Saturday, April 26, 2014

Stirling. Robert the Bruce. And Independence

Update to 2014.  Scotland may press, and possibly succeed, in seeking independence. Who is to judge?  Issue ongoing.

Look back, however, at Robert the Bruce, 1279-1329.  He. as King of Scotland at the time, fought for that against the English with their overwhelming resources and military experience, and lost.  That is the tale and impression.

  • Or did he? Robert the Bruce was indeed mortally wounded, and his army was small and badly equipped, but there is more.  The cause was not lost; but instead the battle was a victory for R the B and his men.  Update 2014:  The  Financial Times recounts a more accurate assessment:  see Don your 3D glasses to fight Scotland's 'auld enemy' from April 5-6, 2014 at 
  • Bannockburn brainwashing: the term in the article for revisionist history. And a new video and game at the visitors' center now shows that.

So independence was not wrought by all force;  it took a treaty some 400 years after Bannockburn to establish full political union, and settle the issue.  See Scots independence issues, Global post, at  England is not keen.  They had the military victory, but apparently hearts and minds remain elusive..
How many families, including ours, with both Ireland and Scotland roots, and English, have put a Robert Bruce in every generation.  Does that mean we are related?  Probably not.  Fantasizers like to think so, even if through the time-honored route of bastardy, as was William the Conqueror. A bastard, that was, as probably were our forbears.  Wonderful, but hardly in "the line." Independence for Scotland.  The fantasist likes it. Scots independence. Salute, with a balance needed so the common good is served, both sides.

The usual photos of R the B seem remote, medieval, not connected.  We prefer ours.  ROBERT THE BRUCE.  See above.  A mind, a body, an intelligence, a strength, a leadership, not to be diminshed by statuary presented in the usual way, interchangeable.  He needs to be on his horse. Not this tripe: see yjr BBC -- usually, and here, a reliable fact source:

This, a tribute to our family's most recent, Robert Bruce McConaghy.  Hi, Rob. Will a niece, a nephew, a child, a cousin, pass on the tradition. Tradition of naming.  The actual genes do not matter.  The heart does. The heart of Robert the Bruce, severable from other remains. Heart at Melrose Abbey, or elsewhere, not diggable. See the fate of the heart at

A family value, with or without genes to boot:  autonomy regardless of gender or surrounding ideologies from people with steeples. Go, R the B. See your sword in the displays at Stirling Castle.  Huge.  Enormous.  Whose arm could wield but thine.  Go, R the B.  Fitness with a purpose.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Inn at John O'Groats - End-to-Enders. A Place to Refresh, At Last

Drive -- or walk, or cycle, bless you --  from the southernmost point of England to the northernmost point of Scotland, and you used to be disappointed.  Land's End in Cornwall in the southwest has places to stay, eat, view.  John O'Groats, however, at the northeast, had only a virtually abandoned 1875 hotel, empty since the 1990's.  Find also a trailer park and souvenir place. Those who made the journey as we did were disappointed.  End-to-Enders had to go back the way we came for lodgings.

We can all go back. The Inn has been restored and improved, with character and low-key style, according to the gist of a fine article in the Financial Times, 9a/21-22, 2013 at p.9, Travel: A fresh start for the end of the world.

So: Take any circuitous, arbitrary route to  John O'Groats now, and be disappointed no more. John O'Groats is home to only some 300+ stalwart residents, and now it has an Inn again.  The Inn at John O'Groats.  

The name derives from the 1496 Jan de Groot, an entrepreur who established the first ferry to Orkney and charged a groat for the journey. He was awarded land for his house, from the Earl of Caithness.  Jan built an octagonal house, says Financial Times, because his eight sons were quarrelsome and each needed his own entrance.  The house is gone, but the octagon echoes on in the tower of the new Inn.  Again, we were at John O'Groats before the new Inn, but we are happy to believe the Financial Times. See

Aberdeenshire, Balmoral Castle

Balmoral Castle.  When castle gates are closed, small visible areas - towers in the distance -- suffice.  Prince Albert rented the castle in 1848 sight unseen, after the royal family had enjoyed visiting the Highlands as a favorite destiination since 1842.  With everybody happy with it, he bought it for Queen Victoria in 1852.  The only problem was the castle itself:   too small, just too small.  So the family lived in it only until a replacement could be built 100 years to the northwest -- and then the old castle was demolished, with only a commemorative memorial stone left to mark the old front door.  Another stone!  At the new castle, Victoria put a parchment marking the date and with currrent sample coins in a bottle and inserted the bottle into the foundation stone.  

Balmoral, Castle, Scotland

Balmoral is not easily found.  Drive around enough, and find a small vista. 

Victoria's will:  the property passed to Edward VII, and then passes to each of his successors.  Fine.  

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Sutherland. Dunrobin Castle. Clearances of Crofters.

