Thursday, January 21, 2010

Scotland - Differences between Highlanders and Lowlanders


I am often asked why someone can't find a tartan or plaid for their "clan" which of course leads to a discussion on the differences between Highlanders and Lowlanders. A task I find easily undertaken as my mother's family were Highlanders and my father's family Lowlanders which allows me a somewhat unprejudiced view. Most things that people in North America associate with Scotland such as clans, tartan, bagpipes, speaking Gaelic etc is not really a Scottish way of life but a Highland way of life. Prior to the 19th century there was a clearly defined line between the Highlands and Lowlands marked by difference of race, religion, and customs that can still be observaed today.
Lowlanders did not have a clan structure as they considered Highlanders to be feudal, uncivilized heathens who were fiercely clannish. They perceived the Highlanders as a self-sufficient and independent breed that eyed the rest of the country with suspicion. Lowlanders wore trousers as they would not be caught dead in a kilt and bagpipes was only so much noise. Highlanders of Western Scotland and the adjacent islands were of Celtic origin and the Gaels of the Highland clans were originally of the same Celtic stock as that of the native Irish prior to being conquered by England. The term "Scots" is in direct reference to the Highlanders and not to the whole of Scotland. Unlike the Highlander, the Lowlander were a mix of Romans, Frisian, Angles, Saxons, Danes, Norwegians, Normans, and Flemings just as the Englishman immediately to the south of them were.
So why do we think of these things as being Scottish rather than the Highland way of life? On April 16th 1746 the last battle to be fought on British soil was held at Culloden Moor just outside of Inverness. The battle was over in an hour and effectively ended the Jacobite movement to restore a Stewart to the Scottish Throne. The goal of the government forces led by the Duke of Cumberland also know as Butcher Cumberland was to get the unruly Highlanders under control and return Scotland to full British Rule. Approximately 2,000 Jacobites lay dead on the field of Culloden but that was nothing compared to what Butcher Cumberland ordered the government forces to do following the battle. Indiscriminate killing went on for days, with all men bearing arms hanged on location and their women raped and children killed so that they would not grow up to bear arms. Families fled from their scorched hovels and were left to starve. In total, over 20,000 head of livestock, sheep, and goats were driven off and sold at Fort Augustus, where the soldiers split the profits.
In the years following Culloden there were laws put into place that outlawed the wearing of tartan and kilts, playing bagpipes, Highland dancing and speaking Gaelic. The estates of those lords and clan chiefs who had supported the Jacobite rebellion were stripped from them and then sold with the profits used to further trade and agriculture in Scotland. This eventually led to the period of time called the Highland Clearances from the 18th century and into the first part of the 19th century when thousands of Highlanders were displaced so that the more profitable venture of raising sheep could transpire. This lead to the complete collapse of the clan structure.
It was not until later in the 19th century when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert began spending so much time at their Highland home of Balmoral that all things "Scottish" were back in fashion. The wearing of the kilt was again very popular but not the same kilt that would have been worn by the Highlanders. Everybody in Scotland wanted to belong to a clan and have a clan tartan so many Lowland families commissioned tartans. Tartan had become so popular that many States in the US and Providences in Canada have also commissioned their own tartans. Bagpipes were once again very popular along with Highland dancing. Everybody wanted to be "Scottish"! This popularity continues right up to today and everybody likes to be able to find a little Scots background.
I guess that is why I love doing what I do so much. It is great fun to help others find their Scottish connection or if they do not have one, to be able to share mine with them.


Shannon McDonald Tate

34 comments:

  1. Dear Shannon,

    I am trying to sort out some aspects of my family line and I am still unclear on some of the distinctions between the "Lowlanders" and "highlanders". From genetic tests etc, my family seems to have been from the "Lowland" area, probably of Anglo or Saxon origin. My surname is Crawford and most of my current genetic relations in Scotland live in the Lowland areas or in Ireland. Do you have any more information about how the "Highlanders" and "Lowlanders" viewed one another and how they see one another today? Thanks for your time and great posts. Mitch Crawford Las Vegas, NV USA

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    1. watch out rivercrow. Shannon McDonald Tate is wrong about many of the things she has said in this article. While your lowland family appears to have been of anglo-saxon origin, many lowlanders' families are actually of Brythonic Celtic origin, as evinced by DNA studies, as well as history that you can read in any history book about ancient, pre-medieval Scotland. This was a glaring oversight by miss Tate when she left this Celtic heritage off the list of lowlander's ancestry. And that's an old political lie with no factual basis that's been promoted for generations. Please see my comment below.

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  2. Utter nonsense, it has even been proven that the English are not even that Anglo-Saxon. Read Oppenheimer's 'origin of the British' and other books and dispell this myth.

