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Highlander and his Books


THE HISTORICAL HANDBOOK TO SCOTLAND
By Duncan MacPhail

Reviewed by Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Atlanta, GA, USA
Email:
jurascot@earthlink.net

The Historical Handbook to ScotlandIf you are like me and never tire of reading about the Auld Country, you will enjoy this book and find it beneficial in improving your knowledge on what you thought you knew about Scotland. I do not use the word thought lightly. Why? Because this book will give you interesting tidbits of information on many subjects that you may have forgotten or never knew. The author, Duncan MacPhail, covers castles, villages, cathedrals, towns, distilleries, churches, cities, palaces, rebellions, abbeys, invasions, stately homes, and even golf clubs. When you throw in distilleries and golf clubs, this book has something for everybody who claims a connection to Scotland or those who wish they did!

           Let’s look at some of the subjects that are covered. Take the “Jacobite Rebellion” as an example. MacPhail is not content like most writers of this subject to dwell on the 1715 and 1745 Risings. Go back with me a few years. While serving as the Clan Chattan Confederation convener at the Savannah (GA) Scottish Games, my son Scott, then a student at Georgia Southern University, came to the tent to tell me of bumping into one of his professors who was attending the Games. The professor was quite knowledgeable about Scotland, having studied at Edinburgh University. Scott asked the good professor about the two rebellions only to find out that there were more, 1708 and 1719, very important dates in Scotland’s history. You will find these two Risings aptly described by the author in this book.

MacPhail is not content to tell you about various people like Edward II, and I was pleased to see he draws on Sir Walter Scott’s The Lord of the Isles to describe the young king’s first major confrontation with our Scottish ancestors. This is another book that quotes Scott, who was my first love as a Scottish writer. I have maintained for sometime that Scott, the Wizard of the North, is being recognized more and more as scholars once again pay tribute to his importance as a historical novelist and what his writings did for his beloved Scotland. It’s not just the famous writers like Scott that the author quotes. He turns to some rhymes by lesser known writers such as the Levellers’ Rising in 1724:

Against the poor the lairds prevail in all their wicked works,
Who will enclose both hill and dale and turn cornfields to parks.
The lords and lairds they drive us out
From mailings where we dwell;
The poor man cries, where shall we go?
The rich say go to hell.

           I took the time to look up some old Shaw land in the book around Aviemore only to be reminded that one of the most picturesque sites in Scotland is Loch-an-Eilean with its fortalice remains of the ancient castle. I had forgotten but was gently reminded that the fort was once held by the Wolf of Badenoch, the unruly and devil-may-care son of Robert II, who took it upon himself to burn Elgin Cathedral and most of the town in 1390. Today, the castle remains is a sanctuary for birds and was once home of the beautiful osprey, when they were in prominence in the Highlands. Turn to the Jura Distillery for information on the Isle of Jura from where my ancestors set sail for the Cape Fear River community of Cumberland County, NC (now Bladen County). Jura was once rich with over 200 Shaws, but now there are none with the passing of Mora Shaw a couple of years ago.

On one of our trips to Scotland, my wife and I made our way down to Moffat to spend the night at the famous Moffat House Hotel before going on to Manchester for the long Delta flight back home to Atlanta. The author reminds us that this hotel was where James Macpherson compiled his controversial Poems of Ossian in 1759. 

There is also something for the Burnsians who read this book review. You’ll have to refer to the cities listed – Alloway where the National Bard was born guaranteeing Alloway’s  place in history; Dumfries, the scene of two men named Robert, both history makers, the Bard and the Bruce – Robert Burns for his poetry and Robert the Bruce for murdering Red Comym; Irvine where Burns once described himself as being “left like a true poet not worth a six-pence” during his younger days; and finally Mauchline where “the eminent bard is the town’s main tourist attraction.”          

In THE HISTORICAL HANDBOOK TO SCOTLAND, there are 343 pages bursting at the seams with information for anyone who cares to have a handy reference book on Scotland or cares to learn more. Here, at your fingertips, are over 900 entries in alphabetical order. The book is described as “a factual overview of the country’s historical landscape from the Roman occupation to the present day.” What more could you want in a book?

            You may purchase it at a cost of $35 through Beth Gay of The Family Tree at bethscribble@aol.com. (FRS: 3-10-06) 


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