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Old Scottish Customs
Chapter XIX

Holding Kate Kennedy’s Day at St. Andrews—Golf again—Amusing account of its origin and history— Holy well customs at Dunkeld—Holy wells at Huntly—Numerous holy wells over Scotland— Superstitious customs connected therewith—The burning of the Clavie at Burghead.


THE following celebration is observed annually by students at St. Andrews, attending the United College of St. Salvator and St. Leonard during the fourth year. Kate Kennedy’s Day is yearly fixed by the observers for the last week in February or the beginning of March. The students meet at an appointed place at noon, when they array themselves in masquerade attire. They then form a procession. The leading performer, Kate Kennedy, is dressed in female garb, and mounted on horseback. Kate has a bodyguard, attended by a mounted escort. A drummer leads the way discoursing martial music. Each member of the procession represents some historical character, such as the Pope, the Stuart kings, Roman citizens, Greek Philosophers, etc. The cavalcade first proceeds to the college quadrangle, where Kate receives a congratulatory address. They then visit the private houses of the different professors, who are cheered or hooted according to the estimation in which they are held. The day’s proceedings terminated in a banquet. Dr. Charles Rogers proceeds to say that the origin of this celebration is involved in some doubt. It seems to combine the honours paid in Romish times to the memory of St. Catherine, with a public recognition of the good services of the pious James Kennedy, Bishop of the See, who founded St. Salvator’s College in 1455. A bell was placed in the college steeple by Bishop Kennedy who dedicated it to St. Catherine. This was recast the third time in 1686, when a procession attended its suspension. Probably the modern observance began at this period.


St. Andrews, as we have before stated, is the head-quarters of golf. A golfing society was established there in 1754, and two grand meetings of this club are held annually :n May and October. The following amusing account of golfing at St. Andrews is taken, we believe, from the Pall Mall Gazette.

Here s man is playing golf all day long. He is scarcely ever in the house except when he is in bed and dreaming of ‘bunkers' and ‘hog-bucket-anes,’ and the other mysteries of the game. How old golf is at St. Andrews no one knows. Probably when St. Regulus arrived here in 370 A.D., he found the natives absorbed in their pastime, and indifferent to religious matters. I daresay they howled out “ Fore” at him, and took no other notice of him and his relics. In the fifteenth century golf was put down by Act of Parliament. The earliest document about golf 1 have been able to discover is on the seal of a Bishop of the twelfth century. The seal represents the tall square tower of St. Regulus as it still stands, and in the field are two golf clubs crossed in the form of a St. Andrew’s Cross ; at least if these objects are not golf clubs what are they ? The game is as popular as ever here, and at once forces itself on the attention of the observer.

As you approach St. Andrews by railway the links are found in the possession of men in red coats equipped with arma campestria like the old Bishop of Galloway (1612) for whom the devil came in the very midst of a game of golf.—(See Proud’s History of the Kirk). Men are not the only persons thus armed. Every lady who respects herself carries a “ putter.” Even infants in arms have little clubs in their hands. They suck the handles, I believe, and thus aid the process of teething. Every small boy has a club, with which he “ addresses himself,” to imaginary balls wherever he may be,—at home, in the drawing-room, or in the streets or gardens. The eternal swinging of clubs adds much to the misery of nervous persons at St. Andrews. He is not comforted either by the howls of “Fore,” (that is, being interpreted, “get out of the way, if you don’t want every bone in your body to be broken, confound you!” which greets him on all sides whenever he leaves his lodgings. After calling out “Fore,” at St. Andrews, you may commit, I believe, any crime of assault and battery with the arma campestria without fear of the law of Scotland.


The Grange Well, Dunkeld, is still to some extent sought after by people who come even from a distance bringing their sick children in order that these may drink of the life-giving water, and be healed of their various ailments. Silver coins have occasionally been thrown into the water in return for supposed favours received; and rags and scraps of the sick persons clothes are left lying around, as offerings to the guardian spirit of this much esteemed spot.


St. Mungo’s Well in Huntly, St. Fergon’s Well near Inverloohy, the well at Metheshirin near Dufftown, the well of Moulblairie in Banffshire, St. ('olman's Well in the parish of Killarn. in Ross-shire, Culboakie, also in Ross-shire, St. Mary’s Well in the birch wood above Culloderx House, the Craigie Well in the Black Isles opposite Inverness, the Wallaek Well, and the Corsmall Well, at Glass in Banffshire, together with “these superstitious round-earth wells of Menteith,” are still resorted to by the common people. Miss Gordon Gumming tells us, that among the various efforts made to check the favourite well worship two centuries ago, was an order from the Privy Council appointing com missioners to wait at Christ’s Well in Menteith on the 1st May, and to seize all who might assemble at the spring, and imprison them in Doune Castle.


According to Miss Gordon Cumming, from time immemorial the fisher folk and seamen of Burghead, have on Yule night, O. S., met at the west end of the town carrying an old barrel and other combustible materials. This barrol having been sawn in two, the lower half is nailed into a long spoke of firewood which serves for a handle. This nail must not be struck by a hammer but driven in with a stone. The half barrel is then filled with dry wood saturated with tar, and built up like a pyramid, leaving only a hollow to receive a burning peat, for no lucifer match must be applied. A fresh libation of tar completes the Clavie, which is shouldered by one of the lads, quite regardless of the streams of burning tar which of course trickle down his back. Should the bearer stumble or fall, the consequences would be unlucky indeed to the town and to himself. When weary of his burden a second is ready to fill the honoured post, and then a third and a fourth, till the Clavie has made a circuit of the town, when it is carried to a hillock called the Doorie, where a hollowed stone receives the fire spoke. Fresh fuel is added, and in olden times the blaze continued all night and at length was allowed to bum itself out untouched. Now after a short interval the Clavie is thrown down the western side of the hill, and a desperate scramble ensues for the burning brands possession of which is accounted to bring good luck, and the embers are carried home and carefully preserved till the following year, as a safeguard against all manner of evil. In bygone times it was thought necessary that one man should carry it right round the town so the strongest was selected for this purpose..

Moreover it was customary to carry the Clavie round every ship in the harbour, a part of the ceremony which has latterly been discontinued. In 1875, however the Clavie was duly carried to one vessel just ready for sea. Handfuls of grain were thrown upon her deck, and amid, a shower of fire-water she received the suggestive name of Doorie.—The modern part of the town is not included in the circuit. The meaning and origin of this custom are alike unknown.

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