Dunrobin is notorious here in the old Norse "south lands" -- from which the family Sutherland took its name when first settled by a Fleming in the 1200's. 

This castle, later remodeled in the French chateau mode, represented the vast wealth of the noble classes who engaged in the brutal, profit-motivated clearances of poor crofters, the great evictions, so that the noblemen could make more money in sheep.

Clearances of crofters.  A crofter is a poor small-farmer, with tenure rights to till a portion of arable land, a means of producing food for the family. Dukes and Earls of Sutherland:  dominating the countryside. What is the difference?  King: Heavenly.  Prince:  Just below Heavenly. Duke:  highest after Prince. Then come Marquess-es. Then Earl:  below Duke.  Viscount:  below Earl.

Earl derives from the Norse Jarl, but in Scandinavia, could also mean rank like a Prince.  Earl was a term not used on the Continent. An Earl was a chieftain.  That rank authorized him to rule in place of the King.  In the middle ages, Earl was used less commonly, and the term Duke arose to rule.

The water beyond:  We went by car ferry from Scrabster, after arriving from the southwest and Hebrides;  to Stromness, Orkney; and returned with immediate aim to Wick and the northeastern coast of Scotland.  Suddenly, there was Dunrobin Castle.

On the upper floors was, it is said, the bedroom of the Lord's daughter, the 14th Earl of Sutherland no less, and he had forbidden her to marry her true love. She let down a rope to escape, and fell, haunting the place thereafter.

Ayrshire. Culzean Castle. Scots Kennedy Family. Robert the Bruce as well?

Ancestry buffs will enjoy that this is the Scots Kennedy family home, and that they claim ties back to Robert the Bruce.  Sir Thomas Kennedy was killed (murdered) on the beach at Ayr in 1602.  Scots hauntings: A spectral piper pipes on the occasion of each Kennedy marriage, it is said, and on dark and stormy nights, with a second ghostly apparition, a young woman in a ball gown seen, it also is said, in 1972.

 The architecture dates from 1759, so does not sport the walls and turrets and keeps of medieval times.  The echoes of those times are in attached decorative tower-elements.  It is located on the South Ayrshire coastline, about an hour and a half southwest from Stirling Castle.

See a room-by-room description at

There had been a castle on the cliffs here before the current version,  

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Largs. Viking Scotland

Largs is known as the last stand of the Vikings, whose King Haakon lost to Scotland's King Alexander in 1263.  The event, to the Norwegians, was but an inconclusive skirmish tangled by bad weather etc.  To the Scots, it was Battle.  Haakon planned further fights, but died in the Orkney Islands.  Both sides then negotiated rather than fight on and on, and the western Islands, Hebrides and also Argyll on the mainland, were ceded by the successor King Magnus in 1266 to the Scots. The event is commemorated annually, see By way of update, the 2013 celebration is shown at that site.  Go in September and enjoy.

A look at the geography of northern Europe shows navigable waterways, even for distances, seas, and islands that could be, and were, hopped-skipped-and sailed across by early Norse.  The Spring 2013 issue of Scottish Life, see; does not seem to show the article on page 22 about how and when all that happened -- migrations because of overpopulation on sparse arable lands, and later, incursions by Christian zealots intent on unifying all under the Christian Soldier Banner.  Soldier?  Really?  Who was it that turned that down in the first instance?

1.  Course began with the closest, Shetland and Orknay;
2.  The Northern and Western Isles, Hebrides;
3.  Northern areas of Caithness, Sutherland, Inverness.

In Edinburgh is an exhibition called Vikings! with artifacts and displays showing life in those days. Vikings were traders long before their anti-Christian response to the incursions of militant Christians in the late 700's - 800's and the centuries following.  But horned helmets be they none.   A fiction. So sad.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Skye - Kale Yard, Kale History, Coffee and Kale, and Peter Pan

 Great Leafy, Non-Headed Cabbage *
Hail to Kale from the Isle of Skye

On Skye some of the old walled areas we saw as parts of cottages or farms appar were for growing kale, that strong very strong vegetable in the cabbage-brussels sprouts etc family. There are no identifying signs, but we found this bit of history through serendipity.

1.  History.  Kale-type veggies have been cultivated since the Fifth Century BC, at least, see  Kale:  Scots.  Kohl: German.  It was native to the Middle East, perhaps brought to the British Isles by the Romans, a staple also of the lower classes, workers, peasants, throughout the Middle Ages.  The forced depopulation of Scotland brought about a decline in kale-demand, as the wealthier apparently preferred the more delicate cabbage.

Kale recipes as meme: In early days, preserved in salt, in barrels. Cooked down and down. It grew well on the rough ground of the Scottish Isles. More: 
For any beleaguered family cook thinking she is unique in imagining crispy kale, not so.  It is all over.  See the added perk of kale at 

Skip viagra.  Try kale.  Then let us know. Go out to dinner with the money saved.

