The Ghillie Gazette

The May/June 2017 newsletter of the Portland Oregon Branch of the R.S.C.D.S.

Message From The President

by Holly Gibson

Hello, dancing friends! (For you grammarians out there, yes, I meant for this to apply to friends who are dancing and dancers who are friends.) We’ve had another fun-filled dancing season, even if the snow did interrupt us several times last winter, with a successful workshop and ball (if anyone is interested in being ball chair next year, let me know) and a lively December dance with the talented Lisa Scott and Betsy Branch providing the music.

Summer will be here soon, and folks will scatter hither and yon on vacations and other trips. But, before that, it would be wonderful to see all of you at the last Saturday dance on May 13 at 7:30 and the AGM on May 15. This will be held between the beginner and intermediate classes and should be fairly short. We also hope to be able to participate in the Portland Highland Games on the third Saturday in July and will provide that information when it becomes available.

I want to thank our teachers who have brought us both familiar and new dances this season, and to all of you who have faithfully come on Monday nights. If anyone has any ideas about luring, I mean reaching, new dancers or fund raising for next year’s workshop and ball, feel free to speak to any of us on the board. Thanks again and see you soon.

A Brief History of a Famous Scottish Dance Fiddler, Composer, and Dance Teacher – James Scott Skinner

by Mel Whitson

James Scott Skinner (JSS for short) is well known to musicians who play for Scottish dancing. His tunes are well known to dancers too, although they may not realize it! Self-proclaimed the “Strathspey King,” he composed over 600 tunes

JSS was born in 1843 in the village of Banchory, on Deeside, which is located about 18 miles west (and a bit south) of Aberdeen, in northeast Scotland.

JSS came from a musical background. His father, William played the fiddle and was also a dancer. However, JSS didn’t really know his father as William died when JSS was 18 months old. William’s main occupation was as a gardener but unfortunately, he had an accident with a gun and lost three fingers on his left hand. Not to be deterred, William retaught himself to play by now bowing with the left hand (usually a fiddler bows with the right hand). This was possible as a friend helped him to transpose his fiddle for left hand playing. Since gardening was now not possible, William became an itinerant dancing master and fiddler.

When JSS was six years old, his brother Sandy began to teach him to play the fiddle and the cello by ear. When JSS was about eight or nine years old, he started playing gigs with Sandy at weddings, barn dances, and parties, often walking miles to the locations and back home again.

He also played with another well-known fiddler and composer of the times, Peter Milne. At the age of nine, JSS moved to Aberdeen and lived with a married sister while attending school. His brother Sandy meanwhile began teaching dancing in Aberdeen. After turning 12 (in 1855), JSS left Aberdeen under a six-year apprenticeship with “Dr. Mark’s Little Men,” a group of 40 boy musicians led by Dr. Mark. With this entourage, JSS toured Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales. During this period, he learned classical violin techniques under the tutelage of a French violinist.

In 1861, just shy of his six-year commitment, he left Dr. Mark’s group and returned to Aberdeen. He sought out a dancing master to teach him dancing, including the ballroom dances of quadrilles and polkas as well as Highland dances like the sword dance and Highland Fling. By 1861, he was able to make his living as a teacher of dancing and deportment. He periodically undertook performance and teaching tours with various different combinations of teachers and music and voice performers. As his own son, Manson, grew older, he joined JSS on these tours as a dancer. JSS even toured the U.S. at one point!

JSS began composing music at an early age and his first publication came at the age of 17. It was a polka, which was a relatively new form of dance at the time, and very popular. Just a few of his well-known tunes include: Bonnie Lass o’ Bon Accord, The Cradle Song, The Laird o’ Drumblair, Our Highland Queen (used for the dance, Royal Wedding and recorded by Susan Worland Bentley and Andy Imbrie), The Music of Spey (used when we dance Miss Gibson’s Strathspey) and Hector the Hero. Almost every Scottish dance CD recording I own has at least one tune on it that was composed by JSS, and I have a fair number of recordings!

JSS lived long enough to see the era of sound recording begin, dying at age 84 in 1927. He is buried in Aberdeen. One can actually hear him playing on YouTube. The sound is scratchy (recorded originally on rolls of coated paper or on a cylinder or disc coated with wax or a soft metal), so the sound and speed may not be the same as how he actually played, but it’s still plenty interesting.
Here’s the link:

To hear a talented fiddler playing a set of three JSS tunes, check out this link:

St. Patrick’s Day Demonstrations

by Martin MacKenzie

St. Patrick’s day is a day where anyone who has any Celtic connection whatsoever is busy playing music or in our case, performing dance demonstrations as faux Irish, at least for a day.

