Here in the Scottish Borders, winter seems to be edging closer and closer toward us. The days are growing increasingly short and, as of last night, the Teviots that overlook Tartan Towers are blanketed in a nice thick layer of snow. It was as I was driving up the winding path that leads to Tartan Towers, admiring the snow-clad view before me, that I remembered a story I once heard of snowballs in summer.
Clan MacIntyreWe will come to snowballs in summer soon enough, don’t you worry your little head. First, however, let’s contextualise a little. The Clan concerned with snowballs in summer is Clan MacIntyre. Clan MacIntyre are one of the most ancient clans in Scottish history, claiming to have ties to Somerled – that ancient (12th century or thereabouts) Scottish warrior and commander of the Isles. The name MacIntyre means son of the carpenter and, of course as this is Scottish history there are differing accounts of how this came to be the case. One account states that a boat that Somerled and some of his cronies, including Maurice Mac Neil (his nephew) sprung a leak. Thinking quickly, Maurice jammed his thumb in the hole to plug the leak then promptly cut off the digit to free him up to help with other work on the ship. This lead to the nickname thumb carpenter, apparently although that doesn’t seem to be a very snappy nickname to me. Another story is that Somerled was trying to marry a certain other warlord’s daughter and this warlord was having none of it. What this warlord wanted from Somerled was not a son-in-law but assistance in raiding the Isle of Skye and Somerled being of a bloodthirsty disposition consented to help. Now, one of Somerled’s mates; Maurice (yep the same one but in this story he isn’t Somerled’s nephew) decided to take matters into his own hands to get his buddy Somerled hitched. Maurice, under cover of darkness, crept into this other warlord’s camp and drilled holes in his ship which he then plugged with fat. The next day when they were off to raid Skye, the other warlords boat started to spring leaks when all the fat got washed away, oh how he cried for Somerled to help him but his words fell upon deaf ears. Somerled would not help this other blighter until he consented to Somerled’s proposed marriage to the chap’s daughter. What could the chap do? He gave up consent and Maurice jumped on board to plug the holes with specially made plugs he had made just for the occasion. So happy was Somerled with Maurice’s plot, that he rewarded him with lands, starting off the line of MacIntyres we still enjoy to this day.
Snowballs in SummerThe Clan has been based at Glen Noe for as long as anyone can remember and it is assumed that the Clan owned the lands outright for most of this time although it really isn’t clear. What is clear is that at some point in the past, a debt was established between Clan MacIntyre and Clan Campbell of Breadalbane. What caused this debt is unknown but it has been speculated that the killing of some members of Clan Campbell by the sons of Clan MacIntyre’s chief was the event that kicked it all off. Anyway, what caused or didn’t cause the debt to arise is of little significance to me, what is significant is the fact that the debt exists as the method of payment for the debt is rather odd. In order to reside peacefully at Glen Noe, the MacIntyres were required to provide the chief of Clan Campbell with a snowball on midsummer’s day and a fatted white calf for Christmas. The white calf was to be slain and eaten by members of both clans to show that no animosity still existed between its members. Unfortunately, over time this quaint ritual transformed into a monetary obligation, at first the MacIntyre’s were able to meet the obligation but over time, the amount required by the chief of Clan Campbell grew and grew, forcing Clan MacIntyre to abandon their historic seat at Glen Noe. The Clan spread throughout the world with the chief emigrating to the USA. Having had a look at the Clan MacIntyre Trust Facebook page, it is clear that the symbolic debt payment ritual is back up and running, ignoring the debt aspect of this ritual, it is great to see that a tradition that once created division is now able to bring people together in such a positive way. Clan MacIntyre, I tip my hat to you.
If your society, clan or family have a long standing tradition, we at ScotlandShop would love to hear about it.