The following dances are frequently danced and we thought you might like to share some of the history behind these society favourites. For those who want to brush up on the dance steps, please see below or follow this link to our sister society, the Grand Chain who have produced a wonderful directory of  dance steps within their own website.

Some of the links below refer to youtube videos, so you  might not be able to watch them in China. We hope the short instructions with pictures help a little though. The number of whisky glasses indicate how difficult the dance is (no matter whether you’ve had that many!).

Dashing White Sergeant

The origins of this most famous of all Scottish dances are not Scottish at all. Its original title was ‘la Danse Florence’. The tune was composed by the English Sir Henry Rowley Bishop and the dance was influenced by Scotch reels and Swedish country dancing.

Duke of Perth

This reel is one of the most popular but also difficult dances. It is probably named after the Jacobite commander Drummond, originally the Earl of Perth who lived  and fought in the 17th/18th century.

YouTube Link

Eightsome Reel

The Scots did other dances as well, but in the very beginning, there was the reel. The Eightsome Reel was developed and recorded in its current form at the end of the 19th century only.

YouTube Link

Foursome Reel

The reel is the oldest form of dance in Scotland, which alternates between dancing along a looping track within the set and setting, showing off to your partner with fancy footwork. The Foursome Reel is preserved in highland dance competitions to date.

YouTube Link

Gay Gordons

The name ‘Gay Gordons’ is the nickname of the Gordon Highlanders, a former British Army infantry regiment. This regiment was raised by the Duke of Gordon. This couple dance was first recorded in 1907.

YouTube Link

Linton Ploughman

Linton is a Scottish village which, like many, can boast of its poets and rhymers. The song The Linton Ploughman is supposed to have been written by James Morgan in the 18th century, beginning:

“Linton, to thee a song I’ll raise
The winds shall bear away my lays
The echoes shall repeat the praise
Of thee and of thy Ploughmen.”

Mairi’s Wedding

The tune for this dance is from the Hebrides Islands off the north coast of Scotland and was first printed in 1909. It is said that the verse was written or translated (from Gaelic) for Mary McNiven by her friend Johnny Bannerman in 1935, when in fact, she was unmarried and remained so until she wed Skye-born sea captain John Campbell 6 years later. The dance remains popular in traditional circles to date.

Orcadian Strip the Willow

This is a set dance for as many people as you can get on the floor. It is a variation of the country or barn dance Strip the Willow which also is commonly used as part of a Scottish country dance.

Reel of the 51st Division

One of the most popular Scottish country dances of all time, the Reel of the 51st Highland Division is a modern Scottish country dance written by Lieutenant J.E.M. ‘Jimmy’ Atkinson of the 7th Battalion The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders while in a Prisoner of War camp during the Second World War. His idea of a reel with a St Andrews cross in its key formation was intended to symbolise Scotland, and the Highland Division, in adversity.

The Triumph

This dance was a very popular country dance in Scotland, and a part of most country dancing masters’ repertories in the 19th century. Allison Thompson (Dancing Through Time, 1998) describes the dance as one in which

“the man leads, not his own partner, but his neighbor’s partner down the length of the set, while her own partner follows jealously behind them. All three dancers then turn, and the lucky lady processes back to her place, while the two rival gentlemen hold hands in a triumphal arch over her head. The three-some figure of the dance mirrors the love triangle perfectly” (pg. 186).

The country is internationally recognised as the home of golf, kilts, bagpipes and whisky. St Andrews and the golf courses of the west coast are famous throughout the world with their almost unique brand of links golf.  Whisky is produced and exported all over the world. The clean and plentiful water of the Highlands coupled with the natural peat give the drink its wonderful flavour.

The patron saint of Scotland is Saint Andrew. This day is celebrated in Scotland on the 30th November. Scots celebrate the birthday of Robert Burns, Scotland’s greatest poet, on the 25th January. Both these events are also celebrated by the Society in Beijing.

Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital, celebrates the New Year, known as “Hogmanay” with an international party in Princes Street which is held underneath the walls of the Castle. The city also hosts an annual international arts festival in August and September. Many people flock to both these famous events from all parts of the globe.

The kilt and the bagpipe are two of the most recognised cultural icons of Scotland, with the skirl of the pipes and gentle sway of the clan tartan in a kilt forging strong memories of the country for both visitors and Scots alike.

This young Scottish lad and lass were sitting on a low stone wall, holding hands, gazing out over the loch. For several minutes they sat silently. Then finally the girl looked at the boy and said, "A penny for your thoughts, Angus." 
"Well, uh, I was thinkin'...perhaps it's aboot time for a wee kiss." 
The girl blushed, then leaned over and kissed him lightly on the cheek. 
Then he blushed. The two turned once again to gaze out over the loch. Minutes passed and the girl spoke again. "Another penny for your thoughts, Angus." 
"Well, uh, I was thinkin' perhaps it's noo time aboot time for a wee cuddle." 
The girl blushed, then leaned over and cuddled him for a few seconds. Then he blushed. Then the two turned once again to gaze out over the loch. 
After a while, she again said, "Another penny for your thoughts, Angus."  "Well, uh, I was thinkin' perhaps it's aboot time you let me put my hand on your leg." 
The girl blushed, then took his hand and put it on her knee. Then he blushed. The the two turned once again to gaze out over the loch before the girl spoke again.  "Another penny for your thoughts, Angus." 
The young man glanced down with a furled brow.  "Well, noo," he said, "my thoughts are a wee bit more serious this time." 
"Really?" said the lass in a whisper, filled with anticipation. 
"Aye," said the lad, nodding. 
The girl looked away in shyness, began to blush, and bit her lip in anticipation of the ultimate request. 
Then he said, "Dae ye nae think it's aboot time ye paid me the first three pennies?"

 A Scotsman was heading out to the pub and turned to his wee wife before leaving...
 "Jackie - put your hat and coat on lassie".
 "Awe John that's nice - are you taking me to the pub with you?".
 "No just switching the central heating off while I'm oot"

 The first people in the UK to have double glazing were the Scots. .. so their kids couldn't hear the ice cream vans.

 How many Scotsmen does it take to change a light bulb?
 Och! it's no that dark!

