Michael Tierney: Referendum ignited my patriotism

There are fewer sights more "Scottish" than a man wearning a kilt. Picture: Getty
There are fewer sights more "Scottish" than a man wearning a kilt. Picture: Getty
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MICHAEL Tierney has never felt a sense of Scottishness. But, after the referendum, he feels it may be time to explore his roots.

Barely two weeks into the new year and I’ve still managed to keep my resolution. It’s nothing outlandish or unachievable. A simple thing really. I’ve promised myself I’m going to try to be a little more Scottish. Or, at least, I’m going to try to understand what being Scottish really is.


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It might seem an odd aim given that I was born in Glasgow and, apart from a lot of travelling abroad for work, I’ve pretty much lived here all my life. Yet, I have never felt truly Scottish, whatever it is that means.

All this despite spending childhood summers in Barra, in the Outer Hebrides, the island home of my mother. Despite having proudly heard my grandmother and grandfather speak Gaelic their whole lives. Despite watching that goal Archie Gemmill scored in the 1978 World Cup against Holland and swearing that I would one day play for Scotland.

I never did learn Gaelic, though my children attended a Gaelic nursery. The nearest I got to national honours was a Scotland versus England game in the United Arab Emirates in 1996 between teachers, engineers and ­ex-military (we lost).

How did I get to not feeling Scottish? Or not as Scottish as I should feel?

I grew up in a family in the West of Scotland that identified, on my father’s side at least, with Ireland: through song and stories and politics and football.

It was all-encompassing. I knew of Eamonn de Valera before the Enlightenment. I knew Brendan Behan before Robert Burns. I enjoyed a certain romantic attachment to myths and legends.

I used to love listening to the Irish songs that my father played daily as we grew up. I loved those songs, and always will. They touched a part of me deeply. But, in hindsight, they were never truly mine.

My attachment to Ireland left me in the no-man’s land of his past. I certainly had never felt British, whatever that was supposed to feel like either, but I didn’t feel Irish. And neither do I want to.

But I do want to feel a keener affinity to this country. Post indyref, I would really like to get to know Scotland a little better. I think most Scots do, whether they care to admit it or not.

I would like to feel that I belong for more reasons than simply because I was born here. I don’t think that’s a good enough reason to love the place you grew up in. Much like growing up in a religious household, you don’t really have much choice in the matter. I think you need to first reject something to understand it more.

The first thing I might do is celebrate Burns Night later this month. Not the late Tommy Burns, of course, but Rabbie. I have never celebrated it before. My father had him down as a pernicious old freemason and the polar opposite of everything he stood for.

Burns was never really mentioned in our household. In my father’s eyes, he saw no images of poetry and long forgotten loves. Instead he saw secret societies, bowler hats and disenfranchisement.

Whatever the merits, or not, of his argument, they seemed to stick with me and I avoided Burns like a rabid Establishment plague. I was young, of course, and I had barely even learned the sense of a fool.

Years later, when I heard Eddi Reader singing Ae Fond Kiss and Wild Mountainside, I stopped fretting about lodges and handshakes and began to actually read Burns’s work. I began to look a little deeper into his past. And mine.

My Scottishness has evolved slowly, like the second hand ticking on a watch.

I have only ever worn the kilt once in my life: I was press-ganged into it for an uncle’s wedding. Quite honestly, I felt like a bit of a MacTumshie. My nationalism hired for 40 quid for a weekend. Double if it was returned with soup stains.

I still don’t really get the Tartan Army, but I promise that I’m going to try. Really, I am. Viking helmets, Timberland boots, feathers and all.

Perhaps my lack of understanding is because the national anthem, which is belted out with such gusto at both football and rugby, is so dizzyingly awful.

I cannot fathom how anyone could willingly still sing about sending Proud Edward’s army home to think again after the recent referendum. You had your chance and you blew it, lads.

If it’s anthems that you’re seeking, look no further than Hamish Henderson’s Freedom Come a’ Ye. Dick Gaughan or Luke Kelly’s version. Take your pick.

Most of us put ourselves into things that we hope might represent the best reflection of ourselves. It might be a flag, or a song or book. They are totems guiding and helping us fulfill the needs of our story. They are symbols of who we are, where we want to go and who we would like to be.

For years, I remained somewhere outside of my Scottishness: like a herring boat on the peaked sea heading to my mother’s island of Barra. Navigating between Kerrera, the sound of Mull and the Ardnamurchan Peninsula, between island and mainland. Part of something, but separate too.

Maybe we all are. Maybe, for a while, we all should be. A little less circumspect. A little less absolutist.

All things get broken. All things should. It’s how they are fixed that counts. I don’t know enough about history. I don’t know where it’s taking us. But I know where I want to go.

This year, I’d like to travel round Scotland. Go and see what all the towns and villages are really like, instead of just imagining what I want them to be. Take the kids with me and show them what I have missed on my doorstep. Peer beneath the tartan skin of this land and decide if it’s what I want it to be for my children.

I like the sound of that Scotland: a new and mythical country. At least it is to me. But I can’t promise to wear the kilt again.

Maybe next year…


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