Fonn 's Duthchas: Land and Legacy

A National Touring Exhibition for Highland 2007

National Museums Scotland, the National Galleries of Scotland and the National Library of Scotland have forged a partnership and developed a collaborative exhibition, 'Fonn 's Duthchas: Land and Legacy' as part of the Highland 2007 programme. Celebrating aspects of Highland cultural life past and present, the exhibition has been funded by the Scottish Executive as part of their commitment to Highland 2007, a major project to showcase the Highlands during 2007 as a great place to live and to visit.

Providing a fresh modern showcase for Highland culture that reflects the roots, values and cultural heritage of a creative and freethinking people, Fonn 's Duthchas promotes a celebration of the heritage and creativity of a society which continues to contribute so significantly to the cultural identity of Scotland.

The exhibition's title comes from the Gaelic phrase 'Fonn 's Duthchas' which has a range of meanings including 'land' and 'legacy', however, 'Fonn' can also mean 'music' and 'tune', and 'Duthchas' can signify a hereditary right to the place of your birth.

Dr Gordon Rintoul, Director of the National Museums of Scotland commented:

'National Museums Scotland is very pleased to be working in partnership with National Galleries of Scotland and the National Library of Scotland to create this fascinating and revealing exhibition. 'Fonn 's Duthchas' draws on iconic objects from all of the national institutions to offer people across Scotland and beyond a valuable insight into the past, present and future of Highland culture.'

This special touring exhibition divides into ten sections and explores wide ranging themes including the oral tradition and the resurgence of traditional language, the Highland landscape and its effect upon its people, and industry and infrastructure, exploring early industry and its development to the sustainable industries, including the advent of new media have revolutionised Highland communities today.

'Fonn 's Duthchas' opens with a section entitled 'Connected communities' reflecting on the present day and ways in which the Highlands have embraced new technologies. New means of communications have allowed age old barriers of distance and geography to be removed.

The landscape and the population's relationship with it are explored. Historically land ownership has been a contentious issue from its earliest inhabitants, the Picts and Scots, through the dramatic arrival of the Vikings and subsequent incomers to the clan system and the brutality of the Clearances. In the Highlands and Islands today there is a move towards community land ownership and in recent years the purchase of North Assynt Estate by its crofting community and the island of Gigha by its residents, were catalysts in the passing of the 2003 Land Reform Act to facilitate other such initiatives.

John Leighton, Director-General of the National Galleries of Scotland commented:

'We are very excited to be partners in this highly-ambitious project which will unite major works from the national collections in new and imaginative ways. Through telling combinations of art, objects and manuscripts the public will be able to experience the depth and resonance of Highland Culture across the ages.'

Visitors will be able to follow the development of the romanticised view of Highland culture and discover the role that iconic figures such as Sir Walter Scott and Queen Victoria played in creating and perpetuating the popular perception of the Highlands as peopled by tartan clad folk playing bagpipes as they stride through heather carpeted glens.

Objects in this section include a manuscript of 'Rob Roy' and a sporran with concealed pistols which would be fired to ward off attackers. The latter item was viewed by Sir Walter Scott and inspired him to allocate such an exploding sporran to his hero, Rob Roy:

  • 'I advise no man to attempt opening the sporran till he has my secret, said Rob Roy, … This, said he, touching the pistol — This is the keeper of my privy purse.'
    'Rob Roy' by Walter Scott, Edinburgh 1818

Also on display is a French edition of James Macpherson's 'Ossian' which is of particular interest as it belonged to Napoleon. The Gaelic Bard's writing helped to transform the perception of the Highlander into something of a national hero, and his work was popular across Europe fuelling an increasing fascination for the Highlands. Many of these iconic figures which are associated with Scottish national identity are still prevalent today and the importance of 'Ossian' is illustrated in Calum Colvin's contemporary immortalisation of him.

Exhibits have been drawn from across the national collections to illustrate the relationship between land and people and nowhere is this more evident than in the section on defence of the Highlands. Highlanders have had to defend their territories against successions of invaders and in later centuries Highland soldiers gained a reputation for bravery and determination ensuring they became a vital source of recruitment for the British Army.

Up until 1745 the Stewarts, unsuccessfully, used the Highlanders in bids to overthrow the British monarch and recapture the throne. The exhibition includes one of the best-known Jacobite images, Antonio David's charismatic portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie, and a quaich gifted to Flora MacDonald by the young prince and Bishop Robert Forbes' 'The Lyon in Mourning'. The latter item is Forbes' 10-volume account of the activities of Prince Charles Edward and his followers.

The final Jacobite defeat at the Battle of Culloden 1746 is notated by Captain Felix O'Neill through his diary which was written on a deck of playing cards which can be viewed in the exhibition. Following Culloden the British Government set about dismantling the clan system and banned Highland dress, tartan and the carrying of weapons. Ironically, after the successful destruction of the clan system, by the late 18th century increasing numbers of Highland regiments were created and the British Army incorporated the kilt into their military uniforms.

National Librarian Martyn Wade said :

'We are very excited to be taking part in this exhibition with our colleagues from the Museums and Galleries. It's a wonderful opportunity for people to both learn about Highland Culture and to see some of the real "marquee" treasures held by the national collections institutions. From our point of view it's always a pleasure to get a range of items, from treasures like Napoleon's copy of Macpherson's 'Ossian' or the Iona Psalter, to modern items like manuscript and printed material from Sorley MacLean and Iain Crichton Smith, to more esoteric things like our Gaelic language text messaging guide, out where people can come and see them.'

Traditionally Highlanders have made their living from the land and sea. Francis Cadell's atmospheric painting 'Iona Croft', combined with examples of crofting implements and fishing equipment illustrate a life lived out in the face of the elements and on often harsh landscape.

There were periods throughout Scotland's history when the land was unable to fully support its population and the greatest export of the Highlands and Islands became people. In the late 18th and in the 19th century around 100,000 people emigrated. Some went by choice, others were forcibly removed from their lands. Today this trend has been reversed and Fonn 's Duthchas offers a changed picture of the region, with emigration on the decline, immigration increasing and the population of the Highlands bucking the trend in Scotland over the past 40 years and increasing by a fifth.

Currently the Highlands has been transformed to a place growing in population and prosperity. The economy has diversified, embracing new industries and sustainable energy sources such as windfarms. The oil industry and tourism have generated investment and jobs and inward investment in initiatives such as the IT-based University of the Highlands and Islands has contributed to a new found confidence and optimism across the region.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a richly illustrated publication, 'Fonn 's Duthchas: Land and Legacy' by James Hunter. Published by NMSE Publishing Ltd. Price £9.99.

'Fonn 's Duthchas' will be supported by a web resource offering online opportunities to explore, through games and learning materials, the themes and objects contained in the exhibition (

Touring schedule:

  • Inverness Museum and Art Gallery
    Saturday 13 January — Saturday 17 March 2007
  • Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow
    Friday 6 April — Sunday 10 June 2007
  • National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh
    Friday 29 June — Sunday 2 September 2007
  • Museum nan Eilean, Stornoway
    Friday 21 September — Saturday 1 December 2007

15 November 2006

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