Scottish history is turbulent and can be difficult to understand. I spend most of my time patrolling the Royal Mile and its attendant graveyards, closes, courtyards and museums as one of the city’s most divisive figures – a tour guide.
So when the National Museum of Scotland, admittedly a frequent geeky haunt of mine, announces the end to their Jacobite Exhibition with Museum Late: Jacobites, then I’m going to jump at the chance to go.
Friday night is icy cold as guests begin cramming their way into the Museum foyer. Normally a room filled with snap-happy tourists, tired parents and over-energised (or bored) children, the foyer is bustling with guests in smart attire, cocktail dresses and very warm jackets.
Once through the gates, up the stairs and into the staggering Victorian central hall, the The Jacobites ceilidh band are already doing what ceilidh bands do best, engaging participants to create the museum’s “largest ever Strip The Willow”.
No time for me though. My historical geekiness forces me elsewhere, to the “Jacobite: Fact or Fiction” talks by curator David Forsyth and Exhibition Officer, Maureen Barrie. It’s a short 20 minute talk engaging the public about myths and legends surrounding the Jacobites.
Did you know Queen Victoria was a Jacobite? Albeit a “romantic” one, claiming “Stuart blood runs in my veins”. You can feel that the audience is engaged, but some, lurking in the back of the room, thirsted for that most pure of all blood – stuff about Outlander.
After the talk, and my excuse to feel like a historian confirmed, it’s time to see what else the museum has to offer.
I’m not going to dance because I have the rhythm of a falling tree, but the ceilidh is in full swing. Up and down the length of the central hall people come together as the Jacobite band plays on. In the middle of the crowd, Bonnie Prince Charlie, in the flesh, dances around and entices the ladies to partake. He is joined by The Countess of Albany, who then proceeds to teach us less civilised of generations the art of wooing a man, dancing, pushing him away, and the seductive powers of using a fan.
So what do social recluses do in a situation like that? Bee-line for the bar. And at a whopping £5 for a bottle of beer, it will be the first and last. But despite that, the drinks are flowing across the museum. Most of the usual exhibits are also open but from the distance another queue has formed – face painting. There is the opportunity to dress up as a Jacobite too, which also seems to gather a large crowd. It’s impressive in its simplicity – but then the drinks are flowing quite a lot.
Finally, the anticipation is over for those who breathe Outlander. A chance to meet the cast. As the single most important historical reference point for the Jacobite uprising, Outlander has a stupendous following. The auditorium is packed and guests settle down, maybe a little disappointed at the absence of the beloved Jamie Fraser.
However, it is the charismatic Adhamh O’ Boin, the Gaelic instructor for the cast, that leads the discussions, with Gregor Firth (Kincaid), Adrienne-Marie Zitt (Suzette), Gillebride MacMillan (Gwylln the Bard), and Claire McKay, the onset herbalist.
O’Boin gives an insight into the lack of subtitles used in the show. They wanted to create the feeling of isolation for viewers, just as Claire Randall would feel, being transported to this almost foreign world of the highlanders, “It was very brave to intentionally confuse American audiences,” he says. When asked by the audience about O’Boin’s experience teaching the cast Gaelic, he responds, “an experience I never want to repeat again!”
There is a lot to cover on the night, and being only one reviewer, I spend my time running from one thing to the other. Maybe a more immersive experience – and cheaper bar prices – would bring about a different conclusion, but the Museum Late: Jacobites is an exciting event, though it lacks the theatrics of last year’s Celtic themed event where the Beltane Society provided fire shows and visual arts and larger names like Idlewild also performed.
However, it’s a chance to experience a piece of our history that has long been divisive, debated, and debunked. For those immersed in the music, the costume and the dancing I cannot say I see one person having a bad time. For that reason, and the chance to visit the Museum at night, next year book your tickets and watch history come to life.