What is a Clan?

The word "clan" (Gaelic "clann", which is the same word as the Latin "planta") means "offspring, buds, children, family" and the idea behind the existence of these clans was that all members has a common ancestry which often became ‘mythified’ and made them prestigious.

The Scottish Clan system, as it operated in the Middle Ages, favoured a community on individuals who were totally integrated. For example, a member of a clan could, for a crime, stand trial on behalf of a fellow clansman.

The spirit that exists in a clan, was defined by Dr.Samuel Johnson (1775): a union of affections and co-operation of efforts among the members of the clan.

(The Clanswomen and Clansmen of the Clan Hay Luxembourg and France were accompanied by DorothéeRoels (Convenor Clan Hay Belgium) and Frank, her husband during their tour of the Grand-Ducal Palace, so please feel free to join us in our activities.

At all times all Scots have been very proud of their nationality, their culture and their traditions. Nevertheless there is a geological gap between the Lowlands and the Highlands that has an important impact on the way of life.

At the geological level, the Highlands are mainly composed of rock, making farming almost impossible. Life was rough and the notion of "Clann" was fundamental.

The members of the clan had the same name, which in the Highlands often began with the prefix "Mac", "son of" in Gaelic, followed by the name of the common ancestor.

Other families, called septs, bearing other names, recognized certain common roots and thus were integrated into this clan structure.

At a lifestyle level, Georges Orwell describes Lowlanders as reserved, cautious and efficient; the Highlanders on the other hand are considered unpredictable, romantic and unconventional.

Clans are associated in particular with a tartan (colours and a particular check on the traditional clothing), a motto (the motto of the Hay clan is "ServaJugum", "Hold the yoke »), and a crest, often with a magical meaning, worn on a spear or in a cap (all Hays wear the badge of the falcon).

The clans were characterized by the collective possession of a territory administered by the Clan Chief for the benefit of all members.

The clans, in their territory, sought to be self-sufficient by raising livestock (small sheep which were less destructive than those of today and cattle) and growing barley(whereof we make whisky) and oats (from which the traditional dish, porridge, came from.

The leaders promised their fellow "clansmen" to administer the territory well, and the "clansmen" had, in exchange, to take up the arms for their leaders when they were called upon.

Map of the territories of the Hay Clan

Discover the interactive map of Clans on https://www.lochcarron.co.uk/clanmap/

In the seventeenth century, because of the English influence, little by little the heads of clans transformed into feudal lords who exercised increasing seigneurial power on their fellow ''clansmen".

Thus clan leaders sometimes carried noble titles of nobility, thus the Clan Chief of the Hays is the Earl of Erroll.

The Hay Clan marching at National Tartan Day in New York.

Today an intense cultural and associative activity develops around the clans: genealogies, museums, meetings between descendants of the "clansmen" dispersed around the World (all Scots or descendants of Scots with the same name may claim clan membership of that name).

His Royal Highness Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, who is known in Scotland as the Duke of Rothesay is seen here with Tom Hye (Convenor of the Clan Hay in Continental Europe)

A big thank you to Jean-Marie Meilland for his permission to share his article on Clans.