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A Highlander and his books

Reviewed by Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Atlanta, GA, USA

When my wife, Susan, and I were in Scotland in 1993 visiting the Inverness area of the auld country, we received an invitation to lunch at Newhall, the Black Isle home of our clan chief, John Shaw of Tordarroch. Two other guests appeared shortly after our arrival. Little did I know that meeting Meta and Jamie Scarlett would have such a deep impact on our lives. On subsequent trips, we found ourselves on several occasions in the home of the Scarletts at Milton of Moy, just a few miles south of Inverness in the heart of Mackintosh territory. In turn, they joined us for tea or dinner at the Dunain Park Hotel, our home away from home, on the outskirts of Inverness just off A-82 toward Urquhart Castle. Since then, many letters, pictures and emails have been swapped across the pond between the four of us.

Jamie was my "proposer" or sponsor, as we would say here in the States, when I became a member of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland; thus, the FSA Scot designation I use with my articles. Some time later, Tordarroch faxed me the following: "Queen Elizabeth has given to Jamie Scarlett the award in this year’s Honours list of MBE - Member of the Most Noble Order of the British Empire - for his contributions to the history and study of tartan." All the joy and happiness turned to sadness when Meta passed away in the spring of 2000. "Death of Moy Author" is how the Inverness Courier notified the community that one of their own was gone. Now an octogenarian, Jamie is still going strong - his two most recent books on tartans were written in 2002 and 2003.

By the time you read this, it will have been our privilege to once again break bread with Jamie at one of our favorite eating spots, the Tomatin Inn where, in my opinion, the best fish and chips in Scotland can be found, just across the A-9 from Moy Hall. So, it is with a great deal of personal pleasure that I break precedent and review not one, but three of the many books Jamie has written, as well as the one masterpiece Meta published in 1988. Enjoy!

In the Glens Where I Was Young
y Meta Humphrey Scarlett

As stated by this writer in the 2000 Spring/Summer issue of the Clan Shaw newsletter, Clach na Faire - "The Stone of the Watch" - this book "is a classic about the history, folklore and traditions of her Scottish Community in and around Kingussie, Inverness-shire." Since writing that statement a few years ago, I have revisited the book twice. So, for the life of me, I can see no reason to change what I wrote then, and today I feel even stronger than ever that Meta’s publication is a real classic. This graduate of Edinburgh University, former teacher and editor, has written a wonderful book featuring heart-warming stories on Kingussie, Kinrara, Rothiemurchus, as well as its Martineau Monument, Cluny’s Land, and 15 other well-written chapters. I have no trouble putting this book in the same category of that other successful and much read book, Memoirs of a Highland Lady, by Elizabeth Grant of Rothiemurchus. If you want to read what it was like growing up in the Highlands, this is a book you will not want to miss. I heartily recommend it for any true Scotsman. Any member of Clan Chattan, "the Confederation of Cats", worth his salt will want a copy of this book for background information. Details for purchase can be found at the end of this article.

The Origins and Development of Military Tartans, A Re-Appraisal
By James D. Scarlett, MBE

Stuart Reid, author of Like Hungry Wolves, 1745: The Last Jacobite Rising, and Highlander: Fearless Celtic Warriors, and himself a leading 17th and 18th military authority, writes in the Foreword of this book by Jamie Scarlett that the author’s "knowledge and expertise in the field of identifying, classifying and indeed weaving tartan is unparalleled - as I can cheerfully attest, being myself the son of a kiltmaker." Well said, Mr. Reid!

Rather than putting a long bibliography at the end of the book that only a few readers will use, the author begins with a section on sources that interested tartan experts or "wannabes" will find of great interest. I have held some of these rare books in my hand while a guest in the author’s home.

Naturally, a lot of attention is given to the Black Watch tartan, Campbell, or not. Then there is Grant that must be considered. On a personal note, the Shaw tartan of R. R. McIan is used on the title page, as well as on page 20 of the book, and a picture of Farquhar Shaw, executed at the Tower of London in 1743 (another story for another time), is displayed in the section entitled The Black Watch Tartan. Pipers and their tartans are covered under the title of The Sound of Music. Yes, the author’s wry sense of humor is as much a part of his writing ability as the serious side, evidenced in his writing that "the Tourist industry has reduced tartan almost to music hall status and the tartan trade appears to be wary of research…" They certainly do not want to do anything to hurt sales!

Did you know Allan Ramsay kept a Murray of Tullibardine in his studio? He was not shy about painting the likes of Lord Loudoun, Norman MacLeod of MacLeod, or really anyone else who walked in without a tartan and a £ or two in hand to hire the good artist. Space does not permit further review, but I can sum up simply by saying I do not know much about tartan, but I do know a wee bit about books and writers. Thus, what we have here in plain English is a winner for one and all! To purchase, email the publisher at ISBN is 1 85818 500 9.

