June 2015

In this Issue:

 June 2015 Meeting  DNA Pinpoints Ancesters
 From the Editor  Coming Events
 Understanding Whisky  Two Centuries, Two Icons
 The Pipes, The Pipes  Society Officers
 Grand Canyon Celtic Arts Council  June Celebrations
 Historical Events in Scotland First Minister Nicola Stuirgeon
 Suggested Reading

July 11 Meeting - ICC - 6:30 Social - 7 PM Meeting

Several of our members are travelling to Scotland this summer including two who’ve been and are now back.

Elise Van Woert and Mark Pelletier be sharing their experiences at our ‘Malts and Memories’ meeting on Thursday July 11th at the ICC.

Barman Rick will have a full range of single malts, blends and Scottish beers & ales to help your cognitive skills.

Letter from Editor, Don Finch

Dear fellow Caledonians,

As I write this, the outdoor temperature is 101F and summer is still three weeks away! We’re already longing to return to the ‘perfect’ 70’s and 80’s of May, including the windy but wonderful evening of May 14th when the ICC Courtyard was turned into a medieval marketplace with crafts people, Knights in shining armour, plus daring and dashing swordsmen.

We also were informed in an entertaining way by a local representative of the SNP, the political party which captured many brave hearts in the recent UK general election. Our guests from the British meet-up group may not have shared his view of the majority party and the Crown, but to maintain our tax-free 501(c) 3 status in Arizona, we can conveniently choose to avoid these issues!
Scotland is famous for kilts, bagpipes and whisky and in this June issue of the Desert Highlander, you’ll find articles on two of the three.

Don Finch We also want to keep you informed of what some famous Scots are up to these days, and we’ve also included a list of the upcoming Highland Games & Gatherings in the Western US and Canada. If you attend any of them, please bring back ideas and pictures, especially if you make it to ‘the Top of the World Highland Games’ in Dawson, in northern Canada’s Yukon territory!


Understanding Whisky
Reprinted from ‘Whisky Advocate’ Magazine’s Blog

Scotland has more distilleries than any country, with close to 100 of them peppered throughout the land. The most distinctive Scotch whiskies are the single malts. In addition to being distilled and matured in Scotland for a minimum of three years in oak barrels (a requirement for all Scotch whisky), single malt scotch is produced at one distillery (“single”), using only malted barley as the grain (“malt”), and distilled in copper pot stills.

Understanding WhiskyIt is an expensive process   but produces a richly flavored whisky and, because it’s not blended with whiskies from other distilleries, very individualistic. This is why single malt scotch is generally more expensive than blended scotch and coveted by aficionados. It’s also the reason why single malts are so much fun to drink and explore.


Single malts are diverse in flavor, ranging from the gentle and subtly complex whiskies of the Scottish Lowlands, to the firmer, sometimes spicy whiskies in the Highlands, to the briny and often smoky whiskies from the Scottish coastlines and islands. The heart of Scottish distilling is an area known as Speyside, where nearly half of Scotland’s distilleries are situated on—or near—the Spey River. Some Speyside whiskies, like Balvenie and Macallan, are full-bodied and rich. Others, like the Glenlivet 12 year old, are very elegant.

Even with all these great single malts, blended scotch still outsells them by a wide margin. Single malt enthusiasm is a relatively recent phenomenon, gaining popularity over the past two decades. Blended scotches, like Johnnie Walker, Dewar’s, Chivas, and Cutty Sark, are marriages of several, if not dozens of different single malts. The advantage of blending is that it smoothes out the rough edges and fills in the missing gaps of a whisky’s flavor profile.

Probably the least known fact about blended scotch is that the majority of the blend is not single malt scotch at all, but rather grain whisky. Grain whisky is made from various cereal grains and distilled in continuous column stills, similar to the way vodka is made. It produces a less expensive, lighter flavored whisky. Some blends are incredible products, but are generally lighter in flavor and less expensive than single malts.

Many people think all Scotch whiskies are smoky, but only a handful of them really are. The smoke flavor comes from using malted barley that is dried over a peat fire. Peat was, at one time, the only practical fuel source for many distilleries. These days it’s an optional flavor enhancement that, by the way, is very much in vogue right now.

The Pipes, The Pipes
By Terry Sullivan - Photos by World Cruising Club, Malts Cruise 2013

We woke to a distant, warbling cry piercing the dawn, like someone strangling a parrot in the next block. This was our first Saturday in our first apartment, during the Johnson administration (Lyndon, not Andrew), and we heard the same mysterious sound every Saturday. Eventually we discovered that a bagpipe band practices on Saturday mornings in a park field house three blocks away, which is almost far enough.

