Saturday night.

All pipers, drummers and Scottish enthusiasts are hereby invited to play and/or join in the festivities at this year’s event! Individual pipers and drummers are always welcome to join in the massed bands brackets. Register your interest by email to: [email protected]

For more details on the event, head to www.bluewaterfling.com.  If you need any further convincing on why you should make the trek to come play with us in our beautiful region, watch our video: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=5eDbKeb-euU

Launch of global access to Robert Burns Collection

Over 2,500 historic items from the National Trust for Scotland’s (NTS) internationally important collections at Robert Burns Birthplace Museum are now available to explore from anywhere in the world. NTS have launched a new portal that gives unprecedented access to manuscripts, archives and artefacts, including over 1,000 items that are held in store for their long-term preservation and protection. Anyone with an interest in Burns from across the world can now visit our website and engage with Burns artefacts as never before.

With the ability to zoom in on high-resolution images to see full details on manuscripts and objects that would usually be displayed behind glass, the online collection allows users to experience Burns up close and personal – from previously undisplayed handwritten manuscripts by Robert Burns, to sharing the recently acquired items from the Blavatnik Honresfield Library, alongside photographs, letters, objects and wider archival material. Highlights include a fragment of one of only six known manuscripts of Auld Lang Syne dating from 1793; Jean Armour’s wedding ring; a lock of Highland Mary’s hair; and Burns’s blue woollen initialled socks.

Bringing an incredible Robert Burns Collection to people across the world

There are also many manuscripts that have not previously been on display, including Lament of Mary, Queen of Scots, On The Approach of Spring, Scots Wha Hae and an unbound, uncut copy of the Kilmarnock Edition of Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect. Susie Hillhouse, Head of Collections at the National Trust for Scotland, said: “We are excited to be bringing our incredible Robert Burns Collection to people across the world through this online platform. This project, which has been in the works for over 12 months, will allow people to engage with items in the collections like never before. We’re currently only able to show a proportion of these items at our award-winning Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway. Now, anyone will be able to search the collections, and zoom in to tiny details and experience the full collection of over 2,500 items, 24/7, from anywhere in the world.”

The National Trust for Scotland cares for more than 5,000 Burns-related items at Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway. The site includes an award-winning museum experience, as well as the cottage where Burns was born in 1759.

Main photo: A fragment of Auld Lang Syne, handwritten by Robert Burns.

Holland Celtic Fest set to celebrate with music and dance

With summer’s approach, West Michigan’s Irish and Scottish (and others) will gather for the annual Celtic Festival in Holland. Sponsored by Guinness, this year’s festival is June 21 & 22 at the Ottawa County Fairgrounds on Ottawa Beach Road in Holland, Michigan. More than 7,000 visited the 2nd  annual event in 2023 and the 3rd annual event is expected to attract even more.

“We started in a small park in downtown Holland but outgrew that venue after the first year,” said co-director Pete Grimm of Holland. “The County Fairgrounds work well for us now and give us room to grow for the future as well. Our Highland Games already are among the largest in Michigan.”

“The idea for this festival was hatched during the COVID-19 pandemic”, according to event co-director Craig Rich of Holland. “A bunch of us who regularly celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and other ethnic festivals and events in Holland, thought that we could get together and start something great for the community.”

Great entertainment

The sound of the pipes.

The 3rd annual Holland Waterfront Celtic Festival and Highland Games features 16 Irish and Celtic bands on two stages over two days. Scheduled to appear are Acoustic Vagabondi, Toby Bresnahan, Selkie, Uneven Ground, Belfast Gin, Enda Reilly, The Barley Saints, The Chelsea House Orchestra, Kennedy’s Kitchen, The Conklin Ceili Band, Whorled, The Leprecons, Ironwood, and CrossBow on the Dennis Jones State Farm stage as well as a new second music stage. Headlining Friday night’s “Ceilidh” are Canada’s favorites, The Mudmen. Saturday evening’s grand finale features  The Devil’s Brigade (formerly The American Rogues). Scottish Pipe and Drum bands will perform throughout the event, while area dance companies will perform Irish and Highland dance demonstrations on the United Federal Credit Union Dance Stage. Children will have fun in the kids’ area with games, coloring, temporary tattoos, and more.

Heavy events.