 Have you heard about the lecherous Scotsman who lured a girl up to his  attic to see his etchings?
 He sold her four of them....

 An Scotsman took a girl for a romantic ride in his taxi. She was so beautiful he could hardly keep his eye on the meter...

 A suicidal Scotsman went next door to his neighbour's house to gas  himself....

 A very popular man dies in Aberdeen and his old widow wishes to tell all  his friends at once, so she goes to the Aberdeen Evening Express and says  "I'd like tae place an obituary fur ma late husband"
 The man at the desk says "OK, how much money dae ye have?"
 The old woman replies "£5" to which the man says  "You wont get many words for that but write something and we'll see if it's ok"
 So the old woman writes something and hands it over the counter   
The man reads "Peter Reid, fae Kincorth, deid"
 He feels guilty at the abruptness of the statement and encourages the old woman to write a few more things.
 The old woman ponders and then adds a few more words and hand the paper over the counter again.
 The man then reads "Peter Reid, fae Kincorth, deid. Ford Escort for sale" .


Toast to the Immortal Memory of Rabbie Burns,

delivered by Angus Edmonds OAM

on 9 February 2008 at the Sunshine Coast branch

of The Society of St Andrew of Scotland (Queensland)

at a Burns supper in Woombye School of Arts.


Like other Scottish societies and associations in Australia, the Sunshine Coast branch of the Society of St Andrew of Scotland (Qld) is holding its Burns Supper in early February - because of clash of Burns Night with Australia Day. It is unfortunate that the Australian-Scottish community can't celebrate Burns at same time as rest of world.

If he were alive today, Burns would also object to 26 January as a celebration day because strictly - in a historical sense - it commemorates the establishment of a penal colony. This would offend the libertarian sensitivities of a radical thinker like Robert Burns - particularly, as you will hear, as he protested against the transportation to Australia of fellow radicals as convicts.

My ultimate intent is to reflect on Burns' influence on Australia directly through his poems and songs - and indirectly through his influence on Scottish migrants - and their impact on the development of the Australian character and our development as one of the truly democratic and most egalitarian countries in the world.

Scots or descendants of Scots with poetry in their souls are indebted to Burns. Australia's national song, Watzing Matilda, was written to the tune of ‘Thou Bonnie Wood of Craigielea' by Andrew Barton ‘Banjo' Patterson, a man of Scottish descent.  And our national anthem, Advance Australia Fair, was written by Scottish migrant, Peter Dodds McCormick, and first performed in Sydney on Saint Andrew's Day, 1878.   

Burns wrote ‘Scots Wha Hae' - long regarded by many as Scotland's national anthem, although the Scottish establishment have always resisted having it adopted as such. The argument was that it was too warlike and anti-English. Of course, other great anthems are steeped in the imagery of war - two of the best and most famous being the French La Marseillaise and American, The Star Spangled Banner - both written in the context of battles. Then, of course, the so-called British national anthem has a sixth verse that is anti-Scots, asking Gods help to "sedition hush, And like a torrent rush, Rebellious Scots to crush."

Interestingly the Scottish Rugby Union, another pillar of Scotland's establishment - quickly adopted ‘Flower of Scotland' when it was written in the 1970s - and it refers to the same battle of Bannockburn as ‘Scots Wha Hae' so it is scarcely the historic subject matter that causes the Establishment to reject ‘Scots Wha Hae'.

I remember in the 1950s, how the authorities - although never promising to adopt it as a national anthem, after all they fully accepted ‘God Save The Queen' as the one and only anthem - pushed the merits of a new song ‘Scotland the Brave' composed by a Glasgow journalist, Cliff Hanley, in 1951 as a closing number for the singer Robert Wilson's Christmas concert. Hanley had just returned from a visit to South Africa where he had been entertained by the local Caledonian societies and Cliff had been highly amused at the romanticised notions the kilt wearing and Lauder singing Scots overseas. He wrote the song as a parody of this sentimental view of Scotland. You can imagine the hilarity when he read to his journalist colleagues on a dreich damp and grey Glasgow day the lines:

Far-off in sunlit places, sad are the Scottish faces,
Yearnin' to feel the kiss of sweet Scottish rain!

So why have the authorities resisted ‘Scots Wha Hae'? It may surprise you to learn that the song was banned in the early to mid 19th century as seditious - and, authorities have long memories - and even in the 20th century ‘Scots Wha Hae' was suspect, particularly once it was adopted by the Scottish National Party - the proponent of ending the Union of Parliaments, as the appropriate song for Scotland's national anthem. 

By examining the influences and intent of his song ‘Scots Wha Hae' we discover the depth and intensity of Burns' radicalism, a radicalism still in full flight within a year of his untimely death in 1796.

Robert Burns was a member or active sympathiser of the Scots reform movement; he was passionate about independence and democracy. He advocated the abolition of slavery, demanded universal suffrage - including women - a century and more before the suffragettes, sought to enfranchise workers with representatives in Parliament a hundred and fifty years before socialist political parties emerged. He derided the political corruption and payment of placemen and the buying of favours which he denounced in "Parcel of Rogues in a Nation". He spoke out in favour of the French revolution and wrote The Tree of Liberty, a radical song written after the execution of the French King during late January 1793. He also admired the spirit of the Americans in their War of Independence. He regarded favourably the political system established in the United States as a model for democracies and wrote the Ode for General Washington's Birthday in honour of the first president.

Interesting Rev Dr John Dunmore Lang the leader of the Scottish community in Australia in the mid-19th century proposed a federal system of government modelled on the United States, with a Senate and a House of Representatives. His one time ally and follower, Henry Parkes, later took up this idea and became as we know ‘The Father of Federation' - in which case Lang, like Burns a native of Aryshire, should be recognised as the ‘Father-in-law' or perhaps ‘The grandfather of Federation'. But I digress.

The French Revolution in 1789 encouraged Scotland's developing middle and working classes to believe that they too could participate in the governance of the country. Liberty trees, a French revolutionary symbol, were planted around Scotland on market crosses, and ideas of political reform were being publicly debated.

In December 1792 a democratic organisation called the Friends of the People, created out of numerous Reform Societies seeking moderate democratic reforms had emerged across Scotland. However, the French Revolution turned into ‘The Terror' of 1793, with the widespread public execution of nobles and priests, the British Government set out to quash the Radicals. Burns himself was investigated as a possible member of the Friends of the People.

