Ladies and Gentlemen, First Minister, Clan Chiefs, may I just thank you most warmly for inviting my wife and myself to Edinburgh today to join you for this most splendid of Gatherings…
It seems to me that today’s event represents a stirring meeting of Scotland’s history and its living heritage. Where else could you find a Gathering of this scale? To which other country would so many have come from “a’ the airts”? And how else would you expect it to be celebrated other than in the context of a great Highland Games? I wonder, too, when Edinburgh last welcomed so many clans at once? This certainly surpasses the visit to Scotland organized by Sir Walter Scott for King George IV in 1822 when five Clan Chiefs brought five troops of clansmen, “all plaided and plumed in their tartan array” to escort the sovereign up the High Street to the Castle.
The Homecoming, of which this weekend is an essential part, was of course inspired by the birth of Robert Burns, 250 years ago this year.
And if you don’t mind my saying so, I do happen to believe that it is Scotland’s traditions of writing, language, speech, music and poetry which will continue to nourish this and future generations when it comes to the perennial questions of identity, of culture, of future direction and, perhaps most importantly, of how we as individuals harness, and then nurture, a true sense of place.
As you travelled to this Homecoming, I am sure you all felt that sense of place, which I understand so well and which was hauntingly described by Sir Alexander Gray in his poem ‘Scotland’:
“This is my country,
The land that begat me.
These windy spaces
Are surely my own.
And those who toil here
In the sweat of their faces
Are flesh of my flesh
And bone of my bone.”
Wherever I go in the world, I am struck by how many towns and streets carry names brought from Scotland, and as I was meeting the representatives of the clans from all around the world just now, I was struck by the diversity of backgrounds, experience and occupations which marks out the modern clan representative. The influence of Scotland is everywhere. Thankfully, in 2009, the lives of Clan Chiefs and their clansmen, both in Scotland and abroad, are somewhat less blood-soaked and unhappy than those experienced by thousands of their ancestors, many of whom simply left this land in search of new lives in distant places. But the affection for this place of common ancestry seems to be no less today than it was for the Canadian exiles in the poem, The Canadian Boat Song:
“From the lone sheiling and the misty island,
Mountains divide us and a waste of seas.
But still the blood is strong, the heart is Highland
And we in dreams behold the Hebrides.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is marvellous that so many of you have made the journey here to Edinburgh to attend these Highland Games, yesterday’s Convention and this evening’s march up the Royal Mile to the Castle. I can only hope that your discussions at the Convention may have helped you to plot the evolving role for clans in the years to come.
The Gathering, which represents perhaps the key weekend of this year’s Homecoming celebrations, is clearly an extraordinary event and my wife and I did just want to congratulate all those who have worked so hard to bring it about.
I think you have all between you provided the answer to Sir Walter Scott’s famous question in his poem ‘The Lay of the Last Minstrel’:
“Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
Whose heart hath ne’er within him burned
When home his footsteps he hath turned
From wandering on a foreign strand?”
Nothing could give me greater pleasure than to declare The Gathering 2009, open.