Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Haggis - the shocking truth...

I know it is Burns Night and all that, but there comes a time when one must reveal the horrors of our society in all their true manifestation. Personally I am a bit bah humbug about some of the stuff they'll have ye believe is a true representation of Scottish culture (they'll be inventing religion next!).

However, tolerable as one has to be amidst such nonsense, I ABSOLUTELTY DRAW THE LINE at what some will do to fulfil such traditions.

Ladies and gentlemen, the terrifying evidence...

Not from this wee shuggie actually... this is from Mr Paton the Butcher, who lives down the road from me in Largs...!

Mr Paton - haggi have human rights also!
(Incidentally, Mr Paton is a very lovely man, and I have researched his family tree for him, which can be seen on his website at www.patonbutchersayrshire.co.uk - and his haggis is nice!)


Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Away with the fairies

There are many ancient tales in Scotland and Ireland of the Daoine Sìth (pronounced "doonya shee", and known as the "aos sí" in Irish Gaelic), the mythical supernatural race of fairy folk said to live underground in fairymounds, who some believe to be descendants of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the Tribe of the Goddess Danu. To this day people who seem a little strange are often referred to as being "away with the fairies", and indeed there may well be some truth to it - the following photo shows me quite literally away with the fairies in Donegal about ten years ago...

Belief in the Sìth was extremely common in Highland Scotland, much to the disgust of the Kirk. The Kirk represented truth, as opposed to the paganism of such beliefs, and many ministers ranted against the nonsense of such tales.

Well, most of them did! The following is a recollection of an event in the Dumfriesshire parish of Kirkmichael from the First Statistical Account of Scotland (1791-1799 Vol xii. p.461), as recorded by the Reverend Dr. John Burgess M.A., and said to have happened half a century before:

"About fifty years ago, a clergyman in the neighbourhood, whose faith was more regulated by the scepticism of Philosophy than the credulity of Superstition, could not be prevailed upon to yield his assent to the opinion of the times. At length, however, he felt from experience, that he doubted what he ought to have believed. One night as he was returning home, at a late hour, from a presbytery, he was seized by the fairies, and carried aloft into the air. Through fields of aether and fleecy clouds he journeyed many a mile, descrying, like Sancho Panza on his Clavileno, the earth far distant below him, and no bigger than a nut-shell. Being thus sufficiently convinced of the reality of their existence, they let him down at the door of his own house, where he afterward often recited to the wondering circle the marvellous tale of his adventure."

(A fuller account can be found at http://tinyurl.com/64ot2m9)

So next time you feel like you're about to go away with the fairies, be assured the church has already confirmed their existence on your behalf!

Friday, 7 January 2011

Penny Weddings

The Scottish kirk had a very traditional outlook on things - if it was enjoyable, then the Calvinist medicine of "thou shalt not" should be applied. Wedding celebrations were most definitely a case in point.

According to George Penny's 1832 book "Traditions of Perth", there were three types of wedding prevalent in the 1830s in Perthshire - the free wedding, where only a few select friends were invited and the guests were not to be the cause of any expense; the dinner wedding, where a dinner was provided by the marriage party, and the penny wedding (also known as the penny bridal), where each guest contributed financially or by way of food towards the dinner and then paid for their own drink, and which by the end of the festivities (which could go on for several days) could yield a tidy profit for the newlyweds. The latter type of wedding was particularly common across rural Scotland, and virtually everyone in the parish was invited. Of course, the Kirk hated penny weddings, and there are plenty of scathing comments about them in the first Statistical Accounts recorded in the 1790s (online at http://stat-acc-scot.edina.ac.uk/sas/sas.asp?action=public&passback=).

The Reverend Alexander Johnston, minister of Monquhitter in Aberdeenshire, noted in a supplement to his account that the "scene... which involved every amusement and every joy of an idle and illiterate age, was the Penny Bridal. When a pair were contracted they, for a stipulated consideration, bespoke the wedding dinner at a certain tavern, and then ranged the country in every direction to solicit guests. One, two, and even three hundred would convene on these occasions to make merry at their own expense for two or more days. This scene of feasting, drinking, dancing, wooing, fighting, was always enjoyed with the highest relish, and until obliterated by a similar scene, furnished ample materials for rural mirth and rural scandal. But now, the penny bridal is reprobated as an index of want and money and of want of taste."

The Kirk was never happy at the prospect of such fun at a wedding, and had for years been fighting to deter such activities. The following example of record of a marriage being contracted from Methel Hill in Fife on May 18th 1694 shows a good example from a century before (source: OPR M 459/00 0050 Wemyss 18 MAY 1694):

Patrick Dunsyre & Janet Lumbsdale

The whilk day was contracted in order to Marriage Patrick Dunsyre to Janet Lumbsdale both in ys paroch & pledged them [..] dolers & David Lambsdale in methel hill became caution yt yr sould not be promiseray dancing at yr wedding married 18 of may

In this case David Lambsdale was asked to be the 'cautioner' (pronounced 'kayshuner'), i.e. a 'guarantor' that there would be no 'promisary dancing' at the wedding!

There was also a great deal of superstition held onto at weddings. Some people refused to marry on the unlucky day of Friday, though in some parts this was a lucky day! Many also refused to marry in January or May, with May 14th in particular deemed to be particularly unlucky - many people noted the day of the week on which it fell and refused to marry on that same day when their ceremony took place later in the year. Conversely, for some, April and November were deemed to be extremely lucky months in which to marry! Many also refused to carry the proclamations of banns (which had to be called three times prior to a wedding) over into a new year, and for some even the nature of the moon or the tide was a factor in deciding when to perform the ceremony.

So when you find the date of your ancestors' weddings, there may be much more significance to the date chosen than at first may meet the 21st century eye, and the subsequent celebrations may have damned them for ever in the eyes of the very minister who performed the rites!!

UPDATE: My book Discover Scottish Church Records covers this and more - available from www.gould.com.au/Discover-Scottish-Church-Records-p/utp0281.htm