International Romani Day
"Old Meg she was a Gipsy,
And liv'd upon the Moors:
Her bed it was the brown heath turf,
And her house was out of doors.
Her apples were swart blackberries,
Her currants pods o' broom;
Her wine was dew of the wild white rose,
Her book a churchyard tomb. "
~ Meg Merrilies, John Keats (1795-1821)
Scottish Travellers, historically termed gypsies, consist of a number of diverse, unrelated communities that speak a variety of different languages and dialects that pertain to distinct customs, histories, and traditions. Scotland has had a Romani population for at least 500 years, distinct from the native Highland traveller, and share a common language and heritage with the English Gypsies and Welsh Kale. They enjoyed a privileged place in Scottish society until the Reformation, when their wandering lifestyle and exotic culture brought severe persecution upon them. This tartan, created in the early 1800s as a fashion offering as a result of the popularity of Walter Scott's novella, Guy Mannering, was linked to story's fortune-telling gipsy, Meg Merrilees, who was inspired in part by the distinctive and tragic Jean Gordon, an early 18th century Border traveller from near the village of Kirk Yetholm, in the Cheviot Hills.
An inversion of the Dress MacPherson, this tartan was being produced in 1829 as a fashion tartan named 'Meg Merrilies' after Sir Walter Scott's fictional gypsy character in 'Guy Mannering' from the novel "Guy Mannering or the Astrologer," of the Waverley series (written in 1815).
Over time and in the absence of anything else, it has also come to be regarded as the tartan for that family name.
In the novel, the title character, Guy Mannering, after leaving Oxford, is traveling alone through some of the wilder parts of Scotland. After losing his way at nightfall, he is directed to Ellangowan, the home of Mr Godfrey Bertram. The friendly but incompetent Bertram welcomes him, although his wife is in labour with their first child. As they await news, Mannering meets Dominie Sampson, a learned but socially awkward tutor, and Meg Merrilies, a wild-looking, strident Gypsy woman, who has come to tell the child's fortune.
Meg Merrilies is supposedly based on an 18th-century gypsy named Jean Gordon.
Scottish Travellers, loosely and historically termed gypsies or travellers, consist of a number of diverse, unrelated communities that speak a variety of different languages and dialects that pertain to distinct customs, histories, and traditions.
There are four distinct communities that identify themselves as Gypsies/Travellers in Scotland: Indigenous Highland Travellers, Romani Lowland Travellers, Scottish Border Romanichal Traveller (Border Gypsies) and Showman (Funfair Travellers).
Indigenous Highland Travellers are known as the "Ceàrdannan" ("the Craftsmen"), or less controversially, "luchd siubhail" (people of travel). The older term, "tinkers" now considered pejorative is believed to have originated from the Gaelic "tinceard" for (tinsmith). Highland Travellers are closely tied to the native Highlands with many traveller families carrying clan names such as Macfie, Stewart, MacDonald, Cameron, Williamson and MacMillan.
Click the painting by Heywood Hardy (1842-1933) of Meg Merrilies and the Laird of Ellangowan for more about Scottish gypsy Jean Gordon.