A full schedule of Highland Games will begin at 9:30 am on June 22, featuring more than 70 men and women athletes competing in nine events including caber-tossing, hammer-throwing and other feats of strength. A dozen ethnic food tents/trucks will assure no one goes hungry, while 20 vendors of Celtic clothing and other merchandise will please shoppers. A cash bar is available both Friday and Saturday featuring Guinness, Harp, Smithwicks, Magners and other beers, plus wines, seltzers and more. The all-day festival is Saturday, June 22, 2024, preceded by a Friday evening, 21 & older “Ceilidh” (concert/party) under a huge “Irish Pub” Tent.  Friday tickets are $22.50 and include free return admission on Saturday as a bonus. Saturday tickets are just $12 per person, with those 15 and younger admitted free on Saturday due to the generosity of local sponsors.

The Holland Waterfront Celtic Festival & Highland Games is produced by the Holland Celtic Society, a 501(C)(3) non-profit organization comprised entirely of volunteers.

For more information on the Holland Waterfront Celtic Festival and Highland Games see: www.HollandCelticFestival.org or follow www.Facebook.com/HollandCelticFestival.

Research reveals Da Vinci Code impact at Rosslyn Chapel – 21 years after publication

Visitors to Rosslyn Chapel, in Midlothian, are still strongly influenced by its role in The Da Vinci Code according to new research undertaken to mark the recent 21st anniversary of the book, which was first published on 18th March 2003.

Research carried out by Shanks Research Consultancy with 6,677 Chapel visitors between March 2023 and March 2024, reveals that:

  • 49% of visitors said that Dan Brown’s novel, and the subsequent film, was a factor influencing their decision to visit the historic site.
  • 72% of them had read the book and seen the film.
  • 43% of them said that The Da Vinci Code was either a ‘very important or important’ influence.

Ian Gardner, Director of Rosslyn Chapel Trust, said “It is remarkable that The Da Vinci Code continues to have such a strong influence on our visitors, 21 years since it first appeared. It has had a huge impact on the profile of Rosslyn Chapel and has significantly increased levels of visitor numbers, which rose from 38,141 to 79,916 after the book was published and to more than 176,000 when the film was released. This has helped us complete a comprehensive conservation project at the Chapel and undertake a major programme of restoration and repair at Rosslyn Castle, enabling  future generations to appreciate these unique buildings.”

One of Scotland’s iconic attractions

In 2023, the Chapel welcomed 142,211 visitors, as numbers started to increase following the pandemic. In the story of The Da Vinci Code, the main characters, Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu, investigate a murder in the Louvre and, in doing so, follow a set of clues to unravel a mystery to find the Holy Grail, taking them to London and then to Rosslyn Chapel. Since publication, the novel has been translated into 44 languages and has sold more than an estimated 80 million copies, making it one of the best-selling novels of all time.

Neil Christison, VisitScotland’s Regional Director, said: “Rosslyn Chapel is one of Scotland’s iconic attractions and a hugely important driver of tourism in Midlothian. The Da Vinci Code was a global phenomenon and it’s wonderful that the book and film are still influencing visitors to this day. This new research chimes with our own visitor surveys which continue to show that film and television productions are still referenced by visitors, sometimes decades, after their initial release.” He continued: “Scotland’s historic sites have been the backdrop to many productions, and this is a great example of the positive impact of screen tourism, which can help support the conservation of our amazing built heritage.”

Rosslyn Chapel was founded in 1446 by Sir William St Clair. The beauty of its setting, in rural Midlothian, and the mysterious symbolism of its ornately carved stonework have inspired, attracted an intrigued visitors and artists ever since. The Chapel is open to visitors throughout the year.

Dan Brown has previously said:  “When I decided to write The Da Vinci Code, I knew that its finale would have to take place at the most mysterious and magical Chapel on earth – Rosslyn.”

The 2024 Aberdeen Highland Games

The annual Aberdeen Highland Games are on the 1st Saturday in July each year. This year will be the weekend of the 6th July, 2024. The day will begin with a parade of pipe bands, clan representatives and others. This leads into the Massed Band Salute and Chieftain’s Address that officially open the day. Pipe bands are what make a Scottish event so special. The unique sounds of the massed pipes and drums fill the air, as bands converge from all around New South Wales at the Aberdeen Highland Games. Nothing encompasses such enthusiasm and colour as Highland Dancing.

And what better sight and sound can there be, that encapsulates the very essence of Scotland, than the bagpipes accompanying a Highland dancer, kilt swaying and feet moving to traditional airs! The young and old can take part in the novelty events, whether it be the three-legged races or the famed Kilted Dash. Everyone is encouraged to dress up in their best Scottish attire, with prizes awarded to the best dressed laddie, lassie, bairn and even dog! The Kilted Warriors are a great part of the event, with a traditional Celtic strongman competition. There is tremendous strength and determination on display when the athletes compete in three events – the lifting of the Stones of Destiny, the Sheaf Toss and the Caber Toss.