Historically, we tend to do dance demonstrations either at retirement homes or venues like pubs or social clubs and the like. As such, a demonstration at a retirement home is aimed primarily at entertainment and education while a demonstration at a social club or pub or similar venue has a secondary goal of attracting participation and if possible, recruiting new dancers.

Cascade Inn

The first demonstration the day of was at the Cascade Inn in Vancouver. This is a retirement home with a variety of people living in the facility with various abilities and disabilities. These folks are full of memories and often are either bored or sad. After a demonstration, very often conversations and other interactions happen. Many are interested in our clothing and some have had other kinds of dance experiences. I encountered several who asked questions and I gave them as much information and history as appropriate to their queries.

One “young lady” in particular had spent much of her adult years dancing but arthritis and spinal issues had reduced her to making her way using a walker. She was very thankful to be reminded of better memories and was blessed by the personal contact she received from us.

The second demonstration that day was held at an Elks Lodge nearby. We were part of other entertainments given for St. Patrick’s Day. The crowd appeared to be on the surface less thoughtful but that was somewhat of an illusion. During a lull in activities, I had a conversation with an attendee, a local business owner, who wanted to know about my kilt and the history of it. He asked several thoughtful follow up questions which I did my best to answer accurately.

After the main part of our demonstration, we organized an audience participation dance as these folks were physically more able. If memory correctly serves, we only had time to take the crowd through Loon Mountain Reel but many participated enthusiastically.

It can be argued that these kinds of events don’t have much value as they aren’t successful recruiting events. However, I think that there is intrinsic value interacting with the public and bringing some joy and knowledge outside of the garbage that comes through television. Therefore, Eunice and I will continue to participate as long as we are able.

Scotland 2016, Part Two

by Martin MacKenzie

Eilean Donan Castle

In this, what I would call the second leg of our journey, we travelled north and west to Dornie heading out towards the Kyle of Lochalsh. We visited Eilean Donan Castle on the way, stopped to see a rather interesting war memorial to British commandos on the way, then contined on through Ft. William and Inverness. We then travelled along the northwest shore of Loch Ness, through Nairn and Elgin running north of Cairngorm National Park, and arriving at the wee town of Huntly for a day and a night then on to Aberdeen for two days. The first section of the trip was, for this writer, very much about driving as we didn’t stop much because there was a long distance to travel that day after leaving Duror and Ballachulish and much of the route was under construction, especially across through Nairn and Elgin and along the north coast of Scotland and down into Speyside.

The now very touristy Eilean Donan castle is a magical place and loaded with history and stories about its reconstruction after British frigates and their crews blew it to bits during the years of the Jacobite rebellions. From the castle’s website, “For the best part of 200 years, the stark ruins of Eilean Donan lay neglected, abandoned and open to the elements, until Lt Colonel John Macrae-Gilstrap bought the island in 1911. Along with his Clerk of Works, Farquar Macrae, he dedicated the next 20 years of his life to the reconstruction of Eilean Donan, restoring her to her former glory. The castle was rebuilt according to the surviving ground plan of earlier phases and was formally completed in the July of 1932.” The old girl is a beautiful testament to the MacRaes and just as picturesque in person as in the movies or on postcards. However, to me this was a secondary place to visit beside Dornie village. As some of you will know, we lost my older sister Dornie to cancer this year and we wanted to visit the village as my father specifically named her after it. The place is as pretty as the flowers that grow there. The local Dornie Village store seemed to be the focal point for those who live there to meet, put a letter in the post, pick up needed groceries and keep in touch with one another. This was another of the towns along with Huntly that would be nice to put one’s feet up for at least a week.

As I look back over the journey, I was not as aware of the country I traveled through as were my charges, but as we learned later, a good section of the journey was taken up driving along the northwest shore of Loch Ness. We never really took in the touristy site in this area but we did stop at a tourist information center in the village of Ness and in addition to picking up a few things to bring home, I photographed the area around the village, taking special note of signage plainly aimed at Continental European tourists that seemed to have trouble driving correctly on the left in that part of Scotland. Another treat I personally acquired in the village was a book with the title of “The Forgotten Highlander” written by a Scottish WWII veteran from Aberdeen by the name of Alistair Urquhart. He was one of an unusual few of Scots who fought in the Pacific Theatre and who was captured by the Japanese. The book is in places very painful to read because of the descriptions of Japanese and Korean attrocities. However, Alistair was and is a dancer and upon his return to Scotland this was one of the primary activities that helped him return back to society after the horrors he experienced during the War.