Freedom of speech was restricted by the government, and leading members of the Friends of the People, like Thomas Muir of Huntershill in Glasgow, the Unitarian minister Thomas Palmer, and William Skirving of Dundee, were arrested and tried for sedition before Scotland's famous hanging judge Lord Braxfield. Despite a strong defence by Thomas Muir, a lawyer, they were all found guilty- these so-called Scottish Radical Martyrs - and sentenced to 14 years transportation to Botany Bay.

In fact, Robert Burns wrote ‘Scots Wha Hae' as a rallying cry, prompted by the trial of Thomas Muir and the other Scottish Radical Martyrs.  In a sense he replicated something of the spirit of La Marseillaise which had been so successful in France in stirring the masses. Perhaps, Burns hoped that ‘Scots Wha hae' would serve a similar purpose.

‘La Marseillaise' is a song written and composed in Strasbourg on April 25 1792 by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle, ironically a royalist who was almost sentenced to die by the guillotine, Its original name was Chant de guerre pour l'Armée du Rhin (‘War Song for the Army of the Rhine'), and its lyrics are heavily oriented against the Prussian and Austrian armies which were attacking France and defeated at the Battle of Valmy. It became the rallying call of the French Revolution and received its name because it was first sung on the streets by volunteers from Marseille upon their arrival in Paris in August 1792 and met with huge success becoming famous across all of France.

The similarities between the two songs are striking - composed within 18 months of each other. Both are battle songs and deal with the defence of a country against a neighbouring invader. They both contain call to arms, refer to sons in chains, the bringing down of tyrants, and the share a similar sentiment as well as imagery and the exaltation of the concept of liberty. However, there are significant differences. La Marseillaise's  lyrics are quite blood-thirsty and almost crude and lack the simple nobility of Burns' ‘Scots Wha Hae.'

As a collector of old Scots tunes and airs, Burns was familiar with the tradition that the old tune ‘Hey tutti tatie,' was the battle march of King Robert the Bruce's Scottish troops at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. In a letter to George Thomson, dated about 31st August 1793, just after the trial of the Scottish Radical Martyrs, Burns wrote that he reflected on "my yesternight's evening walk" on the association of  "the old air, ‘Hey tutti tatie'" which he said "has often filled my eyes with tears" with the Bruce's struggle for Freedom and Independence, but he had "no idea of giving myself any trouble on the subject until the accidental recollection of the glorious struggle for Freedom of the same nature, not quite so ancient, roused my rhyming Mania." Burns' fervour - obviously stirred by the Martyrs' trial that very month rather than the medieval battle is also reflected in the manner in which he closes his letter. After the text of the poem - Burns adds in exclamation: "So may God ever defend the cause of truth and liberty as he did that day! Amen!" George Thomson, aware of the potential trouble that the song could cause the poet, did not publish ‘Scots Wha Hae' until they appeared in Thomson's Scottish Airs in 1799, three years after Burns' death.

‘Scots Wha Hae' was in fact first published anonymously in the London Morning Chronicle, a radical anti-Government (anti-Pitt) publication, in May 1794, eight months after it was sent to Thomson. In sending the poem for publication, Burns also aware of its potential to bring retribution from the Government, wrote: "In the meantime, they are welcome to my ode; only let them insert it as a thing they have met with by accident and unknown to me." The fact that Burns had the song published first in England is more evidence that the song was not anti-English. Indeed, it is a song written in standard English (for a wider English and Scottish audience), with only few verbal Scotticisms, with no attempt by Burns to reflect ancient terminology, and, most importantly, espousing modern political thought.

Listen again, this time taking account of the radicalism of Burns' words, in the last verse of the song:

By oppressions woes and pains,

By your sons in servile chains,

We will drain our dearest veins,

But they shall ga'e free.

Lay the proud usurper low

Tyrannts fall in every foe

Liberty's in every blow,

Let us do or die.


‘Scots Wha Hae' was only one of several Burns' poems and songs published anonymously. For example, the then highly seditious pro-democracy song, A Man's A Man, encapsulating the radical ideas of Tom Paine, the author of The Rights of Man. was published anonymously in the Glasgow Magazine in late 1795.


The rank is but the guinea's stamp,

The Man's the gowd for a' that.



The honest man, tho' e'er sae poor,

Is king o' men for a' that.



Then let us pray that come it may,

(As come it will for a' that,)

That Sense and Worth, o'er a' the earth,

Shall bear the gree, an' a' that.

For a' that, an' a' that,

It's coming yet for a' that,

That Man to Man, the world o'er,

Shall brothers be for a' that.


And Burns had much to fear. His health was not good -imprisonment or transportation would have killed him - and his hold on his government job as an exciseman was tenuous. Perhaps his advocacy of radicalism cost him advancement - and could have cost him his job. If he had been charged with sedition, he could be transported as a convict. Or worse, traitors were still being executed by being hanged, drawn and quartered. The last Scot to be so executed was David Tyrie convicted of spying for the French and executed in 1782, and the last person to be punished under British law in this fashion was the Irish rebel Robert Emmet in1803, although this barbaric method of execution actually remained on the statute book until 1870.

And clearly the British Government regarded ‘Scots Wha Hae' as seditious. It was banned, and when, years later, in 1820, with unemployment widespread and rampant inflation, 16 000 protested in Paisley, the band supporting the protesters was arrested just for playing Burns' ‘Scots Wha Hae'.

Sadly, in a way the establishment had its victory over Burns after his death. He was romanticised as the Ploughman Poet. His love songs and nature poems were exalted and even his anti-clericalism and outrage against hypocrisy and privilege was ignored as the Victorians created a sentimental account of Burns' values through the promotion of simple family life and faith to almost canonical eminence of a single poem, ‘The Cotter's Saturday Night'. However, this is to overlook or gloss Burns' advocacy of the virtues of the "patriot" in the last stanza, which carries an ambiguous if not subversive political charge in light of the conditions at the end of the eighteenth century.

O Thou! who pour'd the patriotic tide,

     That stream'd thro' Wallace's undaunted heart,

Who dar'd to, nobly, stem tyrannic pride,

     Or nobly die, the second glorious part :

     (The patriot's God, peculiarly Thou art,

      His friend, inspirer, guardian, and reward!)

