MULL AND IONA: A Historical Guide
By David Caldwell

Mull and Iona

The vast majority of visitors to Britain go to London. Only about 10% head north to Scotland and of those the vast majority tend to visit the area between Glasgow and Edinburgh. This is a pity because there is so much more to see in Scotland than the area between those two wonderful cities. Those who travel outside the area tend to visit Inverness – perhaps because of the fame of Nessie – possibly the most famous “monster” in the world.

I first became aware of Mull when I saw the film I Know Where I’m Going which takes place in part on Tobermory, the main town on the island. The film raised my interest in the Inner Hebrides – and Corryvrecken, the huge whirlpool that figures in the film. Nearby Iona is a well known famous site because of its abbey and its being “the cradle of Christianity”

The recent publication of David Caldwell’s Mull and Iona A Historical Guide is a treasure trove of information about these two islands. Dr. Caldwell, a former curator of the National Museum,s of Scotland has written a academically sound book which is not an academic treatise (not something as Anna Russell once said “Something written by a great expert for the edification of other great experts leaving the average person as befogged as before”.

For visitors, there is a small section that gives general information on accommodations and tours and some general information about nearby islands. There are useful addresses, information about the geography and a few pages concerning the archaeological work done on the islands. But here are similarity to tourist guide books ends.

The great majority of the volume is divided into two parts. The first part, some 113 pages, deals with the history and prehistory of the islands starting with the Paleolithic people who visited and settled there. The book continues through the Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages into the historical periods through the Middle Ages and the Lordship of the Isles right through to the present day.

Part Two deals with the monuments which can be found on the islands that are from the various periods discussed in Part One

The book is liberally illustrated with drawings and photographs and helpful maps, genealogies and dates.

The book should certainly encourage visitors from other parts of Scotland and other countries to visit these somewhat neglected islands. For those who are interested in having a greater appreciation of history of the area this book is a must.

This would make a nice Christmas present for anyone interested in Scotland and Scottish history.

MULL AND IONA: A Historical Guide
By David Caldwell
Berlinn publisher, Edinburgh 2018
236 pages




This year marks the 200th anniversary of the American writer Herman Melville, the author of the book many consider THE great American novel – Moby Dick. On Sept. 18th, 2019, three faculty members of Brooklyn College, Foster Hirsch, Bruce MacIntyre and John Beatty presented papers about the author, whose ancestry on his father’s side of the family was Scottish and on his mother’s side was Dutch.

Both Herman Melville and his father traveled to Scotland separately. Herman was sufficiently aware of his background and mentions having been to Stirling and thought about William Wallace while there. He also knew of the area where his ancestors had lived in Scoonie and where one of them, Thomas Melville had been a well-known minister. He asked some of the Scots on a steamer, if they knew the place in Fife  It is not known whether Mary Queen of Scots' steward Andrew Melville is related, although it's interesting to note that he was the man who held Mary's train as she formally processed to her beheading in 1582.  

Given his remarkable literary output, it does seem a shame that he is rarely acknowledged by people as having a Scottish ancestry.

The talks were given at Brooklyn College’s Center for Worker Education at 25 Broadway in Manhattan, right by the famous bull statue. The Center, interestingly enough, is a scant two tenths of a mile from the site where Herman Melville was born!

The talks included Prof. Beatty’s discussion on Melville’s life in New York City with a PowerPoint of photos of the places where Melville lived around New York City and his burial site in a family plot in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. There was also a brief discussion of some of Melville’s religious symbolism in Moby Dick and the complexity of his writing

The second paper was presented by Prof. MacIntyre of the Conservatory of Music.  He spoke about the creation and the structure of Benjamin Britten’s opera Billy Budd based on Melville’s novella of the same name – a novella whose manuscript was discovered in a breadbox 100 years ago and that has been called by some the best short novel ever written. The opera’s text diverges in some ways from the original in that it moves the focus from the eponymous Billy Budd to Capt. Vere. Prof. MacIntyre played recordings of parts of the opera and talked about the question of whether Captain Vere is actually a representation of Melville himself. He showed remarkable parallels between the personalities of Vere and Melville himself and suggested that it might be interesting to imply the relationship between Melville and Vere in a production of the opera