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  3. Shannon McDonald Tate, For a native of Scotland I am surprised that you are completely unaware of some of the facts. You are completely unaware that the indigenous inhabitants of Scotland included those that were indigenous to the lowlands, who were Brythonic Celts. All you have to do is to read pre-medieval British history. The majority of today's lowlanders usually carry Brythonic Celtic (non-Gaelic Celts) DNA signatures (although a tiny minority occasionally may carry norse or anglo-saxon DNA.) This doesn't mean that lowlanders are purely Celtic, they obviously have all the ancestral backgrounds that you mentioned, but you left out their ancient Celtic ancestry. Their lowland Celtic ancestors spoke a Brythonic Celtic language called Cumbric. you show yourself to be less than qualified to speak on historical matters and your education in the subject is insufficient. You show that you were completely unaware that any Celts other than the Gaels ever inhabited Scotland. If you fancy yourself a teacher of the facts, then you need to go read a book about the ancient, pre-medieval history of Scotland, and pick up a study on Scottish DNA while you are at it. I am inclined to agree with Mr. George Park. What you have published on this page is utter nonsense. Mr. Park is also correct when he mentions the English. The English are mostly of ancient Celtic origin, as evinced by their Y-DNA, and while they may have anglo-saxon blood as well, they usually do not carry anglo DNA signatures and it has been proven that most of the English have Brythonic Celtic Y-DNA. As for these "pure Gaels" you talk about being of Celtic stock, you will find that DNA studies show that many Gaels (esp. Scottish ones) have norse DNA signatures. You need to take this nonsense down off this page. You do a great disservice to lowlanders whose Celtic heritage you seek to deprive them of. you may contact me at allisonlaster@yahoo.com if you desire to be further educated.

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    1. Well said but remember history goes a lot further than that

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    2. I think your critique of Shannon's post is inaccurate, and unfair. Most of what she has written is historically correct, and is corroborated by most historians, backed up by ancient text's, and folk history.

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    3. I think your critique of Shannon's post is inaccurate, and unfair. Most of what she has written is historically correct, and is corroborated by most historians, backed up by ancient text's, and folk history.

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    5. DNA is not culture! The majority of modern-day Germans carry DNA signatures linked to the Celts (southern Germany was once the center of Europe's Celtic population). As the ancient Germans pushed into what is now Germany, they drove the bulk of the Celts out, and the ones who remained behind eventually mixed with the Germans and adopted the culture and language of the ancient Germans. So having some Celtic DNA in modern-day Germans does not make them Celtic. The very same happened in Scotland. The Germanic peoples to the south pushed into what is now Scotland. They drove many of the Celts out of the Lowlands, and the ones that remained behind intermarried with the new Germanic settlers and adopted their language and culture. It's the culture that makes a society what it is, and despite having some Celtic DNA, the Lowlanders of Scotland, just like Germans, are predominately Germanic in their language and culture.

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    6. What Shannon also fails to acknowledge is Lowland Scotland is also Scotland. Historically speaking, the Lowlands also had clans such as Clan Wallace, Clan Bruce, Clan Cunningham and even the borders had clans. Lowland Scotland also use to play instruments that are related to and even in the same instrument family as the Great Highland Bagpipes, these instruments were the Border Pipes and Scottish Smallpipes. Lowlanders also wore tartan (backed by historical evidence) as far back as the 16th Century, lowlanders wore tartan trousers. There is evidence of lowland factories making tartan in places such as Ayrshire. Mac Allison, I agree with you, some Highlanders do have Norse DNA, the strongest concentration of this Norse DNA is Orkney and Shetland and Caithness, when Norse settlers from Norway settled these places in the 8th and 9th Century and they spoke the Norn language (Norse people are Germanic). Lowland Scotland also at one point spoke Scottish Gaelic, which is backed by place name evidence and many sources even say so. The popular believe that all Highlanders are purely Celtic and all Lowlanders are purely Germanic is a complete myth.

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    7. What Shannon also fails to acknowledge is the fact that in the 19th Century, many Scottish Highlanders and Irish migrated to the Scottish Lowlands because there was more employment opportunity. So there is also a large concentration of Irish DNA in the lowlands.

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  4. Get off your high horse Mac and George. Shannon is talking more recent than the base origins, and she is certainly not referring to genetics. Her post was not designed to give a history of Scottish or English origin. The purpose of the post, and it did so fairly well, was to describe the somewhat modern rise of the tartan fad, as well as to explain why some people with Scot heritage may not be able to find their clan tartan. Such exerps from history are common on tours. If a person wants to know more, or prior to the events discussed, they can look it up themselves. While your posts were interesting, they were not applicable to Shannon's post. Shannon's post answered my immediate questions. That's her job. If I wanted an expert on genetics I would have looked on a different site.