     O never, never Scotia's realm desert ;

But still the patriot, and the patriot-bard

In bright succession raise, her ornament and guard!

No matter what gloss others might attempt on Burns' work, it is impossible to hide or ignore his humanitarianism and the honest intent and true spirit that shine through in song after song, poem after poem: his promotion of liberty and equality, his rejection of hypocrisy, oppression, corruption and proud outward show, and his embrace of ‘the honest man ... of independent mind' that lies at the heart of Burns.

Many of the songs of Robert Burns were committed to memory for singing and recitation by Scottish migrants to Australia. He migrants also brought with them collections of teh songs and poems of Burns.

Dr Bill Bell, Centre for the Study of the Book, University of Edinburgh, has researched the lists of books that migrants bought prior to migration or ordered from Scottish bookshops. It can safely be claimed that the poetical works of Robert Burns could be found in almost every Scots settler home. Scots also made sure that copies were donated to the libraries established in School of Arts and Mechanics Institutes. It is appropriate that we meet tonight in the Woombye School of Arts.

The songs of Burns were also spread through the activities of Burns Nights and the other social gatherings of Caledonian and St Andrew's Societies. There was something about Burns the man that also resonated in the hearts and minds of the growing Australian community. He was a man of the land, a man who knew hard times, but despite his difficulties he celebrated life. He enjoyed a drink, he was convivial. He promoted a knock-about character like Tam O'Shanter - with his larrikin ways. Burns had no time for cant and hypocrisy, no time for the Unco' Guid, the Holy Willies. Burns exalted the common people, he championed equality and independence. All of this resonated and made sense to the settlers of the young Australia.

The extent to which Robert Burns helped shape the Australian character and democracy we can only speculate. We know that his works were well known and much loved by the Scottish- Australian community, and the influence of that community on Australia and its institutions has far outweighed its numerical strength. Suffice to say that the songs and poems of Robert Burns have - and continue - be appreciated and shared, and something of his thought, particularly his radical thought on equality, and liberty, and democracy retains its potency today.

And in toasting The Immortal Memory of Rabbie Burns tonight, we pay tribute not only to the passion and power of his work and its enduring quality, we acknowledge that as Australians we owe him a debt of gratitude for all that he has been and continues to be in our community and the indefinable contribution his thought has made to the very being of the Australian experience and way of life.


Cross of St Andrew/ Saltire

The Scottish flag is the cross of St. Andrew, also known as the Saltire. It is said to be one of the oldest national flags of any country, dating back at least to the 12th century.
Tradition suggests that St. Andrew (an apostle of Jesus in the Christian religion) was put to death by the Romans in Greece by being pinned to a cross of this shape.

The flag of the United Kingdom - known as the Union Flag or Union Jack - is made up from the flags of Scotland, England (the Cross of Saint George) and Ireland (the Cross of Saint Patrick).

The Royal Flag of Scotland
There is a second flag which is associated with Scotland, the "Lion Rampant", or Royal Flag of Scotland. Although based on an older Scottish flag than the St. Andrew's Cross, it should, strictly speaking, now only be used by the monarch in relation to her capacity as Queen in Scotland¹. However, it is widely used as a second national flag.

The Lion Rampant flag flies over the offices of the Secretary of State for Scotland (who is the representative of the U.K. government in Scotland); that is Dover House in London and New St Andrew's House in Edinburgh.

King George V signed a Royal Warrant in 1934 allowing the use of the Lion Rampant flag as "a mark of loyalty" because of the forthcoming Jubilee celebrations. The Lord Lyon² officially now takes the view that this permission "related to decorative ebullition", that is, it is permissable to wave the flag at football matches. It is however not allowable to fly the flag without permission, on a flag-pole or from a building. The Lord Lyon once threatened the town councillors of Cumbernauld with an Act passed in 1679 which prescribed the death penalty for mis-use of the royal arms.

¹ Scotland has not had its own monarchy since the Act of Union with England in 1707. Queen Elizabeth II is monarch of United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
² The Lord Lyon King of Arms is the judicial officer responsible for upholding heraldic law in Scotland.

The Kilt
Today's Highland Dress is distinctive, smart, martial, formal and known world wide as Scotland's national costume. However like the Tartan itself the origins of the kilt are surrounded by a degree of controversy. 

The Highlander of old (pre-1746) would often have worn the feileadh mor, Gaelic for a large piece of woollen tartan material wrapped round the body, belted at the waist and pinned over the shoulder. It no doubt also served as a blanket while campaigning - the word 'plaid' is the Gaelic plaide meaning blanket. A sensible garment which could give warmth or be worn lose with sword arm free. Origins may lie with the ancient Roman or Celtic tunic. In fact both recent Highlanders and ancient Celts also worn tight trousers - truis. These were particularly popular on horseback! 

Exactly when the fealeadh beg (filibeg), the tailored version worn from waist to knee, came into existence is open to debate. One suggestion is that an Englishman in charge of an iron smelter at Invergarry around 1730, Thomas Rawlinson, suggested that his workforce would fare better at their work if the dispensed with the upper part of their garment and worn what we would describe as a kilt. The word 'kilt' itself, although not Gaelic, is probably older. A Scandinavian or old English root from a verb meaning 'to hitch up and fold a garment' seems most likely. 

Today's kilt can be worn, particularly by pipers, with a plaid - a long piece of tartan wrapped round the upper body which, along with the kilt, are a modern version of the full feileadh mor of past times. 

After the battle of Culloden in 1746, traditional Highland Dress was banned along with tartan from 1746-82. However Highland regiments were being formed in the Government army and most of these adopted the kilt and a tartan as part of their uniform. From this martial background comes the style of today's Highland Dress. 

When George IV visited Edinburgh in 1822, Full Highland Dress was worn by almost everybody including King George himself thanks to the efforts of Sir Walter Scott. The kilt became quite definitely the distinctive national dress of Scotland.