Further, the Games anticipate that the Australian Defence Force/ADF Federation Guard Drill Team will be with us again this year and they are a great spectacle not to be missed. A multitude of stores and stands will surround the arena, selling all manner of Scottish heirlooms and souvenirs, clothing and garb, and food and drink to complete your day. There will be a good roll up of Clan Societies, and these are of great help to those chasing family circles. In the evening, the NSW Pipe Band Association have organised a Pipe Band Quintet competition at the Aberdeen RSL Club and hosted by the Tamworth Pipe Band.

For details go to the web site www.aberdeenhighlandgames.com or visit the Facebook page. All bookings are on line via this web site. For further detail go to [email protected].

Northumberland Scottish Festival and Highland Games

After calling Cobourg home since 1963, the Cobourg Highland Games Society are moving to a new location in Port Hope for their 60th anniversary on June 14 & 15th, 2024. To coincide with the move, they are changing the event name to the Northumberland Scottish Festival and Highland Games.  Everything else stays the same. You will still be entertained by Celtic music, see competitions in solo Piping and Drumming, Pipe Bands, Highland Dancing and Heavy events, learn about your Clan heritage and visit food and merchandise vendors. There’s fun for the little ones too, in the Wee Highlanders area.  The Games are thrilled to announce that Bruce Fummey will be the Honourary Chieftain this year. Bruce is taking time out of his Stories of Scotland Canadian Tour to take on the role of Honourary Chieftain for our Northumberland Highland Games.

Why the move to Port Hope?

The decision was not made lightly, nor in haste, however there are several reasons for the move to Port Hope. While Victoria Park in Cobourg is a beautiful setting beside Lake Ontario, the event is outgrowing the park and in need of a larger space for competitors, vendors and attendees. The Port Hope site offers that additional space, dedicated spots for all events, as well as a large outbuilding where Highland Dancing can take place.

​It’s not only Northumberland residents who attend the Games, with approximately 1,000 competitors from all over Ontario and the USA, who bring family and friends, bringing lots of out-of-town visitors. A big bonus for the new site is the Games can now offer free parking for all guests. As a non-profit organization, comprised solely of volunteers, the Cobourg Highland Games Society are very aware of their financial health.  Operating costs in Port Hope will be reduced and that allows them to pass the savings to guests. As a result, one of the first things they have done, is to lower the entry fee for 2024. But best of all? Parking is free!

Where will the 2024 Games take place?

 

The new location is at the Port Hope Agricultural Park, which Northumberland residents will know as the site for the Port Hope Fair. If you are not familiar with the site it’s in the east end of town at 62 McCaul St. Port Hope, ON, L1A 1A2. There is easy access to the park from both Highway 2 and Highway 401. Free parking is available at the park.  The Games will always cherish its connection with Cobourg – being able to host an event for 60 years in the town is a remarkable achievement. The committee feel the new title Northumberland Scottish Festival and Highland Games better reflects our ties with Northumberland County and the communities within.  The committee is working hard to make this 60th anniversary memorable, so there’s lots of planning and behind the scenes activities happening right now.

The Northumberland Scottish Festival & Highland Games will take place June 14 & 15, 2024 for full information see: www.northumberlandhighlandgames.ca or follow them on Facebook and Instagram for the latest news. You can also email the Games at: [email protected].

ScottishPower Pipe Band brings Scotland’s busiest train station to a standstill with surprise live performance

ScottishPower Pipe Band brought Scotland’s busiest train station to a standstill when it stunned commuters with a surprise live performance at Glasgow Central Station.  The spell-binding performance from one of the world’s leading Grade 1 pipe bands – which has been sponsored by ScottishPower since 1989 –   stopped passengers, staff and passersby at the major transport hub in their tracks. Dressed in their trademark ScottishPower tartan, the Pipe Band raised the roof with a captivating rendition of Dougie MacLean’s Caledonia, followed by their take on Journey’s popular hit, Don’t Stop Believin’.

A real stand-out moment

The Pipe Band, which has played across the globe and regularly places in the World Pipe Band Championships, is led by Pipe Major Chris Armstrong and Drum Sergeant Jake Jørgensen. ScottishPower Pipe Major Chris Armstrong said: “We’ve been lucky enough to perform in some amazing locations across the world, but it was really special to play in Glasgow Central Station. As home to ScottishPower’s HQ and the host city for the World Championships, Glasgow holds a very special place in our hearts, and it was amazing to see the reaction of the audience. We could have played all afternoon! It was definitely one of our more unusual practice sessions and sets us up brilliantly for forthcoming competitions including the UK Pipe Band Championship on 18 May in Bangor and the British Pipe Band Championships on 8 June in Forres. Thanks to everyone who took the time to watch – and hopefully no one missed their train!”

