Tag Archives: Scotland

Burn’s Night

This folklore is a holiday celebrated by the Scottish. It takes on January 25 and is used to celebrate the poet Robert Burns. Typically, families host a supper that begins with mingling. Poems by Robert Burns are recited. He is a very important figure in Scottish lore because many refer to him as a hero of Scotland, being their national poet. It is also referred to as Rabbie Burns Day. A traditional Scottish supper is then hosted, with a principle dish being Haggis. Haggis is the national food of Scotland and is meat mixed with oatmeal and seasoning that is then cooked in an animal’s stomach. There is a poem recited about Haggis because of how important it is to Scottish culture. Of course, whiskey is then drunk after this.

The informant spent four years living in Scotland when she was a young girl. She attended what would be the equivalent of an American middle school. She remembers this night well because it takes one day before her birthday. In addition, it represents a very Scottish dinner and was quite a culture shock coming from California. They learned it from their Scottish family friends who helped introduce them to Scottish culture. It is always a fun event that emphasizes heritage, pride in one’s country, as well as a close friends and family gathering.

 I like the idea of celebrating culture as a national holiday. In America, there are few holidays that are geared towards the arts and Robert Burns Day helps young children stay connected to their traditional Scottish roots.

I Love A Lassie


I Love A Lassie

“I love a lassie, a bonnie bonnie lassie, 

She’s as pure as a lily in the dell, 

She’s sweet as the heather, the bonnie bloomin’ heather,

Mary, my Scots bluebell.”

“[I Love A] Lassie is a lullaby that a lot of Scottish girls heard growing up.  We’d sing it to the boys too, but for some reason it was more of a girl’s song.  It’s very romantic and uplifting, which I believe a lot of our lullabies are.  We’d  sing it to girls when we wanted them to go to sleep.  I had no daughters, but I’d sing it to my granddaughters when I rocked them in my arms.”


This informant, MS, comes from Aberdeen, Scotland and has lived there for all of her life, except for a few years she spent in London.   She’s from the silent generation and has grown up with children around her for a lot of her life.  She also knows this song from when her mother would sing it to her, as well, she remembers it from hearing it in the schoolyard and local playdate-like meetings with her friends growing up.


I invited MS, my great grandmother, to talk with me after a family reunion zoom call.  A few days later, we got together and we live streamed a rerun of Strictly Come Dancing over zoom and during the commercial breaks, we talked over some  folklore from her life in Scotland, specifically from her childhood in Aberdeen.


It’s strange to think a romantic song could be a lullaby because it’s not meant for people in romances, but instead, children.  I think this song represents a Scottish romanticism we don’t see portrayed in the media all the time.  It stands for this idealized woman, so it’s interesting that it is sung to girls instead of boys.  Boys may relate to the desire of the image more, but I believe there might be a sense of describing what a woman should be like to little girls so that they can grow up to be “Mary, my Scot’s bluebell”.

“You a scunner?”/”You’re a wee scunner!”


“You a scunner?”/”You’re a wee scunner!”

“Scunner is like a bother, specifically like a kid or something.  I don’t know what came first, but I say “You a scunner?” and so do many people I know around here, but my friends in Edinburgh say “You’re a wee scunner!”  We use it to kind of callout a child for being a whiner.


This informant, MS, comes from Aberdeen, Scotland and has lived there for all of her life, except for a few years she spent in London.   She’s from the silent generation so she has heard a lot of different sayings come and go over the years, but she says she remembers telling this to her sons, her grandchildren, and her great grandchildren. She even remembers her mother saying it to her when she was a little kid.


I invited MS, my great grandmother, to talk with me after a family reunion zoom call.  A few

days later, we got together and we live streamed a rerun of Strictly Come Dancing over zoom and during the commercial breaks, we talked over some  folklore from her life in Scotland, specifically from her childhood in Aberdeen.


What’s fascinating to me is the dichotomy of this statement.  It appears that the idea of calling kids “scunners” when they misbehave is universal among the Scottish folk group as a whole, but the way it is said is regional within the folk group which shows you slightly different meanings.  The Aberdeen way of saying it is so much more questioning, while the Edinburgh way is more accusatory and statement based.  It shows you that variation is a very huge part of folklore, especially in this way of saying the same thing.

