Akron-based Scottish-American Society member Alex Murray, left, wears a modern dress kilt. Julie Kennedy wears a traditional Scottish dress, and her husband Bill Kennedy, wears a modern Scottish kilt. (Karen Schiely / Akron Beacon Journal)
Women on both sides of the Atlantic share a secret: Scots are hot. If a Scotsman wears a kilt and speaks in a heavy Scottish brogue, more’s the better.
If we didn’t learn that by watching dramas based on Scottish history (think Liam Neeson in “Rob Roy,” Mel Gibson in “Braveheart”), we certainly got it when we began devouring the “Outlander” series of historical novels by bestselling author Diana Gabaldon.
The books, which have sold more than 25 million copies, have been adapted into a drama for the Starz cable channel. They tell the story of time traveler Claire Beauchamp and her Highland lover Jamie Fraser. Just a description of the tall, red-haired Scotsman can make women swoon.
Scotland is in the news, too. Next month, Scots will vote on a referendum that has the power to accomplish peaceably what centuries of brutal warfare has failed to do: making Scotland an independent, sovereign nation.
There are 8.5 million Americans who claim a Scots or Scots-Irish ancestry, according to the 2012 American Community Survey. Each year, Scottish Americans gather in thousands of social and cultural clubs across the country to celebrate their heritage and Scottish holidays.
The “auld sod” lures Scots home, even if they are generations removed from their ancestors, said Maggie Frost, chairman of the Akron, Ohio-area Scottish American Society.
“It’s something in your soul to be connected to your past,” said Maggie, who along and her husband, James, is a second-generation Scot. Their New Franklin, Ohio, home is filled with reminders of their cultural heritage and their many trips to visit relatives in Scotland. A miniature of Dunrobin Castle, situated in a little fishing village where Maggie’s great-grandfather was born, sits on a shelf in the couple’s living room. The walls are lined with Scottish scenes and even their china is decorated in tartan.
The wars fought by Highlanders are legendary, from national hero William Wallace leading the first rebellion to free Scotland from the grasp of King Edward I at the end of the 13th century, to the Battle of Culloden in 1746. Lord George Murray, leading the Highlanders’ fight to restore the Stuart line to the throne for Bonnie Prince Charlie, was defeated by English forces who left thousands dead on the field of battle.
It was the beginning of the systematic annihilation of Scottish clans. Culloden marked the start of an exodus — whether from persecution, famine or economic hardships — that continued through the next century and beyond, when many Scots and Scots-Irish began a journey that ended in America.
The Declaration of Arbroath, the Scottish declaration of independence written by Scots to the Pope in 1320, was the model for the American Declaration of Independence. Almost half the signers of America’s Declaration were of Scottish descent, as were the governors in nine of the original 13 states.
“Americans successfully helped shape this country in its formative years and guide this Nation through its most troubled times,” reads a resolution approved by the 105th Congress of the United States on March 20, 1998, that established April 6 as National Tartan Day.
Today, Scottish immigrants have enriched this country in every area, said Neill Kennedy Ray of Hull, Mass., editor and publisher of the Highlander Magazine of Scottish Heritage.
“They gave us everything from pneumatic tires on bicycles to tarmac roads,” said Ray.
Education has had an especially long tradition in Scotland, producing engineers, mathematicians and scientists, he said. “Even people from humble backgrounds were given the opportunity to have an education,” he said. “Scotland’s got the most educated cabdrivers in the world.”
Maggie Frost, who was an operating-room nurse before retiring, spends hours each day researching heritage, organizing club functions and journaling the family history, James Frost said.
“These people are dying out,” said James of Scottish relatives. “Within the next 10 years, they will be gone. The next generation will not know about them. They will have to read her journals to know,” said the retired professor of educational psychology and author of two books on Scotland.
Scottish immigrant Alex Murray maintains dual citizenship and was naturalized in 2008. The retired U.S. Navy Director of European and Middle East Safety, Health and Environment lives with his wife, Elizabeth, also a Navy retiree of Scottish descent, in Coventry, Ohio.
Murray, who says his brogue makes him sound “like Shrek,” was raised in Western Scotland near the banks of the River Clyde. He has no idea if he is related to Lord George Murray who led the charge at Culloden.
“I could trace it back, but I never felt the need. I was born and raised in Scotland. I was always there,” he said.
Visiting Culloden is emotional, said Murray. “You know the feeling you get when you go to Gettysburg?” he asked, placing his hand over his heart. “You get the same feeling.”
The Scottish independence movement might well be discussed at the club’s next meeting in advance of vote, and the “Outlander” TV series will probably be examined closely for authenticity. Scottish actor Sam Heughan and Irish actress Caitriona Balfe play Jamie and Claire, who meet in 1743 during one of the bloodiest eras in Scotland’s history.
And if a certain age-old question comes up, a Scotsman or -woman will give this response, typical of Scottish humor, said Maggie.
“There is nothing ‘worn’ beneath the kilt. It’s all in perfect working order.”