Tag Archives: History

GaelicUSA’s Local Memory and Monuments Project

Scottish Gaelic Foundation of the U.S.A.

Road sign in Hillsborough, North Carolina, commemorating James Hogg who organized a failed migration of Highlanders. Road sign in Hillsborough, North Carolina, commemorating James Hogg who organized a failed migration of Highlanders.

Are Scottish Highland immigrants, communities and historical events remembered in your local area? How are they commemorated, situated and interpreted in your local landscape or built environment? With road signs, building plaques, statues, monuments or other kinds of memorials? Or are there gaping holes in the community memory of the Gaelic immigrant legacy?

Memorial for the Battle of Moore's Creek Bridge, North Carolina, fought during the American Revolutionary War. Memorial for the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge, North Carolina, fought during the American Revolutionary War.

GaelicUSA is initiating a “crowd-source” project to collect material from people around the United States about how the story of Scottish Gaels as an ethnic group and as individuals are memorialized in our communities. We will assemble a digital exhibition, available online, from these materials as they come in.

Here’s what we’ll need from you if you’d like to contribute to this initiative:

  1. The URL to an…

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“Kidnapped” by Robert Louis Stevenson

:  Robert Louis Stevenson
Narrator: Keiron Elliott
ISBN:  9781490655758

Why did I read it?  Scotland has long held my interest, and I thought that since I had not read many of its authors, I ought to dive in, and, having listened to the BBC Radio Scotland, Scotland Outdoors podcast where they followed the route David Balfour takes in the book, I was keen to start with this, once of Scotland’s most famous novels.

What’s it about?  Upon the death of his father, David Balfour is given a letter of introduction to Ebenezer Balfour, of Shaws House in Cramond.  The welcome he receives from that man runs hot, and cold in turns.  Mr Balfour proposes a visit to a lawyer, having been foiled in an attempt to cause David’s death by sending him up a tower without light.  The next day a young cabin boy arrives, Ransome, and he guides them to a ship, where David is coaxed on board, before being knocked out, and so the adventures begin.

What did I like?  This is a “boy’s own adventure” style story, and it did keep me wondering at how it would be resolved.  I liked the mixture of fact with fiction, and the characters were very well drawn. There is a romantic taint to the tale, which refrained from being overly sentimental however.

Mr Kieron Elliott gave an excellent performance as narrator with his Scottish accent.  I chose this edition over other audio formats, based on samples of voices, and I’m glad I chose this version.  It was a lively narration, clear, even with the Scottish dialect.  In fact, the audio production was good overall, with only one or two changes in tone, voice, and quality to mar the presentation.

What didn’t I like? It was a slow start. I struggled to hold on through those first few chapters, but I’m glad I did.  The language, being a little old fashioned, took some getting used to – and I am used to the language of Jane Austen.  Eventually I was able to follow the rhythm, if not the Latin.

Would I recommend it?  Yes.  Absolutely. I think pre-teen boy readers might enjoy the tale far more than I.  That said, I am going to delve into the sequel, Catriona, if I can find a narrator such as Kieron Elliott.  This edition of Kidnapped was purchased from Audible, and was published by Recorded Books.

Rating:  4½/5

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Testament of a Witch

Author: Douglas Watt
ISBN: 9781906817794

Why did I read it?  It was given to me in exchange for a review and I was keen on the idea of a fictional work set in Scotland during the the notorious witch hunts.

Synopsis:   John Mackenzie is an advocate in Edinburgh who is charged by a letter from a dead woman to investigate happenings in the village of Lammersheugh. He and his assistant, Davie Scougall, a man raised in religious superstition, arrive to find the dead woman’s daughter, Euphame also accused of witchcraft and the enlightened Mr Mackenzie and his reluctant assistant must work quickly to save her.

What did I like? Douglas Watt keeps his chapters short and each has a different voice, focussing on one person, or section of the community and this keeps the story moving at a cracking pace.  The zeitgeist of the Scotland in the 17th century – the religious fervour and political unrest – is evoked with apparent ease and Mr Watt is explicit when describing the gruesome nature of the treatment afforded those accused of being in league with the devil but this adds to the feeling of uncertainty and terror of the time.

I enjoyed this book and sped through it keen to discover the underbelly of Lammersheugh with John Mackenzie, but unlike other murder and/or mystery books, I was unable to unravel the mystery ahead of the author’s reveal.  For me, this is a big plus for the book.

What didn’t I like?  Very little.  Some of the chapters were difficult to read as over half the chapter was  written in a Scottish dialect, though the few Gaelic phrases scattered throughout other chapters were translated into plain English.

Would I recommend it?  Yes!  I would thoroughly recommend this book to others: friends, family and even my grandmother, a fussy reader.

Rating: 4/5.