Jame McPherson leads
James MacPherson piping for the parade of sail at the start of the Malts Cruise 2013

It was my first experience of the pipes, which we don’t have a bunch of in Chicago. Mostly they appear at parades and funerals, played by Chicago cops in kilts, members of Irish marching bands. They hasten, when challenged by the rare Chicago Scotsman, to point out that the ancient Hibernians gave the Caledonians three gifts – the kilt, the pipes, and the whisky – but neglected to tell them that the first two were jokes. (The air is seldom rent with peals of laughter.)

So, aside from listening to Danny Boy and Amazing Grace in cemeteries (and occasionally finding myself behind the Scottish Plumber’s truck in my neighborhood, with the motto “The Pipes are Calling”) it was not until I began visiting Scotland that I learned to love the bagpipe.

I’ve seen any number of haggises (if that’s the plural of haggis, which seems to be in dispute) piped into dining rooms at Burns Night dinners and liked them both – the pipes and the haggis – although I strongly suspect that the chopped lungs are left out in your more upscale joints.

I’ve encountered those ubiquitous roadside pipers and tipped them well, because how would you like to make a living playing Scotland the Brave outdoors in February ten miles north of Glasgow? I’ve been piped into the Scottish National Gallery to meet not one, but two actual earls, and the pipes quickened my step and lightened my heart.

And I’ve sailed out of Oban harbor (okay, harbour) on a tall ship with a piper playing on the bowsprit, and the sound was enough to make me forget how much 14 year old Oban and mysterious bivalves I’d tossed down my gullet the night before. This was the start of the Classic Malts Cruise, a sail through the inner Hebrides: starts at Oban, drops by Islay, and ends up at Skye before turning around.

The trip includes a lot of partying (and a fair amount of rain, it being the west coast of Scotland). It also includes a whole bunch of people who own ocean-going yachts and are looking for an excuse to set sail, plus a bunch of PR folk who invite scribblers along to document the adventure. And a couple of pipers for atmosphere.
The Ceileidh

The ceilidhean were the best part. That’s the plural of ceilidh (I looked this one up!) which is Scots for “why don’t we see how long it takes until somebody calls the police.” A party, that is. Tables full of treats, not least all the malt a man could ask for, every night of the sail. Screaming rock bands of unique composition: three guitars, two drum kits, and one piper drowning them out. It was at the ceilidh at Talisker that I learned the meaning of the pipes as they were played on the field of battle, for the neighbor to the south.

Now, the cruise includes sailors of all sorts. From people with enough money to own those ocean-going boats, to the hired hands who crew them, at least one of whom was an off-duty Aberdeen roustabout from the North Sea oil rigs who liked a chance to sail the big boats. At the end of a long night of partying, I was standing in a group that included said roustabout and a dignified British gentleman with a very big boat indeed.

The lights had been dimmed and the piper was playing a plaintive closing tune while we stood in silent and well-malted awe. The British gentleman’s eyes were closed, and the Scots oil rigger asked, “Yez likes the pipes, do yez?” to which the yachtsman said, “It fairly takes one’s breath away.” The Scot grinned – clearly thinking of Braveheart days – raised his glass and said, “Oh aye, that were the flippin’ idea, mate.” Scotland the Brave, indeed.

Grand Canyon Celtic Arts Council
(Contact: Kari Barton    Kari@GrandCanyonCelicArts.org  928-600-1365)

Grand Canyon Celtic Arts Academy is entering its 7th year! We are very excited to have Cassie and Maggie MacDonald from Halifax, Nova Scotia teaching music and dance of Cape Breton and Gordon Gower from Tucson teaching Irish music.  We offer children’s classes for ages 8-15 and adult classes. There are classes for all ability levels.  Children’s classes are taking place July 13-17 and adult classes are July 14-16 at Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy.

GC Celtic Arts

Children who register will attend 7 classes Monday-Friday. No experience is necessary and all instruments are provided. Children will learn Cape Breton Piano, Cape Breton Fiddle, Tin Whistle, Cape Breton Dancing, Music Mind Games, Traditional Songs of Nova Scotia and Irish Music 101. 

For adults, we offer classes Tuesday-Thursday in Cape Breton Fiddle, Cape Breton Piano, Irish Flute/Whistle, Beginning Tin Whistle, Cape Breton Dance (all levels welcome), and Traditional Songs of Nova Scotia. For those that would like to try out a class, but can’t make it during the day, we offer 2 hour workshops on Monday evening in Irish Music 101 (all levels), Cape Breton Dance (all levels), and  Guitar.