The Tartans of the Clan Chattan
By James D. Scarlett, MBE

Published just a few months ago by the Clan Chattan Association on the occasion of their 70th Anniversary (1933-2003), this book, as the one above, is dedicated "To Meta, An irreplaceable companion in all my undertakings." I feel compelled to quote Jamie about his beloved companion when he writes, "this is the last occasion on which I can acknowledge the direct involvement of my wife, Meta. She read most of the bits that matter, agreed with my revisions and knew that the Council had accepted it; though no longer directly involved, her influence will continue, for she made me aware of my weaknesses in writing, corrected many of my faults of style and taught me where to look for the rest." Meta would be proud of The Tartans of the Clan Chattan because she was passionate about Clan Chattan, having served as editor of the Clan Chattan Journal and enjoyed attending the annual meetings at Moy.

Keep in mind that this is not a history of Clan Chattan - the "Confederation of Cats". It is the story of their tartans. My first reading of this book left me better informed by driving home the point that many of the Clan Chattan tartans are connected in one way or another to military tartans. You will become aware, if you are not already, that in the first part of the 19th century, clan tartans "came as a great surprise to many of the Clan Chiefs, who often had no idea what their tartans looked like and had to accept what they were told or sold as their ‘true and ancient’ pattern." I like it when he writes, "Although the idea put about in the What Is Your Tartan? lists that everybody of the same name is necessarily related is a nice friendly one, it is sadly flawed. I have never been able to persuade myself to believe that every Mac-Donald is descended from the same ultimate Donald."

Although the MacBean’s can boast that their tartan has literally been to the moon and back, and a piece of their tartan is still up there, we are brought down to earth rather quickly when we learn "we owe the MacBean tartan to the artist Robert McIan…" Then there is a reference to "a piece of tartan reputedly worn at Culloden…" that Jamie has seen. The Mackintoshes, the Big Daddy of Clan Chattan, like all of us, are victims of the tartan trade association, as we learn that "the green Hunting Mackintosh (24) tartan is entirely a figment of the imagination of the tartan trade." The 1822 jaunt by George IV to Edinburgh is expressed as "the Victorianising of the Highlands". Also, "…much more was read into ‘Clan’ tartans then was there to be read and many a ‘true and ancient’ pattern was chosen from a catalogue." Regarding my Shaw tribe, Jamie writes of the "McIan inaccuracy and Logan’s failure to discover the second red line hidden in the pleats of the kilt gave us a dark tartan that was called Shaw (41) and worn by Shaws until it was supplanted by a new and more suitable design in the 1970s; there were not and never had been any grounds for calling it Shaw…" There! Put that in your pipe and smoke it!!

The Highland People
By James D. Scarlett

At the Pleasanton Games in 1997, John Shaw of Tordarroch gave Susan and me this book. Our Chief penned these words - "To Frank and Susan Shaw, with much affection". When I finished the book, I was acutely aware that it was I who should be writing a thank you note to our Chief "with much affection" and, I might add, "much appreciation". I have bought a dozen or more of these books since then for my friends who are new to their Highland heritage. There are many books out there that say the same thing Jamie does, but they take longer to say it and, in my opinion, they are not nearly as well written or clear or concise! Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. While there may be a big pot of beans on the stove for consumption, this book is the bowl of beans in front of you on the table. Get a big spoon, for your bowl will run over with this brief but thorough history of our people.

If I were told at midnight tonight that I had to take an exam tomorrow at 8:00 a.m. on Highland people at St. Andrews College in North Carolina or the other university in Scotland, this book would be the Cliffs Notes I would turn to on The Highland People. Why? Because in the note to the reader in Cliffs Notes you will find this sentence - "These Notes present a clear discussion of the action and thought of the work under consideration and a concise interpretation of its artistic merits and its significance. They are intended as a supplementary aid to serious students…" The Highland People by Jamie Scarlett would do the Cliffs Notes people proud! You can go to other, larger books for further study, but this is it in a nutshell! I’ve never said this about a book, but I can truthfully say that this wee 98-page book is a gem.

Anyone interested in buying these books can get in touch with me at my email above. Or, write me at 1320 Twelve Oaks Circle, NW, Atlanta, GA 30327-1862, USA. I’ll route you in the right direction.

Other books by Jamie Scarlett:

Tartans of Scotland
The Tartan Spotter’s Guide
Scotland’s Clans and Tartans
The Tartans of the Scottish Clans
How to Weave Fine Cloth
The Tartan Weaver’s Guide
Tartan: The Highland Textile
Understanding Tartan

See a Memorial to Jamie here!

Return to August/September 2003 Index Page  |  See Frank's other work here!


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