LAURINBURG — The native clans of Scotland may share a history of warfare, massacre, and general turmoil spanning hundreds of years — but on Friday night, representatives of more than 50 Scottish clans peacefully celebrated their common bonds at the William Henry Belk Center on the campus of St. Andrews University.
“In the Maclaine clan there were two brothers who fought, as is fairly common among Scots, and one sort of banished the other,” said Katherine Whaley of Fayetteville, one of dozens who made their way through the clans’ reception in one of the opening events of the Scotland County Highland Games.
Whaley, who herself lacks the smallest drop of Scottish blood, counts herself a member of her husband’s clan, Clan Maclaine-Lochbuie.
“I’m a professional storyteller so of course I always glom onto the folk literature of any group, and the Scottish is interesting — a bit bloody for my taste most of the time,” Whaley said. “They were a beleaguered people for so long because there was not a general head of things and there were a great many chieftains here and there and they sort of fought it out, which makes for a bloody but fairly interesting romantic history.”
Debbie McFarland Webb, of Charleston, initially came to the Scotland County games because of a sense of connection, noticing the location of Old Laurel Hill Presbyterian Church, setting of the annual Kirkin’ of the Tartan worship service, on McFarland Road.
Webb’s family lineage, traced by her brother through 16th century ancestors, has also been defined by political strife.
“I’m actually a hidden MacGregor,” said Webb. “Back in the 1700s when they were having the big proscription in Scotland, a MacGregor married a McFarland for the protection so that he wasn’t killed off.”
For many Scots-Americans, their ancestors’ emigration from Scotland was a symptom of a troubled land, with threats from the British monarchy against the clan system and infighting among various factions warring over allegiances.
“There were a lot of them that were running from something,” said Mike Sharpe of Cornelius, a member of Clan Donald.
Sharpe grew up with a vague notion of Scottish ancestry, but took it upon himself to explore that heritage, finding that his ancestors hailed from the Isle of Bute, in the lower part of the Scottish Highlands.
“It’s pretty easy to trace back where they came in, but a lot of times it’s kind of tough to make the jump to where they were in Scotland,” he said. “A lot of them kind of changed the way they spelled their names. Half the people in my family don’t spell their name with an ‘e.’”
By delving into his family history, Sharpe has found several keys to his own identity. His interest in amateur brewing, he came to find, was shared by many of his ancestors.
“I don’t know if it’s bred into you or part of your DNA makeup, but it’s kind of funny the way things come full circle.”
But today’s clan members form bonds to repair the fissures rent by tragedies in a time when clans could spontaneously kill the members of others based on loyalty to British monarchs.
“The Campbells and the Donalds kind of pick on one another from something very serious that happened in Glencoe in our history, but years kind of heal wounds,” Sharpe said. “We can pick on each other about the different tartans — the real bright yellow color, everybody calls them Loud McLeod. We have fun.”