Robert Burns – Scottish Diaspora Icon

St Andrew’s Day undoubtedly was one of the main celebrations in the annual events calendar of the Scots abroad. On equal footing stood, however, the celebration of Burns Night in honour of Scotland’s national bard, Robert Burns. Burns societies and clubs were formed all around the world to organise events, and it was their activities that contributed to making Robert Burns a central Scottish Diaspora icon.

Burns celebrations have their origin in early nineteenth century Scotland. The years when the Burns cult first developed in Scotland were a time of great change. Early nineteenth-century Scottish society was a society in upheaval: industrialisation and the associated modernisation processes brought major dislocation. As a result, many people tried to hold on to their accustomed ways of life and familiar traditions, with strenuous …

Caledonian Games and New Year’s Day in New Zealand

The lusty sports of “Caledonia, stern and wild” have been celebrated in prose and verse by the greatest masters of both. They have a peculiar charm of their own. The combination of massive strength with deerlike agility, which is characteristic of the proficient Highland athlete, is seldom to be found in the athletes of other countries. . . . Scotchmen are the only people who, in these modern degenerate days . . . appear to attach the same importance to athletic sports as the classical nations of old did.’ (Evening Post, 2 January 1880 – click here to download an image of the newspaper page).

At the outset, Caledonian Games were ‘purely Scottish sports’ indeed, athletic feats being merged with the familiar tunes and dances ‘dear to the …

The Global Saint: St Andrew’s Day Celebrations around the World

StAD‘No saint in the calendar’, observed a reporter in the Hong Kong Daily Press in 1886, ‘receives the hearty and regular devotion paid to St Andrew by his flock in all parts of the world.’ And indeed, next to Burns Night, St Andrew’s Day has long since been the key holiday in the annual events calendar of the Scots overseas, offering an opportunity for them to gather and celebrate their Scottish heritage – a tradition that continues to this day. But let’s look at some of the events that have taken place since the mid-nineteenth century, when St Andrew’s Day celebrations began to proliferate globally.

In New York, in 1890, ‘the music of the bagpipes and the pungent aroma of the haggis’ filled the banquet room of the famous …

Forwards and backwards

Screen Shot 2016-07-25 at 06.39.27In July 1909 the love story of Gabriel R. Gibson of Kilsyth – a small town halfway between Stirling and Glasgow – and Myrtle MacIntyre made headlines in the San Francisco Call. Gibson had fallen in love with MacIntyre and ‘wooed his sweetheart’ during his school days in Kilsyth. But, in 1903, Gibson left for the United States, seeking to make a better life for himself in Berkeley, California. His departure from Scotland did not put an end, however, to his love for Myrtle: the two kept in touch, corresponding regularly by sending many a letter across the Atlantic Ocean. But ‘[s]ix years of correspondence’ eventually ‘proved unsatisfactory to Gabriel . . . and he left for his native land . . . to wed Miss Myrtle MacInyre, the woman …