“Crann Tara” translated means “Fiery Cross” its reason for existance was communication between the clans. Here is a short hiostory of how it came to be, and its amazing significance to the Scots as a nation.
Roman Catholicism, was one of the first Christian religions to be associated with the Scottish clans. The Christian Cross became very symbolic in their lives and culture. It came as no great surprise that the clans used the sign of the Cross to spell out danger.
They developed a manner of contacting others by the use of what became known as the “Fiery Cross” it was a warning for the people to gather together. The Cross was viewed then with awe and reverence, and not a thing to be used without good reason.
The Scottish people were a war-like fighting race, and liked nothing better than to fight among themselves for land, cattle or even clasnspeople. Many clans formed alliance with others for the common good and protection of each other.
There was very rarely actual peace on clan land at that time in history. Violence could appear from nowhere and the clans had to be always prepared and vigilant from attack. A successful attack on a clan could herald its very demise. Clan lands and cattle, and sheep constituted the principal source of wealth in those regions, so if this was taken away the people suffered greatly.
The “Fiery Cross” was the modern day equivalent of an aircraft squadrons ‘scramble' call. Each clan had a certain rendezvous point, and all the men capable of fighting were expected to be there, armed and ready for action.
There were several different methods of lighting the ‘Fiery Cross' It was usually fashioned from a Yew or Hazel tree in the shape of the Latin used C hristian cross of history. The manner of procedure seemed to vary. Sometimes the ends of the upper and two horizontal arms were set on fire and then the blaze was extinguished in the blood of a goat slain for the purpose; at other times one of the ends of the horizontal piece was burnt or burning while a piece of white cloth stained with blood was suspended from the other end. This could have been regional or just a preference of the individual clans.
The method used to rouse the people was for two clansmen to leave with their respective “Fiery Cross” and while shouting loudly the clans war cry, they gave the place and the time of the rendezvous. As the runners tired another would take his
place (like a relay team) By changing the runners huge amounts of ground could be covered in a short space of Time. Using this method was very effective and successful for the clans.
If for whatever reason the call to arms went unheeded then the consequences were dire. Mothers, and fathers rebuked sons. Lovers separated because the man had failed to appear for his clan duty. They were looked upon as traitors to their people and unworthy of living on clan land. Usually they would be chased from the homeland, never to be allowed to return because they were cowards. No excuse was accepted for not responding to the summons; the call was absolute, imperative, and urgent. The groom forsook his bride at the church door; the pall-bearers abandoned the funeral bier, wherever the Cross was met, you had to be there. They even penned poetry to warn people of the importance of the call.
Woe to the wretch who fails to rear
At this dread sign the ready spear!
Far o'er its roof the volumed flame
Clan Alpine's vengeance shall proclaim,
While maids and matrons on his name,
Shall call down wretchedness and shame,
And infamy and woe.
When flits this cross from man to man,
Vich-Alpine's summons to his Clan,
Burst be the ear that fails to heed! Palsied the foot that shuns to speed!
May ravens tear the careless eyes,
Wolves make the coward heart their prize!
As sinks that blood stream in the earth,
So may his heart's blood drench his hearth!
Fast as the fatal symbol flies,
In arms the huts and hamlets rise,
The fisherman forsook the strand,
The swarthy smith took dirk and brand;
With changed cheer, the mower blithe
Left in the half-cut swath his scythe;
The herds without a keeper strayed,
The plough was in mid furrow stayed,
The falc'ner tossed his hawk away,
The hunter left the stag at bay;
Prompt at the signal of alarms,
Each son of Alpine rushed to arms.
The “Fiery Cross” was always regarded as a ‘Highland' thing, which it was. Probably the only time the "Fiery Cross" was ever used in the lowlands of Scotland was in the year of 1547 during the minority reigns of Mary Queen of Scots and Edward VI of England. The English government was in favour of a marriage between the two young monarchs in order to unite the two kingdoms, to which the dominant party in Scotland objected. The English army invaded Scotland and the Scottish governor, fearing the people might not obey an ordinary summons to arms, sent the "Fiery Cross" throughout the country, Lowlands as well as Highlands. The cross was fastened to the point of a spear and sent with great rapidity from town to town, village to village, and hamlet to hamlet, with the result that in a wonderfully short time an army of 36,000 men had assembled for the defense of the realm.
The fiery cross was used during the 1715 Jacobite uprising to call together the clans at Loch Tay, under the command of the Laird of Glenlyon to join the Earl of mar. One of the last times the “Fiery Cross” was to be used was in the same Glen during the ‘45' when Lord Breadalbane sent the cross a distance of thirty-two miles, in three hours, to raise his people and prevent their joining the so called rebels.
The western portions of Virginia and the Carolinas, the northern portions of Georgia and Alabama, and most of Tennessee, were settled by the hardy race of Scottish-Irish, in whose veins the Scottish blood was still warm, and vibrant.
The writer Thomas Dixon, in "The Clansman," makes mention of the use of the "Fiery Cross" in the rites and ceremonies of the Ku-Klux Klan, which organization originated and flourished among the Scottish-Irish of those regions.
In these days of peace and civilization we no longer need the "Fiery Cross" to summon us to deeds of war and violence; but we will cherish it as the symbol of unity and loyalty among kindred and make use of it in summoning us to gather together in Clanship, in inspiring cordiality among us, and in fostering home ties. Maybe some day soon we will need the return of the “Fiery Cross”
All honour to the “Fiery Cross” May its mission never cease!