|The Recent History Of The Scottish Clans
~ The Romance Of The Clan
There is a saying that “you can take the man out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the man,” meaning that an unsophisticated country bumpkin, moved to the city, will still retain his unsophisticated manners. In a way, that is the thing that kept the clan system, or at least its allure, alive despite the Acts of the government to destroy the clans and the Clearances combined. As the towns in the Lowlands swelled by the influx of Highlanders, the memories of their lost way of life gave the displaced residents some solace in their daily challenge to get by in the overcrowded and often squalid conditions. Out of this environment emerged popular writers such as Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott. Their maudlin poems and tales of the Highland way of life allowed the displaced clansmen to vicariously relive those joyful and proud times.
In the year 1822, a phenomenon took place in Scotland which has been described as the Tartan Revival. It was a manifestation of the Romantic Revival that was sweeping the country. As noted above, after Culloden, the wearing of tartan was a punishable offence, and so the older patterns were forgotten in many cases. In 1822, George IV planned to visit Edinburgh. He, and Sir William Curtis, Lord Mayor of London, it was announced, would be wearing kilts for the occasion. And for King George’s amusement, the clan chiefs were asked to wear their tartans to greet the British monarch. The clans scrambled to ‘rediscover’ their unique tartans. Even those clans which never possessed a unique tartan wanted to have one now. This led to the creation of new ‘septs’ of clans whereby families that may not have previously been allied to a clan, now rushed to align themselves with the clan of their choice. Although this might seem somewhat ridiculous, it was not as absurd as the fact that many Border and Lowland houses (i.e. families) claimed that they had been clans all along! The ridiculous aspect of this becomes apparent when one recalls the contempt that the Lowlanders and Borderers held for the Highlanders all through Scotland’s history. I.F. Grant and Hugh Cheape, in their book, Periods In Highland History, quoted John of Fordun’s Chronicle of 1384 noting “The people of the coast are of domestic and civilised habits, trusty, patient and urbane…” while “The highlanders and people of the islands, on the other hand, are a savage and untamed nation, rude and independent…” This, unfortunately, was the general attitude that had for so long divided the Highlands from the rest of Scotland. But now, in view of the fact that the Lowlands were being overrun by displaced Highlanders, the distinction between Highlanders and Lowlanders had become very blurred. In the same way that it is said that on St. Patrick’s Day, everyone is Irish, it seemed that in the Romantic Revival of the Highlands, everyone was a clansman.