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Heather Ale

Heather Ale Days

Mar 27

Other Scottish Country Dances for this Day

Today's Musings, History & Folklore

"From the bonny bells of heather
They brewed a drink long-syne,
Was sweeter far than honey,
Was stronger far than wine.
They brewed it and they drank it,
And lay in a blessed swound
For days and days together
In their dwellings underground."

~ Heather Ale: A Galloway Legend, Robert Louis Stevenson, 1890

The legend of Heather Ale, a tale steeped in Scottish lore, tells the story of a closely guarded secret known only to the Picts, an ancient people of Scotland. According to the legend, the Picts possessed the unique knowledge of brewing a remarkable ale from heather, a technique unknown to others, including the invading native Scots. The story dramatically unfolds with the capture of the last Pictish king and his son by the Scots, who sought to extract the secret recipe of the heather ale. Faced with torture and death, the king and his son chose to protect their secret at all costs, leading to their tragic end without divulging the recipe. Robert Louis Stevenson took a liking to this legend and wrote the namesake poem. This accompanying strathspey, contains a smooth progression of classic figures including a brief touch of the hands by passing men and ladies twice, as if a toast with a glass of heather ale! 💜 🍻 🌱

Heather Ale

The Picts were one of the main groups of people living in what is now Scotland during the Late Iron Age and Early Medieval periods. Their history is somewhat mysterious due to the limited written records from the Picts themselves; much of what is known comes from Roman and later Scottish and Irish sources.

The Picts were not invaded by the Scots in the sense of a foreign invasion; rather, the history of the Picts and Scots is more a tale of gradual assimilation, alliance, and eventual unification. The term "Scots" originally referred to the Gaelic-speaking people from Ireland (also known as the Scoti) who settled in the west of Scotland, in a region known today as Argyll and later spreading further. Over time, these Irish settlers and the native Picts, among others, gradually merged through intermarriage, alliances, and the expansion of Christianity, which played a significant role in uniting the different groups under a common faith.

By the late 9th century, the distinction between Pict and Scot began to blur, culminating in the reign of King Kenneth MacAlpin (Cináed mac Ailpín), who is often credited with founding the Kingdom of Alba by merging Pictish and Scottish kingdoms around the middle of the 9th century. This unified kingdom eventually grew into the medieval Kingdom of Scotland. The narrative of an invasion might stem from later interpretations or simplifications of these complex interactions. In reality, the processes were more gradual and involved a mix of conquest, assimilation, and political marriage, rather than a straightforward invasion by one distinct group against another.

For more details of the famous legend of Heather Ale, click the ale!

Heather Ale

Click the dance cribs or description below to link to a printable version of the dance!

Heather Ale

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