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Ye Old Scotland

Disclaimer: These bits of information and trivia have been collected by The Tartan Lady over the years from many different sources and their original origin is unknown.  Their authenticity has not been verified; so if you have varying descriptions, we will be happy to include them.  Also, if you have other interesting or informative facts, we will be happy to include them.  


The poetic name for Scotland or the Highlands.  It was the Roman name for Northern Britain.  The Caledonia tartan is appropriate for all Scots and friends of Scotland.

The inhabitants of Scotland north of the Forth and Clyde in the first to fourth centuries. A.D.  The area became the last refuge of the Picts when the Scots invaded from Ireland.

Celt (pronounced “kelt”)
A person from Scotland, Wales, Ireland, the Isle of Man, Cornwall or Brittany. 

Saint Andrew 

St. Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland.  Andrew was added to the communion of saints of the Pictish Church in the 8th century.  It is said that around 832 AD, an army of allied Picts and Scots found themselves surrounded by a large force of Angles.  As King Angus led the allies in prayer, a strange thing happened.  The vision of a large white cross appeared against the light blue of the sky.  The cross was taken as a representation of the X-shaped cross upon which St. Andrew had been martyred.  King Angus vowed that if he were somehow to defeat the Angles, he would make St. Andrew the patron saint of Scotland.  And the rest is history!

Culloden (pronounced kul-lod-din)

The site near Inverness where the supporters of Prince Charlie were defeated in the final battle of the Jacobite Rising on April 16, 1746.  This defeat led to a concentrated attempt to destroy the traditional Highland way of life.  The powers of the chiefs were greatly reduced and the tartan and bagpipes were banned for many years.

“Clann” in Gaelic means “children.”  Thus, clans worked like an extended family, led by a protective father.  In fact, a clan’s name was often formed by combining the chief’s ancestral name with “Mac,” meaning “son of.”  Within most clans there are many septs (sub-clans with different names who also gave their allegiance to the clan and came under its protection.  These unions were formed for political as much as familial reasons.  The chief was responsible for protecting the clan and septs from their enemies, for settling disputes and for leading his men on the battlefield.  In return, clansmen and their families accepted his authority over all the clan’s actions.  The clan system went into decline following the Jacobite rebellion of 1745 and the Clearances which followed forcing many Highland Scots to flee to other countries including the USA, Canada and Australia. Today, long after the end of the ancient system, modern clans and societies are rekindling pride in family and heritage by proudly displaying their name with clan mottos, tartans, insignia and other identifying symbols at gatherings such as Highland Games and Celtic Festivals.

One of the branches into which some clans are divided or the use of a variety of surnames by members of a single clan.


Lion Rampant Flag
King William I, the “Lion”, who lived from 1143 to 1214, adopted an identifying heraldic device showing the rampant lion, standing upright, with three paws extended.  This became the royal coat of arms in Scotland.  The Lion Rampant Flag belongs solely to the monarch, but may be displayed as a token of loyalty to the crown.

The Scottish National Flag – so named for the cross on which St. Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland, was martyred.  This flag is regarded as one of the oldest country flags still in existence.

Heraldry was first developed in the 12th century in Europe as an outgrowth of chivalric culture.  Designs were placed on banners, shields and surcoats, and were worn by knights in tournaments for easy identification.  These designs were eventually used in miniature depictions of the shields, complete with a helm, crest, etc., on personal seals and tombs of great knights.  Heraldry became a way of identifying great men at an instant.

Heraldic Devices 
The only correct and legal heraldic device that can be used by a non-armiger is the strap-and-buckle crest badge.

Crest Badge
The crest of the chief encircled by the fastened belt upon which is written the motto of the chief. 

Heraldic Symbols and Colors
Many of these symbols and colors have special meaning when specified in the heraldic bearings.  For the specifics of your clan crest, please contact The Tartan Lady.

Lord Lyon or Lord Lyon King of Arms
The official that supervises the Scottish system of heraldry. 

Legend of the Heather
When the world was created, the hillsides were bare and it was decided that a plant was needed to beautify the slopes.  The giant oak, strongest of all trees, was asked but he declined – saying that the soil was too shallow for him to take root and flourish.  Then, the yellow-flowered honeysuckle was asked if she would spread her beautiful fragrance throughout the hills.  She, too, refused because there was nothing in the inhospitable terrain against which she could grow.  The rose, sweetest of all flowers, was the next choice.  However, she explained that she would not be able to survive the hillsides’ bitter winds and driving rain.  Then a small low-lying shrub with tiny petals, some purple, some white, was chanced upon.  It was heather.  The heather was asked, “Will you grown upon the hillsides and make them more beautiful?”  The heather reflected on the poor soil and hard climate and was not sure whether she could do the job, but to the delight of all, she replied that if they wanted her to try, she would do her very best.  They were all so pleased with the heather that they decided to bestow three gifts upon her:  the strength of the oak – the bark of the heather is stronger than that of any other tree or shrub; the fragrance of the honeysuckle – the heather’s gentle fragrance is used to perfume soaps, potpourri and cosmetics; and the sweetness of the rose – the sweetness of the heather makes her one of the bee’s favorite flowers.  And to this day, heather is renowned for these three gifts and she still fulfills her task.

