Highland Highlights

By Loraine Ritchey

The following is written by Glen McGregor, parent and owner of the Highlanddance web site

"Aye Been"

The world is full of aye beens. How many times have we all heard the phrase or been told its 'aye been done that way'? To someone like me who has a tendency always to question the status quo it can be like a proverbial red rag to a bull. I cringe every time I hear these words.

This summer our family returned to Orkney for our summer vacation. This time around we were neither encumbered by prams nor restricted by feeding times or nap times. Our youngest, Lorna, now being the grand age of eight, had no recollection of her first holiday in Orkney so for her it was a new experience. This time around we were able to take a day trip to one of the northern islands, Westry, and to Noup Head Lighthouse where my wife, Louise's, mother was born in the 1930's. We knew of the remoteness of the place from pictures but to experience it first hand was something different. Louise's Grandparents Wullie and Mary Hislop were in the service of the Northern Lighthouse Board from 1936 to 1967 when Wullie was forced to retire due to ill health

After an hour walking around the cliffs, taking photographs and all the things that tourist's do we grew to appreciate the strength of character that the Lighthouse Keepers and their families must have had to stay in areas such as these in the service of others. We also grew to appreciate the leap of faith and deepness of her love for her husband that took a young woman from the town of Paisley in the industrialised conurbation of the West of Scotland to the bleakness of Noup Head. The days of the Lighthouse Keepers are now at an end in Scotland with all of the Northern Lights now having been automated. It had aye been the practice that lighthouses had lighthouse keepers, but modern technology has for better, or worse, seen that occupation fade in to history.

By accident of birth and nothing more I have been a member of the Church of Scotland all my days - graduating from Sunday School to Bible Class to full membership and now Elder. It was the church in which I was Christened as it was for Louise and the girls and the one in which we were married as it was for both my parents and Louise's parents. The area of Paisley in which our Church is situated, Oakshaw, is rich with a variety of old buildings that housed the many different branches of Christian denominations that appeared to flourish in Paisley during the 18th, 19th and early part of the 20th centuries. Today there is only one church remaining, Oakshaw Trinity, which itself was founded twelve years ago through the union of four churches, two denominations, in the area.

The road to union was fraught with challenges. One church belonged to the Congregational Church of Scotland, three were Church of Scotland and of these three two were born out of the Disruption of the Church of Scotland in the 19th Century. All four congregations had years of traditions and loads of aye beens. From the way in which Communion was celebrated to simple things like the way flowers were arranged on a Sunday. Each had their own buildings and families with roots stretching back to their foundation in some cases over two hundred years. Yet all these challenges were overcome and today we have a Church to be proud of and yes we have aye beens - albeit some are only a few years old but we are developing out own traditions whilst not forgetting our roots individually and collectively.

It strikes me that in many areas of society and our lives we simply accept things as they are for no other reason other than it has always been that way. I am reminded of a story that I was told a number of years ago about the way things have always been done and it is a good example of why I hate 'aye beens'.

"Start with a cage containing five monkeys. In the cage, hang a banana on a string and put a set of stairs under it. Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana. As soon as he touches the stairs, spray all of the monkeys with cold water.

After a while, another monkey makes an attempt with the same result (all the monkeys are sprayed with cold water). Pretty soon, when any monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.

Now, turn off the cold water. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs. To his horror, all of the other monkeys attack him. After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm. Again, replace a third original monkey with a new one. The new one makes it to the stairs and is attacked as well. Two of the four monkeys that beat him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs, or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.

After replacing the fourth and fifth original monkeys, all the monkeys which have been sprayed with cold water have been replaced.
Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs. Why not? Because that's the way it's always been around here."

Highland Dance is at a crossroads not just in Scotland but worldwide where the traditions of the art have been passed on over many generations. No one technique is less valuable than the next and all of them play an important part in maintaining our heritage. The Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing has taken on the mantle of World Governing Body of the art form and whilst many would question this status it is a fact that the greatest percentage of organisations worldwide and therefore dancers are affiliated to it.

Like all organisations it has developed its own traditions and ways of doing things. To some on the outside they may not make sense, to those within it would be hard to see how they could do it any other way. However rules that were introduced to combat certain situations thirty, forty or even fifty years ago may not have any place in highland dance today. The prohibition placed on all SOBHD registered dancers that by and large restricts them from taking part in non-SOBHD recognised competitions and punishes dancers for doing so is one such rule that I thoroughly believe needs to be removed from their constitution.

There is a need for those at the inner workings of the SOBHD to open up to the possibilities that will present themselves through the recognition of the other organisations and techniques that exist in Scotland, New Zealand and Australia. By doing so only then will they have earned the right to call themselves the World Governing Body.

As always for Questions and Comments, I can be reached at

Loraine Ritchey, 1127.W. 4th Street, Lorain, Ohio, 44052.