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    November 2022
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    Scottish Tartans: “Children of the Mist”, The Clan MacGregor

    Rob MacGregor His Life His Time by W H Murray

    Rob MacGregor His Life His Time by W H Murray

    Hi Mairiuna!  Upon reading your last post Rob Roy, one of Walter Scott’s Most Popular Novels,  which I found so informative, 🙂  it reminded me that I had purchased last summer a biography of Rob Roy MacGregor,  His Life and Times written in 1982 by W.H. Murray, edited by Richard Drew Publishing, of Glasgow.

    In this book, the author shows that the real Rob Roy was a far greater man than the imaginary, and that once again, truth can surpass fiction.

    W. H. Murray, a Scotsman by birth, author of more than twenty books, was deputy leader of the Mount Everest expedition, which discovered the way to the top. He loves scenery, which explains how well he can convey “a sense of place” in his writings.

    The colorful book cover depicts the Clan MacGregor tartan. It caught my attention and triggered in my mind the idea to write this post about Scottish tartans.

    What is a tartan?

    I did a quick search in my library to find the book I bought when we last visited Stirling Castle, titled : The Complete Book of Tartan, and found this definition inside:

    The Complete Book of Tartan by Iain Zaczek and Charles Phillips

    The Complete Book of Tartan by Iain Zaczek and Charles Phillips

    “In its structure, a tartan is essentially a checked pattern. (…) In Scotland the earliest surviving example is the so-called Falkirk sett, which dates from the 3rd century AD. (…) …used for centuries, both in the Lowlands and the Highlands, by shepherd for their plaids and mauds or wraps, and came known as “the shepherd’s plaid”.

    Source: The Complete Book of Tartan by Iain Zaczek and Charles Phillips, Ed. Lomond, 2006

    I really like this comprehensive book! It contains illustrations for more than 400 tartans, and go into deep details about the cultural and historical development of Scotland and shows how tartan is used to unite and identify a diverse ancestral tradition.

    Reminds me of the Scottish poet, James Hogg, because he is often pictured with a shepherd’s plaid.

    James Hogg (Source:

    James Hogg (Source:

    Lets read on..

    “ The design is distinct from the clan tartans that developed at a later stage, since no symbolic overtones linked it to a particular place or group of people..

    Walter Scott Tartan 1822 Black & White

    Walter Scott Tartan 1822

    Significantly, the tartan that it most resembles is the Scott Black and White, designed by Sir Walter Scott in 1822.”

    What about Patterns and Colours ?

    The pattern of an individual tartan is often described as a “sett”.(…) Most setts are symmetrical.

    Each series of stripes is reversed around a central stripe, known as a pivot. The blocks of pattern are then repeated in a regular fashion throughout the entire design.

    “The colouring of individual setts may be described as “ancient” or “modern”, which rather confusingly does not necessarily indicate the age of the sett. The term ancient refers to the colours produced by natural vegetal dyes, which were used until the mid-18th century and were generally mellow in appearance.” (…) Modern colours are those produced with chemical dyes which became available from the 1860. As the precise shade of each colour was governed by the availability of the dyes and the taste of individual weavers, different versions of the same tartan may look quite different and yet still be correct.

    Clan Tartans

    Scottish clans have more than one tartan attributed to their name and the only person to make a clan tartan an “official” one is the chief. Surprisingly enough, the “clan tartans” date no earlier than late 18th century. That means this tradition was not in use when the battle of Culloden took place in 1746!.  The clansmen were wearing different tartans…. So how did the clansmen recognize who was who? By the colour of ribbon worn upon the bonnet !……

    Tartan Ribbon - First Color Photograph -1861 (Source: Wikipedia)

    Tartan Ribbon – First Color Photograph -1861 (Source: Wikipedia)

    The world’s first colour photograph, made by the Scottish scientist James Clerk Maxwell in 1861, was of a tartan ribbon.  🙂

    To the light of the above, as an example, let’s now take a look at the MacGregor’s tartan.

    MacGregor Tartan - <i>The Scottish Tartans</i>

    MacGregor Tartan – The Scottish Tartans

    “This clan claim descent from Gregor, a son of King Alpin, who ruled about 787. (…) The description informs us that the MacGregors overthrew their oppressors, the Colquhouns of Luss, at Glenfruin, in 1603, and for this they were outlawed.(…) Scott proved that the MacGregors were the real “Children of the Mist”. MacGregor of MacGregor and Balquhidder, whose line holds a Baronetcy, has been officialy recognized as Chief of the clan”.

    <i> The Scottish Tartans</i> Illustrated by William Semple. 1959

    The Scottish Tartans Illustrated by William Semple. 1959

    Modern tartans

    Modern tartans have been issued for many diverse reasons such as the commemoration of historical events, the promotion of corporative names, sport teams and also to raise funds for worthy causes.

    The international scope of new tartan designs strengthens and promotes Scottish culture around the world.

    Here are some examples:


    International Tartans - Canadian Caledonian

    Made in 1939 by Cochrane and Macbeth of Vancouver, this tartan can be worn by all Scottish Canadians. Many Scots emigrated to Canada in the 19th century.

    International Tartans:  Canadian Centennial

    International Tartans: Canadian Centennial

    Peter Bottomley designed this tartan in 1966 for the following year’s 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Dominion of Canada in 1867.


    International Tartans - Jacobite

    International Tartans – Jacobite

    The French supported the Stuart cause for decades and the “Jacobite” tartan is a wise choice.

    International Tartan - Culloden

    International Tartan – Culloden

    French regulars fought to the last at Culloden Moor after the clans had broken and the “Culloden” tartan would honour those brave soldiers.

    What if I do not belong to any clan ?

    International Tartans - The Hunting Stewart

    International Tartans – The Hunting Stewart

    For those without a clan there are a number of District Tartans that can be used or the “Hunting Stewart”, a green tartan with black, yellow and red overstripes which has served as the “universal”  Scottish tartan.  Individuals with no clan or family tartan should be encouraged to wear a district tartan appropriate to a locale of origin, residence or affection.

    Well that was a long post….

    Hope it helps with the understanding of Scottish tartans.




    The information above came from “Tartan For Me!” by Philip D Smith, Heritage Books, Inc.. Click here to order the book.  A great resource .

    Tartan for Me! by Philip D Smith 1998 Expanded Edition

    Tartan for Me! by Philip D Smith 1998 Expanded Edition

    When this book arrived in the mail last week, I took to it like a kid from yesteryear when the new Sears Christmas Catalog would arrive before Thanksgiving – – (like sugarplums, etc.)

    I found my Dad’s family name was from the Paisley District, plus my husband’s English name showed up with an O’. Fun to learn that the “Mac, Mc, and M'” all meant the same; “son of”!! Plus, the North American pronouncement of these prefixes is “Mik”. Haven’t yet learned where the “O'” represents.

    A quick glance through the book tells the reader instantly that this research has been a loving and diligent work-in-progress. The price is so reasonable that I’m giving thought to tucking a copy in a few Christmas stockings this year!

    Next to my photo album hobby, this search for family tartan plaids, etc. etc. is my newest and exciting adventure. (A lady in our town has years of weaving experience, and we’ve used THIS BOOK to get us started on her weaving project of my family’s plaid!) What a hoot!

    Amazon Customer

    PS2:  Did you know that Tartan probably comes from a French word : ‘tiretaine’ or ‘tiretane” ?  Read this article on Scottish Tartans to learn more about it => A Scottish Tartan Links More Than a Clan 🙂


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