The Clan
Definition of the word 'Clan' The Gaelic word for children is more accurately translated as 'family' in the sense in which the word clan became accepted in the Scottish Highlands during the 13th century. A clan is a social group whose core comprises a number of families derived from, or accepted as being derived from, a common ancestor. Almost without exception, that core is accompanied by a further number of dependent and associated families who have either sought the protection of the clan at some point in history or have been tenants or vassals of its chief. That chief is owed allegiance by all members of the clan, but ancient tradition nevertheless states that 'the Clan is above the Chief'. Although Gaelic has been supplanted by English in the Lowlands of Scotland for nearly a thousand years, it is an acceptable convention to refer to the great Lowland families, like the Douglases, as clans, although the heads of certain families, such as Bruce, prefer not to use the term. Allegiance was generally given to a father's clan, but Celtic tradition includes a strong element of descent through, and loyalty to, a mother's line. In reality, the chief of a clan would 'ingather' any stranger, of whatever family, who possessed suitable skills, maintained his allegiance and, if required, adopted the clan surname.

The Sept
A Sept is a family name which can be related to a clan or larger family for various reasons: Either through marriage or by seeking protection from a larger and more powerful neighbouring clan or family. Many names which are recorded as septs have since become clans in their own right and many can be related to more than one clan.


If we could see in a magic mirror the country now called Scotland as it was when the Romans under Agricola (81 A.D.) crossed the Border, we should recognise little but the familiar hills and mountains.  The rivers, in the plains, overflowed their present banks; dense forests of oak and pine, haunted by great red deer, elks, and boars, covered land that has long been arable.  There were lakes and lagoons where for centuries there have been fields of corn.  On the oldest sites of our towns were groups of huts made of clay and wattle, and dominated, perhaps, by the large stockaded house of the tribal prince.  In the lochs, natural islands, or artificial islets made of piles (crannogs), afforded standing-ground and protection to villages, if indeed these lake- dwellings are earlier in Scotland than the age of war that followed the withdrawal of the Romans.

The natives were far beyond the savage stage of culture.  They lived in an age of iron tools and weapons and of wheeled vehicles; and were in what is called the Late Celtic condition of art and culture, familiar to us from beautiful objects in bronze work, more commonly found in Ireland than in Scotland, and from the oldest Irish romances and poems.

In these "epics" the manners much resemble those described by Homer.  Like his heroes, the men in the Cuchullain sagas fight from light chariots, drawn by two ponies, and we know that so fought the tribes in Scotland encountered by Agricola the Roman General (81-85 A.D.)  It is even said in the Irish epics that Cuchullain learned his chariotry in _Alba_--that is, in our Scotland. {2}  The warriors had "mighty limbs and flaming hair," says Tacitus.  Their weapons were heavy iron swords, in bronze sheaths beautifully decorated, and iron-headed spears; they had large round bronze-studded shields, and battle-axes.  The dress consisted of two upper garments: first, the smock, of linen or other fabric--in battle, often of tanned hides of animals,--and the mantle, or plaid, with its brooch.  Golden torques and heavy gold bracelets were worn by the chiefs; the women had bronze ornaments with brightly coloured enamelled decoration.

Agriculture was practised, and corn was ground in the circular querns of stone, of which the use so long survived.  The women span and wove the gay smocks and darker cloaks of the warriors.

Of the religion, we only know that it was a form of polytheism; that sacrifices were made, and that Druids existed; they were soothsayers, magicians, perhaps priests, and were attendant on kings.

Such were the people in Alba whom we can dimly descry around Agricola's fortified frontier between the firths of Forth and Clyde, about 81-82 A.D.  When Agricola pushed north of the Forth and Tay he still met men who had considerable knowledge of the art of war.  In his battle at Mons Graupius (perhaps at the junction of Isla and Tay), his cavalry had the better of the native chariotry in the plain; and the native infantry, descending from their position on the heights, were attacked by his horsemen in their attempt to assail his rear. 

But they were swift of foot, the woods sheltered and the hills defended them.  He made no more effectual pursuit than Cumberland did at Culloden.

Agricola was recalled by Domitian after seven years' warfare, and his garrisons did not long hold their forts on his lines or frontier, which stretched across the country from Forth to Clyde; roughly speaking, from Graham's Dyke, east of Borrowstounnis on the Firth of Forth, to Old Kilpatrick on Clyde.  The region is now full of coal-mines, foundries, and villages; but excavations at Bar Hill, Castlecary, and Roughcastle disclose traces of Agricola's works, with their earthen ramparts.  The Roman station at Camelon, north-west of Falkirk, was connected with the southern passes of the Highland hills by a road with a chain of forts. The remains of Roman pottery at Camelon are of the first century.

Two generations after Agricola, about 140-145, the Roman Governor, Lollius Urbicus, refortified the line of Forth to Clyde with a wall of sods and a ditch, and forts much larger than those constructed by Agricola.  His line, "the Antonine Vallum," had its works on commanding ridges; and fire-signals, in case of attack by the natives, flashed the news "from one sea to the other sea," while the troops of occupation could be provisioned from the Roman fleet.  Judging by the coins found by the excavators, the line was abandoned about 190, and the forts were wrecked and dismantled, perhaps by the retreating Romans.

After the retreat from the Antonine Vallum, about 190, we hear of the vigorous "unrest" of the Meatae and Caledonians; the latter people are said, on very poor authority, to have been little better than savages. Against them Severus (208) made an expedition indefinitely far to the north, but the enemy shunned a general engagement, cut off small detachments, and caused the Romans terrible losses in this march to a non- existent Moscow. 

Not till 306 do we hear of the Picts, about whom there is infinite learning but little knowledge.  They must have spoken Gaelic by Severus's time (208), whatever their original language; and were long recognised in Galloway, where the hill and river names are Gaelic.

The later years of the Romans, who abandoned Britain in 410, were perturbed by attacks of the Scoti (Scots) from Ireland, and it is to a settlement in Argyll of "Dalriadic" Scots from Ireland about 500 A.D. that our country owes the name of Scotland.

