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Curious Scotland: Tales from a Hidden History    by George Rosie order for
Curious Scotland
by George Rosie
Order:  USA  Can
Granta, 2004 (2004)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

George Rosie tells us that the 'Finding out' urge led him into a career as a reporter and writer, and offers us an eclectic selection of what he has, often serendipitously, found out over the years about 'neglected episodes in Scottish history'. Some of these appeared in a Scottish television series called Secret Scotland.

Rosie opens with the history of the (Welsh) Celtic Gododdin, whose capital was Din Eidyn (now Edinburgh), and with the possibility that Arthur was actually Urien of Rheged, a king of the Celtic north. An early epic poem, 'Y Gododdin' chronicles a calamitous defeat of these 'Men of the North' ... 'Though they were slain they slew / And they shall be honoured till the end of the world.' We also learn about two missionary saints - Ninian and Kentigern (better known as Mungo) - who apparently brought Christianity to the region that is now Scotland. And have you heard of John Knox? Rosie tells us that the general negative impression of this (at the time) radical Protestant is both inaccurate and unfair. Apparently he wasn't the forbidding fellow that popular history relates, but rather a leader with a vision of a 'Godly Commonwealth', who introduced inclusive, democratic government and required schools in each parish, making Scotland 'among the best-educated societies in Europe.'

There's an account of an 'obdurate rebel', the charismatic, treacherous Neil Macleod of Lewis who waged war on James VI for 15 years (to be eventually betrayed by a relative). There's a young student tragically hung for 'blasphemy' in 1697. And have you read Robinson Crusoe? Rosie tells us that its author, Daniel Defoe, acted as a spy for the English government in early 1700s Scotland. And that an Irish adventurer/spy, Captain Dudley Bradstreet, may have been pivotal in the 1746 collapse of the Jacobite insurrection. Then there's a Highland Scot who became 'the principal chief of the once-powerful Cherokee Nation' in the 1800s (John Ross did have one eightth Cherokee blood). There's much more, including amusing snippets such as 50 Gaelic/Scots words describing mountain scenery, funny 'practice verses' for choir rehearsal of psalms, and outsiders' comments like Lils Emslie's 'One often yearns / For the land of Burns / The only snag is / The haggis.'

Curious about Scotland? Then read Curious Scotland for whimsical insights into its hidden corners, and surprising perspectives on its history.

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