The prickly purple thistle was adopted as the Emblem of Scotland during the reign of Alexander III (1249-1286).  Legend has it that an Army of King Haakon of Norway, intent on conquering the Scots landed at the Coast of Largs at night to surprise the sleeping Scottish Clansmen.  In order to move more stealthily under cover of darkness the Norsemen removed their footwear.  As they drew near to the Scots one of Haakon’s men unfortunately stepped on one of these spiny little defenders and shrieked out in pain, alerting the Clansmen of the advancing Norsemen.  Needless to say, the Scots won the day.

Celtic Tree of Life

The Celtic Tree of Life, called crann bethadh by the Ancient Celts, was a symbol of balance and harmony.  The celtic knots symbolize the branches and roots of a tree woven together without end showing the continuous cycle of life on earth.  Celtic people honored the Tree of Life by leaving one big tree in the middle of their fields when they cleared the land under which they held gatherings and appointed their chieftains.

Celtic Knots

These knots that have no beginning and no end represent the eternalness of nature.  The design of these knots is used in many forms of art such as tapestries, metal decorations and even for tattoos.


Although the specific origins of tartan aren’t known, it seems likely the creation of the tartan mirrors the development of the Scottish clan system, which began around the 12th century.  Different colors and varying fabric patterns began to develop as weavers in each area or clan created their individual designs.  Colors depended on the dyes available in the area; thus, particular styles of tartans began to become associated with an area or clan.  Tartan designs consist of broad bands of color (the “under check”) that are embellished with narrower lines of color (the “over check”).  More than 2,000 types of tartans exist today.  Many clans and families have tartans in both hunting (subdued) and dress (brighter) colors; some also have traditional patterns known as “ancient.”  The sett is the pattern of squares and lines that is repeated throughout a tartan.In addition to clan tartans, there are district tartans, trade tartans, regimental tartans and even corporate tartans these days.

The kilt, or belted plaid, is considered standard dress for the Highlander.  Made of woven wool, the fabric is belted around the waist and pleated in back.  The kilt features a multi-colored pattern of stripes and checks know as “tartan.”  Originally, the kilt was a single piece of tartan cloth draped around the body like a toga.  It was useful as a cloak during the day and a blanket at night, if the wearer found himself sleeping in the rough.  Eventually, the larger cloth gave way to the “little kilt,” that is very similar to the kilts worn today.  In 1746, the British Parliament banned kilts as a symbol of Scottish nationalism.  That, of course, made every Scot want to wear one, and the kilt’s status as the national costume was secured.  And yes, it’s true:  traditionally, nothing is worn under a kilt!

Highland Dress
Men’s formal dress consisting of a kilt and sporran (a large pouch, usually made of fur or leather, worn hanging from a belt in front of the kilt), short black jacket over a frilled white shirt, and long socks with a skean-dhu (or sgian-dhu, a short-bladed knife or dagger usually with a black hilt) worn at the outside top of the right sock.

Kilt Pin
Before the reign of Queen Victoria, the Scottish kilt was worn without the pin now used to secure the fold over on the right hand side.  As a result there were many embarrassing moments especially if you wore the kilt in a high wind.  The truth was that nothing in the nature of undergarments was worn with the kilt.  One day Queen Victoria arrived on a visit to Balmoral Castle and reviewed the Gordon Highlanders.  A stiff wind was blowing and one young soldier at rigid attention was unable to control the flapping of his kilt and to avoid exposure on this important occasion.  The Queen noticed his embarrassment and walked over to him.  She removed a pin from her own dress and leaning over, pinned the overlap of his kilt.  And that – believe it or not – is the origin of the kilt pin, without which no kilted Scot would be properly dressed today.

Plaid/Fly Plaid (rhymes with laid)
The fly plaid originated with the great kilt but was later adjusted to be worn with the modern kilt.  It is always made of the same tartan and fabric as the kilt and is draped over the left shoulder.  One corner is gathered to accommodate a brooch or to be inserted through the epaulet of the jacket.  The fly plaid usually measures 54" square.


Balmoral (pronounced “bahl-maw-rul”)

A round brimless cap usually worn at a slant.  The top extends beyond the side and has a bobble on top.

Glengarry (pronounced glen-gar-ree)  
A brimless cap that has straight sides, creased on top from front to back, with two ribbons hanging from the back, and often a checkered band.

Tam o’Shanter 
A flat round cap with a bobble on top.

The same as suspenders for holding up trousers.

Kilted Skirt
Women do not wear kilts.  A woman is a bit “too curvy” to fit the straight pleats in a man’s kilt.  A kilted skirt, however is modified specifically for a woman’s shape.  For all events except evening formals, a street length kilted skirt is fine.  For formal events, a long evening kilted skirt is beautiful with a jabot blouse (a blouse with a frilly “ruffle”) and a velvet jacket.  Also, for formal events, especially dances, a white dress adorned with a tartan sash is appropriate.

