History With Humour

by Lloyd Inglis

Text of a Talk Given To The Tomball Rotary Club In Texas, USA – October 2003


Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, it is a great pleasure to be here today to speak to you on the subject of Scotland’s Geography, Culture & Contribution to the Global Village – a snapshot of 2000 years of history in 20 minutes!

In a situation like this, when one looks at ones own country, so often it is a question of perception.

Is the bottle half full or half empty? – Or is it whisky or is it cold tea? – Perception!

Pleased do not interpret anything that I say today as a criticism of the contributions other countries have made to the Global Village, but rather accept it as a contribution to a greater understanding of Scotland, your small neighbour across the big pond.


We in the United Kingdom (UK) have a variety of descriptions relating to our homeland.

British Isles – A group of islands off the North West Coast of mainland Europe comprising the two sovereign countries of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.

United Kingdom

Under the 1707 Treaty of Union the Scottish Parliament was adjourned and Scotland joined England, Wales and Ireland to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain & Ireland. The Scottish Parliament was in 1707 made up of the nobility and the common people were not involved. There was a large amount of disquiet at the adjournment of the Parliament and is espoused in: –

They sold the church; they sold the State and Nation,
They sold their honour, name and reputation,
They sold their birthright, peerages and places
And now they leave the House with angrie faces.”

(Anon 1707, Verses on the Scots Peers 1706)

There is the story of a Scot berating America, to an American.

His line was “America was not much of a country because it had no nobility”.
Oh –er – gentlemen who don’t work” replied the Scot.
Ow” said the American cheerfully, “we also have them; – only we call them bums”.

With the birth of the new Irish Republic at the beginning of the 20th century the UK then became the United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland. The Head of State is Queen Elizabeth, the nationality of her citizens is British and the official language is English.

Our athletes in the Olympic Games compete under the banner of Great Britain & Northern Ireland, but in the Commonwealth Games and the Soccer World Cup we compete as four separate nations i.e. England, Northern Ireland, Scotland & Wales.

To the outsider it is little wonder that it appears convoluted. This is in part due to both our history, which carries with it a great amount of baggage, and our obsession with traditions.


It was the Romans who produced the first written accounts of the people of Scotland and in the 2nd century AD it was the Greco-Egyptian geographer Ptolemy who drew up the first map of Scotland.

Scotland covers an area of 30,000 sq mls and comprises mainland Scotland and 790 islands of which 130 are inhabited. The population is approximately 5.25 million whereas Texas has nine times the land area but a population of just over 20 million.

Central Scotland is on the same latitude as Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and Moscow in Russia but in spite of its northerly latitude, Scotland has a Maritime Climate. This is due to the Gulf Stream which has a major influence on the climate and therefore on agriculture and how people have lived and developed over the centuries.

Scottish Languages

Modern Scotland has three languages, English, the official language of the country, taught to all and spoken in one form or another by all. Gaelic, the Celtic tongue brought by immigrants from Ireland in the 5th century, is still spoken alongside English in the West Highlands and the Islands. Historically Scots is the speech of Lowland Scotland.

Separated by a Common Language?

In America you call it a mountain; in England they also call it a mountain, whereas we in Scotland refer to it as a Ben.

In America you call it a lake; in England they also call it a lake; whereas we in Scotland refer to it as a loch.

In America you call it a canyon; in England they call it a valley; whereas we in Scotland refer to it as a glen or strath.

Nuances of the Language

Dry cleaners notices: –

In Bangkok: –

For best results, drop your trousers here!”

In Rome: –

Ladies, leave your clothes here and spend the afternoon having a good time!”

The Clan System, Tartans & The Scottish Sense of Identity

The clan was the traditional social unit in the Scottish Highlands, consisting of families claiming a common ancestor and following the same hereditary chieftain. Under the old Celtic tenure the chiefs were not owners of the land which was the property of the clan but after the rebellion in 1745 all of this was changed and the chiefs were made the “legal” owners of the land and the ancient rights of the people were ignored.

It is now accepted that clan tartans were established towards the end of the 18th century. Before that, while clans, districts and tartans were often closely associated, the idea of a single uniform clan tartan had not yet emerged.

Scottish Sense of Identity

Robert Louis Stevenson said: –

For that is the mark of the Scot of all classes: that he stands in an attitude towards the past unthinkable to Englishmen, and remembers and cherishes the memory of his forebears, good or bad; and there burns alive in him a sense of identity with the dead even to the twentieth generation”

Highland Clearances

Clearances is a word reserved in Scottish history for the period from the end of the 18th until late in the 19th century when highland crofters (homesteaders) were forcible evicted from their crofts by landlords so that the land could be used for sheep and red deer. Thousands of crofters were burned out of their homes and forced to emigrate with many going to North America. This was a very dark period in Scotland’s history and demonstrated in:-

Mans inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn!”

