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Article on the 1938 International Gathering of Clan Cameron
from Scots Magazine
August 1938

By far the most “picturesque” event of recent highland local history was the rally of Clan Cameron to the historic home of the Lochiels : Achnacarry in its green haven of peace between waters of Loch Arkaig and Loch Lochy.  Despite the moderate press estimate of seven hundred, I understand from good authority – in fact, from the best possible! – that the muster numbered nearly one thousand souls who could claim the blood either of Clan Cameron or of one of its septs or else that cognate mystical “blood” of the marriage-tie.  So they came by car, motor-cycle, push-bike and train: and the engine which drew the train was the “Loch Eil,” and the guard, the driver and the fireman were all of the clan.  (One congratulates the L.N.E.R. on this very happy bit of imaginative action.)  In short, it was a gathering to delight the heart of Donald Walter, twenty-fifth of Lochiel, and of all who bear a Highland name and treasure one particular spot in this fair land as the fons et origo of their race.

As I say, a “picturesque” event: as such and little more will it have appeared to the Sassenach.  But has it no other significance?  For the town-bred, Lowland-dwelling Highlander, has it any meaning beyond an excursion and a junketing – a chance to see a fine house and historic treasures, to spend a day in the country under conditions so exceptional that they will form a reminiscence fit to be handed on to grandchildren as something “rich and rare”?  And for the exile home from abroad, the pilgrim, the ancestor-worshipper: to him does such a gathering promise any reward other than a passionately-desired but transient ecstasy of a creed which, in the second generation, so often has decayed into mere sentimentality?

One is tempted to meditate on these questions because the Cameron rally is not unique.  Remember last summer, the very successful series of four tea-parties given at Dunvegan Castle by Flora, Mrs Macleod of Macleod, to the whole of the clan.  Consider, moreover, the plans of Clan MacNeil for some comparable though, as it were, reverse procedure when Robert Lister MacNeil returns to Barra and to Kisimul Castle once again, after a century, in the hands of the name.

What is at the back of all these events?  A genuine revival of patriarchy in a kind of mild form confined to the spirit?  A cult which, against the bleak sameness of modern bourgeois democracy, lends colour and distinction to its devotees, at lest in their own-- the most important-- eyes? Or is it by no means dead instinct in the Highland breast that is finding itself re-vitalized by a zeitgeist that stalks through Europe , magnifying blood and race?

We are apt to regard with varying degrees of hatred and fear this same geist for the atrocities to which it has given rise, yet we in the Highlands ought to eye it with a certain understanding.  As it gives us a deep joy and sense of privilege to “belong” to this or that clan, to this or that glen or strath; as these sentiments are, for us, bound up with an irrational feeling of security, and as the sound of the family Name bears, as it were, a spiritual overtone, so does the mythical cultus of twentieth-century Europe ensued in its followers at least an illusion of happiness, safety and that freedom of spirit that comes from self-surrender to the worshipped.  After all, like that other Bairn which, after two and a half centuries still weeps though the swirling vapour for the sorrows of Glencoe, we are all bairns lost in the mist and crying...

Let no one deride these clansmen from their devotion to the shadow of the patriarchal past, or the chief’s for their tendency to foster it.  Whatever may be the ugly reverse of this coin now circulating among the nations, its obverse is tamped with the beauties of patriotism: loyalty, selflessness, love-in-action.

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Those of us who have been following for some months past odd remarks here and there in the press were not surprised that Lochiel at the rally made a pronouncement of great interest, economic as well as sentimental, to Clan Cameron.  Referring to the wide stretch of “lands” round Achnacarry, possessed by his ancestors in the past, but lost and again to some extent recovered, he stressed the uncertainty of tenure in the future as far as his immediate family or descendants were concerned.  (And let it be emphasized what a harrowing fear that must be to all who are in the position of Lochiel.)  He then spoke of a scheme which, he said, had his warmest approval: that the Cameron “lands” should pass forever into the hands of the Clan, as represented by a trust: that, lose to the Lochiels, they might be found of the people whose ancestors had, in days long past, fought in order that that noble family might possess them.

It is an interesting development, or rather evolution.  Truly, the wheel has come full circle!  Or has it?  For the clansmen of old laid down their lives freely to gain for the clan what the chiefs took eventually for their own private possession.  Now, in order to redeem the land for its original owners, the clansmen have to buy it back again.  And that, as Lochiel remarked, will take a considerable amount of capital.  Of course, one cannot expect it to be other than a business deal... but it does somehow take the gilt off the patriarchal gingerbread mentioned above!

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I have never been able to ascertain the truth of that delightful legend which says that the Lochiel of the day, subject to some penalty connected with the loss of land, must be able, on demand, to furnish the king with a bucketful of snow from the face of Ben Nevis .  I hope it’s true.  And if it is, and if His Majesty is suddenly short on of refrigerating material, Lochiel today will have little difficulty getting that bucket up and down again in pretty well record time!  True, it was not a local man who won the Ben race recently—the record, by the way, is still held by a Lochaber man—but he who finished second is a member of a family long known, respected and warmly liked in the district.  The third hailed from Tomdoun Hotel on the fringe of Lochiel’s estates: son of a well-known father whose friendships are country-wide.