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Issue 99 - Commanding the clan

Scotland Magazine Issue 99
June 2018


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Commanding the clan

Two months ago, at the Royal Scots Club in Edinburgh, I felt privileged to watch Robert Currie being installed as Commander of the Name and Arms of Currie by Dr Joseph Morrow QC, the Lord Lyon King of Arms.

More than 30 years have passed since Robert began a quest for his family tree, inspired by the birth of his daughter. A note left by his grandfather had mentioned a Donald Currie living in Canada. Robert wrote to the village and was put in touch with a distant cousin in Ontario. He was sent a book written by his great, great, great grandfather: The Religious Experience of Neil Currie: A native of the Island of Arran, Scotland. This was a revelation to Robert, who is the Director and Secretary of the Save Ellis Island Foundation and a highly respected leader of New York’s philanthropic heritage community.

Robert discovered that his grandparents, three times removed, had sailed from Kilmory on Arran to Canada in 1828. Robert had known nothing of this but says that his proudest moment was during a visit in 2009, when he led the march of Currie Clansfolk on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile during the International Gathering of the Clans.

The Clan Currie Society was started in 1959 after a lot of ground-breaking research had been undertaken by the late Professor Derek Thomson and historian Dr Iain Grimble. Writing in Scotland Magazine #77, Robert explained how its original founder, Colonel William McMurdo Currie, had handed him the Society’s torch in 1992.

There followed the Pipes of Christmas concerts in New York City to raise funds for the Society’s sponsorship programmes. An academic symposium was also founded to bring together leading scholars to unravel the unique history of the Bards of MacMhuirich (aka Currie) over the centuries.

Tartan Day on Ellis Island began in 2002. Since then, the Currie Bardic Family has helped co-ordinate a string of exhibitions, including those focussing on the history of tartan, the Jacobites and America, and the life of John Muir. According to US Park Service attendance records, this may very well have been the largest Tartan Day event in the world.

The family traces its origin to the famed 13th Century Irish bard Muiedeach O’Daly, who had to flee Ireland in 1213 after a rather nasty axe murder. Thus began a long-lived dynasty of Gaelic bards in Scotland. By the 17th Century, the Gaelic family of MacMhuirich, which emerged on Islay as bards to the Lords of the Isles, was calling itself MacCurrie and gradually this was shortened to Currie.

On the collapse of the Lordship of the Isles around 1500, Clan MacMhuirich transferred allegiance to Clan Ranald on South Uist. This union produced the largest known collection of Gaelic poetry, including the ‘Red Book of Clanranald’ that is on display at the National Museum of Scotland.

Today, the Clan Currie Society remains committed to the furthering of Gaelic culture and supports seven scholarships in partnership, including The Pipe Major Kevin Ray Blandford Memorial Scholarship for Bagpipe at the National Piping Centre of Glasgow; The Clan Currie Scholarship for Music Composition at Edinburgh Napier University; and The Carol Hassert Memorial Scholarship for the Fine Arts at the Fine Arts faculty, Summit High School, New Jersey - where the Pipes of Christmas originated in 1999.

Scotland’s clans have historically survived through qualities of leadership. I congratulate the Lord Lyon on this appointment. At the Royal Scots Club in April the audience included the Chiefs of Clan MacNab, Clan Sempill and Clan MacLaren who were joined by Susan Wilson, US Consul General in Edinburgh; Eva Bollander, Lord Provost of Glasgow; and Dr Bruce Durie, Scotland Magazine’s genealogist in residence.

Robert’s journey of discovery may have taken him 30 years, but the benefits he has brought to Scotland have been immense.


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