About Me

My photo

Did Socrates say "Know Thyself", or was he misunderstood, as all are. Show Thyself is all we can do. The knowing is unknowable.  

I am filled with joy.  It can't be helped.  

Became a Farmer, Builder, Musician, Tank Commander, Librarian, Lawyer and Minister. I have failed at many things. And now retired.  Filled, just filled, with Joy. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Scots mythology; family lore (on the white side)

This is the Great Story of my kin, on the Scots portion of the white side, which Aunt Winifred swore by. She told it to myself as her audience while standing in her trophy room, decanting a fresh myth to give it some air....

The Keys, a sept of the Mackay clan, were pressed to the most remote rock of the land's end North, and only 12 warriors left after centuries of feud and thuggery. As the MacLeods circled in for the kill, the final extinction, the Keys resolved to dispatch the remaining apostolic number South to appeal to the English for salvation. In passing through the MacLeod lines, four warriors sacrificed themselves so that eight remaining got through.

To the English, their appeal went something like this: "You are boatmen, and we are but poor shepherds on a cold and desolate rock at Land's End north. As an act of charity, send us but one of your ships and transport us to some other desolate rock where we can raise sheep. In return, while we have no treasure in exchange for our lives, we can offer you the loyalty of a Scots clan to the English people who trade in wool we can provide."

The warriors sought to return to their highland homeland. As they crept through the lines guarded by the MacLeods, again they were given no choice, but that another four had again to sacrifice themselves against the broadswords of their enemies to enable the last four warriors to get through. And then they gathered the women, the children and the sheep and hid among the stones of the beach and waited.

The sight of an English bottom raised them from their final desolate hour. Of course, having no boats themselves, the hideout was without a landing wharf. Undeterred, the Keys flung themselves into the beating tide and swam the freezing sea to the ships.

The women of the clan tied their children to their necks, and used the galls and bladders of slaughtered sheep for floats. The men tied their remaining and un-shorn sheep to their necks. They praised their Presbyterian God the sheep were buoyant with lanolin-oil wool. In this manner all pressed out to the waiting ship, and the English, who turned out to be fishermen, netted them like flotsam from the sea.

With the entire remaining Scottish Keys, the British bottom simply headed South West, away from the feuding Highlands. It stopped at the first desolate landfall it found. This happened to be Northern Ireland. It was cold, wet, storm-run and rocky. But sheep be raised, it was not inhabited.

Far to the South, it was known that there were a farming people. The Irish were another Celtic group, but they had no use for sheep, and could never farm the rocks. They traded nothing with the English who had their own farms. The Scots in Northern Ireland multiplied their sheep and rapidly offered the wool in trade. Thus began the English mariner's tradition -- first started by importing wool from Northern Ireland. The first great diversification of the Bristol fishing fleet.

And Scots continued to board British bottoms, even colonizing as they were brought to successive landfalls stowed by British merchant mariners. Centuries passed and instead of extinction, the Keys went on the colonize other islands and continents across the globe. In America, the Keys burst upon the New World to the dismay of the Powhattan and the Iroquois Confederacies, the Cherokee nation, and the leagues of many other tribes engaged with the Spaniards and French who really never sought to unload surplus populations on them. Within a few generations, the Scots asserted the favors of the trading English over the Spanish sword and closed even the great delta of the Mississippi to France.

In the South, the indentured Scots served their English "masters" as slave-drivers, foremen, living closely with the workers on the plantations. This exposure, and the extremities of plantation life, resulted in children whose mothers were African. The half-Scot/Negro generation of Keys led the charge of runaway slaves into the wilderness to further mix with the Creek, Seminole, Sauk, and other tribes. The black Keys were already in Texas before Austin arrived with his patent from Mexico.

In the War of 1812, Francis Scot Key served as a diplomat for the "United States", and American entity the English King did not recognize. It was his loyalty to the English, although not to the Crown, which enabled him to diplomatize the shooting. There is no better explanation for how the War of 1812 ended; the Scots could fight, and they preferred fighting FOR the boon of trade rather than against the British whose mariners they had long been accustomed to welcome.

In sum, history is largely untold. Is there some truth to the story that the last revenant Keys were delivered to Northern Ireland by the English as an act of pure charity? Is it written upon the hearts of the Keys? All the fighting and breeding members of their grateful descendants -- my great Aunt makes a point of this -- are remarkably loyal to those who show mercy generally, and to the English merchandisers specifically.

Now today, of course, back in Ireland a thousand years after that soi-disant landfall, and we reflect that there were "the troubles" that came upon Ireland. For reasons few can understand, counting among the mystified those participants in the conflict themselves, the Irish of the South and the Scots-Irish of the North took up centuries of feuding. People have their reasons. Perhaps the lore of one minor sept of a clan which was on the edge of extinction, helps explain the loyalty of the Northern rock inhabitants to the British.

Of course, the English often failed to be merciful, their trade was not always redemptive, and foreign transport is not a solution to every petition by a people facing extinction.