SP Energy Networks’ Scott Mathieson, who is also Chairman of the Pipe Band, said: “The ScottishPower Pipe Band always blow audiences away with their performances, but the added element of surprise at Glasgow Central Station was a real stand-out moment. We’re so proud to sponsor such a talented team of pipers and drummers and loved seeing them showcase their skills in such a fun and different way. There are lots more exciting performances to come this year and we can’t wait to follow them on their musical journey.”

One of the world’s leading Grade 1 pipe bands

The Pipe Band are one of the world’s leading Grade 1 pipe bands having featured as a regular prize winner in all major competitions over several decades. Twice Cowal Champions, Scottish Champions, All-Ireland and British Champions and runners-up in the World Championships are just some of their awards.

They are in demand throughout the world. They have previously performed in the US, Canada, Japan and China. The band have appeared before the late Queen at Braemar, for the Pope at St Peter’s in Rome, with Sir Paul McCartney at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre, at the Lord Mayor’s Show in London, at the Official Opening of the Scottish Parliament and at the 75th Royal Variety Performance.

You can watch the magical moment the ScottishPower Pipe Band took Glasgow Central Station by surprise on the Pipe Band’s social media channels: Instagram, Facebook, X and TikTok.

Walker’s Shortbread takes centre stage in the Big Apple during Tartan Week Celebrations

One of America’s most beloved Scottish brands wowed New Yorkers, on Saturday 6 April 2024 at the annual Tartan Week celebrations in New York City, with a miniature shortbread replica of the Empire State Building.   Every April, a wave of tartan sweeps through New York, as the city that never sleeps celebrates Tartan Day and its cultural ties to Scotland. To celebrate the culmination of this year’s event Walker’s Shortbread recreated the iconic 102-storey Empire State Building using 527 pieces of its famous shortbread fingers.   The replica, which was built by UK food artist, Prudence Staite, and was transported to the heart of Tartan Day celebrations. The wee Empire State Building was available to visit at Pre-Parade Registration, at the Algonquin Hotel in Times Square.

The miniature Empire State Building is a fitting tribute from Walker’s, which has long-standing ties with the USA.  The USA was the brand’s first export market in 1976 and home to Walker’s first international office, and the family-owned business has now been sharing the joy of shortbread with Americans for almost 50 years.   The country is still Walker’s biggest export market, with record sales recorded in 2023 and over 50 million pieces of Walker’s best-selling Shortbread Fingers are enjoyed across all 50 states every year.

A proud Scottish brand

Alastair Walker, Head of International Sales at Walker’s Shortbread said: “Walker’s is a proud Scottish brand, however we always try to create a sense of place through our products in the close to 100 international markets that we export to. What is so important to us is that we celebrate our own heritage while also nodding to the cultures and traditions of the markets in which we’re sold. Our shortbread Empire State Building is a great example of this and the ideal way for us to mark the celebrations. We first started exporting to the US, with so many ex-pats living in country it was an opportunity to provide many of them with a taste of Scotland. For almost 50 years we’ve experienced increased demand for our all-butter shortbread, as people want to indulge in a quality product which is made with care, from only four natural ingredients, in the Scottish Highlands.”

Walker’s Shortbread Ltd was established 125 years ago in Aberlour, Speyside, Scotland. Still an independent family concern to this day, the company is headed by the founder’s great- grandchildren, who faithfully maintain the tradition of producing the finest shortbread, biscuits, cakes and oatcakes to original recipes using only the finest ingredients – a policy that has earned Walker’s a global reputation for quality and excellence.

Main photo: Pipers celebrating Tartan Week with Sir Jimn Walker. Images courtesy of Walker’s Shortbread.

Canada’s Premiere Pipe Band Coming to Kingsville-Essex Highland Games

While modern day Highland Games have changed significantly over the years, there are still three pillar competitions that are consistent throughout the world; Highland Dancing; Scottish Athletic Heavy Events; and Piping, Drumming & Pipe Bands. Since its return in 2019, the Kingsville-Essex Highland Games has always proudly presented all three of these events and 2024 will be no exception. The Committee is beyond excited to announce that the prestigious 78th Fraser Highlanders Pipe Band will be competing in Kingsville on June 22nd. The 78th Fraser Highlanders are a top-tier pipe band, one of eighteen Grade 1 pipe bands in the world, only three of which are in Canada.

