Why are there Scots (including the Irish) all over the world? – A Short History of Scotland in 805 words
Growing up, one of the most memorable conversations I had with my Dad was when he told me about the family history and I found out I was adopted into the Macneils after not knowing my biological father. All I can say was something very strange and profound was going on in my “heart” (yes, a spiritual experience!) that was subconscious but I could tell was of enormous importance. I had experienced the same feeling inside when I was listening to the U2 song ‘Drowning Man’ when I was 14 – I recommend reading the lyrics to that song!
I also later found out from my Gran and her sister that their mother, Marion Macneil, a mum of I think 13 children, would sit them down on a Sunday afternoon and teach them from the Bible. Without any exaggeration, I believe I was preserved from certain death during four prodigal years as a young person by the prayers of that woman.
I had made a serious attempt to follow the other side of my heritage which is chock-full of freemasonry, witchcraft and spiritualism, it did its best to destroy the family with 7 out of 13 of my Dad’s relatives dying unpleasantly in their mid-30s. My own Gran lost her mind in her 60s, well known as a medium and ‘tea leaf reader’. In the pit of darkness, one dark night after a month of partying and suffering a complete physical breakdown, I made a deal with God that if I did not die, I would find out about him and this Jesus my long-distance girlfriend talked about. Now I am a follower of Jesus, and I have no regrets about making that choice 30 years ago.
I found out by studying the Macneils a bit more of why I am like I am. We have a wonderful spiritual, Christian mythology for our clan stretching all the way back from the Neils, High Kings of Ireland and St Patrick, some even arguing we were descended from those who pulled Moses from the reeds (seriously!). However, more recently we were thieves and pirates (again a characteristic I noticed in me growing up!), robbing anyone who strayed too close to the Island of Barra which became our clan seat, all the while soldiers for involuntary hire to the ‘Lords of the Isles’ and the Macleans who were then feuding with each other meaning we Macneils would often be fighting each other on the battlefield as there were not enough of us to resist the dominant clans.
Things for the clans generally bottomed out in the saddest part of our history known as the ‘Highland Clearances’ (1750-ish to 1850-ish, some would say into the 1930s when St Kilda was evacuated) where wealthy landed-lords allied with the English kings or appointed by them or just plain greedy Scots’ nobles, evicted the Highlanders off the land they had lived upon under some kind of feudal lease. The owners of the land realised they could make more money by keeping sheep on the land and so they evicted the Highlanders. For over 100 years, Scots left for Canada, Bermuda, Australia and New Zealand and that is why you find Scots placenames all over the world. ‘Nova Scotia’ means ‘New Scotland’ and the South Island of New Zealand has many Scots’ placenames. Dunedin (meaning ‘fort on the River Edin’) in the South Island is the original gaelic name for ‘Edinburgh’, the Scots’ capital city.
Things for the Macneils personally were worse still as people continued to emigrate looking for work and it has only been since the reemergence of a distinctively gaelic-celtic consciousness since the middle of the 20th century that we, along with Scots generally, have rediscovered their confidence as a nation and are seriously working for our independence as a nation. Firstly, there has been a resurgence in the interest and use of Gaelic as a language – it is always the strategy of conquerors to prohibit speech in your native language because your native language catches so much of what you mean by your words, your cultural assumptions. Macneils were banned from writing and speaking Gaelic in schools. I can remember being taught in school that the celtic languages were “dead” and we should all speak English. Secondly. the first parliament in Scotland since 1707 (thereabouts – this was the date of the Treaty of Union when England effectively annexed Scotland) was established in 1999. Although Scotland is still governed in important ways from the English Parliament, in my view it is only a matter of time that we achieve full independence again.
One reason the closing scene of Braveheart when Saint Mel Gibson cries ‘Freedom’ is so powerful for Scots, is that there is nothing like freedom for those who have lived in bondage. Maranatha!