2.  Kailfield.  Also a name, derogatory, for a group of Scottish writers, whose number included James M. Barrie, who wrote Peter Pan.  Veraveg site. We saw no tribute to Barrie in Scotland, but did in London, of course, at Kensington Gardens.  Tried a search for Kailfield, and came up instead with Kailyard, as the name for the group idealizing Scotland in a nostalgic way, see  Also Kail-yard.

3.  At home
  • Kale recipe.  Kale in the Morning.  Coffee and Kale.
 For those whose families are gastronomically timid, fix your own kale.

Kale despite them.

  • Wash, snip out the stem (put in the processor with a clove of garlic, salt, and any nuts, and drizzle in olive oil for a kind of pesto) and roughly break apart tough leaves.  
  • Drizzle a little olive oil in a pan, toss in the kale, and sizzle until fragrant and crisping 
  • Dump on paper towels, drain.  
  • Dump on cookie sheet, add salt, and roast until crisp, about 10 minutes, say 375, watching and stirring occasionally.  Better than chips.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Perthshire area. Scottish Castles

Scots castles. Tall tower houses, embellished or with walls, additions, or not. They are in ruins in the glens, on the moors, in good condition some, and always evoke the need for a family's defense in isolated places. Put the windows high up, the entry an obstacle with the heaviest of reinforced doors, ditches outside, draws to raise.

The glossy luxe magazine, Country Life, is a venerable British weekly that highlighted Scotland's romance heritage through its castles in August 2012.  One article, a book review, presents Scotland's Castle Culture, edited by Audrey Dakin, Miles Glendenning,  and Aongus Mackechnie.  Find the magazine not on its own website, which I could not find, but in a fine overview of its editorial and topical history at (yes) Wikipedia.  The book adds to the usual architectural history sections the overlay of changing relations with England, shifting allegiances of border families.

Theory is interesting,  but riveting is considering life in these structures, as a family.  The husband off to warring or governing, the lady at home, the retainers, the hunting and fishing culture that meant sustenance then.  Defense against marauding neighbors or invaders.  England's castles look brittle and purposeful.  Scotland's hold echoes of people inside.

Stirling Castle, William Wallace and Robert the Bruce.

Attention should be paid to the swords of famous battle leaders.   Robert the Bruce, who led the victory of the Scots over the British at Bannockburn in 1314, see apparentlyearlier (later?)  received the sword of William Wallace, see .  Scroll down the sites for representations of medieval swords.  Wallace may not have been a pivotal figure at all for Bruce, but the two later get linked by the proximity of their memorials. See, e.g., Wallace was tortured and killed by the English in 1305 when they finally overcame him by betrayal, capture, butchery.  Wallace was known for his own victory over the British at Stirling Bridge in 1297.

What happened to that particular sword is not known, but the sword attributed to Robert the Bruce in Stirling, is so long and heavy that it is hard to imagine anyone able to lift it. I understand that a young man began with increasingly heavy and long swords so that by the time he was grown, he could wield such a one handily.  Like lifting a cow by beginning as a child with a calf. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Stirling. Norman Impact on Scotland. Violent Transition of Governments.

Norman Impact on Scotland
Why the Wars

King David.  1124-1153.  Dabid mac Mail Choluim in the Scots Gaelic.  In 1066, William the Conqueror defeated England's King Harold at the Battle of Hastings.  His control moved to all parts of the British Isles, more slowly into Scotland, but areas soon showed the influence, including Stirling. David was educated in England, and became a strong proponent of the new Norman ways, including the Reforms of the Roman Catholic Church in the British Isles. See

Thane to sheriff. A difficult transition.

The Norman displaced Celtic forms.  The Celtic did not go down easy.

All this displaced the earlier Celtic ways, the tradition, the tribes, the Christians who had followed a more flexible, individualized and a less institutionalized regimentation than had been in effect on the Continent.

Do these changes, from the Celtic to the Norman, explain the antipathy of even Robin Hood in England, at Notttingham, to the sheriff. What did the sheriff represent?  We were looking for England sources, and found this Scots one. David founded the continent's big monasteries, all answerable to Rome and not anyone local, or any founding local Christian family.  David followed the Norman feudal land-grant system,  and where there had been Celtic "thanes" there now emerged Norman "sheriffs" in sheriffdoms, or shires.  Think of the Hobbits in their shire.  Same thing, is that so?

The border shires, and the eastern coast shires soon came under royal (British-English) control.  The western shires took a little longer.  By 1305, the list was nearly complete.

After 1305, some larger shires had been subdivided, others merged, and an emerging county system was on its way.

Norse influence waned.  By 1266, Norwegian claims to Argyll were erased.

1707 -- Union of Scotland and England.  No more sheriffdoms, counties instead. And those, long with a tradition of being inherited as to who is sheriff, were abolished as to inheritability.

Normans in Scotland.  Changing the face of culture, introducing bureaucracy, and new forms of land ownership. See