A bunch of Atholls

I love the Scottish language because it’s almost English. I can understand just enough to get the gist of what’s being said. This is also, by the way, how I’ve lived my life in French Quebec for the last 26 years.

This past Monday was Robbie Burns Day, which is a celebration of the great Scottish poet and pretending to know what he’s on about. But again there’s enough English mixed in with the obviously made up words to allow you to give it a go. One of Burns’ most famous poems, for example, is “Address to a Haggis,” which begins as follows:

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin’-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye worthy o’ a grace
As lang’s my arm.

You don’t have to overstrain your sporran to figure it out. As one might do with a haggis, let’s take a stab at it:

You’re surprisingly not appalling,
You sausage king, you!
Truly, even better than
This gross stuff, that other gross stuff, and who knows what that stuff is.
This grace is so long that by the end
We’ll be just famished enough to eat the bloody thing.

Coincidentally, on Monday, my Grade 9 daughter had an assignment due in which she had to describe the meaning behind her family’s crest. Family? We don’t have a family. We’re Scottish. We have a clan! What’s a clan? It’s like a family but with more violence.

It’s believed the Murrays were originally Flemish, which explains all the linguistic throat-clearing. In this case, a knight named Freskin came to Scotland in the 12th century as part of the Norman Conquest to keep the local savages under control, including the ancient Pictish house of Moray. To help speed along the peace process, Freskin wed into the Moray family, because if you can’t beat ’em, marry ’em.

Learning about this helps me understand both my attitude towards romance and why I’m so good at Pict-tionary. (I said “PICT-tionary”…)

“Moray” eventually became “Murray,” and the rest, as they say, is kilt-raisin’. But before I leave the family history, I’d like to point out that in the late 1600s there was one Lord Mungo Murray. While it’s too late for my own children, I’d just like to say, “Come on, grandbaby Mungo!”

It’s also important to point out that my clan is specifically Murray of Atholl. Did I just say, “Atholl”? Yeth, I did.

imageWhich brings us back to the crest. The Murray of Atholl crest depicts a brawny, shirtless wild man wearing laurels on his head. I feel I’ve let the clan down in the brawny and shirtless department but do know a thing or two about laurels, having rested on mine for so many years. In one hand, the wild man holds a knife (the importance of strength), in the other a key (the importance of hotel rooms).

Emblazoned on the crest is the clan motto, “Furth Fortune and Fill the Fetters,” which is really fun to say. If you say it in the voice of Sylvester the Cat, it’s even more fun.

Again, you can sense what the motto means, especially if you know that “fetters” are “shackles” and not, as I suspected, “coffee filters,” although never underestimate the importance of filling the coffee filter before you go to bed.

Essentially, the motto is a rallying cry: “Go forth, good fortune attend you, and may you fill the fetters with captives.”

It’s a fine motto, though there’s not much call these days for fetter-filling, captive-wise. Modern Murrays tend to fight their blood feuds with strongly worded letters to the editor. In conflict, we disarm with a song and a joke. This is true; during World War I, my grandfather Harry Murray enlisted with the Nova Scotia Highlanders, serving at home and overseas playing drums in the battalion’s regimental band. It worked, because he survived and here I am.

There’s more of us, too, and still more on the way; my nephew and his wife are expecting next month, my parents’ first great-grandchild, as good a time as any to revise the family motto. And so, my wish to this impending Murray: “Furth Fortune and Fill the Diapers, little Mungo.”



About rossmurray1

I'm Canadian so I pronounce it "Aboot." No, I don't! I don't know any Canadian who says "aboot." Damnable lies! But I do know this Canadian is all about humour (with a U) and satire. Come by. I don't bite, or as we Canadians say, "beet."
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30 Responses to A bunch of Atholls

  1. You have an ancestor named Foreskin? Er … Kreskin? Fresca? Marrying into the Moray family was definitely the better part of moniker.