Rome has left traces of her presence on Scottish soil--vestiges of the forts and vallum wall between the firths; a station rich in antiquities under the Eildons at Newstead; another, Ardoch, near Sheriffmuir; a third near Solway Moss (Birrenswark); and others less extensive, with some roads extending towards the Moray Firth; and a villa at Musselburgh,found in the reign of James VI. {4}


To the Scots, through St Columba, who, about 563, settled in Iona, and converted the Picts as far north as Inverness, we owe the introduction of Christianity, for though the Roman Church of St Ninian (397), at Whithern in Galloway, left embers of the faith not extinct near Glasgow, St Kentigern's country, till Columba's time, the rites of Christian Scotland were partly of the Celtic Irish type, even after St Wilfrid's victory at the Synod of Whitby (664).

St Columba himself was of the royal line in Ulster, was learned, as learning was then reckoned, and, if he had previously been turbulent, he now desired to spread the Gospel.  With twelve companions he settled in Iona, established his cloister of cells, and journeyed to Inverness, the capital of Pictland.  Here his miracles overcame the magic of the King's
druids; and his Majesty, Brude, came into the fold, his people following him.  Columba was no less of a diplomatist than of an evangelist.  In a crystal he saw revealed the name of the rightful king of the Dalriad Scots in Argyll--namely, Aidan--and in 575, at Drumceat in North Ireland, he procured the recognition of Aidan, and brought the King of the Picts also to confess Aidan's independent royalty.

In the 'Life of Columba,' by Adamnan, we get a clear and complete view of everyday existence in the Highlands during that age.  We are among the red deer, and the salmon, and the cattle in the hills, among the second- sighted men, too, of whom Columba was far the foremost.  We see the saint's inkpot upset by a clumsy but enthusiastic convert; we even make acquaintance with the old white pony of the monastery, who mourned when St Columba was dying; while among secular men we observe the differences in rank, measured by degrees of wealth in cattle.  Many centuries elapse before, in Froissart, we find a picture of Scotland so distinct as that painted by Adamnan.

The discipline of St Columba was of the monastic model.  There were settlements of clerics in fortified villages; the  clerics were a kind of monks, with more regard for abbots than for their many bishops, and with peculiar tonsures, and a peculiar way of reckoning the date of Easter. Each missionary was popularly called a Saint, and the _Kil_, or cell, of many a Celtic missionary survives in hundreds of place-names.

The salt-water Loch Leven in Argyll was on the west the south frontier of "Pictland," which, on the east, included all the country north of the Firth of Forth.  From Loch Leven south to Kintyre, a large cantle, including the isles, was the land of the Scots from Ireland, the Dalriadic kingdom.  The south-west, from Dumbarton, including our modern Cumberland and Westmorland, was named Strathclyde, and was peopled by British folk, speaking an ancient form of Welsh.  On the east, from Ettrick forest into Lothian, the land was part of the early English kingdom of Bernicia; here the invading Angles were already settled—though river-names here remain Gaelic, and hill-names are often either Gaelic or Welsh.  The great Northern Pictland was divided into seven provinces, or sub-kingdoms, while there was an over-King, or Ardrigh, with his capital at Inverness and, later, in Angus or Forfarshire.  The country about Edinburgh was partly English, partly Cymric or Welsh.  The south-west corner, Galloway, was called Pictish, and was peopled by Gaelic-speaking tribes.

In the course of time and events the dynasty of the Argyll Scoti from Ireland gave its name to Scotland, while the English element gave its language to the Lowlands; it was adopted by the Celtic kings of the whole country and became dominant, while the Celtic speech withdrew into the hills of the north and northwest.

The nation was thus evolved out of alien and hostile elements, Irish, Pictish, Gaelic, Cymric, English, and on the northern and western shores, Scandinavian.



In a work of this scope, it is impossible to describe all the wars between the petty kingdoms peopled by races of various languages, which occupied Scotland.  In 603, in the wild moors at Degsastane, between the Liddel burn and the passes of the Upper Tyne, the English Aethelfrith of Deira, with an army of the still pagan ancestors of the Borderers,
utterly defeated Aidan, King of Argyll, with the Christian converted Scots.  Henceforth, for more than a century, the English between Forth and Humber feared neither Scot of the west nor Pict of the north.

On the death of Aethelfrith (617), the Christian west and north exercised their influences; one of Aethelfrith's exiled sons married a Pictish princess, and became father of a Pictish king, another, Oswald, was baptised at Iona; and the new king of the northern English of Lothian, Edwin, was converted by Paullinus (627), and held Edinburgh as his capital.  Later, after an age of war and ruin, Oswald, the convert of Iona, restored Christianity in northern England; and, after his fall, his
brother, Oswiu, consolidated the north English.  In 685 Oswiu's son Egfrith crossed the Forth and invaded Pictland with a Northumbrian army, but was routed with great loss, and was slain at Nectan's Mere, in Forfarshire.  Thenceforth, till 761, the Picts were dominant, as against Scots and north English, Angus MacFergus being then their leader (731- 761).

Now the invaders and settlers from Scandinavia, the Northmen on the west coast, ravaged the Christian Scots of the west, and burned Iona: finally, in 844-860, Kenneth MacAlpine of Kintyre, a Scot of Dalriada on the paternal, a Pict on the mother's side, defeated the Picts and obtained their throne.  By Pictish law the crown descended in the maternal line, which probably facilitated the coronation of Kenneth.  To the Scots and "to all Europe" he was a Scot; to the Picts, as son of a royal Pictish mother, he was a Pict.  With him, at all events, Scots and Picts were interfused, and there began the _Scottish_ dynasty, supplanting the Pictish, though it is only in popular tales that the Picts were exterminated.

Owing to pressure from the Northmen sea-rovers in the west, the capital and the seat of the chief bishop, under Kenneth MacAlpine (844-860), were moved eastwards from Iona to Scone, near Perth, and after an interval at Dunkeld, to St Andrews in Fife.

The line of Kenneth MacAlpine, though disturbed by quarrels over the succession, and by Northmen in the west, north, and east, none the less in some way "held a good grip o' the gear" against Vikings, English of Lothian, and Welsh of Strathclyde.  In consequence of a marriage with a Welsh princess of Strathclyde, or Cumberland, a Scottish prince, Donald, brother of Constantine II., became king of that realm (908), and his branch of the family of MacAlpin held Cumbria for a century.