The conditions on the emigrant ships were appalling.

In 1801 the emigrant ship ‘The Sarah’ sailed from Fort William in Scotland to Pictou in Nova Scotia. By contemporary laws, only 489 slaves would have been allowed to be carried in the ship’s holds. But no such laws applied to emigrants and almost 700 people were crammed into the ship, with nearly 50 people dying on the journey and countless others falling ill.”

In spite of the hardships the emigrants longed for their homeland. A Lewis crofter, who had been forced to emigrate to Nova Scotia, wrote: –

From the lone sheiling of the misty island
Mountains divide us, and the waste of seas –
Yet still the blood is strong, the heart is highland,
And we in dreams behold the Hebrides.”

Attitudes are difficult to change and one hundred years later at the beginning of the 20th century the Caledonian MacBrayne steamers that sailed between the Scottish mainland and the islands had a notice re 3rd class cabin accommodation. The notice read,

“This cabin has accommodation for 90 Third Class passengers when not occupied by sheep, cattle, cargo or other encumbrances.”

Scottish Names

Although Scotland is a small nation with about 5.25 million inhabitants there are an estimated 30 million people of Scottish descent, known as the Scottish Diaspora, scattered over the globe, many of them bearing family or given names from Scotland.

In the past in Scotland there were four distinct ways of acquiring a Surname namely by taking: –

  • The father’s surname – e.g. Campbell, MacDonald and MacGregor.
  • The name of one’s occupation – e.g. Barber, Butcher and Smith.
  • A locality name – e.g. Buchan, Houston and Sutherland.
  • A nickname – e.g. Little, Small and Young.

The foregoing names are in the current issue of the Houston telephone directory.

In relation to the name MacGregor it is interesting to note that in April 1603 King James VI of Scotland issued an edict proclaiming “the name of MacGregor is altogether abolished”, meaning that those who bore the name must either renounce it or suffer death. At one time the MacGregors were known as “The children of the mist”.

What’s in a Place Name?

The family name Houston is of territorial origin, derived from the old Barony of Houston, – Hugh’s Settlement – which is a village in Renfrewshire, Scotland.

The 5th Baronet of Houstone was a prosperous merchant who had substantial interests in America. His son, who was educated in Glasgow, made his home in Georgia and he and his brother greatly increased the family’s colonial estates. They are reputed to have owned over eight thousand slaves when the thirteen American colonies broke away from Britain and declared their independence. The Houstons renounced their Scottish titles in favour of their American wealth.

From this family descended General Sam Houston the first President of Texas and later a United States Senator.

Dallas – is a small village in the North East of Scotland, with a population of about 200 and has been in existence for nearly a thousand years.

Scotch Whisky

Scotch whisky is “whisky, which has been distilled in Scotland and matured in casks in a warehouse in Scotland for a minimum period of three years”.

The two main classifications are – Single Malt Whisky and Blended Whisky.

The aficionado is likely to have in his bar a number of whiskies suitable for different occasions. There are those lighter whiskies which can be described as pre-dinner while others, which tend to be heavier, are more suitable as an after dinner drink.

I myself am a “malt whisky” man and my own favourite Single Malt Whiskies are:-

Pre-dinner: –

Glengoyne, Glenmorangie and Benromach.

After dinner:-

Ardbeg, Talisker and Oban.

My tastes are varied and can be fickle, but alas, are constrained by my wallet!


Some of the well known blends are: –

Johnny Walker, Cutty Sark, Bells, Haigs and Famous Grouse.

It should be remembered that:-

The proper drinking of Scotch whisky is more than an indulgence; it is a toast to civilisation, a tribute to the continuity of culture, a manifesto to man’s determination to use the resources of nature to refresh mind and body and to enjoy to the full the senses with which he has been endowed.”

In Scotland we believe in the best traditions of hospitality, where a good host will always welcome his friends with a glass or two of his finest whisky.


Scottish live stock has made a contribution to the development of the Texas beef herds, e.g. Aberdeen Angus is a well known breed of Scottish beef cattle. It was introduced to Texas and over the years the herds were built up. Beef from these cattle reared in Texas is marketed today as Angus beef.

This reminds me of a gentleman who went into an Edinburgh bar for lunch. Perusing the menu, he notices that food is available from noon, but as it is only 11.45, he asks the barman if he could order now, or whether he would have to wait.

No, just order now sir” said the barman. “The chef will only be standing about in the kitchen with his finger up his ass.”

The gentleman responded, “When the chef has washed his hands may I have a sirloin steak, medium rare, please?”

New Industries

Bottled Water

A relatively new industry and one which is growing rapidly is the tapping of and the bottling of spring water. The resource, like the market, appears to be unlimited.

