Braveheart, Inchailloch and Scottish/English history.

Back in the spring Ali and I took a canoe trip on Loch Lomond, and spent some time exploring the island of Inchailloch. Check out here for some details of this wonderful place…

The island was the site of an ancient nunnery, sacked by the vikings, and for hundreds of years was the burial ground for Clan McGregor- Clan of the famous Rob Roy.


My Daughter Emily told me that her school, like the good Scottish Grammar school that it is, is studying Scottish history. And in order to aid their 12 year old understanding, the kids are shown the Mel Gibson film ‘Braveheart’.

It is just possible that Emily told me this to wind me up, as she has heard me rant about this film. It takes so many liberties with history that the very idea of it being shown in school is enough to make me grind my teeth! You know the stuff- the wild and free Highlanders, living in high minded moral purity in the pure mountain air, are set upon by the despotic English, who receive their just deserts from the edge of a rusty Claymore…

Ignore the fact that the film Americanises and romanticises the story, re-drawing the characterisations to make the blockbuster market-friendly. Can we really learn anything from this view of history beyond the reinforcement of narrow stereotypes?

The narrow views that live on in football rivalry, and a kind of anti-Englishness that is understandable in part, but is a prejudice that is justified in many circumstances where people should know better.

But I am an incomer- born in England, with an English/Irish ancestry. Therefore this talk will get me into trouble…

I am well aware that I can never fully understand what it means to grow up as a Scot, and to learn to define yourself against the old enemy… with hostilities now ritualised and categorised according to the modern age. But I grew up as a working class northern English lad, in Thatcher’s fractured Britain. My English forebears experienced forced industrialisation and unrbanisation, and became the workers who fueled an empire, but reaped none of its benefits. The death of the UK as an industrial power was our story too. I say this because we all have out stories of ancestral hardship. Some of them are shared…

And my father is Irish, a Catholic from Northern Ireland. He comes from a town called Strabane, scarred still by bombings, shootings and violence, and polarised into groups defined by skewed historical inherited memory.

This redrawing of history to suit a particular prejudice is often the recourse of the powerful. In our case in Scotland, it seems to me that it is also something indulged in by our small nation, in order to justify chip-on-the-shoulder victim mentality. Ouch. That is harsh- but is there truth in there somewhere?

Scotland, in this view of history, is the proud wild nation, whose heart is to be found in the mountains of the North West. It has been beaten down and oppressed by the neighbourhood bully from the south for hundreds of years, but still, it’s heart beats strong and proud.

But when you look at the realities of history- these things are not so clear. The clearances were perpetrated by the English were they? Or was it the English-centric Scottish nobility? Were the famous and tragic battles fought in the name of Scotland, or were they as much Scottish civil wars, with only one outcome possible when one grouping has a modern, well equipped army on its side?

And what of these pure proud Highlanders?

On Inchailloch one of the graves is marked with the Clan McGregor motto- interpreted on the board above.

If unsure or if there is any back-chat, kill.

These were the times that the mythology of Scottish history sprang from. Desperate times, when old Clan loyalties may as easily been applied to local rivalries, or cattle stealing as to the cause of noble Scotland. Where life was brutal, and brutalised, and the domesticated folk in the south grew up in fear of the Highlanders coming south to raid and rampage, in perhaps the same way that we fear terrorist attack today. The Highlanders could be said to be Al Quieda, the IRA and the Taliban all combined into one for 17th and 18th Century lowlanders…

And we know that this was the mythology that was eventually exploited and wasted by the weak and foolish Bonnie Prince Charlie, as he followed his own power-hungry agenda, in the hope that France would support his cause. Resulting in a time of terror, then of terrible and vengeful persecution by the victorious English army that casts its shadow even today, 200 years later.

I love this country. If we move towards greater independence then let us do it with honesty and respect for the shared history of these islands.

And let us stop this small minded prejudice, that interprets everything through a set of distorted goggles. These sorts of narrow mind sets have been the cause of violence and hatred, and may yet be again.

We Scottish Christians, let us be people of peace and reconciliation. Where there is hatred, let us bring love.

Even to the English.

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