In 924 the first claim by an English king, Edward, to the over-lordship of Scotland appears in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.  The entry contains a manifest error, and the topic causes war between modern historians, English and Scottish.  In fact, there are several such entries of Scottish acceptance of English suzerainty under Constantine II., and later, but they all end in the statement, "this held not long."  The "submission" of Malcolm I. to Edmund (945) is not a submission but an
alliance; the old English word for "fellow-worker," or "ally," designates Malcolm as fellow-worker with Edward of England.

This word (midwyrhta) was translated _fidelis_ (one who gives fealty) in the Latin of English chroniclers two centuries later, but Malcolm I. held Cumberland as an ally, not as a subject prince of England.  In 1092 an English chronicle represents Malcolm III. as holding Cumberland "by conquest."

The main fact is that out of these and similar dim transactions arose the claims of Edward I. to the over-lordship of Scotland,--claims that were urged by Queen Elizabeth's minister, Cecil, in 1568, and were boldly denied by Maitland of Lethington.  From these misty pretensions came the centuries of war that made the hardy character of the folk of Scotland. {10}


We cannot pretend within our scope to follow chronologically "the fightings and flockings of kites and crows," in "a wolf-age, a war-age," when the Northmen from all Scandinavian lands, and the Danes, who had acquired much of Ireland, were flying at the throat of England and hanging on the flanks of Scotland; while the Britons of Strathclyde struck in, and the Scottish kings again and again raided or sought to occupy the fertile region of Lothian between Forth and Tweed.  If the dynasty of MacAlpin could win rich Lothian, with its English-speaking folk, they were "made men," they held the granary of the North.  By degrees and by methods not clearly defined they did win the Castle of the Maidens, the acropolis of Dunedin, Edinburgh; and fifty years later, in some way, apparently by the sword, at the battle of Carham (1018), in which a Scottish king of Cumberland fought by his side, Malcolm II. Took possession of Lothian, the whole south-east region, by this time entirely anglified, and this was the greatest step in the making of Scotland.  The Celtic dynasty now held the most fertile district between Forth and Tweed, a district already English in blood and speech, the centre and focus of the English civilisation accepted by the Celtic kings.  Under this Malcolm, too, his grandson, Duncan, became ruler of Strathclyde—that is, practically, of Cumberland.

Malcolm is said to have been murdered at haunted Glamis, in Forfarshire, in 1034; the room where he died is pointed out by legend in the ancient castle.  His rightful heir, by the strange system of the Scots, should have been, not his own grandson, Duncan, but the grandson of Kenneth III. The rule was that the crown went alternately to a descendant of the House of Constantine (863-877), son of Kenneth MacAlpine, and to a descendant of Constantine's brother, Aodh (877-888).  These alternations went on till the crowning of Malcolm II. (1005-1034), and then ceased, for Malcolm II. had slain the unnamed male heir of the House of Aodh, a son of Boedhe, in order to open the succession to his own grandson, "the gracious Duncan."  Boedhe had left a daughter, Gruach; she had by the Mormaor, or under-king of the province of Murray, a son, Lulach.  On the death of the Mormaor she married Macbeth, and when Macbeth slew Duncan (1040), he was removing a usurper--as he understood it--and he ruled in the name of his stepson, Lulach.  The power of Duncan had been weakened by repeated defeats at the hands of the Northmen under Thorfinn.  In 1057 Macbeth was slain in battle at Lumphanan, in Aberdeenshire, and Malcolm Canmore, son of Duncan, after returning from England, whither he had fled from Macbeth, succeeded to the throne.  But he and his descendants for long were opposed by the House of Murray, descendants of Lulach, who himself had died in 1058.

The world will always believe Shakespeare's version of these events, and suppose the gracious Duncan to have been a venerable old man, and Macbeth an ambitious Thane, with a bloodthirsty wife, he himself being urged on by the predictions of witches.  He was, in fact, Mormaor of Murray, and upheld the claims of his stepson Lulach, who was son of a daughter of the wrongfully extruded House of Aodh.

Malcolm Canmore, Duncan's grandson, on the other hand, represented the European custom of direct lineal succession against the ancient Scots' mode.



The reign of Malcolm Canmore (1057-1093) brought Scotland into closer connection with western Europe and western Christianity.  The Norman Conquest (1066) increased the tendency of the English-speaking people of Lothian to acquiesce in the rule of a Celtic king, rather than in that of the adventurers who followed William of Normandy.  Norman operations did not at first reach Cumberland, which Malcolm held; and, on the death of his Norse wife, the widow of Duncan's foe, Thorfinn (she left a son, Duncan), Malcolm allied himself with the English Royal House by marrying Margaret, sister of Eadgar AEtheling, then engaged in the hopeless effort to rescue northern England from the Normans.  The dates are confused: Malcolm may have won the beautiful sister of Edgar, rightful king of England, in 1068, or at the time (1070) of his raid, said to have been of savage ferocity, into Northumberland, and his yet more cruel reprisals for Gospatric's harrying of Cumberland.  In either case, St Margaret's biographer, who had lived at her Court, whether or not he was her Confessor, Turgot, represents the Saint as subduing the savagery of Malcolm, who passed wakeful nights in weeping for his sins.  A lover of books, which Malcolm could not read, an expert in "the delicate, and gracious, and bright works of women," Margaret brought her own gentleness and courtesy among a rude people, built the abbey church of Dunfermline, and presented the churches with many beautiful golden reliquaries and fine sacramental plate.

In 1072, to avenge a raid of Malcolm (1070), the Conqueror, with an army and a fleet, came to Abernethy on Tay, where Malcolm, in exchange for English manors, "became his man" _for them_, and handed over his son Duncan as a hostage for peace.  The English view is that Malcolm became William's "man for all that he had"--or for all south of Tay.

After various raidings of northern England, and after the death of the Conqueror, Malcolm renewed, in Lothian, the treaty of Abernethy, being secured in his twelve English manors (1091).  William Rufus then took and fortified Carlisle, seized part of Malcolm's lands in Cumberland, and summoned him to Gloucester, where the two Kings, after all, quarrelled and did not meet.  No sooner had Malcolm returned home than he led an army into Northumberland, where he was defeated and slain, near Alnwick (Nov. 13, 1093).  His son Edward fell with him, and his wife, St Margaret, died in Edinburgh Castle: her body, under cloud of night, was carried through the host of rebel Celts and buried at Dunfermline.

