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