Burns Night has not long been upon us and so I thought a little introduction to Scotland might be enjoyed. By little introduction, I mean lots of little introductions to some of the things that make Scotland what it is. Uh, by the way, I’m Scottish, in case that wasn’t already evident, and I live here, too.
So, are we sitting comfortably?
Burns Night. In Scots, this is Burns Nicht. Held on the 25th of January (Robert Burns’s birthday), we have a Burns supper and celebrate our national bard. A Burns supper usually means a meal of: haggis, mashed neeps (turnip) and mashed tatties (potatoes). Sometimes there will be other food, but the basics are the aforementioned meal. And more often than not: whisky. There are also speeches and poems. And yes, I really did grow up with a Burns supper every year, that involved us listening to our dad do the Address To A Haggis (Every. Single. Verse.). A shorter poem read before the meal itself is The Selkirk Grace:
Some hae meat and canna eat, And some wad eat that want it; But we hae meat, and we can eat, And sae let the Lord be thankit.
Scots and Gaelic. There is a difference, The Selkirk Grace above is in Scots, Gaelic is a different. Only a small percentage of the population speaks Gaelic, but there are moves to bring it back. You’ll often come across it in the Hebrides and the west of Scotland. I’m not one of the percentage who can speak Gaelic, but I can manage in Scots, to an extent. Scots also breaks down into different dialects, like Doric.
Auld Lang Syne. It was written by Robert Burns, and he was the one who brought it to the world at large but it has been around for far longer. Auld Lang Syne is sung at Hogmanay and generally by overly sentimental Scots at other times of year.
Whisky/Whiskey. There is a difference. Whisky is Scottish, Whiskey is Irish. And for those who are fond of a dram now and then, you can do distillery tours around the west coast.
Multiple Sclerosis. We have the highest rate of Multiple Sclerosis in the world. There have been suggestions of adding Vitamin D to water supplies.
Alcohol. Drinking is a massive problem in Scotland, and 25 people die in Scotland every week because of their drinking.
Red hair. Scotland has the highest proportion of redheads.
Aberdeen. This city in the northeast of Scotland is often called the Oil Capital of Europe. It’s also home to memorials of the Piper Alpha disaster of 1988, an event which is still well remembered in the northeast; it “was the worst offshore oil disaster in terms of lives lost and industry impact.”
The Scottish Parliament. The Scotland Parliament is a devolved parliament that resides in Edinburgh. It hasn’t always been this way. The devolved Parliament came into being in 1999 after a referendum in 1997. Power came back to Scotland for the first time since 1707, when the Kingdom of Scotland became part of what is now the United Kingdom. We have both MSPs (Members of the Scottish Parliament) in Scottish Parliament and MPs (Members of Parliament) which represent Scotland in Westminster. Out of the 129 MSPs, 44 are women.
The SNP. The SNP (Scottish National Party) are currently in power and Alex Salmond is currently First Minister of Scotland. They won by a landslide in the 2011 elections.
Independence. There is a referendum due to be held in the autumn of 2014, the 700th anniversary of The Battle of Bannockburn. This has been a very contentious issue, with discussion veering from the unpleasant, to the hilarious, with discussion of Alex Salmond’s newspaper article that made the point that there are currently more Giant Pandas in Scotland than there are Conservative MPs.
Bannockburn. The Battle of Bannockburn happened in 1314 and was part of the Wars of Scottish Independence. We won.
Old Firm. Collective name for the Glasgow football clubs: Celtic and Rangers. Sectarian violence has been a problem with significant numbers of Celtic’s supporters being Catholic and Rangers’ supporters being Protestant.
Mary Queen of Scots. In 1542, at six days old, she became Queen of Scotland until 1567. Was Queen Consort of France from 1559 to 1560 (when her husband, the King of France, died). Was Catholic and married her cousin in 1565 at Holyrood Palace in Scotland. Marriage broke down after her husband murdered her private secretary. Remarried in 1567. That same year, she was imprisoned in Loch Leven Castle, miscarried twins and was forced to abdicate the Scottish throne. After almost a year of imprisonment, she escaped. Legal happenings and imprisonment, involving her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I of England, came about in 1568 and imprisonment followed. Had her head chopped off (badly) in 1587.
Loch. Not pronounced: lock. Don’t worry about it.
Actors. Scottish-born actors include: Billy Boyd, John Barrowman, Gerard Butler, Robert Carlyle, Robbie Coltrane, Sean Connery, Billy Connolly, Karen Gillan, John Hannah, Ashley Jensen, Deborah Kerr, Kelly Macdonald, James McAvoy, Ewan McGregor and David Tennant.
Unicorns. Unicorns feature in the royal coat of arms of Scotland, and they’re a national symbol.
Nessie. Nessie is the resident monster of Loch Ness. The story I was brought up with, was that when Scotland was being formed and two pieces of land came together, Loch Ness was formed and Nessie got caught in the middle. There are speculations that Nessie might in fact be a Kelpie.
Columba. Saint Columba, or Colum Cille, was a monk who brought Christianity to Scotland. Born in Ireland in 521 A.D., he came to Scotland in 563. He settled on Iona, in the Hebrides. He died in 597 and was buried at Iona Abbey.
Iona Abbey. On the Isle of Iona, it’s one of the oldest religious centres in Western Europe. The burial place of kings from around Scotland, Ireland, Norway and France, as well as Lords of the Isles. Has had violent moments in history involving Vikings.
Science and engineering. Scottish scientists and engineers have: invented the television, the telephone, radar, the pedal bicycle, the pneumatic tyre, created the world’s first oil refinery, discovered penicillin and formulated classical electromagnetic theory, among other things.
Ceilidh. Time for folk music and dancing. Get your dancing shoes on and you’d find yourself doing the Gay Gordons and Strip The Willow before you know it. Most children in Scotland start to learn these dances in primary school, but if you find yourself at a ceilidh, go for it and have a spectacular time. We also have Highland dancing.
Tartan. Personal thing for a lot of people. There is more etiquette than rules surrounding tartan. Highland dress is the traditional dress of Scotland.
Hogmanay. Scotland is known for its Hogmanay celebrations, especially the big street parties in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Older traditions are still clinging on like first-footing and the fireballs. Renditions of Auld Lang Syne are a massive part of tradition, too.
Fossils. A fossil of the oldest known creature to have lived on land was discovered in Stonehaven.
Literature. Scottish writers include Arthur Conan Doyle, Iain M. Banks, Robert Burns, Lewis Grassic Gibbon, Val McDiarmid, Ian Rankin, Robert Louis Stevenson, Louise Welsh, Irvine Welsh, J. M. Barrie and Muriel Spark. A lot of crime writers in there…
Food. Haggis is one we’re well known for. Wild Haggis can be hunted in the Highlands, but most go straight to the butcher or supermarket. Very tasty dish. Vegan version is very, very yummy, too. The deep-fried Mars bar originated here. Have never eaten one, never intend to. Irn-Bru is the non-alcoholic drink that has been around since 1901. A beverage I may have drunk once, though if I did, it was the first and last time. Porage is also spectacular. May I recommend one cup of oats to two cups of milk and a very lazy five minutes in the microwave. If you want to get creative with oats, however, Cranachan is your friend.
Hogwarts. The school was voted 36th best educational establishment in Scotland.
So there you have it, Persephoneers: a whirlwind tour of just a handful of the things that make Scotland what it is.