There were kilts, caber-tossing and a touch of controversy as more than 40,000 Scots from around the world descended on Edinburgh for an event billed as the largest gathering of the clans in 200 years.
Members of the Scottish Diaspora from the US to New Zealand assembled on Saturday for The Gathering 2009, part of a year of celebrations marking the 250th anniversary of the birth of Scottish poet Robert Burns.
Prince Charles formally opened the two-day event, which includes a traditional Highland Games, whisky tasting and a parade of 8,000 clansmen along Edinburgh’s Royal Mile.
But one academic said organizers had made little effort to invite people of Scots descent from the Caribbean, a region with links to Scotland since the days of slavery. Geoff Palmer, of Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University, said the clan gathering gives “too narrow a definition” of Scottishness, and should include those who don’t belong to a specific clan.
Prince Charles recalled the historic battles between Scotland’s clans, such as the centuries-long feud between the Forbes and Gordon clans.
“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,” Charles said.
Around 125 clans and 85 clan chiefs joined in the ceremonies.
Organizers say there are about 500 clans registered around the world.
Pouroto Ngaropo, a 40-year-old of Scots and Maori descent, traveled to the events from New Zealand.
“Maoris and the Scots are very similar people — we have a clan system, too,” said Ngaropo, who wore a traditional Ta Moko tattoo across his face. “I lead a hapu, or sub-tribe, of 841 people and we have many similar rituals including long wakes.”
The Gathering is a tourism initiative backed by the Scottish government, which is led by Alex Salmond of the separatist Scottish National Party. Though he enlisted the help of Scottish movie star Sean Connery to promote the event, some people complained that the meeting wasn’t adequately marketed in the Caribbean.
“The Caribbean Scots should have been invited to The Gathering, as I believe the Scots are not afraid to face up to their forebears’ role in the bloody past of slavery,” said Palmer, who was born in Jamaica and is of Scottish and African descent.
Organizers said efforts had been made to include people of Scottish ancestry in the Caribbean.
Danus Skene, chief of the Clan Skene said he hoped the meeting could start a clan revival.
“What we need to do is somehow connect the five million Scots who live here with 40 million Scots who live around the world,” he said.
Dick Boyd from Stratham, New Hampshire, said the meeting provoked strong emotion.
“This is a coming home for me, as I can trace my family back to the Clan Macintosh in the 1100s,” said Boyd, his eyes welling with tears. “I am a direct descendent of the Seventh Earl of Kilmarnock and we Scots Americans are fiercely proud of our roots.”