Quad, University of Aberdeen

We arrived in Huntly later in the day and plopped down in our suite of rooms at Drumdelgie House, a B&B, Cottages, and Rooms-to-Rent sort of place. We rented one of the newest suites which while quite luxurious had a few mechanical issues as it had just been completed. As I hadn’t done sufficient research into restaurants in Huntly and we were rather too tired for research, Kat and I went into town and shopped for our dinner fixings at a Tesco shopping center. Amongst other tasties, we picked up haggis pizza, yes, haggis pizza. I just had to because it was such a cheezy idea. The next day, on the way into town, we stopped at that same Tesco and picked up a few additional needs and then headed into Huntly proper. Huntly is the seat of Clan Gordon and birthplace of George MacDonald and is not far away from Aberdeen. This is the same George MacDonald of whom Lewis wrote in his preface to the book, George MacDonald: An Anthology, “I have never concealed the fact that I regarded him as my master; indeed I fancy I have never written a book in which I did not quote from him.” If the reader is interested in further comments concerning the relationship between these two great writers, visit We didn’t have much time to explore places in town associated with him but we went north of town through a very narrow arch and single track road and visited Huntly castle. It is a ruin but it has been well preserved and has means built into it that allowed exploration from top to bottom. It was quite an educational experience for us. Huntly is a very peaceful town that I would consider returning to again. After having a nice lunch at the bistro in the Dean’s of Huntly shortbread factory,, we continued on to Aberdeen.

Tomb, University of Aberdeen

Aberdeen was very much the busy port town. I little understood that the Douglas Hotel where we were to lodge was next to a very busy shipyard, dock, and a crowded and busy downtown. We managed to arrive during rush hour and soon found out just how much I had miscalculated the desirability of its location. However, with Kat’s able guidance at the GPS on the phone and my steadily improving UK driving skills we arrived safely at the Douglas after serveral very slow circuits through the dock area. The hotel was very nice, rather old world in character with what looked like an old coal fireplace converted to gas. We found that this was much more a workaday place where crews of the ships in the harbor came to stay a night or two before their ships departed for other ports or crews headed out to drilling platforms on the North Sea. We mostly took our meals in Molly’s Bistro though we visited Malones Irish Bar which seemed to be mostly a sports bar of uncertain quality. We did enjoy a full formal tea at Molly’s while in Aberdeen. At our arrival here, Kat then continued on with friends down through continental Europe and then on to Sweden.

You may ask, why Aberdeen? Aberdeen is the city where The University of Aberdeen is, the oldest of the list of “ancient” universities in Great Britain altogether. There are four of these universities in Scotland, two in England, and one in Ireland. The Universiy of Aberdeen is not the oldest of the ancient universities but it can’t be called a young whippersnapper with a founding date of 1495. This is the university where my wife Eunice’s third oldest brother Daniel obtained a Doctorate of Divinity when his children were young. Our objective was to locate and photograph the house where he and his family lived in and visit and photograph the university itself. The second day of our stay in Aberdeen, we first drove to the house and took our photographs there. We also met a current resident of the neighborhood who had lived there since that time and she filled our ears with accounts of the history of all her neighbors in the immediate neighborhood. After that, we drove to Seaton Park which was roughly in walking distance of the University itself. Once we arrived, we were amazed at the sites, photographed everything that might be of note and one or two trifling things as they were interesting to this North American mind. Fortunately, as Eunice was rather tired, I was able to return to the car and navigate passage down into the heart of the University and pick her up to return to our hotel.

Upcoming Events

Here's a list of events coming up in the next ninety days. This calendar is kept up to date at

April 2019

Vancouver, Wash.
4/27 at 6:00pm

May 2019

Burlingame Water Tower, Portland, Ore.
5/11 at 7:30pm
Portland AGM
Burlingame Water Tower, Portland, Ore.
5/20 at 7:30pm

June 2019

Portland Class
Burlingame Water Tower, Portland, Ore.
6/3 at 7:30pm


If you want to vote in the Annual General Meeting (AGM), your membership must be renewed before the Meeting, which is the second Monday in May.

If your are not a current member, you can register here.

Royal Scottish Country Dance Society, Portland Ore. Branch:
Membership Form 2018-2019

Membership Type:

Note for families: Join at the family rate only if there are two adults; a single adult should join at the single rate.

A “secondary” membership is for people who already have their RSCDS membership through another branch and want to become members of our branch. The “Ghillie Gazette Only” option is for people who have not yet decided to join the branch but would like to receive the newsletter.

Please make check payable to “RSCDS Portland OR Branch” and mail or give to Sally Palmer, 1425 SE Yukon St., Portland, OR 97202-5315 . We cannot process your membership request until we receive your check.

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