Reminds me of a notice in a hotel which read: –

The manager has personally passed all the water served here.”

Renewable Energy

The generation of electricity by harnessing wind, solar and tidal power is another rapidly growing industry and in addition research into other forms of renewable energy has developed a new sense of urgency.

Given Scotland’s climate and location on the edge of Europe, there is very little atmospheric pollution on the western seaboard. This is an ideal environment for both of these relatively new industries to prosper.

Scottish Education

Scottish education has a long history and today it comprises seven years Primary Education from 5-12 and Secondary Education from 12-18 but students can leave when they reach 16.

Scotland has also a long tradition of university education with the first university, St Andrews, being established in 1411.

By 1593 Scotland had five universities whereas England, with about ten times the population, had only two.

Scotland now has 13 Universities and all of them are to a large extent funded by government although this could be changing. There are no private universities in Scotland.

Famous Scots

Robert Burns (1759-1796) – Scotland’s National Bard (Poet)

Robert Burns was born in Alloway, Ayrshire, Scotland on 25th January 1759. His parents were of humble farming stock but with a desire to provide the best education which they could afford. Burns was largely self-taught and studied in the evening by the light of an oil lamp after the day’s back breaking toil in the fields

This year, 2003, is the 207th anniversary of his death, and who could have forecast that two hundred years after his death there would be Burns Suppers held throughout the world to commemorate his life and his work? Burns’s poems and songs have been translated into 200 languages.

Robert H Goddard [1882-1945], Pioneer of the American Rocket Program said: –

“It is difficult to say what is impossible;
for the dream of yesterday,
is the hope of today and
the reality of tomorrow”

Burns’s poem ‘Tam O’ Shanter’ is considered by many to be one of the finest tales of the supernatural ever written. It contains 234 lines and was written between breakfast and dinner, in a day in the autumn of 1790 – ‘Tam O’ Shanter’ had been born, created in a day and destined to live for ever.

There is a Tam O’ Shanter Way just off Cutten Road, not far from here!

On New Years Eve – Hogmanay to Scots – Burns’s Auld Lang Syne is sung in many countries throughout the world.

There are many memorials to Robert Burns including one in City Park, Denver, Colorado; Golden Gate Park San Francisco and Albany, New York.

In 1910 the members of the Burns Club in Atlanta, Georgia built a replica of Burns’s cottage. The Atlanta Burns Club and Houston’s Heather & Thistle Society both hold Burns Suppers in January every year. I have attended the Houston Burns Supper and for me, a Scot, it was awesome!

Other Famous Scots Who Have Made Contributions to the Global Village include:-

James Watt was the inventor and a pioneer of Steam Power. The unit of power known as the Watt was named after him.

John Boyd Dunlop made his name a household word with the perfection and the patenting of the pneumatic tyre.

Sir Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin.

John Logie Baird was a pioneer in the development of television.

Famous Americans with Scottish Connections

John Paul Jones was the father of the United States Navy.

Andrew Carnegie an industrialist and philanthropist who amassed a fortune in the American steel industry – Carnegie Hall in New York.

John Muir was the naturalist who promoted the creation of National Parks in the U.S.A.

Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, first demonstrated in 1876.

Sport – Golf & Soccer

In 1457 King James II of Scotland and his parliament prohibited the playing of soccer and golf in order to promote the training of archers for the Scottish army.

By 1660 there were some 20 places in Scotland where golf is known to have been played. Soccer in its present form did not begin to take shape until 1863.

The New Scottish Parliament

In 1998 Scotland voted for a devolved Scottish Parliament. 1st July 1999 was an historic day in Scotland’s recent history when Her Majesty The Queen opened the new Scottish Parliament, and power returned to Edinburgh for the first time in 300 years.

On the day the Parliament opened, Winnie Ewing MSP, President of the Scottish National Party and “mother” of the Scottish Parliament, announced that : –

“The Scottish Parliament adjourned on the 25th day of March 1707 is herby reconvened”.

President John F Kennedy [1917-1963] said:-

A man may die,
Nations may rise and fall,
But an idea lives on.”

The mace, the symbol of the Parliament’s authority, has entwined among the symbolic thistles, the words: –

“Wisdom, Justice, Compassion and Integrity.”

These concepts are vividly expressed in the song “A Man’s a Man for a’ That” was written by Robert Burns in January 1795. It is the epitome of egalitarianism and was sung unaccompanied at the opening ceremony of the new Scottish Parliament.

For a’ that, and a’ that,
It’s comin’ yet for a’ that,
That man to man, the warld o’er,
Shall brothers be for a’ that.”

Thank you


1 Comment

  1. Thoroughly enjoyed this contribution, think his comment about the aristocracy worth a wider public 🙂

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