The last time so many clan chiefs marched in Edinburgh, they came to wage war on the Hanoverian monarchy. In 1745, they laid siege to the Scottish capital, and threatened to reclaim the Scottish throne for Bonnie Prince Charlie.
Yesterday, in a rain-drenched carnival beside the Queen’s official residence at Holyrood, they brandished glossy leaflets on tartans, ballads and coats of arms, displayed antique relics in the “clan village”, and talked earnestly about relevance.
Thousands of Scottish clansmen and women from across the world have converged on Edinburgh for the Gathering, the centrepiece to the Year of Homecoming set up by Scottish ministers to mark the 250th anniversary of Robert Burns’ birth.
But clan chiefs, the inheritors of 900 years of martial history, Gaelic culture and, to some, a source of great national pride, fear that in Scotland the clans are struggling. Too many young Scots believe they are irrelevant or, at worst, an embarrassing anachronism.
Many of Scotland’s 140 clans and families are now being kept alive by enthusiasts in Ontario and Auckland, rather than Auchterarder or Oban. So clan leaders are now talking about joining Facebook, Twitter and MySpace, launching websites and lobbying ministers to teach clan history in Scottish schools.