  2. Karen says:

    Funny stuff. I’m fascinated by this bit:

    “Coincidentally, on Monday, my Grade 9 daughter had an assignment due in which she had to describe the meaning behind her family’s crest.”

    Is this a typical Canadian school assignment? Do you all have crests up there? Sounds mighty highfalutin to my egalitarian American ears.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      It was a first. And it was for French class. I think if you look every name has a crest or emblem or some kind of origin story. She has a classmate named MacPherson whose family motto is “Touch Not the Cat Bot the Glove.” Nice, eh?

      • Karen says:

        “Touch Not the Cat But the Glove”? What does that even mean?

        I think I’m mostly descended from peasants who spent the middle ages eating pizza painting the Sistine Chapel or chasing leprechauns writing poetry instead of acting all chivalry-ous, so no coat of arms for us.

        But I could get behind this family motto thing. Inspired by the MacPhersons (and toddler behavior), I’m considering “Leave the Cat Alone. She isn’t Bothering You.” But “Touch Not the Cat . . .” might work, too.

        • rossmurray1 says:

          There’s a picture of a fierce cat (guess I should have mentioned that), so it’s a warning: don’t mess with the MacPhersons unless you come prepared for a hurt (i.e wear gloves).
          Hide not the remote.

  3. LRose says:

    Oh, aye, we Roses are “Constant and True,” except for all those kilt-raising two-timers.

  4. “What’s a clan? It’s like a family but with more violence.” Very funny lines, Ross. I went on a genealogy kick many years ago, but ended up at a lot of dead ends, which is what happens when generation after generation of people refuse to speak to one another. Our crest would be two sullen people pointedly ignoring each other.

  5. franhunne4u says:

    Your family sounds Mora-ysh .. *I did not even take off the coat …*

  6. pinklightsabre says:

    As one might do with the haggis, let’s take a stab at it.
    You, you, I just wrote in here and had to delete it all because it was stupid but not good-stupid like your kind, your — clan — Murray. Having seen your people now I think I have a better idea of what you’re really on about, you. If you can’t join ’em, beat ’em! Thank you for being that creepy clown and gurgling around the drain traps to the kids.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Clearly nothing is too stupid for these virtual pages.
      I can’t speak for my great-grandfather but there’s a clear lineage of type going down the line from my grandfather (local entertainer, go-to MC), my father (local actor, musician, choirmaster) and me (local bonvivant). My brother Andrew is an artist, back living in my hometown, and he is reportedly in all characteristics my grandfather. My son is a mimic but keeps it in the family. Then there’s Abby, who never met a microphone she didn’t like.

  7. Robbie Burns? Is that accurate?

    A knight Foreskin, you mean. Ahh hahah! Take that. I know those are supposed to be muscles but they look like moobs. Sorry. Who’s that character at the end of the post?

    • rossmurray1 says:

      The poem? Yes. If you ever go to a Robbie Burns Day celebration (and why wouldn’t you?), they usually read this out loud. There’s also pipes and scotch. A good day.
      That’s my grandfather, Harry. Strapping fellow, eh? I only knew him as an old man in his last 80s but he was quite the lad in his day.

      • He looks like he didn’t take crap from no one. What did he do for a living?

        • rossmurray1 says:

          I’m not sure in his earlier years but after my father was born (1930) he was the custodian of the town post office. Dad grew up in the apartment above. There are photos of them up on the roof, where during WWII, they would host British troops over in Canada to train at a nearby flight school. His wife, my grandmother, was a nurse, a fair bit younger than him. Grampa was quite the entertainer and was often performing and emceeing throughout Pictou County. He died when I was 7 so I only have vague memories of him.

  8. ksbeth says:

    mungo bungo. band name. or grand baby.

  9. List of X says:

    Moray clan, you say? Any relation to Moray eels?

  10. gavinkeenan says:

    A breath of heather. Hope ye sipped a cup of kindness – decaf of course – when composing.

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