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  5. Thank you for the post. My english is very bad. my lenguage is the spanish.
    Asi que muchas gracias por el articulo, me ha despejado muchas dudas. Espero que sigas con tus articulos a pesar de las criticas.
    Muchas gracias.

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  6. The arguing in the comments section is hilarious. What's gaelic for paddywhackky? Arrrrghghghgh! Get in mah bellah!

    No, but seriously though dawgs, interesting stuff. What say you all about evidence of the ancient basque origins of pretty much everyone in the Isles? Pretty funny if you ask me.

    Of course feudal cum capitalist oppression of the highlanders and the irish is effed up. Good though that the IRA took out that right wing bastard Mountbatten.

    Mother's side are primitive French-Scots highlanders and a mix of more evolved Irish Flemings with a good helping of McCormick, McCarthy et al sheep-shaggers. I lean toward devolution but kind of feel sorry for those living in England as their country has gotten more and more right wing and decrepit over the years. Ah well, maybe they deserve it for living off the blood of the oppressed (and backward).

    Got to this page btw after reading a blurb on Sowell's _Black Rednecks and White Liberals_ Was wondering about the differences between the often nasty and backward lowland Scottish American culture and the highland Scot Americans who didn't like them.

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    1. Alex, regarding your last paragraph, are you speaking of the southern US states? If so, was this dislike between the American highlanders and lowlanders true? The MacDonalds vs the who? Thanks!

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  7. Shannon wrote a good piece, a lot true by what Ive read in other articles concerning the clearances.. the Lowlanders hatred of the Highlander referring to them as Wild Irish.... why the bitterness

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  8. I have heard that the Scottish (and Irish) came from ancient Israel. What do you have to say to this Shannon.

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  9. I have just returned from Britain and on a tour of Newcastle (Northern England) we were shown a large piece of Hadrians Wall which is still intact.This is in ENGLAND. It would seem to me that any people north of here were the tribal, painted/tattooed people the Romans wanted to keep out of their territory. I would guess that the people of what is now known as the Lowlands of Scotland (many miles north of Newcastle) and everybody north, west, east and south of them down to Hadrians wall would all have been of similar stock. Picts, Gaels, but all Celts as i understand the term. The differences referred to in the original post may have occurred in later centuries, but genetically and historically these people are all largely the same (i respectfully submit)

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  10. This all ignores the fairly well document migration and flight of middle-ages Angle Saxon peasants to lowland Scotland forced out of the "Danelaw" England areas by invading Scandinavians bringing "Scots- an old english/middle german" language and custom to Scotland; overwhelming low-land Celtic Cumbric speakers and replacing it (and swelling the population) with the very old Scots-English language that was spoken every where in Scotland except the Highlands which was inhabited by tribes of Irish Celts who where Catholic and finally subdued and mostly ethnically cleansed off the best land, as they were in Ireland, between 1600 and 1750 by English and Lowland Scottish armies and colonist.
    It may be disappointing to some but by the numbers/percentages if you were born between Sussex and Glasgow your stock is the same bythronic-anglo-saxon-other where other is dane/norse/unknown...you are a wonderful human beings but most likely not a IRISH/SCOTTISH CATHOLIC HIGHLANDER and your ancestors never wore a kilt or feileadh mor (with your tribe or "gang" colours displayed) but instead other filthy rags. And remember they like Robbie Burns did not speak Scottish Gaelic they spoke Scots (English-or Anglic from German) language. Scotland is in danger of becoming a Mythical Highland Theme Park.....

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    1. I am sorry. But I am very angry about this. I am sick of my heritage trying to be destroyed. I am from lowland Scotland (Glasgow specifically) and I am annoyed. My surname is Hughes, my surname tells me I am of Brythonic Celtic origin... If Lowland Scots are not truly Scottish then surely we would just be an extension of England? Scottish Gaelic was spoken in the Lowlands as backed by many sources such as BBC. The Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria only reached what is now modern day Edinburgh. Cumbric and Pictish died out in the 12th Century CE and got gradually replaced by Scottish Gaelic... Gaelic was spoken everywhere except in the South-East because that was Northumbria... Scotland is a mix of Irish, Picts, Cumbrians and Brythonic people. Many lowlanders have Irish roots. Clans also existed in the lowlands (Clan Wallace and Clan Bruce being the most famous), and so did bagpipes, just not the same as the Great Highland Bagpipes... Lowlanders since the 16th Century CE have had Lowland and Border Pipes (research this). But yes sadly, I have to admit, kilts are a new thing to the lowlands, but it's okay, Kilts developed over a period of centuries, growing from just a small area in the Highlands to all over the Highlands and some parts of the North-Eastern Lowlands to the national symbol of Scotland, it developed from being just simple everyday wear to well sewed and fashioned cultural wear with each tartan belonging to a certain caln, the concept of clan tartan is fairly new... Denying us lowlanders Gaelic, kilts, bagpipes and clans... Is the same as denying us haggis, shortbread and irn bru, because shortbread was actually influenced a bit by Mary Queen of Scots who was a lowlander, so please don't post offensive and untrue statements like these, if lowlanders weren't true Scottish, then we would just be apart of England and the Scottish border wouldn't be far outside the Highland area.