The 78th Fraser Highlanders Pipe Band.

Since its inception in 1982, The 78th Fraser Highlanders Pipe Band has been an international leader in bagpiping and drumming, boldly presenting innovative music with subtle hints of Celtic tradition. The band travels to Glasgow, Scotland every year to compete on the international stage at the most advanced level (Grade 1), in the World Pipe Band Championships. The 78th holds 14 Canadian Championship titles, 14 North American Championship titles, a ranking position as one of the top 12 bands in the world over twenty times, as well as a very prestigious and historic title: that of being the first non-Scottish pipe band to win the World Pipe Band Championships in Grade 1 (1987).

The ancient sounds of the bagpipe and drum

Toronto Police Pipe Band.

Also, the Toronto Police Pipe Band has now registered to return for the Kingsville-Essex Highland Games competition. As ambassadors of both the Toronto Police Service and the City of Toronto, the band is dedicated to playing good music well and to help bring the ancient sounds of the bagpipe and drum to the people. The Toronto Police Pipe Band are currently a Grade 2 Pipe Band and have competed on the national and world stage over decades. There are 5 grade levels for competing pipers, drummers, and pipe bands, with 1 being the highest.

“We are truly honoured to have these bands choose to compete in Kingsville as they don’t attend all Highland Games. This year is shaping up to be a real treat for everyone who comes to the Kingsville-Essex Games on June 22nd, it’s not every day you have the chance to hear bands of this calibre” said founder and chairman, Doug Plumb. And it doesn’t end there, check the website regularly for updates on the bands that will be joining these two Canadian icons in June.

The Kingsville-Essex Highland Games takes place on Saturday June 22nd, 2024. This year there is a new venue at the Canadian Transportation Museum & Heritage Village, 6155 Arner Townline, Kingsville, Ontario. For more details see: www.kingsvillehighlandgames.com.

Main photo: The 78th Fraser Highlanders Pipe Band.

Culzean Castle-A Castle on a Hill

Culzean Castle is famous, perhaps world famous, and deservedly so. Less widely-known is the country park of which it is the heart. The park is a magical gem in itself. Together, both in the care of the National Trust for Scotland (NTS), they comprise one of Scotland’s greatest treasures, a must-see whether you’re a local or have travelled from the other side of the world.

There can be few country parks that include such a wide variety of landscapes; there’s sea and shore and crag; gardens and woodland; ponds and burns and glens. While there is no moor or mountain, there is some farmland as well as the former estate buildings; and, of course, the castle itself.

Coif Castle

Culzean Castle from the walled garden.

We don’t know exactly when the first castle on the site was built but there was definitely something here by the 1400s: it went by the name of Coif (or Cove) Castle. The lands were the property of the Kennedy family from the 12th century onwards. The beginnings of the castle structure as we know it began to appear in the late 1500s when Sir Thomas Kennedy ordered a simple and rather austere L-plan tower house. However, the castle was massively rebuilt in the period 1777-1792 (it was a big project, so it took a while!) on the orders of the 9th and 10th Earls of Cassillis, as the Kennedy’s had become. The architect they employed was the renowned Robert Adam. Essentially, what emerged was a new-build though the old tower house was incorporated into the new structure. The new castle is widely regarded, inside and out, as an Adam masterpiece. As we’ll see, some further changes were made in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but the substance of Adam’s achievement remained.

The castle came into the care of the National Trust for Scotland in 1945. The one thing everyone knows about Culzean is that a self-contained apartment within the castle was made available to Dwight D Eisenhower for the term of his life, as a thank-you from the United Kingdom for his service during the Second World War. You can see some Eisenhower memorabilia in the Castle, but his apartment is now part of an exclusive hotel that helps to fund NTS conservation work at the site.

The gardens at Culzean.

The first thing you notice as you approach the castle is that it’s huge. If you’ve ever seen the 1973 film, The Wicker Man you might have wondered how Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee) could inhabit such an enormous property on what was supposed to be a small island; his home was played by Culzean Castle.

Your first view of the castle is framed by The Ruined Arch: this was built as a ruin, part of Adam’s design for a dramatic introduction to the castle, though the idea of a historic ruin pays tribute to the lengthy history of the Kennedy’s. The arch leads to a viaduct which crosses the Walled Garden – picturesque on the left, kitchen garden on the right – and up to the castle itself. It’s a breathtaking way to approach the building. The porch by which you enter the building is a Victorian addition; apparently, Adam’s design didn’t cope well with keeping out the westerly gales, so the porch was included in order to provide an airlock. It leads to the armoury, with, as you’d expect, patterns traced in old pistols and swords. More surprisingly, there’s a First World War aeroplane propeller in the ceiling, presented to the castle by a wartime aerodrome at nearby Turnberry.

