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Issue 77 - What I Love About Scotland

Scotland Magazine Issue 77
October 2014

 

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What I Love About Scotland

A series in which well known individuals based around the world express their thoughts about the Scotland they know well

I was raised on a small farm in a town called Scotch Plains in New Jersey (about 20 miles due west of Manhattan) so I guess you might say the first seed was planted “geographically.” My father was an only child and since I came along rather late in his life, I had no sense of an extended family.

As a child, I remember watching old films on Sunday night television. Whenever the famed Scots actor Finlay Currie appeared on the screen my father would tell me he was my great grandfather. He was joking but I certainly didn’t know (or care). I was fascinated that I might have a real Scottish connection.

My true fascination with Scotland began in my late 20’s when my wife and I were expecting our first born child.

That’s when my genealogical research went into high gear. Was I really connected to Finlay Currie? Were we kilted Highlanders? What did my homeland look like?

I made my first visit in 1982. I still hadn’t traced my family back but had to see the country. A huge influence at the time was the film, Chariots of Fire. Having seen the incredible scenery, I had to go to Scotland. On my last night, I attended the Edinburgh Tattoo.

Clan Currie, or more accurately Clan MacMhuirich (‘MacVurich’) has been around since the 13th century. The family served in the capacity of Hereditary Bards to the Lords of the Isles and later to the MacDonalds of Clanranald. My research eventually connected me to the Island of Arran off the west coast of Scotland. My great great grandfather, Neil Currie was born there and left during the Clearances in 1828.

The Clan Currie Society was started in 1959 (coincidentally the year I was born). We owe a great deal of that to the late Professor Derick Thomson. He conducted groundbreaking work on this unique and talented family of Arch-Bards. Scotland’s other great historian, Dr. Ian Grimble picked up on this work and Clan Currie started to appear in books and articles, most notably through the Gaelic Society of Inverness.

I became acquainted with the Society’s original founder, Col. William McMurdo Currie as part of my personal research in the late 1980s. He was old and frail by then but faithfully kept the torch of Clan Currie burning brightly. Before he passed in 1992, he asked me to take the reins and I began to rebuild the Society.

We have begun to realise that goal through major events like ‘The Pipes of Christmas’ concerts in NYC (which funds our scholarship and sponsorship programs) and our annual “Tartan Day on Ellis Island.” We established an annual academic symposium to bring together leading scholars and historians to present papers on the unique history of the Bards of Clan Currie over the last 700 years. We’ve also become active in the Gaelic community with programs at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig and sponsorship of the Royal National Mod.

I’ve been involved with Ellis Island since 1998. Tartan Day on Ellis Island began in 2002. That year, Clan Currie helped host and co-ordinate the National Museums of Scotland’s exhibition, "Home and Away” Since that first year, we’ve partnered with some distinguished institutions to produce exhibits on the history of tartan, the Jacobites and America, and the life of John Muir. According to National Park Service attendance figures, it became one of the largest Tartan Day events in the world.

Scotland is a very old country but it’s still a hip place. Beyond the incredible history, the beautiful scenery and the great arts scene, what I truly love about Scotland are the people. I have been blessed to make so many friend and acquaintances in Scotland over the years so that it now feels like a second home.

Author Biography

Robert (Bob) Currie is the President of the worldwide Clan Currie Society and a director of the Save Ellis Island Foundation. In 2013, he was awarded an Honourary Doctorate in the Arts by Edinburgh Napier University. Clan Currie’s critically acclaimed “Pipes of Christmas” concert returns to the NYC area on December 20-21, 2014. Details at www.pipesofchristmas.com