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  Quebec XXVIII

 

CONGRESS DIARY

The last week in August hit St Andrews particularly hard. Not only was there wonderful weather, for which the writer takes all credit, as indeed everyone else already has, but also a multitude of eccentric, aged, young, well-dressed, evilly-dressed persons appeared as from nowhere, but in reality from all corners of the earth, to celebrate the gentle sciences of heraldry and genealogy: for this was the 27th International Congress.

On Sunday evening, those early birds intent on their worm were invited to a pre-congress knees-up, where we had a chance to develop new and rekindle old friendships. Batteries were charged with the cratur (whisky to the rest of the world), as indeed they were recharged throughout the Congress, although lesser mortals not up the high standards exacted by the said cratur could enjoy wine or fruit juice.

Monday morning saw the arrival of yet more delegates, who registered with enthusiasm and some disorder with Val Casely, our Congress Administrator, to whom we owe so much. The magisterial Mark Dennis started off the first of five TV and radio interviews at 8.00 am; noon saw a run through for the banner-bearers who were to walk in the procession; 1.30 pm saw the start of proceedings in the Younger Hall. We were welcomed by Margaret Dean, the Lord Lieutenant of Fife, and then addressed by George Reid the Presiding Officer of the Scots Parliament. He spoke about the importance of the symbols of the Kingdom from earliest times, that is the appearance of the saltire in the sky before the battle of Athelstaneford in 832 when the Angles were decisively defeated by Angus of the Picts and Eochaidh of the Scots (this latter unfortunately pronounced “Yucky”), right to the most modern times when he was personally closely involved in the badging of the then new Scots Parliament. As might be expected, his talk was lucid and persuasive, as if any of the delegates would need to be persuaded of these self-evident truths. This session was rounded off with a congregational practice, when Dr Stevenson of the University tried to instil into us an adequate understanding of the Gaudeamus which we were to sing later.

After a short break for wine and other refreshments, the formal Opening Ceremony started at 3.00 pm. The delegates and friends assembled, and then we all waited for the Princess Royal. She arrived pretty promptly and was welcomed by a small group of dignitaries. During this time Wilma Kennedy sang a solo in Gaelic, Suas leis a’Ghaidhlig (“Up with the Gaelic!”) and then the whole Assembly burst forth with the Gaudeamus.

Thereafter all the dignitaries proceeded into the Hall, first the University as the hosts, then groups of diverse persons, each group led in by an Usher. First came the leaders of the Congress team, then the four private pursuivants of Scottish peers followed by the Heralds of many nations in tabard or white tie and decorations. As a hymn was sung, warning against “…all that terror teaches/ the lies of tongue and pen/ and all the easy speeches / that comfort cruel men…”, they were followed by what we would in former times have been called the Lords Spiritual, Cardinal, Bishop and Moderator with chaplains all, preceded by the Bachuil Mor of St Moluag, carried by Niall Livingstone, younger of Bachuil. The Bachuil, for those unversed in these essential matters, is the abbatial staff of St Moluag. We were honoured to have Niall bear it before us as his ancestors bore it before the Kings of Dalriada 1500 years ago. Then followed the English heralds; then the Royal and National Banners of Scotland borne by respectively Lord Dundee Hereditary Royal Banner-bearer and Lord Maitland, for his father Lord Lauderdale, Hereditary National Banner-bearer; then the Scottish Heralds preceding Lord Lyon, who wore his tabard. Finally the Princess Royal and the high dignitaries entered and took their places, preceded by her great banner.

Prayers were said, welcomes made, the Opening formally proclaimed, “Hic congressus appertus est,” a response given, the baton of the International Congress passed on from the last, Bruges, Congress to this, as it will again be passed on by us at Quebec, and a receipt given, all in best Latin, or at any rate most of it in very passable academic Latin. Some speakers dropped into vernacular French and English for the benefit of some delegates for parts of their speeches.

Two special ceremonies were then performed. The University had recently been granted supporters and the Letters Patent for these were formally read and presented to the Chancellor by Lord Lyon. Then the Congress itself gave to the University and to the Royal Burgh of St Andrews a gonfannon each while a choir sang a seventeenth century Scots psalm. These gonfannons later formed a leading part of the Procession through the town to St Mary’s College. After a benediction by the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, we joined in the National Anthem and all proceeded out of the Hall, some more formally than others.

The procession then formed up in the sunshine and was piped off across the “auld toon” to St Mary’s Quad. There we were greeted by the Provost of Fife and enjoyed a most delightful Civic Reception hosted by Fife Council, with lots of sun, bubbly, chat, photos and admiration of tabards, especially of the new tabards of the private pursuivants: Slains, Endure, Finlaggan and Garioch. The tabards of the foreign heralds were equally splendid, especially that of the Chief Herald of Ireland, worn by his representative Michail O’Comain. Of particular note was the magnificent tabard of Russia, and Dr Vilinbahov confirmed this was the first occasion the double eagle would have been worn since the coronation of the martyred Tsar Nicholas II. Slovakia delighted all in a beautiful new tabard and the heralds of South Africa appeared in bold modern tabards displaying the ancient petroglyphs which form the new State Arms. A shining triumph for them all.

In the evening, while the heralds were feasted privately by Lord Lyon, we were invited to an Evening of Scottish Dance, where the dancing was displayed by a professional group and band, who then persuaded us that we were quite good enough to join them, which unashamed as we were in our vanity we did, generally to good effect and certainly to much fun and hilarity.

Thus ended the first day of the creation of Mark Dennis and the Organising Committee. It was a day the like of which we shall never see again. ( This has also been said of Rabbie Burns, who unfortunately could not be present, but did attend the later banquet in the form of a delivery of the Address to a Haggis by James Dempster.)


 
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