The castle’s Oval Staircase is perhaps its most striking feature, an Adam innovation that gave access not only to the new-build parts of the castle but also the older elements that he retained. Some rooms, such as the Library, are actually housed in older parts of the castle, in this case the old tower house. The Dining Room, something of a favourite with visitors – we all like to imagine ourselves dining in state, Downton-style – was remodelled in Victorian times, but in a way that harmonised with the original Adam design.

Culzean’s coastal setting

The castle from the Ruined Arch.

The art displayed in the various rooms is a highlight of the castle for me. Watch out especially for specially-commissioned paintings of the castle itself, and of the surrounding area, by the famous Scottish painter Alexander Nasmyth (1758-1840). As was normal in the landscape painting of the time, Nasmyth tended to exaggerate the height and ruggedness of Culzean’s coastal setting but they still capture the spirit of the place.

After you’ve seen round the house there is still plenty to explore. In fact, a day is hardly long enough to see everything. The Walled Garden is a must, especially on a warm day; the beach is also worth a visit, though be warned, it is not a sandy paradise and can be slippery. Look out for a small, circular, domed building; this is the Round House, actually a grand ancestor of the changing cubicles at your local swimming pool! It was built in the early 1800s as a changing facility when there was a new fashion for sea bathing. In the estate offices – actually some walking distance from the castle itself – there’s a shop and café. Another outbuilding has been repurposed as a second-hand book and CD shop, something I like very much. And, of course, there are the wide-open spaces of the Country Park, Scotland’s first to be so designated back in 1969.

Exotica from the country park.

The site of Culzean Castle has a long history of occupation, even if the Adam building and its Victorian accretions are not really that old. As such, inevitably, there are ghost stories attached to the location. A ghostly piper is said to play on stormy nights (doubters would say it’s easy to imagine pipe music when there is a strong wind hammering into the crags) and also to foretell a Kennedy wedding. There are also tales of a young woman in a ball gown being seen in the castle and a ‘white lady’ – a traditional type of ghost but here said to be the spirit of a maltreated servant girl. I’m a sceptic about ghosts but do let us know if you see (or hear) anything!

Few Scottish historic buildings have anything like the impact on the senses that Culzean Castle does. You often hear about ‘must-sees’; this one really is.

Text and images by: David McVey.

Dressed to Kilt 2024: Canadian debut reigns supreme in Toronto

Dressed to Kilt, the renowned annual celebration of Scottish fashion and culture, made its highly anticipated Canadian debut on April 6, 2024, at the Liberty Grand in Toronto, Ontario. The event reconfirmed Dressed to Kilt’s status as the largest, most prestigious, and exciting Scottish fashion show in the world. This show now also ranks as one of the highest-profile fashion shows in Toronto in terms of press and media generation. For the first time ever, the show generated in excess of two million media impressions and counting.

The Saltire kilt. Photo by Robert Okine/Getty Images for Friends of Scotland.

The show was yet another sold-out evening. More than 400 guests attended this standing-room-only show for an evening of glamour, entertainment, and philanthropy, all in support of the Royal Canadian Legion’s Poppy Fund. The Royal Canadian Legion is the largest veteran’s organization in Canada.

The finest in Scottish fashion

A model walks the runway at the Dressed To Kilt 2024. Photo by Robert Okine/Getty Images for Friends of Scotland.

The runway came alive with elegance and grace showcasing the finest in Scottish fashion. The energy was palpable as guests enjoyed a mesmerizing display of custom-made tartans, including the new tartan created for the Canadian Special Forces Veterans through the Blackstone Association.

“We are thrilled by the overwhelming success and reception of Dressed to Kilt 2024,” said Dr. Geoffrey Scott Carroll, Co-Founder of Dressed to Kilt. “It was an honour to bring this iconic event to Toronto and to witness the outpouring of support from the community. From the stunning runway show to the incredible music, to the sold-out venue, the evening truly exceeded all expectations.”

One of the new additions to this year’s show was the collaboration with George Brown College School of Fashion, the leading university fashion program in Canada. Scotland’s Strathmore Woollen Company donated Tartan fabric to the school and upwards of nine students created bespoke designs for the runway. Their designs were wild, colourful and creative and the audience gave them a standing ovation. This collaboration with a leading university fashion program will likely be a permanent feature of the show going forward.