Margaret, a beautiful and saintly Englishwoman, had been the ruling spirit of the reign in domestic and ecclesiastical affairs.  She had civilised the Court, in matters of costume at least; she had read books to the devoted Malcolm, who could not read; and he had been her interpreter in her discussions with the Celtic-speaking clergy, whose ideas of ritual differed from her own.  The famous Culdees, originally ascetic hermits, had before this day united in groups living under canonical rules, and, according to English observers, had ceased to be bachelors.  Masses are said to have been celebrated by them in some "barbarous rite"; Saturday was Sabbath; on Sunday men worked.  Lent began, not on Ash Wednesday, but on the Monday following.  We have no clearer account of the Culdee peculiarities that St Margaret reformed.

The hereditary tenure of benefices by lay protectors she did not reform, but she restored the ruined cells of Iona, and established _hospitia_ for pilgrims.  She was decidedly unpopular with her Celtic subjects, who now made a struggle against English influences.

In the year of her death died Fothadh, the last Celtic bishop of St Andrews, and the Celtic clergy were gradually superseded and replaced by monks of English name, English speech, and English ideas--or rather the ideas of western Europe.  Scotland, under Margaret's influence, became more Catholic; the celibacy of the clergy was more strictly enforced (it had almost lapsed), but it will be observed throughout that, of all western Europe, Scotland was least overawed by Rome.  Yet for centuries the Scottish Church was, in a peculiar degree, "the daughter of Rome," for not till about 1470 had she a Metropolitan, the Archbishop of St Andrews.

On the deaths, in one year, of Malcolm, Margaret, and Fothadh, the last Celtic bishop of St Andrews, the see for many years was vacant or merely filled by transient bishops.  York and Canterbury were at feud for their superiority over the Scottish Church; and the other sees were not constituted and provided with bishops till the years 1115 (Glasgow), 1150,--Argyll not having a bishop till 1200.  In the absence of a Metropolitan, episcopal elections had to be confirmed at Rome, which would grant no Metropolitan, but forbade the Archbishop of York to claim a superiority which would have implied, or prepared the way for, English superiority over Scotland.  Meanwhile the expenses and delays of appeals from bishops direct to Rome did not stimulate the affection of the Scottish "daughter of Rome."  The rights of the chapters of the Cathedrals to elect their bishops, and other appointments to ecclesiastical offices, in course of time were transferred to the Pope, who negotiated with the king, and thus all manner of jobbery increased, the nobles influencing the king in favour of their own needy younger sons, and the Pope being amenable to various secular persuasions, so that in every way the relations of Scotland with the Holy Father were anomalous and irksome.

Scotland was, indeed, a country predestined to much ill fortune, to tribulations against which human foresight could erect no defence.  But the marriage of the Celtic Malcolm with the English Margaret, and the friendly arrival of great nobles from the south, enabled Scotland to receive the new ideas of feudal law in pacific fashion.  They were not violently forced upon the English-speaking people of Lothian.


On the death of Malcolm the contest for the Crown lay between his brother, Donald Ban, supported by the Celts; his son Duncan by his first wife, a Norse woman (Duncan being then a hostage at the English Court, who was backed by William Rufus); and thirdly, Malcolm's eldest son by Margaret, Eadmund, the favourite with the anglicised south of the country.  Donald Ban, after a brief period of power, was driven out by Duncan (1094); Duncan was then slain by the Celts (1094).  Donald was next restored, north of Forth, Eadmund ruling in the south, but was dispossessed and blinded by Malcolm's son Eadgar, who reigned for ten years (1097-1107), while Eadmund died in an English cloister.  Eadgar had trouble enough on all sides, but the process of anglicising continued, under himself, and later, under his brother, Alexander I., who ruled north of Forth and Clyde; while the youngest brother, David, held Lothian and Cumberland, with the title of Earl.  The sister of those sons of Malcolm, Eadgyth (Matilda), married Henry I. of England in 1100.  There seemed a chance that, north of Clyde and Forth, there would be a Celtic kingdom; while Lothian and Cumbria would be merged in England.  Alexander was mainly engaged in fighting the Moray claimants of his crown in the north and in planting his religious houses, notably St Andrews, with English Augustinian canons from York.  Canterbury and York contended for ecclesiastical superiority over Scotland; after various adventures, Robert, the prior of the Augustinians at Scone, was made Bishop of St Andrews, being consecrated by Canterbury, in 1124; while York consecrated David's bishop in Glasgow.  Thanks to the quarrels of the sees of York and Canterbury, the Scottish clergy managed to secure their ecclesiastical independence from either English see; and became, finally, the most useful combatants in the long struggle for the independence of the nation.  Rome, on the whole, backed that cause.  The Scottish Catholic churchmen, in fact, pursued the old patriotic policy of resistance to England till the years just preceding the Reformation, when the people leaned to the reformed doctrines, and when Scottish national freedom was endangered more by France than by England.

Visit an historic village that offers an insight into how Cotton Mill workers and their families lived and worked 

Founded in 1785 as a cotton manufacturing plant, New Lanark rose to fame as a model community under social reformer and philanthropist Robert Owen. The community, situated in a beautiful wooded gorge in the Scottish Borders, was the test case for a number of social and educational reforms pioneered by Owen.

Convinced that the character of man is formed for him, Owen insisted young children began their education as soon as they could walk. Adults were encouraged to attend lectures and recitals as New Lanark's progressive Institute for the Formation of Character, opened by Owen in 1816.

After the cotton mills closed in 1968, the New Lanark Conservation Trust came to the rescue. Set up in 1974, the Trust was faced with the task of restoring the dilapidated village. They were impressively successful; New Lanark was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001.

Be sure to visit the two village shops from the 1820s and 1930s. The 1820s shop is regarded as one of the seeds of the Co-operative movement. From there a short walk along the river brings you to Owen's school. Step inside to enjoy the historic classroom, interactive gallery, audio-visual theatre shoe and The Millenium Experience - an introduction to both the future and the past.

New Lanark World Heritage Site,
South Lanarkshire
Scotland, ML 11 9DB
United Kingdom

Open daily. Admission:-

  • Adults £5-95
  • Concession £3-95

Lanark Tourist Information Centre
Ph: 0155 5661 661