London member Mike Hay, originally from Perthshire, spent the New Year in Oslo and was intrigued by a feature in a Norwegian national newspaper on the Scottish clans. More to the point, our Chieftain Alexander Hay of Duns receives star billing.
The following is a translation of the article, kindly provided by Mike's partner Hanne Woods and her son Erik:
The article appeared in the Aftenposten, a Norwegian national newspaper, on 23rd Dec 2010.
LONG LIVE THE CLANS OF SCOTLAND
SCOTLAND HAS MORE THAN 3.000 CLANS
The Scottish clans were powerful, warlike, and ruthless. Today they don’t have so much
political and economic influence, but they still control their small kingdoms in Scotland.
The Ladies from Hell
It was the nickname the Germans described the Scottish soldiers in kilts when they met for battle in the First World War. The Scots used the kilt as combat uniforms until the Second World War. The Battle of Dunkirk was the last time the Royal Highland Regiment fought in their national uniform.
Kilts are the "uniform" for over 3000 clans that still exist in Scotland. Each clan has their own kilt with a special tartan. The clans have their own emblem and its own battle cry. Every clan has a chieftain. Although their power has waned over the years they still own land and castles in Scotland. Behind the tartan hides a century-long history of identity, class differences, independence and national pride.
Heavy oak trees leaning toward the ground when we leave the main road and drive into a narrow lane. An old stone wall shows the way as we drive past the snow-covered grasslands and a small loch covered in ice and then we see a fairy tale castle. We knock hard on the double castle doors with iron fittings, and out comes Alexander Hay of Duns and Dummelzier. He welcomes us to his kingdom - and to Duns Castle.
- I inherited the castle when my father died. I was 19 years old and a student. At that point I was terrified at the thought of the responsibilities that awaited me. But I could not say no. I had to try, he says, we are taken into the living room where we get served tea from an old silver tea pot. It crackles in the fireplace, and on the walls are decorated with hunting trophies and ancestors in heavy gold frames. The oldest part of the castle is from 1320, and was originally a border tower. Later it was built in Gothic style in the 1800s.
Alexander Hay comes from the once mighty Hay clan, MacGa-raidh clan in Gaelic, which came from Aberdeenshire in the Scottish Highlands. The clan has more branches, both in Scotland and around the world. To this day, it owns 10 castles in Scotland. Alexander Hay owns one of them, Duns Castle, located in Berwickshire on the border of England, an hour's drive from Edinburgh.
But Hay is not the clan-head. The function is passed, and is held by Merlin Sereld Hay, the 24th Earl of Erroll. Alexander Hay is a Tweeddale, descended from the 1st Earl of Tweeddale, and the castle has been in the family since 1696. At one time they owned land of 5000 hectares, and they had another 40 estates. Today, the kingdom has dwindled to 500 hectares.
- “Yes, there are new times" laughs Alexander Hay.
- When I took over there wasn’t necessarily any debt. But there was no income either. The Castle needed a full restoration. This has been a lifetime project for my wife and I. We have lived in the castle since I was 25 years and our two children have grown up here. I have worked as an accountant locally" he says.
The Hay Clan played an important political role in Scottish history. It was a close supporter of Queen Mary Stuart, who was executed because she conspired against Elisabeth I of England. The aim was to murder her, so that Mary could take over the throne. One of Alexander Hay’s ancestors, Francis Hay, 9th Earl of Erroll, actively participated in this conspiracy.
After the Union Act of England in 1707 the Hay clan was active in several of the many political Jacobite riots, which lasted for many years and sought to reinstate the Catholic Stuart to the throne as many Scots, especially in Catholic Highlands, saw as their rightful king. One of the Hay family castles, Slains Castle, was frequently used as tea-party place for the Jacobites. When the last Jacobites Rebellion in 1746 did not succeed, all the Scottish clans got suppressed. They were not allowed to use their kilts and all highland culture was forbidden.
- There is much power in the walls here and in other Scottish castles. But today the Scottish clans have very little influence, perhaps with the exception of some large, such as the MacDonald family" said Hay.
But the clans are far from dead. Last summer there was a major conference, the Clan Convention, in the Parliament in Edinburgh, where more than 100 clan chiefs participated. The conference theme was "A future for our past", and clan chiefs discussed the clan relevance in the 21st century. There is also a permanent council, where clan leaders meet regularly. The clan families are many and very much alive, as shown at last year's cultural event, "The Homecoming 2009". This was a national celebration, that lasted a year, to celebrate Scottish culture, innovation and tradition. The occasion was the 250-anniversary of the Scots national poet, Robert Burns's birth.
The Scottish highland clans are in many ways parallel to the angelic aristocracy. And just as the English have their social calendar, with racing at Royal Ascot, rowing at Henley, Wimbledon and Royal Balls, the Scottish Clans have their social traditions. They stage highland and hunting balls. Each summer the Queen hosts a garden party at Holyrood Palace, the royal family's residence in Edinburgh.
'We organize a hunting ball every January. Then we are opening the door to the magnificent dining room from the 1400s, the castle's oldest part. We are lighting all the chandeliers and dancing for two days" said Alexander Hay.
We are grateful to Mike, Hanne and Erik for the opportunity to share this with Clan Hay members worldwide.