Celebrating Scottish fashion and culture

Chef Alain Boss, The Kilted Chef, walks the runway. Photo by Robert Okine/Getty Images for Friends of Scotland.

The success of Dressed to Kilt 2024 would not have been possible without the support of sponsors, partners, and volunteers. Their dedication and commitment played a crucial role in making this event a resounding success. As the event reflects on the unforgettable moments shared at Dressed to Kilt 2024, they extend their heartfelt gratitude to everyone who contributed to its success. Dressed to Kilt look forward to continuing the tradition of celebrating Scottish fashion and culture and watch this space as Dressed to Kilt will be returning to New York City for the 2025 show for the first time since before the pandemic.

Miss Scotland, Chelsie Allison, walks the runway at the Dressed To Kilt 2024. Photo by Robert Okine/Getty Images for Friends of Scotland.

Dressed to Kilt is a global fashion phenomenon that transcends the boundaries of style and culture. Founded by Sir Sean Connery and Dr. Geoffrey Scott Carroll, this iconic event has redefined the fashion landscape, merging the elegance of black-tie attire with the rich history of Scotland. As the world’s most prestigious Scottish fashion show, Dressed to Kilt celebrates the fusion of heritage and haute couture. With a legacy of celebrity-filled shows and a commitment to promoting Scottish heritage, Dressed to Kilt has become synonymous with fashion excellence and creativity.

For more information about Dressed to Kilt and future events, please visit: www.dressedtokilt.com.

Sandy Ritchie-The pride of Buchan

Sandy Ritchie wrote his first book at 93. He’s a champion of history and heritage, loves Doric and even booked Dame Evelyn Glennie to perform in New Deer. Aberdeenshire councillor, Anne Simpson, thinks Sandy is “an amazing man” and the pride of Buchan, as Neil Drysdale explains.

Sandy Ritchie has released his first book at the age of 93. He was recently awarded a British Empire Medal for voluntary services to cultural heritage and the community in north-east Scotland and champions the local Buchan community.

He’s the man who his first book, New Deer and Roon Aboot, at the age of 93, and has gained a reputation as one of north-east Scotland’s most remarkable community champions. And Sandy Ritchie, who is now 94, has been accorded recognition at local and national level after being presented with the British Empire Medal and a Pride of Buchan award on the same day at his home in Aberdeenshire. He was privileged to receive the honour, but upset that Atholene, his wife of nearly 70 years, was not there to witness the ceremony, following her death last year.

Bertie Forbes

Sandy receiving his British Empire Medal.

Mr Ritchie worked as a funeral director for many years, but has never lost his zest for life and has met everybody from renowned musician Dame Evelyn Glennie to international businessman Bertie Forbes and Flora Garry – the Buchan Poetess. He was also among the audience who thrilled at the sight of the Book of Deer – which is more than 1,000 years old – when it was brought back to Aberdeen two years ago and later marvelled at the news that archaeologists had discovered proof of a lost monastery close to his roots. Mr Ritchie, who has been instrumental for decades in the activities of such organisations as the Buchan Heritage Society, the Book of Deer Project and the New Deer Public Hall and Community Association, was presented with his BEM by Aberdeenshire’s Lord Lieutenant Sandy Manson.

For decades, he has chronicled those he has met or families with whom he has had dealings. These included the kith and kin of Mr Forbes, who founded the eponymous business magazine in the United States, and was another who emerged from the little Scottish community. As a young lad, he took down – in shorthand – the minister’s sermon on a Sunday at the Auld Kirk and subsequently read it to his grandfather when he returned home. The bond was strong.

And, as Sandy relates: “Bertie died in 1954 and was buried in New York. But in 1988, his son, Malcolm, arranged for his coffin to be disinterred and taken home and I myself had the great honour of acting as undertaker when Bertie’s remains were re-interred beside his grandfather, James Moir, in the Auld Kirkyard at New Deer.” So, in death, they were back together again.

Dame Evelyn Glennie

Sandy receiving his Pride of Buchan Award.

By 1989, Evelyn Glennie had established a formidable musical reputation, just 24 years after her birth in Ellon Maternity Hospital. Despite her hearing loss as a young woman, which led to her travelling to London to meet Ann Rachlin, the founder of the Beethoven Fund for Deaf Children, she emerged as a massively gifted percussionist. In which light, Mr Ritchie must have imagined he was whistling in the dark when he attempted to coax Evelyn back to the place where her mother had played the organ for the 150th anniversary of St Kane’s Church in New Deer. But, once again, the close ties ensured that he managed to bring the idea to fruition.