Grand Canyon Celtic Arts Academy is a wonderful opportunity to learn new art forms from the Celtic regions of the world with top-notch instructors and performers. You will come away enthused to continue your studies and with new friends as well!

Scottish Historical Events in June
by Jo Ramsdell

June 24, 1314 - the Battle of Bannockburn

The Battle of Bannockburn, fought on June 24, 1314, was one of the most famous events in the wars of Scottish independence.  It saw the Scottish king, Robert the Bruce, win a key victory over the English forces of King Edward II, despite being outnumbered two-to-one and facing what was regarded as the finest army in the medieval world.

In spite of its importance, nobody is exactly sure where the battle happened.  The backdrop was Stirling Castle, the last English stronghold in Scotland.  The constable of Stirling had agreed to hand over the castle to the Scots unless an English force arrived to relieve him by June 24.  That force arrived the day before the deadline.  Bruce was thought to have made his stand on what is now known as “monument hill” where his statue sits.  It was the perfect location, on high ground with a good field of vision.  It seems more likely the main battle was fought on a nearby area of flat, low ground where the English had camped overnight.

The main threat to Bruce’s forces was the fearsome English cavalry—2,000 heavily armored men on horseback which could easily crush infantry.  Bruce ordered hundreds of holes, measuring just a few feet deep to be dug at a crucial point where the English army would be advancing.  The small pits, capable of snapping horses’ legs, meant the cavalry had to stick to a narrow road and, unable to fan out, were left defensively vulnerable.


The main battle commenced not long after first light on June 24.  The Scots emerged from Bannockburn Wood and got down on their knees to pray.  King Edward, with his 16,000 strong army, thought the Scots were surrendering.  But they were in for a shock.  The Bannockburn—the long snaky waterway after which the battle was named—proved to be Edward’s nemesis.  Penned between the burn and the Scots, the English forces had no choice but the cross back over the river, which was almost impossible because of the heavy armor they wore.  

Sensing defeat, King Edward fled towards Stirling Castle.  But he wasn’t well received by the remainder of the English garrison.  Shunned by his own men, the king ended up in the East Lothian town of Dunbar. 

Despite the outcome of the battle, Robert the Bruce had to wait another 14 years for the king’s son, Edward III, to recognize him as the rightful king of an independent Scotland.

DNA Pinpints Scottish Ancesters

Dr. Tyrone Bowes, Scientist and Genetic Genetic Genealogist has just produced a Scottish Surnames and DNA map. A copy of that map will be displayed at our June 14th Caledonian Society event at the ICC.

SCottish Origins map

Dr. Bowes hopes it will encourage people to participate in commercial ancestral DNA testing to explore their Scottish origins.

The map details the precise origin of approximately 4000 Scottish surnames.

To learn more, visit: www.scottishorigenes.com

Coming Western US & Canada Highland Games

June 6 Modesto CA standrewsmodesto.org
June 6-8 Lehi UT utahscots.org
June 6 Bellingham WA bhga.org
June 12-14 Newport OR ncf.org
June 13-15

Dawson City YK

June 18-19 Pikes Peak CO pikespeakcelticfestival.com
June 27-28 San Diego CA sdhighlandgames.org
July 10-11 Payson UT paysonscottishfestival.org/
July 11-12 Skagit Valley WA celticarts.org
July 18-19 Flagstaff AZ nachs.info
July 18-19 Elizabeth CO elizabethcelticfestival.com
July 25-26 Enumclaw WA sshga.org
August 1-2 Monterey CA montereyscotgames.com
August 9-10 Snowmass CO scottishgames.org
August 15-16 Bitterroot MT bitterrootscottishirishfestival.org
August 21-22 La Grande OR neoregoncelts.com
September 5-6 Calgary AB calgaryhighlandgames.org
September 5-6 Canmore AB canmorehighlandgames.ca
September 5-6 Pleasanton CA .caledonian.org
September 10-11 Estes Park CO scotfest.com"
September 26 Boise ID idahoscots.org
October 9-11 Ventura CA seaside-games.com
November 6-8 Tucson AZ tucsoncelticfestival.org

Suggested Reading - Essays on Life - by Thomas Mitchell

The book comprises six essays - The Art of Living, The Secret of Success, The Value of Work, Thrift, Education and Its Value and finally Friendship.
It written between 1910 and 1914 by Thomas Mitchell, a simple Scottish farmer and my grandfather. The book has received several positive reviews in Scottish publications and we think that it would appeal to American readers, your 19th century American writer Elihu Burritt being referred to frequently as a kindred spirit with whom TM identified closely. James Garfield and social reformer Garret Smith are also held up as examples to follow.     

