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Some Things Scottish

The 2009 Virginia Scottish Games and Festival will be held September 5 and 6th at Great Meadow State Park in The Plains, VA. There will be feats of strength, traditional music and dance, dog trials, a gathering of the clans, and much more. Other nearby festivals are being held this fall in Williamsburg, Alexandria, and Crownsville, Maryland. Grab your lad, your lassie, or your collie dog and join the fun.

What to Expect at Scottish Festivals

Listen for the skirling of pipes and the hum of fiddles. Watch for the pagaent of plaids as pipers and dancers take the stage in their traditional attires. There will be many feats of strength including stone tosses, hammer throws, caber (tree) tosses, and the sheaf toss—a specialty of the farmers. There's so much to see and do

Highland Dancing—It's Not Just for Gurrls!

While ladies young and old do dance the Highland steps, there are several traditional dances which were specifically geared to manly dancers. The Sword Dance, or Ghillie Callum, and the Highland Fling are both battle dances. The Highland Fling was traditionally performed on a small, round shield called a targ. The Sword Dance is believed to have been created by a prince who slew his enemy and then danced over their crossed swords.

The Seann Triubhas (pronounced shawn trews) is believed to be a dance of political protest. After the ascension of William III and Mary II to the English throne, the Scots rebelled against their Sassenach overlords as often as possible; 1689, 1708, 1715, 1719, and 1745. The Crown passed the British Dress Act of 1746 which outlawed the wearing of the kilt. When it was at last repealed in 1783, the dance is said to have been created to celebrate the final shaking off of the detested trousers (trews).

Besides these martial dances, spectators can also see reels, jigs, and Scottish national dances. The pipers set the tune for the kilted men and women, and prizes are awarded for the very best dancers.

What's in a Name? A Wee Bit of History

When the Scots-Irish came to America in the 1700s, they brought their old ways of life with them, with an emphasis on the importance of extended family. Old Scotland was made up of territories ruled by extended families called clans. The head of the clan was called a chieftan. A traveller venturing into clan territory would know that he was under that chieftan's rule. The Scottish kings ruled the strong-willed chieftans as best they could, but fights for the crown were commonplace.

The clan system was a strong force in their lives, and Scots who voyaged far to make new lives for themselves often instituted clan gatherings, a kind of family reunion, for those who shared their names. Most Scottish festivals will have representatives from many clans to make their kinfolk and other visitors feel welcome.

Besides the many popular surnames such as Campbell, McDonald and Anderson, these first names are frequently used amongst Scots far and wide and are steeped in Scots history:

Mary: their last own queen, beheaded on the order of England's Queen Elizabeth I in 1587
Robert: Robert the Bruce was the Scottish king who lead dauntless followers including William Wallace (Braveheart) against King Edward I, "the Hammer of the Scots." Bruce is also a popular Scottish name.
Stewart or Stuart: the Scottish royal family's clan name was often taken as a first name. Originally the name came from the head of the family's occupation—Steward of Scotland
Douglas: The Douglas clan alternately supported and fought against the Stewarts
Kenneth: The first king of unified Scotland was Kenneth mac Alpin (reigned 843-858)
Janet or Jean: a name used by Scottish princesses and fairy tale heroines
Malcolm: Malcolm II (c. 980-1034) was nicknamed by his enemies, "the Destroyer."
Duncan: Like Kenneth, Malcolm, and Donald, these men were kings when Scotland was still known as Alba. Duncan I was killed by Macbeth, as dramatized in the Shakespeare play. Duncan II was held hostage in England at William the Conqueror's court when he was a young man.
Donald: The first King Donald was assasinated in 862. He was Kenneth mac Alpin's brother. Donald II was nicknamed "the Madman" in the Prophecy of Berchán.
Hamish: the Scots version of James
Flora: Flora McDonald rescued "Bonnie Prince Charlie" during the Jacobite Rebellion (the '45).
James: Many Scottish kings have been named James. James I of England was also James VI of Scotland.
Margaret: There have been numerous royal women named Margaret who were affiliated with the Stewart dynasty. Five of them were Queen Consorts. Of those the most famous is probably Saint Margaret.
Alexander:Alexander I was nicknamed "the fierce" for his battle prowess. Alexander II fought and schemed for English lands. Alexander III oversaw what came to be called a golden age.

Battles to Know

The Scots do like their battles, and they have been known to ally themselves with many European powers including the French, Spanish, and Norwegians to fight them the better. Out of all the battlegrounds on which Scottish blood was shed, these three long reign in their memories:

Robert the Bruce beat back England's Edward II in 1314. Edward rode north, leading approximately 2,000 men on horseback and 16,000 men on foot—about twice the number available to the Scottish king. Robert, wearing no armor and riding a mere palfrey, wielded a large battle axe as he rode in single combat against one of England's best knights, Sir Henry de Bohun, who was fully armored and riding a great war horse. Robert manuevered skillfully and brought his axe down with full force, splitting de Bohun's helmet and head in two. The battle lasted for another day, but this incident early on was said to rally the Scots to victory. The English retreated. Their king fled before his army who fell back nearly completely routed. English recognition of Scottish independence would not come for ten more years, but at Bannockburn the victory was complete, and Scotland had her king.

Flodden Field:
On September 9, 1513, Scots led by King James IV invaded northern England. The goal was to divert Henry VIII's troops from their engagments in France, to honor "the Auld Alliance" between France and Scotland. It was a huge battle, but at the last Scotland lost the day. King James, riding in the front rank, was cut down.

In 1745, Scotland was seething under English rule when the Jacobites (supporters of the exiled Stuart king James Francis Edward, aka "The Old Pretender") were determined to take the country back for themselves. The Jacobites were allied with the French; the English had the Germans to support them. The Jacobites' efforts ended at Culloden on April 16, 1746. Many of the defeated Scots left for the colonies, either willingly or under guard to be assigned work on New World plantations.

Scottish Food

It's likely visitors will find tastier and generally less sanguine examples of Scots culture at the Highland festivals. Best known dishes include Scot's porridge, buttery scones, floury bannocks, shepherd's pies, trout and salmon, toasted cheese, and, of course, butterscotch. The abundance of butter and the sugar might be hard on a modern diet, but the hearty oatmeal and fresh fish are certainly a saving grace. Haggis, the national dish of Scotland, is brought out at every major sit-down feast, from Burns Night to Christmas.

Scottish Literature

There have been many gifted Scottish writers who share their love of country in their stories and poetry. Three of the most famous are Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns and Robert Louis Stevenson, the author of Kidnapped. Kidnapped is a classic adventure story that takes place in the aftermath of the 18th-century uprisings. Another old-time favorite is Scottish Chiefs by Jane Porter. It tells the adventurous story of William Wallace's fight for Scotland's freedom in the 1300s.

Good Dogs!

Scottish Terriers, West Highland Terriers, Skye Terriers, Gordon Setters, Scottish Deerhounds, Border Collies, and Farm Collies—Scotland is known for its fine dogs and some of the best of the working dogs are usually on display at Highland festivals. Unlike AKC shows, these dogs have to do more than win a beauty pageant. They compete, as working dogs should, at their work. The Virginia Scottish Games will feature a series of events. Look for Border Collies, like those in the movie Babe, working sheep with all their skill as well as many other doggy events, including terrier races.

There's so much to see and do! This fall, gather your own clan, bake a batch of scones to take with, and head on out for a Scottish festival.

You don't need to be Scottish to enjoy a warm welcome and a day of fun. Before you go, check out a bit of Scottish history and culture with our library's booklist on things Scottish.