Fonn's Duthcas will celebrate the culture of the Highlands past and present. Courtesy Inverness Museum and Art Gallery
Highland 2007, a year-long celebration of culture in the Scottish Highlands, has been launched with a street party and a special exhibition at the newly refurbished Inverness Museum, opened by Scottish Culture Minister Patricia Ferguson.
Scotland’s year of Highland culture was proposed after the Highland bid to be European City of Culture in 2008 was unsuccessful. First Minister Jack McConnell explained:
“History has not been kind to the Highlands. The Clearances in the 18th century led to a decline and stagnation that threatened the region’s language and its distinctive view of the world. Highland culture was in danger of disappearing.”
“But all that has changed,” he continued. “The Highlands has experienced a revival which few believed possible. No-one who visits now can deny this is a region firmly on the way up.”
“The next 12 months will be a tremendous showcase for all that makes the culture of this area so inspiring, from the ancient traditions and heritage that are so well known and loved – to the new and vibrant modern culture that has emerged.”
The firearm sporran that inspired Sir Walter Scott to give an exploding one to Rob Roy in his novel. © National Museums of Scotland
The special museum exhibition created for Highland 2007 is entitled Fonn’s Duthcas: Land and Legacy. Although Fonn's Duthcas has been translated as Land and Legacy, there are other things the Gaelic phrase can mean, as fonn also means music or tune, and duthcas can signify a hereditary right to your birthplace.
The touring exhibition explores aspects of Highland life past and present, and has been brought together by National Museums Scotland, the National Galleries of Scotland and the National Library of Scotland in an unusually close collaboration.
“This exhibition will provide an excellent platform from which to showcase the Highlands of Scotland’s distinctive, rich cultural heritage,” said Ms Ferguson. “I am delighted that Scotland’s national collections have worked so positively with Highland 2007 organisers, the Highland Council and its partners, to put together such a striking exhibition.”
Fonn ’s Duthcas is divided into ten sections, looking at the landscape and the population’s relationship with it, including oral traditions and the resurgence of traditional language, and industry from early days to sustainable technologies and the effect that new media has had on Highland communities. The opening section, Connected Communities, especially focuses on how the Highlands has embraced new technologies, with new means of communication breaking down old barriers of distance and geography.
Antonio David, Prince Charles Edward Stuart. © National Galleries of Scotland.
The development of the romanticised view of Highlanders as tartan clad, bagpipe-playing folk striding through heather carpeted glens is also investigated. Queen Victoria and Sir Walter Scott were key figures in perpetuating this popular perception.
A manuscript of Scott’s Rob Roy (1818) and a sporran with concealed pistols which inspired the author are two highlights of the exhibition. After Scott saw the sporran in question, it prompted him to allocate an exploding one to Rob Roy:
“I advise no man to attempt opening the sporran till he has my secret, said Rob Roy… This, said he, touching the pistol – This is the keeper of my provy purse.” – from Rob Roy by Sir Walter Scott, 1818.
Other highlights of the exhibition include one of the best known Jacobite images, Antonio David’s charismatic portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie, and a Quaich (silver cup) the young prince gave to Flora MacDonald.
On display from the collection of the National Library of Scotland are items including a French edition of Ossian by Gaelic bard James Macpherson that once belonged to Napoleon.
Letter ordering the Glencoe massacre. Courtesy Inverness Museum and Art Gallery
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for people to both learn about Highland culture and to see some of the real ‘marquee’ treasures held by the national collections institutions,” said National Librarian Martyn Wade of Fonn’s Duthcas.
“From our point of view, it’s always a pleasure to get a range of items, from treasures like Napoleon’s copy of Macpherson’s Ossian or the Iona Psalter, to modern items like manuscript and printed material from Sorley MacLean and Iain Crichton Smith, to more esoteric items like our Gaelic language text messaging guide, out to where people can come and see them.”
The new exhibition coincides with the re-opening of Inverness Museum following a £1.3 million facelift. Work began in July 2006, and has seen its galleries completely redesigned to show off its collections in a fresh way. The museum has many Pictish artworks and items relating to the Jacobites.
One exhibit that will only feature in the Highlands leg of the tour, however, is a reminder of the Glencoe massacre of the Macdonalds by the Campbells.
The letter, written to Captain Robert Campbell by Robert Duncanson on behalf of the Crown, dates back to 1692. It orders him to attack the MacDonalds: “You are hereby ordered to fall upon the rebels, the MacDonalds of Glencoe, and put all to the sword.” The letter is too delicate and valuable to travel to Glasgow and Edinburgh.