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A Highlander and his Books

A Chat with Alastair Campbell of Airds,
Volume 2,
A History of Clan Campbell
Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Atlanta, GA, USA

Alastair Campbell of Airds

Q: Many of our newer readers may have missed your previous explanation in The Family Tree when Volume 1 was reviewed as to the duties of the Unicorn Pursuivant. Would you briefly explain your duties in regards to The Lord Lyon.

A: The Lord Lyon is "Her Majestyís Supreme Officer of Honour" in Scotland - in charge of all matters armorial including matters of succession and of all State Ceremonial. He has a full-time assistant in the person of Lyon Clerk who is also Keeper of the Records. In addition, he has six Officers of Arms, part-time members of Lyon Court who appear on State Occasions and who operate practices which help clients in their approach to Lyon Court on any matter. At the moment these consist of Albany, Rothesay and Ross Heralds and Unicorn, Carrick and Bute Pursuivants.

Q: Volume 2 is, as you had told me previously it would be, A History of Clan Campbell, "warts and all". What has been the reaction of Clan Campbell members to your telling "the good, the bad, and the ugly" side of Clan Campbell, for which I might add, I admire your candor and objectivity in doing so?

A: Anyone would be stupid who insisted that skeletons in the family cupboard were impossible. There has been absolutely no negative reaction nor would I expect there to be. No doubt the media if interested at all will try and make something out of the account of Glencoe in the next volume. In spite of repeated statements by historians that this was not a clan affair but a regular regiment of the British Army under orders, ignorant journalists will insist on referring to this as an instance of clan warfare.

Q: "Supporting the Crown was a family tradition", and I wonder if you will tell us why this position was initially taken and why it was adhered to over the centuries with one exception?

A: Initially the Campbells were employed by the Scottish Crown to contain the Clan Donald who were a major threat to Scotland - quite ready to cooperate with the Norse, or the Irish or the English in order to establish themselves as an independent power. Having taken on the task and having been rewarded for it, the Campbells tended to support the Crown - whoever was wearing it. It was the clash between Religion and Loyalty that made things difficult; during the Civil War when the Marquess of Argyll did try to reconcile the two and failed and during his sonís rebellion in 1685.

Q: Is there any evidence that Dubh-sidh or Shaw of Jura was ever honored or rewarded by the MacDonalds for the slaying of Lachlan Mor in 1598 since his arrow turned that battle into a rout?

A: Not that I know of.

Q: The dust jacket of Volume 1 has a beautiful painting of Innischonnel Castle on Loch Awe while Volume 2 has a painting of Kilchurn Castle, also on Loch Awe, and both are reproduced by the kind permission of the artist - Alastair Campbell. What training have you had in this talented area of your life? Can we look forward to another of your paintings gracing the cover of Volume 3?

A: Not a lot; normal teaching at school and a couple of short courses. I have always painted - usually military or heraldic subjects but took on landscape painting seriously when I came to live here in this astonishingly beautiful part of the world some twenty years ago. The plan is that the last volume should have a painting of Inveraray Castle on the cover - by the same artist.

Q: Volume 3 of The History of Clan Campbell will be published in 2004. What do you have on the back burner for your reading public after all these years of writing the three volumes of your clan family?

A: I shall not be idle; I have been tasked to rewrite Sir Iain Moncrieffe of that Ilkís "The Highland Clans" - a project which is well under way and I plan a book on an aspect of Highland Military History for which I have long been collecting material. There is a book on Argyll scheduled to come out this year published by Birlinn for which I have contributed two chapters; I have contributed a good amount to the recent Scottish History Societyís latest volume on Scotland and America and there is a forthcoming volume promised on the papers delivered at a conference a few years ago on the Lordship of the Isles. I am also doing an illustrated book on the history of my regiment, The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, for a series which has been going for some years on various regiments.

Q: Thank you for Volume 2. It has lived up to your promise that it would be a very exceptional book, and I highly recommend it to any student of Scottish history. I greatly appreciate the courtesies you have extended to our readers in the two "chats" with you on Volumes 1 and 2. Is there a final word for our readers?

A: Thank you for your courtesy and kind words. I am lucky in that I do believe in what I am doing; for anyone with a genuine interest in their past, there is no substitute for proper study of the subject, combined with, if at all possible, some knowledge of the terrain. Unfortunately the level of much of what is taken as history is still pretty low and there are people around who are disseminating sheer nonsense under the guise of "fact". The sadness is that they get away with it.

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