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Issue 27 - A real chance to become part of history

Scotland Magazine Issue 27
June 2006


This article is 12 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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A real chance to become part of history

One notable benefit of Tartan Week in New York, so far as I am concerned, is that it provides those of us who tend to be preoccupied with whatever we are doing back home with an opportunity to get to know one another better.

Under such circumstances, I often find out far more about what is happening on my doorstep than I would ever do sitting at my desk. In fact, coming face to face with one of our senior Scottish politicians this year, I could not help myself.

”How lovely to see you,” I said. “Why do we never meet in Scotland?” I jest, of course, but there is an element of truth in this. In the Scottish Village located this year at Grand Central Station were Maureen Barrie of the National Museums of Scotland, now a Tartan Day veteran, and Alexander Bennett and Charles Currie from the National Trust for Scotland.

While Maureen was enthusing about the Museum’s plans for Scotland’s Year of Homecoming in 2009, something until then I knew little about, Alexander and Charles were busy selling personalised flagstones. These were for the walkway at the £8,000,000 Culloden Visitor Centre, scheduled to open next summer during the Scottish Executive’s Highland Year of Culture 2007 project. Again, I found this a revelation.

Three hundred years ago, British Government forces led by the Duke of Cumberland, third son of King George II, defeated the army of his cousin Prince Charles Edward Stuart on Culloden Moor and ended hopes of restoring the Jacobite Stuarts to the British throne. The outcome was a decisive victory for the 9,000 strong Government army. Within one hour, the 5,000 hungry and exhausted Jacobite soldiers were defeated and the rebellion crushed.

The Battle of Culloden in 1746 therefore represents a turning point in Scottish history, and the National Trust for Scotland, which owns the site, is currently fund raising for a visitor centre to explain a complex story in a balanced way. Just to put things into perspective, more Scots fought against Bonnie Prince Charlie than fought for him, but the outcome of the battle remains a very emotive subject for Scots to this day. Had the Bonnie Prince’s army pressed on from Derby in the previous year, the on-going narrative of the British people would be entirely different.

In the aftermath of defeat, however, the 1745 Jacobite Uprising became a thrillingly romantic episode which has resonated over the centuries and recruited many of those to the cause who, had they lived at the time, would certainly have opposed it. Ironically, the dashing Prince’s finest hours came not from his leadership but in the months he subsequently spent as a fugitive, and the loyalty he inspired has become the stuff of legend.

That is why I consider the Culloden Stones initiative to be a real winner. For a contribution of between £75 and £495, we can all of us become part of that Jacobite legend. Made from Caithness stone, quarried from the north of Scotland, the stones with their sponsors’ names engraved upon them will be positioned on the pathway approaching the visitor centre.

Many of us would like to leave a footprint in the sand, something to remind future generations that we existed when we are gone. For those whose hearts remain in the Highlands of Scotland, this provides a splendid opportunity to do just that.

However, not everyone grasps the significance. For Grand Central Station, the Trust produced two sample stones, one with Trust chairman Shonaig Macpherson’s name on it; the second, with that of actor Ewan McGregor. Alas, Ewan’s stone disappeared on the first day, presumably removed by some admirer unaware of their hero’s ancestral contribution to the Jacobite Cause.

Even so, the innovations of 21st century interpretation centres never fail to impress me, far removed as they are from the dull and dusty museums of my childhood. Perhaps it is to do with the ageing process, but I continually find myself mesmerised when the distant past is brought vividly to life.

Afurther attraction scheduled for the Culloden visitor centre, and currently on show at the National Trust’s headquarters in Edinburgh, are items on loan from the Drambuie Collection of Jacobite Art, which took more than 20 years to accumulate.

These comprise several portraits and miniatures of the key characters, along with a series of Jacobite glasses, beautifully engraved with cyphered messages.

I have always liked the idea of subversive messages hidden in drinking glasses. We Scots are rather expert at keeping what we are really up to a secret. That, of course, is why we sometimes have to go to New York to find out what is actually going on.