The sash is a length of tartan worn on the RIGHT shoulder.  Exceptions to this rule are ladies who are chiefs or chieftains in their own right, the wives of chiefs or chieftains, or the wives of Colonels of Highland Regiments and, of course, Scottish country dancers. 


Kirkin' O' The Tartan  
On the 25th day of July, 1745, the young Prince Charles Edward Stewart (Bonnie Prince Charles) returned from France and landing at Lochnanaugh began the enlistment of the Highland Clans for his abortive attempt to dethrone George II of England and to restore the Scottish throne to the Royal House of Stewart.  After a succession of victorious battles with the English at various locations, vastly outnumbered, exhausted and hungry, the reduced Highland ranks were utterly routed at Culloden on April 16, 1746.  To subdue the spirit of the vanquished Highlanders, the English Parliament at Westminster invoked the Act of Proscription that banned the wearing of any sign of the Tartan, forbad any speaking in Gaelic, outlawed Scottish music, dancing and the playing of the pipes, which the Act said “emitted an aggressive and warlike sound.”  It was 36 years before the Act of Proscription was revoked and, during all those years, Highland churches had a special day when the Highlanders gathered, each with a small piece of Tartan concealed under their outer clothing and, with the right hand held over the precious piece, they all joined in the prayer that it might please God speedily to cause the repeal of the devastating Act of Proscription.  When finally the Act was repealed, the Highlanders, as Cunningham in his History of Scotland has written: “returned with joy to their beloved kilt, no longer bound to the unmanly trews of the lowlanders.”  In 1941, the Rev. Peter Marshall, chaplain of the U.S. Senate and minister of Washington’s New York Avenue Presbyterian Church created a special Sunday service to give solace to Scottish-Americans involved in the war and this ceremony of the tartan being blessed in church has been practiced throughout Canada and the United States since that time. Even American astronaut Alan L. Bean took a piece of Armstrong tartan to the moon and back.

A musical instrument consisting of a set of pipes through which air is blown from a bag held under the player’s arm making a loud shrill sound known as a skirl. No instrument has ever been so deeply entrenched in a country’s tradition as the bagpipe is in Scotland’s.  Although the origin of the pipes can be traced back to ancient Egyptian times, it was in Scotland that the pipes eventually gained popularity and flourished.  Historically, the Scots used the Bagpipe as an instrument of war.  The bagpipes were said to possess the “sound” that could inspire warriors to great heights of valor.  The Scottish pipers led their clans into battle, celebrated births and marriages and composed songs of lament upon the death of individuals. 

The pipe on a set of bagpipes with finger holes on which the melody is played.  It can also be played on its on.

The three pipes on a set of bagpipes that are tuned to a fixed note.

Ceilidh (pronounced “kale-ee)  
An informal social gathering with folk music, singing, dancing and storytelling.  You can usually attend a Ceilidh at all Highland Games.

Burns Night Supper  
A meal held on or near Burns Night (January 25th – birthday of the poet Robert Burns) to celebrate the life and work of Burns.  It usually begins with the presentation of the haggis ceremony and includes traditional Scottish foods.  Afterwards a speaker offers a Toast to Burns followed by other Toasts such as a Toast to the Lassies and the Lassies’ Reply.  (For examples of these Toasts contact the Tartan Lady) The first Burns Supper was held in Edinburgh in 1815.

The thrifty Scots created the dish called “haggis” out of leftover odds and ends, such as oatmeal, onions and organ meats, which were then stuffed in a sheep’s stomach.  Now proudly served at every Robert Burns Dinner, where it’s announced with that bard’s own “Ode to a Haggis”, modern haggis is most often prepared with oatmeal, onions, lamb’s heart, livers and kidneys (often with sherry), lots of pepper and is stuffed into a synthetic version of a sheep’s stomach. 

Quaich (pronounced Kwayk)

A small shallow drinking cup with handles on each side usually used for making a Toast.  Also used as ornaments or trophies.

Slainte mhath (pronounced slan-ja vah) 
Most often shortened to Slainte,  a Gaelic toast that means “good health.”

Irn Bru (pronounced eye-rin brew) 
A popular orange-colored carbonated soft drink that is popularly supposed to cure hangovers.


Ceud Mile Failte (pronounced kee-ut mee-luh fah-ill-tya)  A greeting that means “a hundred thousand welcomes.”

Often used as part of the name of a mountain, such as Ben Nevis or Ben Lomond.

A lake or long narrow bay of the sea.  When “an” is added, it means a small lake.

Caber (rhymes with labor) 
A heavy section of trimmed tree trunk or pole thrown in competition at Highland Games.  The caber must be thrown so that it lands away from the thrower and on its heavy end. 

Auld lang syne
The days of long ago.

Aye  (pronounced “eye”). 
Usually means “yes.”  When used as a closing, aye means “always” or “constantly.”

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