Thursday, January 29, 2009

Jerome S. Anderson (The First)

This was never meant to be a family history site but I was delighted, back in November 2007, to have united descendants of Jerome S Anderson who left the Isle of Skye for the New World in 1706. The descendants in the original post were living in Norway and France. I wrote then, "Who knows? There may be a whole lot more of you out there waiting to be linked up", and little suspected that this would unearth descendants in Waterford Connecticut, New Mexico, North Carolina and Schuylkill Pennsylvania!

Here now is a picture of the great man. Many thanks Suzanne Tedeschi.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Mullach Clach a'Bhlair

This post has nothing to do with clans and castles - I forsook the office and took to the hills today. This is what I saw.

Glen Feshie:
A little of the ancient Caledonian Pine Forest (and three generations of cocker spaniel):
Cadha na Coin Duibh:
Approaching the summit of Mullach Clach a'Bhlair:

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Barack Obama and Robert Burns

It's always irritating to be beaten to a good idea! With the newspapers today packed with the words of these two plain speaking, egalitarian-minded men (today is the 250th anniversary of Burns' birth), it seemed a good idea to link the two. Unfortunately Emma Cowing in the Scotsman got there first.

I have written already of how Abraham Lincoln used to carry a volume of Burns around with him. Indeed I wrote then that Burns' passion for social justice fuelled the US leader's crusade to emancipate African-Americans.

Has President Obama read any Burns? I suspect not, but I think he would enjoy it...

The Tree of Liberty (circa 1789)
Wi' plenty o' sic trees I trow,
The warld would live in peace, man;
The sword wad help to mak a plough ,
The din o' war wad cease, man.
Like brethren in a common cause,
We'd on each other smile, man;
And equal rights and equal laws,
Wad gladden every isle man.

I would like to trawl through President Obama’s Inaugural Address and other speeches looking for parallels but the haggis is smelling good and I am being called on to mash the neeps!
It looks like a good evening. Och Aye. And we’ll tak a right guid willy waught, for auld lang syne.

Happy Burns Night!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Britannia's Slaves

Most of us in Scotland watched yesterday's inauguration of the 44th President with a degree of excitement. The BBC commentators made the point several times that whilst President Obama's roots are in Kenya, his wife Michelle's ancestors were slaves.

The talk of slavery set me thinking for some reason about that great English anthem, 'Rule Britannia', (sung with great gusto each year at the Last Night of the Proms in London):
When Britain first, at Heaven's command
Arose from out the azure main;
This was the charter of the land,
And guardian angels sang this strain:
"Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:
"Britons never will be slaves."
Leaving aside the question of The Almighty's role in creating this island, it is interesting that these words, (by Lowland Scot James Thomson) were first heard in London in 1745. It was in the following year, after the Battle of Culloden, that thousands of clansmen (each one a British citizen) were sold into slavery in America. More would follow.

Mind you, this had already been going on for a hundred years or more:

On 28 July 1651, John Cotton, a Puritan Minister in Boston, wrote to Oliver Cromwell, "The Scots whom God delivered into your hands at Dunbarre and whereof sundry were sent hither, we have been desirous (as we could) to make their yoke easy. Such as were sick of the scurvey or other diseases have not wanted Physick and chyrugery. They have not been sold for slaves to perpetual servitude. But for 6 or 7 or 8 yeares as we do our own."

Note: The reference is to the Battle of Dunbar, September 1650.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Dunnottar Castle

I have felt a great warmth towards Dunnottar Castle ever since, ten years ago, I wrote and published the official guidebook. The castle, however, has never reciprocated - mainly since it has no heating. And this is one of the concerns expressed by our Schools Minister, Maureen Watt who has called for the castle to be taken into state control .

Dunnottar, on a windswept clifftop south of Aberdeen, is about fifteen minutes walk from the road and there is no shop, no tea room, no electricity, and normally only one member of staff in the place. And yet this is one of the most significant of Scotland's castles - William Wallace, Mary Queen of Scots, the Marquis of Montrose, Charles II, they have all been here and added their stories to this extraordinary cluster of buildings. Dunnottar also saw the dramatic saving of Scotland's crown jewels, the oldest in the United Kingdom, from under the nose of Oliver Cromwell who hoped to destroy them.

The owners of the castle point out that visitor numbers are rising. But Dunnottar should be seeing 60,000 visitors per annum, not the present 40,000. More importantly, the visitor experience is not nearly as good as it could be. Government administration is not necessarily the answer: some of the most exciting visitor attractions in Scotland are privately owned castles - Glamis, Cawdor, Inveraray. But these have been in the family for 50o years or more; the last Keith Earl Marischal of Scotland left Dunnottar in 1651 and the castle fell to Dunecht Estates, the present owners, almost by accident in 1925.

At the moment Dunnottar is a convenient cash cow within a business whose main interests lie elsewhere. To be fair, much has been done in the last ten years - there is now an exhibition, there are benches and the rock doves have been denied access to at least some of the buildings. But this is not enough. Back in 2001 I researched the opportunities for grant funding to allow Dunnottar to become a modern, welcoming, visitor attraction. No doubt rules have changed but if government ministers are expresssing concern, then money will be found and if Dunecht Estates are not able to embrace such an initiative, then I hope Maureen Watt gets her way.

PS. The stunning shots in this post are by Jim Henderson whose photos also account for the great success of the castle guidebook.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Aldourie Castle

Every good tour guide knows Aldourie Castle - it's the fanfare of towers and turrets seen across Loch Ness for about ten seconds before it disappears again. Apart from ruined Urquhart, Aldourie is the only castle on Loch Ness but for years tour guides have not known what to say about its present state: it was privately owned by Angus and Judy Cameron until 2002 and then sold to some Americans who did nothing with it.

I was there yesterday with three of my Scottish Clans and Castles colleagues and can report that Aldourie is now embarked on the most amazing rebirth. Furniture, fittings and thousands of books are all in store whilst the castle is gutted and reorganised as a dramatic 'exclusive use' venue. Quite unusually, the English owners are passionate about restoring the castle to recall its Victorian glory - the time when the Fraser Tytler family entertained with great style in their very fashionable Scottish Baronial castle, recently created from a traditional laird's house, built by the Dunbar family in the 17th century.

We stood on the battlements and looked at Loch Ness through diverging vistas of mature trees. We went through a lychgate to see the private graveyard in the woods. We admired the arboretum and three massive dilapidated greenhouses flanking an enormous kitchen garden. All of this is being restored.

There is no doubt that the revitalised Aldourie Castle will again see entertainment in great style. If you would like to book Aldourie for a family or business event, just let us know.