Grandma Pat’s Shortbread Recipe

I asked my mom for any recipes that have been passed down/recipes that she did not learn from a book, but learned from others. She emailed me the following recipe, which is my paternal grandma’s recipe. My grandma is from Old Kilpatrick, Scotland (she moved to Canada, and eventually the United States, in her 20s), and shortbread is a Scottish specialty. I don’t like shortbread unless my grandma has made it, and anyone I know who has tried her shortbread says it’s the best they’ve ever had. Ironically, my grandma is absolutely terrible at making any other food, and she always has been; shortbread is her one dish. I was there when my grandma taught it to the two of us, going along as she went. She didn’t have the recipe written down and couldn’t write it down from memory, as she goes through the motions automatically. Although I collected this from my mom, she collected it from my grandma, so here is her information:

Nationality: Scottish
Primary Language: English
Other language(s):
Age: At the time of collection, 87
Occupation: Homemaker
Residence: Old Kilpatrick, Scotland, UK
Performance Date: December 14, 2015

The following recipe is what my mom wrote down from that experience, on December 14, 2015.

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups flour
Knead sugar and butter together with hands.
Add flour, continue kneading.
Press into cookie sheet with your knuckles. Make fork marks on top.
Bake @360 degrees F, 40-45 minutes until edges are lightly browned.
Cut immediately into fingers, okay to leave in pan (important to cut quickly!).
Sprinkle sugar on top!
Learned from Aunt Mary who sponsored her to come to Canada/Denver, 1952.

Story of Dundee

Main Piece: Scottish Story


From my friend Liv, who’s grandfather was born and raised in Scotland:


“Dundee is a town of around 150,000 residents on the east coast of Scotland.  It is known as the city of ‘jute, jam and journalism’.  Dundee is built on the river Tay estuary and was a trading center dating as far back as the 12th century.  Textiles, trading and shipbuilding were the center of the Dundee economy.  There is a story told to all elementary school kids when telling of Dundee’s glory days:  In the late 1700’s a ship of oranges from Seville, Spain had to seek refuge in Dundee harbor because of inclement weather.  Unfortunately, the delay caused by the storm caused the oranges to age and they were sold at a discount to Janet Keiller.  She was an accomplished cook and baker and she created the first marmalade with a rind present in the recipe and resulting preserve.  The Keiller family, then manufactured a large quantity of this particular brand of marmalade. The international distribution of this marmalade began in the 19th century when it was shipped throughout the British Empire and to this day it can be purchased throughout the world.”




Liv is a freshman at USC, and she told me of her grandfather who had been born and raised in Scotland, but is now living in the US. I asked her if he ever told her stories about home, and she gave me this one. Her grandfather told a lot of stories from home, and almost all were new to her because she was born and raised in New Jersey and wasn’t aware of them beforehand.

She likes this story in particular because it gives her a sort of cultural heritage that would not be felt if she didn’t have anything to relate to from her grandfather’s past. Although she is not from Scotland, she still holds this story as if it is part of her and where she was originally from.




Liv tells me her grandfather mentioned to her that this is a story told to elementary school kids about the prosperity in Dundee where he is from. This is more so a historical account of the region but it is a sense of pride for the inhabitants because of its mention of an event in history that accounted for the creation of a popular spread used worldwide nowadays.

The only other context this story would be used in would be history books talking about the creation of Orange Marmalade, or something outlining the history of Dundee and how it became to be prosperous at one time or another.


My Thoughts:


I found this story pretty interesting because I did not know where or how orange marmalade was invented, and I always find those facts to be pretty interesting. I doubt this would be used much outside of the given contexts, but it is a pretty interesting fact to pull up when talking about where their family is from.

Kelpie (Scottish cryptid)

The Kelpie is a mythical water-beast from Scotland which is supposed to take the appearance of a gray or white horse, notable because, unlike a real horse which would likely not be found near water or at least swimming in it, the Kelpie’s mane and tail are always dripping wet. The Kelpie was said to drag people underwater, drown them and eat them. Some versions of the story have it that the skin of the Kelpie is an adhesive and anyone who touches it will be stuck to it, hence being dragged underwater; therefore, the only way to escape a Kelpie is to cut off one’s own limb that is attached to it and then–if one makes it back to shore– to quickly find a surgeon before blood loss leads to death.

THE INFORMANT: The informant is a woman who grew up in Ireland hearing both Irish and Scottish legends, although she said this one is mainly from Scotland.

