My dad’s family are Scottish: grandmother’s family from Barra, grandfather’s from Caithness. Mum’s family were called Noble, and they were a clan of West March border thieves.
Celts and Vikings. Invaders and thieves.
My dad tells me the Ross clan was a small mercenary outfit who’d fight anyone for the right sum of money, and I’ve read that the MacNeills of Barra provided the harp players to the Royal houses of Scotland. So you can add mercenaries and musicians to the rollcall of my roots.
It was a long time ago, all that violence and legend and stuff, but even though I don’t live in Scotland or the Border Marches I love having those roots, being from the North, and being the descendent of thieves and desperados and harp players. Then again 200 years is only six or seven generations; my grandparents’ great-grandparents, in fact.
For example, one of my ancestors is called Catherine Wright and she lived in the mid-18th Century, a farmer’s wife from north east Scotland. I see her standing at the door of some white-painted farmhouse, wearing long heavy skirts and an apron, hands raw from work and washing and weather, food in the oven, pausing to watch the hills and fields for her menfolk.
Every time I think of her, that’s where I see her. She’s still real, to me. I want to approach her and say Hello, Catherine.
I can’t express what thinking of my ancestors makes me feel. A mixture of warmth and glad sadness. What my Irish friend Cullen calls the lament.