Posts Tagged ‘scotland’

John Splendid

April 1, 2008
John Splendid was Neil Munro’s first novel, published in 1898 after serialisation in Blackwood’s Magazine.  Like most of Munro’s fiction it is based in and around his home town of Inveraray in Argyll and is set in the troubled period of the 1640s and the Civil War. War however in Argyll took on much of the character of a clan battle. The Campbell stronghold of Inveraray is burned by the Royalist forces under Montrose, assisted by Alasdair MacDonald or MacColla, who saw the struggle between King and Parliament as an opportunity to strike back at his clan’s traditional rivals the Campbells, represented by Archibald, the 1st Marquis – Gillespeg Gruamach (Archibald the Grim).
As I write in my introduction to the B&W reprint of John Splendid the story starts in 1644 when: “… Colin, heir to the Laird of Elrigmore returns to his native parts after a long absence. Five years of study in Glasgow University had been followed by seven years of campaigning in Germany and the Low Countries as a soldier of fortune campaigning in one of the Scots regiments fighting in the Thirty Years War.” He returns to Argyll where his family were allies to the Campbells and finds himself in another war zone and meets McIver of Barbreck, a distant cousin of the Marquis and the John Splendid of the title.
Munro’s cast of characters reveal the Highlands in all their complexity – John Splendid for all his military prowess is shown to be less than noble, always ready with the answer that the Marquis wants to hear, while the Marquis, fated to be a war-leader of a fighting clan, has all the instincts of a lawyer and a politician. When his town of Inveraray is burned he takes the prudent but unheroic course of sailing away to seek reinforcements.
John Splendid was a bold choice for Munro’s first novel – the same story of Montrose and Argyll had been dealt with by Sir Walter Scott in  A Legend of Montrose – but it is tribute to Munro’s skill that his version is capable of being compared with the Scott novel.

Click on the box below to go to where this book can be ordered

For more information about Neil Munro go to the Neil Munro Society website

Scottish Heather Book

March 30, 2008

Some books you write because you desperately want to, others because some kind publisher waves a chequebook under your nose!  I have to admit that the Scottish Heather Book fell into the latter category – but it was fascinating finding out how deeply heather was woven into Scottish literature, culture and folklore, and a real pleasure to find out a little more about the plant in its various forms. Some of the uses heather was put to surprised me – I certainly didn’t know until I researched the subject that bundles of heather – “reenges” – used to be sold on the streets of Edinburgh as pot scourers.

Click on the link below to order The Scottish Heather Book from and find out more about this most distinctively Scottish plant.

From Morvern to Morocco: intro.

March 29, 2008

Scots have always been able to adapt to a wide range of alien environments while retaining their national identity and characteristics.  Few demonstrated this ability more markedly than Harry Maclean.  A descendant of the Macleans of Drimnin in Morvern he spent 43 years in Morocco, became commander of the Sultan of Morocco’s army, adopted Moorish costume; but managed to play the bagpipes at every opportunity and retained a very Scottish personality. 

In a remarkable career he became both a trusted adviser of successive Sultans and an unofficial agent for the British Government. This position was not without its perils, he was captured and held hostage for several months by a bandit chief with whom he had been sent to negotiate on behalf of the Sultan. 

Harry Aubrey de Vere Maclean was born in Chatham, Kent, in 1848.  His father, Andrew, was Inspector General of Army Medical Services and a grandson of Allan Maclean, chieftain of the Macleans of Drimnin.  Young Harry was found employment in the civil service but this did not prove congenial and he asked his father if he might join the army.  Maclean was commissioned into the 69th Foot (The South Lincolnshire Regiment) and served with them in Canada, Bermuda and Gibraltar.

In 1877 the Sultan of Morocco sent 100 soldiers to Gibraltar to be trained as a cadre of instructors for his army and asked the British Ambassador to Morocco, Sir John Drummond-Hay, to find a British officer who would enter the Sultan’s service and train his army. Harry Maclean accepted the appointment and spent the next thirty years in the service of the Sultan, Moulay Hassan, and his successor, Moulay Abdelaziz.


Kaid Maclean in local costume

For the rest of this article please click here.

Children of the Dead End

March 28, 2008
A number of years ago I was asked by Birlinn to write introductions for reprints they were doing of novels by the Irish writer Patrick MacGill. At first sight this seemed an unlikely project for Birlinn but in fact MacGill’s best works –Children of the Dead End and The Rat-Pit are based on his own experiences as an Irish labourer working in early 20th century Scotland. They are deeply-felt books which take no prisoners in their description of the poverty and degradation of members of an under-class and the social, economic and religious forces which keep them in that condition.
Having a great interest in the works of Neil Munro I was delighted in the course of my researches into MacGill to find a connection between MacGill and Munro.  MacGill was interviewed for the Scottish socialist weekly Forward in June 1914 and told how some years earlier he had sold his first, self-published, collection of poems  “Every night I went round the houses in Greenock district and tried to sell my book…one way and another, I sold about one thousand copies of the book, one of which fell into the hands of Neil Munro, who reviewed it in the Glasgow News.”
This took me to Munro’s column in the News in February 1911 where he wrote: “
At present working as a navvy on a repair gang on the Caledonian Railway between Greenock and Wemyss Bay there is young Irishman who has been a manual labourer since he left school at the age of twelve, and yet has had the time to cultivate no inconsiderable degree of literary taste, and even to write and publish a small volume of his own poetry.”
In a transformation that would not be believed in fiction MacGill in a short time went from being a navvy to working at Windsor Castle as secretary and librarian to one of the Canons of St George’s Chapel.
For more about MacGill’s remarkable career read the introductions to the four novels Birlinn reprinted – Children of the Dead End, The Rat-Pit, The Great Push, and Moleskin Joe.
For an article on MacGill and his work click here.
Click on the image below to be taken to the website where you can order Children of the Dead End and the other titles.
For more information on MacGill look at the website of the annual MacGill Summer School in Donegal