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Another video to share with you, this time the trailer to Werner Herzog‘s Cave of Forgotten Dreams. This is a 3D film shot inside Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave in southern France. These are some of the oldest cave paintings known. The film seems to have good reviews on IMDB and is set to be released on March 25th, 2011 in the UK.

Source:   Anthropology.net

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Scotland Tour 2010 – Day 0

I awoke after having only two hours’ sleep.  I had been desperately sorting out things I needed and trying to clean the flat so I would be able to return from my trip with nothing to do but a few loads of washing.  Alas, it wasn’t to be.   I just wasn’t prepared at all.

There were several items I had not acquired, one of which was socks, so I went to the nearest shopping centre.  Alas, Marks & Spencer didn’t have socks thick enough, so I had to purchase some rather expensive pairs from Cotswolds.  I returned home and packed these in my suitcase along with my walking boots, which practically took up all the space.  I was wearing shoes more suitable to getting myself across London, i.e. comfortable flats.

I glanced at the time and realised I needed to leave immediately.  As it happens I had forgotten to book a taxi, so I checked in with my landlady and I was in luck: her son was about to do the banking so he dropped me off at the station and I wished him a happy belated birthday as I had not seen him on the day.  I scrambled up to the station and looked at the boards, desparate to find an express train into Victoria.   There was one and I though my luck would hold.  It wasn’t to be.   The train was full and I was required to stand all the way into Victoria with my suitcase, my day pack and my camera backpack.   I alighted at Victoria and had a hard time fumbling to find my ticket to exit the barriers.  I decided not to venture onto the tube, even though my ticket covered the journey to Euston as it was hot and I was already feeling unwell with a headache that would not stop.

There seemed an awful lot of traffic on the London roads and my driver valiently tried to go around it with little success.   The temperature seemed to rise and as the taxi had no air-conditioning, my headache worsened.   I did manage to leave a message on Facebook of my whereabouts and I had ambitions to continue to update Facebook throughout the trip.

Finally, arriving in Euston I noticed my train to Preston had no platform allocated, so I nipped into Marks & Spencer to get some lunch for the journey and a bottle of water as I hadn’t had breakfast and was, by this time, hungry.  As I came back out into the main arena, I noticed a platform had been allocated so I made my way down to my train.   Of course, my carriage was the furthest from the barriers.   As I finally found my carriage, I lifted up my bags and proceeded to locate my reserved seat.  When I did, I found someone sitting in it despite the sign indicating it was reserved.  

I politely excused myself (only the gods know why) and explained I had reserved that particular window seat with a table.  The lady removed herself, shuffled down the aisle and promptly sat in another reserved seat.  Honestly, do people not have nouse anymore?  I had just got myself settled into my seat when a gentleman came along and said he had reserved the seat next to me but wondered if the seat diagonally opposite was empty.  I responded I had not seen anyone yet and the sign was unhelpful, so he sat down opposite.

I must admit I was pleased as he seemed friendly and was not unattractive.   No-one else appeared and the handsome devil opened up his laptop and proceeded to work.   I asked about the WiFi service on the train as I really have no clue as to how these things work – yet – and he explained it to me, but that was to be the extent of our conversation until he alighted at Wigan and we murmured goodbye to each other.

After spending a few hours on the train, attempting to read but being thwarted by my aching head, I arrived in Preston.  I made my way up the ramp and to a taxi completely unaware that: two of my fellow tour passengers had been on the same train; Neil, our tour guide, was standing at the top of the ramp in Preston station; and the tour bus marked very clearly “Megalithic Tours” was right outside the doors.   The taxi driver took me to the Marriott through was I can only describe as horrendous traffic.  

I had booked at the Marriott, rather than the Ibis from where the tour departed, because I was able to pay for the room using Airmiles, thus it was free saving me £40, as taxi fare and dinner came to £17.  I arrived in my room and attempted to contact Neil to let him know I had switched hotels.   I left him a message, but I was later to learn he opted for an early night.   So, I resigned myself to ordering a taxi the next morning and settled into my room.

The room was lovely and the grounds were fantastic.   Everything seemed wonderful and it was to be.  I was curious, though, as to why such a highly rated, luxury hotel didn’t have all the Sky channels available on its televisions.  In fact, some of the channels I receive on Freeview were noticeable by their absence.   

I took myself down to the bar restaurant and ordered sausage and mash.  I know it wasn’t very imaginative, but it was a huge portion.  I still marvel at the fact that as you move further north on this island, food portions grow ever larger until the plates can barely contain the meals.   I think it must be a hospitality thing, as the people in the north are a lot friendlier and helpful than their southern cousins.

I made my way back to my room and, finding no response from Neil, I watched a bit of television, set my camera and iPhone on their chargers and then fell asleep around 11 p.m.   Well, it wasn’t going to be early given I work evenings usually and I had not been able to make adjustments before my departure. 