ANALYSIS: The kelpie is a well-known cryptid (animal whose existence has been suggested but never proven by scientific methods). A commonly accepted explanation for the kelpie myth is that, historically, many people in Scotland lived by the coast or by a lake, of which Scotland has many, but were unable to swim, hence causing a cultural fear of water and drowning. Ironically, even fishermen were unlikely to learn how to swim,  because they believed that knowing how to swim was tempting fate and that they would be caught in an accident where they would need to swim for their lives. The kelpie could simply be a manifestation of that fear, told to children as a warning so that they would not stray too close to coastlines without being able to save themselves in the event that they fell into the water. Scottish folklore is a very robust part of the country’s industry, showing up perhaps most notably in the case of the Loch Ness Monster, who has even been suggested to be a relative of the kelpie.

Origin of a Name

D is a 57 year old man. He is a practicing cardiologist at a hospital in the northern suburbs of Illinois. He identifies as American as he grew up in Boston, but he strongly associates with his Scottish heritage as well. D completed his undergraduate studies at Dartmouth University and he attended Cornell University for his degree in medicine. During his studies, both undergraduate and med school, D studied abroad in France two times. While in medical school, D studied at the Faculté de Médecine et de Maïeutique de Lille in Lille, France. English is his primary language, yet he is also fluent in French.

Me: Can you tell me about your Scottish heritage?

D: Well, my last name is Campbell, and it’s, well, the name is Scottish. Um, the name comes from the Clan Campbell.

Me: Do you know what the name means?

D: Campbell, or, well, I guess it was Cambéal if you want to to get specific, which is made up of two Scottish Gaelic words that when put together translate to mean “crooked mouth.”

Me: Why crooked mouth?

D: It (Cambéal) was more of a nickname than anything. It took the place as a surname later on.

Me: But then why were they nicknamed “crooked mouth.”

D: Oh, yeah, well the Clan Campbell wasn’t a very popular group in Scotland highlands. They supported the British government, so the highlanders didn’t really get along with them. Mostly the name is taken to mean, untrustworthy or tricksters, other things alongs those lines.

Me: Why? I mean, can you give me some history?

D:  The Campbell’s were responsible for many massacres, and many people hated for their support of the British government, but I think the most prominent one is probably the Massacre of Glencoe. In the late 1600’s, the British government used their supporters, the Campbells, in a plan to suppress Jacobitism. After spending over a week in Glencoe, taking advantage of the MacDonald’s hospitality, the Campbells killed around 40 unarmed Clan MacDonald men, women, and children. And I visited Glencoe during a backpacking trip with my buddies in college. I remember asking for Campbell plaid. The saleswoman at the shop gave me a dead stare and told me “we don’t sell that here.” There were also signs in some store windows that said “no dogs or Campbells allowed.”

Me: Wow, they really don’t like Campbells there do they?

D: I think Glencoe is a specific case because the massacre was so terrible. I didn’t get the same reaction in other parts of Scotland. For the most part, it was a long time ago and people don’t care so much anymore. I found Campbell plaid pretty easily as soon as we travelled closer to Edinbourgh.

Me: How do you know all of this?

D: My father mostly, and this little green book he gave me. It that talks all about the history of the Campbell Clan. I gave the book to my kids to read as well. It’s important to know where you come from.

D’s heritage obviously means a lot to him, most of it ties into his last name. He knows a lot about Clan Campbell and their history. He has the tartan specific to the Clan Campbell as well, so he is proud of his heritage. Regardless of the questionable things that his ancestors did, the family still has a rich history. He wants his kids to know about their ancestry as well because he passed down the book about their family that his father gave him to his children.

Here is the link to the book D is talking about: http://www.amazon.com/The-Campbells-Campbell-Scottish-Mini-book/dp/1852170360

The Ghosts of Greyfriar’s Kirkyard in Edinburgh, Scotland

The Ghost of Greyfriar’s Kirkyard Cemetery in Edinburgh

Told on November 4th, 2011

My best friend’s boyfriend studied abroad in the U.K. last year and he visited my best friend at her school, University of Edinburgh in Scotland.  I asked him if he could possibly tell me any ghost stories from his time in the U.K. He told me that he had a perfect story about a cemetery that he went into while visiting his girlfriend in Edinburgh. I have been a best friend of the girl since 9th grade and I have known her boyfriend for a few years. Here’s the story:

