The word clann or clanna in Scottish Gaelic (pronouced Gallic, not gay-lick) basically means family (offspring,
children, or descendents). Each clan, therefore, is considered to be a sort of extended family, descended from a common ancestor
and including septs, or dependent families who have sworn allegiance to the clan chief and who look to him as their
advisor and protector.
Prior to the defeat of the clans at Culloden in 1746, the clan chiefs had been more or less selected by the members of
the clan. The best leader was chosen and other titles were given to certain clan individuals. Examples would be the "Seannachie"
or story teller who related the history of the group from memory. There might also have been a "Tutor" to teach the young
people the ways of the clan - including perhaps swordsmanship and fighting. The lands on which the clan members were located
was communal land which was owned by the clan in total, not by individuals.
The government saw the clans not as family groups, but as bandits needing occasional military expeditions to keep them
in check and exact taxes. In the mid-18th century, those that supported the exiled Catholic King, James Francis Edward Stuart
and his son, Prince Charles Edward Louis Philip Casimir Stuart, (better known as "Bonnie Prince Charlie") were called Jacobites.
The Jacobites rebelled against a governing body that they felt had deprived them of their rightful ruler. The Battle of
Culloden was the final act in the long-running series of events that ended with the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion. The battle ultimately
led to the largest uprooting of Highlanders in history, and the complete alteration of the highland way of life.
The government was determined to end further rebellions. After the defeat at Culloden, clans were brutally repressed by
those enforcing the Act of Proscription. This act allowed those acting at the behest of those in power to punish the
Scots who did not obey the new and stringent restrictions. These included their ability to bear arms, wear traditional dress
(i.e. the kilt), culture, and even music. It was deemed that bagpipes were an instrument of war, and therefore it was forbidden
to play them.
The Heritable Jurisdictions Act removed the traditional authority from the clans and their chief as it had existed.
After Culloden, the English felt it was best to "Anglisize" the chiefs. They swept them up and took them south to England
to educate them in posh educational institutions. Lands which had once been held communally were granted in total to the chiefs.
Where once they had been only temporary custodians and overseers, now they were landed and were encouraged by the English
to consider themselves "gentry."
The result was the death toll for the clan system as it had existed. This was the goal of the English and they were largely
The highland clearances, therefore, were ripple effects of the Scottish defeat in battle. Large areas of land were cleared
of their tenants by the landowners (primarily clan chiefs) to make way for sheep. It was felt that this would earn more money
and the chiefs needed it in order to maintain their new life styles.
The people were moved to poor agricultural land and to the coast. They were expected to become fisherman and farmers. But
they did not have the skills or experience to achieve success as fishermen, and they owned no boats. The land could not support
their families, let alone enable them to pay the high rent assessed for their dwellings. Facing starvation and homelessness,
many emigrated elsewhere.
Although the clearances were confined mainly to the less populated areas of northern Scotland, they occurred in the lowlands
as well. The more brutal clearance efforts took place in the Northern Highlands, Strathnaver, Skye, Lochalsh, Fort William,
Lochaber, Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey. Orkney and Shetland, Lewis, Barra, West Aberdeenshire, east side of the
Grampians and the island of Arran, among others.
The lowland clearances were more subtle. Certainly the results were just as effective in removing people from their lands
and sending them elsewhere in the world. In the lowlands they accomplished the goal by raising rents and imposing impossible
conditions for the crofters to manage.
This is clearly a case where legality and morality parted company. The chiefs were definitely within their legal rights
to evict people living on their land as, basically, renters. Was it moral? That's another question entirely. We will not address
Where once clan members had lived in close proximity to one another for convenience, comfort, and safety, they now began
to leave their homeland in large numbers. During the eighteenth and nineteenth century many thousands of highlanders left
their beloved Scotland to seek a better life. We should be grateful. In doing so they contributed vastly to the economies
and culture of their adopted countries. The Scots opened up huge areas of North America, Australia and New Zealand.
Though Scotland lost some of it's valuable population, the rest of the world benefited. Americans of Scottish descent have
played a vibrant and influential role in the development of the United States. From the framers of the Declaration of Independence
to the first man on the moon, Scottish-Americans have contributed mightily to the fields of the arts, science, politics, law,
and more. Today, over eleven million Americans claim Scottish and Scotch-Irish roots -- making them the eighth largest ethnic
group in the United States.
Today the clan system as it once existed is gone. But there is still a system of sorts. Redefined and reorganized, the
clans as they are now give a sense of identity and shared descent to people in Scotland and throughout the world.
There is a formal structure with clan chiefs and clan members, but the old titles and duties are now obsolete. A Clan Chief
has obligations only so far as he wishes to assume them. Some are more conscientious than others. Positions within the clan
(i.e. Seannachie and Tutor as examples) may exist, but they are largely lyrical titles and contain no obligatory duties. The
chiefs now hold their titles by heredity and are recognized by the court of the Lord Lyon, King of Arms.
Since the 19th century, most clans have their own tartan patterns. Many members of the clan, in order to show their loyalty
to that clan, wear kilts, ties, sashes, ties, etc. in one of the designated tartan patterns. While there is no such thing
as "entitlement" to wear a specific tartan, it is often a choice to wear the tartan as a kind of visible badge of membership
in a clan.
Clans generally identify with geographical areas originally controlled by the chiefs. Sometimes there is an ancestral castle
or area where the clan can have gatherings of the membership. Some of the chiefs enthusiastically support such gatherings.
Some do not.
According to the former Lord Lyon, Sir