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    2. Scottish Gaelic died out in the 1300's and got replaced by Middle English. It began to retreat into the Highland area and the North Eastern lowlands and also Galloway. Galloway is in the lowlands (research Galwegian Gaelic, the dialect of Scots Gaelic in Galloway).

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  11. If a MacLeod can see that a Macdonald Tate is male, why cannot the rest of you?

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  12. Would someone be able to suggest reading on Scotlands lowlanders? My ancesters are MacEwens and am very interested in what their lives were like and about their language. I haven't worked my family tree for a while but do have a ships manifest in a folder somewhere with my few times great grandfathers name on it. They settled on P.E.I. and my grandfather traveled to the U.S. to became a citizen. I have recently sent my DNA to Ancestry.com and am waiting, but am very interested to know what my ancestors lives were like in Scotland. So the MacEwen tartan was only created in the recent centuries as only highlanders sported them? Were lowlanders more civilized since they were close to England? Thank you for any suggested reading or links. Robin

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  13. Most interesting and funniest part of all of this is so many people assuming everyone wants to be Scottish. Not that there's anything wrong with being Scottish, my husband's family had a number of ancestors arrive in Canada from Scotland in the 18th Century from different families. But it's fantastical that anyone imagines they're true anything. A DNA test will show we're all a bunch of mutts. If we weren't, we would all be unhealthy inbreeds. Especially highlanders after so many were killed and run off the land. They would have had to marry non-highlanders to survive.

    Where did this assumption that everyone wants to be Scottish come from?

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  17. I got a dumb American question as many posters seem to be Scottish and I know it don't really apply to the artical but I'm hoping you can hummer my stupidity.I've traced my ancestry back to Thomas Sharp born 1651 in midlothian Scotland is that highland or lowlands ?

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  18. Yes, Lowlanders have some Celtic DNA in them, among others. But having some Celtic DNA does not make you Celtic. The Lowlanders are not Celts despite having some Celtic DNA. The Lowlanders' culture was Germanic. To make my point clearer, please remember that the ancient Romans took many slaves from the Slavic peoples and from the Middle East, and the DNA from these people can be found in Italians today. That, however, does not make Romans Slavic or Arab.

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  19. Hello. I am from the lowlands of Scotland, and I take great offense. You have a very bias view on Scotland, based purely on myths. It is a well known fact the belted plaid became a popular form of men's wear in the lowlands in the 17th century. Scottish Gaelic was spoken in the lowlands in the past, but it retreated to the highlands sometime in the 1300's because it was replaced by Middle English. I have red hair so I have strong Celtic DNA, as a lowlander, I take offense to what you have said Highlander. I speak some Scottish Gaelic myself and I have a basic knowledge of the language (Such as phonology, pronunciation, grammar, syntax etc etc). My surname name is Hughes by the way and I have a clan, my Hughes's come from Ireland. (I am very well aware of the Welsh Hughes's but I am of the Irish Hughes's).

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  20. Literally every founding father of the United States was full blood Scottish or Scots-Irish, and they brought their tartans and traditions with them. Many of our founding military officers were retired Scottish, Scots-Irish, or English soldiers or sailors that came to the Americas because it was the only place with affordable land and room for growth. Our local law enforcement traditions also copied their Scottish brothers in blue back on the old country. Most American accents are derived from those Scottish roots, and you can still hear striking similarities to Scotland in many small communities throughout the entire eastern half of the United States, especially in rural areas of the former colonies.

    The United States of America could easily have been named "New Scotland: The Jacobite Revenge, Death to the Crown" but that's kind of a mouthful... U.S.A. abbreviates much better.

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  21. Aye mum, my mother maiden name is Tate. But I guess if you go back far enough it's tait. What my question is, is what happened to the TAIT clan? I can't find ANY information on it at all. I can't even find anything past the modern and ancient tartan. Any help? Thanks mum!

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    1. Oops sorry I mean sir! That's embarrassing. Sorry about that!

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  22. I find the article intriguing and entertaining, as i myself am interested in the castles in Scotland's beautiful country....much more so than the somewhat heated comments regarding dna proof of being Scottish, etc...Shannon, you did a lovely job.

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