Exploring New Roads: Essays on Neil Munro

March 27, 2008
This collection of essays on Neil Munro, which I edited together with Ronald Renton, breaks new ground in bringing scholarly attention to the works of a neglected though significant figure on the Scottish literary scene. Munro (1863-1930) was a major historical novelist, a poet, a journalist, short story writer, critic and the author of humorous short fiction such as Para Handy. All these aspects of his work, together with essays on his life, environment and career, are included in this volume.

Click on the image below to get to the website where this book can be ordered.

For more information on Neil Munro go to the Neil Munro Society website

The New Road

March 27, 2008
Neil Munro’s historical novel The New Road was first published in 1914 and John Buchan reviewed it in the Glasgow Herald -saying
It is a privilege to be allowed to express my humble admiration of what seems to me one of the finest romances written in our time. Mr Neil Munro is beyond question the foremost of living Scottish novelists…”
This tale of adventure and betrayal in the Highlands in the years between the two Jacobite risings stands comparison with Stevenson’s Kidnapped but despite this and the praise of Buchan and others it, and all Munro’s other novels, had gone out of print by the 1980s. I was fortunate enough to be able to persuade B&W to reprint this great Scottish novel and to be allowed to write an introduction to it. 

Click on the box below to order a copy from

The Sporting Scot

March 27, 2008
Scotland and sport – and yes, there is more than golf and football!  This anthology of Scottish writing on sport covers such at first sight unlikely sports as baseball and cricket – but then one of the classic accounts of an English village cricket match comes in the very Scottish A G Macdonell’s England, their England.The authors whose work is included in this anthology include Burns, Walter Scott, Arthur Conan Doyle, John Buchan, Neil Munro, Robin Jenkins and William McIlvanney and the sports include curling, angling, shinty and bowls as well as the various codes of football and, naturally, golf – that Royal and Ancient game so associated with Scotland.

Click on the image below to be linked to the website where you can buy this book – an ideal gift for a sports-mad relative!

That Vital Spark: a Neil Munro Anthology

March 26, 2008


Neil Munro [pictured above] is known to many as the author of the immortal Para Handy stories  – but he was much more than that.  A great historical novelist with works like The New Road to his credit he was also for most of his life a popular columnist on the Glasgow Evening News.  On his death in 1930 he was praised as a Highland historical novelist in the tradition of Scott and Stevenson. The idea of this anthology is to present as wide a selection of Munro’s writings as possible – poetry, criticism, travel writing, short fiction and also the surviving chapters of his unfinished novel The Search.

Click on the image below to link to where this anthology can be ordered at a discounted price.

For more information about Neil Munro check the Neil Munro Society website

Last of the Chiefs

March 26, 2008


Alasdair Ranaldson Macdonell of Glengarry was a Highland clan chief who died in 1828.  However he perhaps should have lived a hundred years earlier when his eccentric life style and flamboyant behaviour would have been more acceptable. He was an enthusiast for traditional Highland ways, he promoted the use of Gaelic, Highland dress and tartan, kept a domestic bard but at the same time was an enthusiastic clearer of his clanlands for sheep-farming and never seemed aware of the contradictions he represented.

My biography of him was published in 2001 and attracted such comments from reviewers as “well researched and highly readable” and “a fascinating picture of a bizarre life”. 

One of the incidents in his “bizarre life” was a duel he fought at Fort George – a duel which resulted in his trial for murder at the High Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh. Click here for a link to my article Pistols on the Links  about the duel and the trial.

It was published in paperback at £9.99 but readers of this blog can buy direct from me at only £5.00 post free! 

Email me for details:

Cradle of the Scots: an Argyll Anthology

March 26, 2008


Argyll, where the Scots from Ireland first settled, has many claims to be the homeland of the Scottish nation. It has also got an unrivalled wealth of literary associations – local writers in Latin, English and Gaelic – from St Columba to Iain Crichton Smith – are joined by visitors to this beautiful corner of Scotland. With the invaluable help of Ronie Renton as our Gaelic expert Ronnie Armstrong and I have edited an anthology of writing with its roots in Argyll. When one goes over the Rest and Be Thankful into Argyll [pictured above] one enters a very different world and this anthology should interest anyone with a love for the area.

Click on the image below and you will go to the website where this book can be bought.