He explains: “I had quite a bit of negotiating to do with her people to persuade her to come – and at a reduced fee – and I was successful, I am sure, with the help of mam Isobel. A great evening ensued. I had to lay a wooden plywood covering on the church altar because Evelyn performed her repertoire in her bare feet, getting vibrations up from the floor. It was a never-to-be-forgotten evening that was enjoyed by around 800 people.”

As he noted, the now “Dame Evelyn” has achieved global fame. But that didn’t stop her from maintaining her links to the place where she and her family grew up. And Mr Ritchie will keep encouraging others to remember their roots and their heritage.

Main photo: Sandy and his book.

A Celebration of Highland Dance-22nd annual Tartan Day on Ellis Island celebrates Highland Dance

The 2024 Ellis Island celebration of Tartan Day featured a Celebration of Highland Dance through interpretive exhibits, dance costumes, performance videos and live performances. On Sunday, April 7, over 60 dancers representing the US, Scotland, Canada, and Australia performing traditional dances and a majestic mass Highland Fling in front of the New York City skyline. Performers included members of Shot of Scotch (New York City), the OzScot Dancers (Australia), the Fling Together troupe (US and Canada), the Maloney School of Dance (New Jersey) and Scotland’s Lindsay School of Dancing. Emily Ritter of Shot of Scotch served as Dance Director and piping was provided by John Loiacono.

Commenting on the experience, Debra Henry of the Lindsay School of Dance from Stonehaven, Scotland said, “Dancing on Ellis Island has been an amazing experience for our dancers with the most iconic backdrop of the New York City skyscape behind the Mass Fling. We all have memories to last a lifetime.”

A Celebration of Highland Dance.

Opening on March 27 to kick off Scottish heritage celebrations in New York, the exhibit has been extended until April 18. The program was dedicated to the memory of beloved Scottish dance teacher Mary Stewart. Stewart (1918-2001) came to America from Glasgow in 1951 and became a renowned teacher of champion Highland Dancers.

Producer Robert Currie, Commander of the Name and Arms of Currie expressed his gratitude to the entire event team, especially the incredible dancers, the US National Park Service and the Scottish Government. Additional support and coordination was provided by ScotDance USA.

Rich cultural heritage

Jackie Bird, President of the National Trust for Scotland, and Robert Currie, Commander of the Name and Arms of Currie.

Scottish dancing in North America can be traced back to the migration of Scottish immigrants who brought their cultural traditions, including dance, to the continent. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Scottish settlers and their descendants continued to practice traditional dances, adapting them to the new surroundings. These dances were often performed at social gatherings, celebrations, and events within Scottish communities, helping to preserve and pass on the rich cultural heritage. Over time, Scottish dance evolved and diversified in North America, with various styles and regional influences contributing to its vibrant presence today.

Dancer Mariah Rust.

Highland dancer Mariah Rust who took part added, “Since I first participated in 2018, the Tartan Day on Ellis Island performance has become one of my favorites, not only because it’s in a beautiful spot with views of the Statue of Liberty and lower Manhattan, but also for the significance dancing on Ellis Island holds. It was amazing to be able to share this experience with so many friends from Shot of Scotch, Fling Together, OzScot Australia and more. Thank you to the Learned Kindred of Currie/Clan Currie Society for organizing this performance year after year and for including me for a third time.”

Part of the North American celebration of Tartan Week, Tartan Day on Ellis Island is one of the United States’ major annual Scottish heritage events. Each year is highlighted by an exhibit exploring a specific aspect of Scottish-American history and culture. The celebration also features performances by a host of Scottish artists, including pipers and drummers, Highland dancers, fiddlers, jugglers and harpists. Attendance regularly exceeds 8 thousand visitors per day.

Past exhibitions have included, Scotland’s Gift’s to the World, Captain Kidd and the Hangman’s Noose, A Celebration of Tartan, and Golf – Scotland’s Gift to the World. The Society also produced the award-winning documentary film The Crafter’s Song – Tartan Day on Ellis Island in 2003.

The event is produced by the Learned Kindred of Currie, a leading Scottish-American cultural and educational non-profit dedicated to preserving and promoting Scottish and Highland heritage and the arts through a wide variety of programs including special events, scholarships and heritage programs.

For more information on Tartan Day on Ellis Island please see: www.tartandayonellisisland.com

Images courtesy of Tartan Day on Ellis Island and Fling Together Collective.

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