The final presentation by Prof. Foster Hirsch, a well-known authority on film, dealt with the filming of Moby Dick focusing largely on the 1956 John Huston film starring Gregory Peck. Hirsch talked about the virtual impossibility of bringing Melville’s novel to the screen. The depth and complexity of the novel exceeds anything that could be turned into a film (especially a commercial film) unless it is reduced almost to the level of an adventure story with an obsessive captain attempting to find a white whale which took off his leg.  Hirsch held that within those restrictions, the 1956 film is fairly well done in terms of film techniques such as editing, scenic design and some performances. The special effects for their day are dramatic enough and the whale hunts give one a real feeling of being there. Some of the weaknesses mentioned were Peck’s performance and the fact the film may be “over-scored”.

After the talks Prof. MacIntyre produced a bottle of sparkling cider (Brooklyn College’s policy forbids alcohol on the campus) and everyone got to toast Melville on his 200th birthday and to toast the Saltire Society as well.



Scotland’s New Program to combat Climate Change

Nicola Sturgeon is Scotland’s First Minister. She recently announced a new Program that helps to end Scotland’s contribution to climate change.
“Earlier this year I acknowledged that Scotland, alongside the rest of the world, faces a climate emergency,” said Sturgeon in her speech. “We have now committed to achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045 at the latest. That’s earlier than any other UK nation.”
She described the Program as “an important part of our response to the climate emergency, containing measures which will reduce emissions while supporting sustainable and inclusive growth.”

“It sets out actions which will make a difference for years to come,” she added. “It details measures which can help make our country the best in the world to grow up, learn, work, and live. It meets the challenges of the future, while staying true to our enduring values.”
Sturgeon highlighted in her speech that while the measures are “significant”, they also “should not be viewed as the sum total of our efforts.”
She said that in the next year, the government would also be receiving the recommendations of the Infrastructure Commission, publish a finalized Transport Strategy, complete its Capital Spending Review, renew the National Planning Framework, and publish and updated Climate Change Plan.
“All of this work is vital in ensuring that Scotland becomes a net-zero emissions nation,” she added.

Here are the key points on tackling climate change from the Program for Government that you should know about:

1. To make the Scottish Highlands and Islands the world’s first zero mission aviation region
Sturgeon announced that testing of zero emission flight technology would begin in 2021, “quite literally piloting new technology here in Scotland,” she said.
Meanwhile, the target is to decarbonise all flights within Scotland by 2040.
2. To make buses a more attractive travel option
Sturgeon announced a “transformational” £500 million in funding for Scotland’s bus network, to both improve the bus infrastructure and help encourage use of public transport.
The transport sector currently accounts for more than a third of Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions — making it Scotland’s largest greenhouse gas emitting sector, and meaning that tackling transport emissions is essential to hitting the national net-zero target of 2045.
3. To decarbonise Scotland’s railways by 2035
That’s a whole five years before the UK government’s target. The Scottish government has also said it will be publishing a new National Transport Strategy later this year, which will aim to redefine investment priorities and put sustainable transport “at the heart of decision-making.”
4. Electric cars
Scotland has already committed to phasing out new petrol and diesel cars by 2032 — again ahead of the UK-wide deadline of 2040.
The new programme also includes an additional £17 million to “support the demand” for ultra-low emissions vehicles through its Low Carbon Transport Loan scheme, while also expanding the scheme to include used electric vehicles.
It’s also said it will work with electricity network companies to improve the charging infrastructure for electric vehicles across Scotland.
5. To decarbonise heating
The programme includes plans to ban fossil fuel heating in new build houses and develop regulations so new build homes in Scotland must use renewable sources of low carbon heat by 2024 — just five years away, and a year before Westminster.
6. A “Green New Deal”
The plan it to make hitting net-zero a primary mission of the Scottish National Investment Bank, and create a £3 billion package of investments to attract green finance to Scotland.
7. Scottish Water
State-owned Scottish Water will commit to being net-zero by 2040, and by 2030 it will host or produce three times more renewable energy than it consumes.


Scottish twitter


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