R.Y.: “When I was studying abroad in London, I visited my girlfriend who goes to University of Edinburgh in Scotland. I visited The Greyfriar’s Kirkyard Cemetery really late at night with my girlfriend one night. It was like midnight, it was dark and there was no one there. It was supposed to be locked, but the gate was open. We walked around and we were just talking and stuff.  We were in there for like 30 minutes. My girlfriend had taken a tour of the cemetery prior to this visit and she decided to tell me the story of the ghost/ghosts that haunt the cemetery. So, apparently there was a homeless person who was trying to find a place to stay because it was raining, as it always does in the UK. So he went into the cemetery and he decided that he would get into a crypt to get out of the rain. He was on top of a crypt with a dead person in it and then someone came into the cemetery walking his dog in the rain with an umbrella. The dog walker scared the homeless person and the homeless person fell into the crypt and got lost in the bones and it closed on him. It was said that he awakened and disturbed the dead. But what just dead did he awake?

Well some time ago, in like the 1600s, there was a judge, nicknamed ‘Bloody Mackenzie,’ who persecuted the covenanters—Scottish Presbyterians—and he mass burned and crucified them. Then they were buried in masses in this cemetery. He kept them in a field next to the cemetery and murdered some and let others starve to death then they were all thrown into the burial pit. They were all buried together in giant crypts and they were buried without their names on their graves or anything. He was truly an evil person and he would take money from children and kick dogs and what not. Then when the judge died he was buried in the same cemetery with those bodies.

The incident with the homeless person is what disturbed or awakened the burial pit. Apparently, they have to lock up the cemetery at night supposedly because someone was actually injured there one night at the “Black Crypt.”  The “Black Crypt” it the one where the judge was just thrown in with the other people he killed. It is in the corner of the cemetery and it has no ones names or years on it. It was an unidentified crypt.  Sometimes, when tours are held at the cemetery, people will encounter cold spots and when people take photos they see a lot of mystical orbs come out on the printed film. People say that they go into the cemetery and all the sudden there is one spot that is way colder than others. Usually the spots near the “Black Crypt” are way colder than others. Some people also claim that while walking through the cemetery, they feel that they are physically pushed to the side, like someone is angrily passing them. The really creepy part is that when people are on tours, they leave and later they discover that they are covered in scratches and bites.  They don’t feel the scratches happening to them while they are there, but when they get home they will discover small scratches on their arms and body. Apparently, this one time, this one guy was really badly injured, and had cuts scratched all over him. Who caused these scratches and bites? It varies on whom you ask. Some say that it is the judge, known as the ‘Mackenzie Poltergeist’ cutting up people from the grave. And others say that it is all the disturbed and improperly buried dead, having their revenge on the living. Anyways, that’s the story I heard. The versions may vary on who you ask, but almost everyone who visits the cemetery feels some kind of strange omen or deep anguish that occurred there.”

RY’s Interpretation:

“I think there are a lot of ways to interpret the story. I think that the scratches could be from the homeless person that fell into the pit, in that he is trying to claw his way out of the crypt to escape the dead bodies. He is literally clawing his way out and scratching anyone who comes too close to the crypt. Or, it could be that the judge could still be hurting people from his grave because he was so evil. One of the main ideas in the story is that this judge just ruthlessly killed people on no basis other than religious prejudice. So one theory of the poltergeist type ghost or ghosts is that there are many ghosts—the unnamed dead who were wrongfully persecuted and improperly buried. In my opinion there is an obvious moral to the story: wrath and immoral persecution of human beings is wrong and can cause disturbing consequences both here on this Earth and in the afterlife. This legend serves as a way for distancing and understanding a tragic event that has happened and it allows people to remember and reflect on the wrongs of the past.”

My Interpretation of his story:

This story falls into the legends category because while there is documented evidence of Judge Mackenzie’s persecution of the Protestants, he may or may not still haunt the graveyard today. I think that the scratches are coming from ghosts of the improperly buried dead. As we learned in class, when people did not have proper burials, they came back to haunt the living, sometimes until they were given the burial that they wanted. In addition, disturbing the rested dead is often advised against because it is wrong to disturb those who have been put to rest for eternity. I do believe that when the homeless man fell in the crypt he probably angered a lot of spirits. The story is one of warning to those who hear it—it is not a good idea to wake the dead and anger their spirits.