Scottish Clans

July’s WeeBox celebrates the history and legacy of the Scottish Clans. Whether you are a descendant of Macdonald or Macleod, Gordon or Campbell or even just a fan of Outlander, you will know that Scottish clans are a very important part of our history. You might even have had a wee look at the Historical Tales of the Clans book that is part of this month’s WeeBox and know that this history is a colourful one. In fact, that more often than not, the tales of the fights of the clans Mackenzie and Fraser in Outlander or the bravery of certain members of clan Wallace in Braveheart, aren’t too far from the truth. 

The word clan comes from the Gaelic ‘clann’ and literally means ‘children’ or more appropriately ‘kindred’ as clans, although comprised of family members, were often a kinship group of Scottish people. The concept dates back to the 12th century, finding ancient origins in Celtic, Norse or Norman-French traditions. Clan roots had grown deeply intrenched in Scottish culture by the 13th century, with clans having had their own tartan and clan badge – just like the one in your July WeeBox! Anyone who pledged their allegiance to the chief of a particular clan then would use the clan name as their own and came under the protection of this clan, as well as working for them. Clans were obviously an integral part of our Scottish story, giving people protection and work as well as a feeling of belonging and kinship that Scots and Scot-lovers all over the world still value so much today. However, life between neighbouring or powerful rival clans wasn’t always easy and many history books talk of battles for land and resources for every day life. It wasn’t always plain sailing for these Scots with Norse invasions and English attacks making life difficult for them at many points throughout history. It therefore doesn’t come as much of a surprise that by the time of the Jacobite uprisings, Scottish clans came together to find safety in numbers despite any differences they may have had in the past, with a number of important and influential clans joining Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Army. Sadly, this led to the massacre of the Jacobite troops at the Battle of Culloden in 1745 and a resultant attempt by the legislative powers of the British to demolish clan culture in Scotland. With the Highland Clearances that followed – when a number of tenants were evicted from the Highlands – many Scots found themselves emigrating to all corners of the globe. Where we once could find tight knit clans living on the same grounds, they were now separated by oceans… or so it seemed. 

Being the country we are, us Scots like to see the bright side of things and as such it wasn’t all doom and gloom even with the dispersing of the clans. They left behind a legacy that was loved and protected by all. Once the anti-clan legislation was lifted by the end of the 18th century, artists and writers such as Walter Scott and James Macpherson brought the clans back to life through their poems and stories. The kilt, which had originally been banned, was allowed to be worn again and even King George IV was known to don our national dress, cementing it as the Scottish symbol that it is today. The upsurge in the demand for kilts and tartans that this caused was met by textile companies such as Harris Tweed who are still delivering products across the world just like your Harris Tweed Hunting Flasks in your latest WeeBox.

However, it’s not just in tartan or monarchs that we can see the legacy left behind by the great Scottish clans but also in the descendants who are still representing Scotland and her history across the world – you might even be one yourself! America alone has over 100,000 clan members who host many events including over 300 Highland Games a year – you can take the Scot out of Scotland but you really can’t take Scotland out of the Scot. Thousands of people still resonate with this heritage and often come together to celebrate this and be with their clan members. In 2009, clan chiefs came to Edinburgh to pay homage to their ancestry and also celebrate the 250th birthday of Scottish icon, Robert Burns. For many people, this was the first time they had visited the home of their ancestors and were welcomed with open arms by the city for a special Highland Games and a Clan Pageant. It doesn’t need to be a large scale event like this to bring together Scots across the world. A quick Google search will take you to a wonderland of websites where clan members and friends connect online, sharing stories and information together. Undoubtedly, fun is had by all but this coming together of people from all over the world highlights the feeling of belonging and family that many of us associate with Scotland today. Despite the troubles and the turmoil that the clans faced all those years ago, this togetherness not only survived but flourished. 

It’s not difficult to see how big a part of Scottish history and culture that Scottish clans were and still are. Maybe you’re already a member of one of these clans or maybe you’re yet to still fully discover the magic they have to offer and one day you’ll be at a clan gathering, drinking from your Harris Tweed flask and enjoying a wee bite of macaroon together. One thing we can be sure of is that just as the clans of the 1700s came together, so do we here in the WeeBox clan, maybe not to fight a war but to love Bonnie Scotland for the great wee country she is! 

Learn about and find your Scottish clan here : https://www.visitscotland.com/see-do/research-your-ancestry/clans/