Recently published by Vagabond Voices, the book is a fundraising project with all proceeds going to Crathie Opportunity Holidays, a charity based in Aberdeenshire, Scotland providing holiday accommodation specially equipped for disabled people, many of whom have never before been able to enjoy a holiday with their families and careers. www.crathieholidays.org.uk           Crathie Opportunity Holidays was started by, is associated with, and sits on the grounds of Crathie Kirk, which is the church attended by the HM The Queen and her family whilst they are in residence at their summer retreat Balmoral Castle, which sits across the river from the holiday cottages. The Duchess of Rothesay is the current patron and she and Prince Charles are keen supporters.  

Further details on the book and the author can also be found on  https://thomasmitchellfarmer.wordpress.com, and copies may be obtained via amazon.co.uk or direct from the publishers vagabondvoices.co.uk

(Summary provided by Sheila Harrison)

Two Centuries, Two Icons

Reprinted from “Whisky Advocate” Magazine)

Ardbeg 200 years         Laphroaig 200 years

Two landmark Islay distilleries will celebrate 200 years in 2015. Ardbeg and Laphroaig: these two new bicentarians will swell the membership of the now thirteen strong club of working Scotch malt whisky distilleries founded over 200 years ago. These distilleries have doggedly endured world wars, catastrophic fires, Prohibition, generations of family ownership (and family feuding), scandals, bankruptcy, corporate buyouts, whisky booms, and whisky crashes. Ardbeg and Laphroaig make claim to their origins in the year 1815; the same year that Napoleon was defeated at the battle of Waterloo, and James Madison was in office as the fourth President of the United States.

To read more about these two peaty Islay whiskies, purchase the Summer 2015 edition of Whisky Advocate magazine on your newsstand, or go to: www.whiskyadvocate.com

June Celebrations
If you would like your special date recognized in our monthly newsletter, we need to hear from you. Please let us know your correct birthday and anniversary information by email to anjrams@cox.net and it will be included in our Celebration list.

June 10 Alan & Mary Jo Ramsdell - Anniversary
June 12 Don & Bobby Hoeck - Anniversary

Famous Scots - First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

Nicola Ferguson Sturgeon (born 19 July 1970) is the fifth and current First Minister of Scotland and the Leader of the Scottish National Party, in office since 2014. She is the first woman to hold either position. Sturgeon represents Glasgow Southside as its MSP.

Nicola Sturgeon Sturgeon took part in several Scottish and UK-wide TV election debates on the run up to the 2015 general election and according to opinion polls was regarded to have had a successful performance. Though she personally did not stand for election to the House of Commons, the SNP went on to win a landslide victory in Scotland, winning 56 out of 59 seats.

Sturgeon lives in Glasgow with her husband Peter Murrell, who is the current chief executive of the SNP. The couple has been in a relationship since 2003. They announced their engagement on 29 January 2010 and were married on 16 July 2010 at Òran Mór in Glasgow. Her mother, Joan, is the SNP Provost of North Ayrshire council, where she has been councillor for the Irvine East ward since 2007.

Sturgeon is a fan of the Danish political drama Borgen, which she has described as "a drama but with an authentic twist. As a politician I can relate to it."


Famous Scots - Formula One Driver David Coulthard

Scotsman and ex- Formula One driver David Coulthard attended the recent wedding of Geri ‘Ginger Spice’ Halliwell to Red Bull F1 Team principal Christian Horner

Membership Renewal Reminder

Dues are still only $25 Single and $40 Family. This admits you to all our wonderful monthly events with food and entertainment provided.

It’s easy to pay by credit card or PayPal, just jump to the Membership Page

Society Meetings
Regular membership meetings are held the second Thursday of each month at the Irish Cultural Center, 1106 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, AZ. beginning at 6:30 pm. Come join us or log on to www.arizonascots.com.

Caledonian Society Officers
President: Don Finch
Immediate Past President: Mark Clark
Past President: (2010 – 2012) Jean Latimer
Vice President  
Secretary & Membership Chair: Ian Warrander
Treasurer: David McBee
Games Chair
Paul Bell
Trustee 1: Mark Pelletier
Trustee 2: Michelle Crownhart
Trustee 3: Thom von Hapsburg
Newsletter Editor:

Don Finch
Statutory Agent: Dan Miller
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