And, so ended Day 0 of my tour of the North-West of Scotland.

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Britain BC

Book Cover

Author: Francis Pryor
ISBN: 9780007126934

It has actually taken me two years to read this book.   I started it in July 2008, and I remember finding it hard to comprehend.  It seemed all over the place and I had difficulties with the way Pryor went into long, confusing descriptions of various archaeological dig sites.  I felt extremely stupid as I just could not visualise that which he attempted to illustrate with words in detail.   I became frustrated and, instead, found other books to distract.

This year I have made a concerted effort to finish those books I struggled with in the past.  I picked up Britain BC again, but instead of returning to the beginning, I continued from where I had left off  in order to distance myself from the earlier frustrations.  It worked!   I was able to read this book somewhat more comfortably and actually absorb most of the information.

The detailed and wordy descriptions of various artefacts and archaeological digs sites still left me reeling, but pictures and illustrations are provided (more frequently in the second half of the book) which help to clearly demonstrate what Pryor is tries to describe in words.  In some cases, I still skipped the details in favour of understanding how the site/artefact furthered the understanding of a particular time, people, community or way of working.

Britain BC did provide me with insight in the world of archaeology; its progress over the years; and an idea of how archaeologists work today both in terms of learning about our past and in preserving it for the future.  I marvelled at the amount of speculation involved in seeking to put finds into context, giving the impression that the purpose of a site or artefact can never be certain where archaeologists are involved.   This was quite a lesson for me.   I found it disconcerting that as Pryor dismantled the ideas of others, he sought to replace them with his own imaginings, a few of which I thought less credible than those he had just rejected.   Still, what do I know?

I was taken by the idea that, immediately prior to the arrival of the Romans, British society was not necessarily a cohesive whole but rather made up of small community groups, some of which had banded together to form larger societies. Pryor also speculates that some of these communities did not have a formal structure, but were loosely banded together, and there may not have been an elite class as previously thought or imagined by rich burial sites.

Prior to reading Britain BC, I was unaware the Iron Age extended into the early part of first millennia CE with crannogs and brochs being in use in 600 CE, but only in those areas where the Romans had not tread.  Although I have gained some insight into what is known about the various “ages” of prehistory, I might have assimilated more if the author had refrained from flitting between archaeological dig sites, with a quick tangent into the future of one or another site “… but we will explore that further later in another chapter” (to paraphrase) and back again. As a reader, I felt disconnected from the finds or how they corroborated what was known about the people and/or communities of the age and how they lived in the landscape. I was lost quite a bit of the time; I needed lots of breaks from reading this book in order to take my bearings.  I know the author is enthusiastic – I can read it in his text – but I think more careful editing might have made the evidential information more accessible.

Overall, the book did provide me with a basic knowledge of prehistory in Britain and it’s all in one place instead of the myriad of bits and bobs floating around in my head from reading news updates from various archaeological websites.   I have definitely learned more than I ever did at school about the subject.  It’s just Britain BC is not a book I would, or even could, use as a reference to with which to check my understanding.

I am not sure what is says about the book when the first thing I can say about it is: “I now know the difference between pre-history, proto-history and history“.

Rating: 4/5.

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As the television, and radio, appears to have been overtaken by the false idolatry of the football and that grisly programme “Big Brother”, I have been watching history documentaries on DVD.  I started purchasing DVDs last year, at heavy discounts, in preparation for what I knew would be a dire summer in terms of entertainment. 

I get home from work in the early hours of the morning, at which time, all (available on freeview) is given over to analysis of sporting games or snoring fame hunters, but I like to be able to watch something decent while I have my dinner, as I unwind before going to bed.  

A  History of Scotland“, presented by Neil Oliver, is a 10 part series exploring the birth and life of that nation.  It is more about how Scotland came to be and how it is governed to this day rather than an exploration of it’s people, customs and culture.  I found it fascinating, as I knew very little about Scotland.  I had learned much about English history in schoool, but not much on the other countries that make up the British Isles.

A History of Britain” by Simon Schama follows the same lines as the series on Scotland, or so it seems.  I have only watched the first of six discs.

As I am enjoying these visually pleasing, potted histories, I was hoping to find more of the same on Ireland, or even Wales, but it seems no-one has produced these yet.  If anyone has recommendations, please be so kind as to pass them on.

I did find a curious thing at the end of the “A  History of Scotland” series, tucked away on the last disc.  It was “How the Celts Saved Britain” presented by Dan Snow.   Not so sure the title was apt, though.  It seemed more about how Irish Christianity lifted Britain from the dark ages more than anything.   I must admit, though, I can’t be sure where it went, as I kind of tuned out; it just couldn’t hold my attention. 

Now, I am looking out for a suprise at the end of “A History of Britain“, but I am refraining from peeking ahead.


Filed under Britain, Reviews, Scotland