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Remember, remember…

On the 13th April 1570 a couple living in York, England, gave birth to a son who in later life was to attempt to alter forever the course of history of his country, a man who in failing to do just that ultimately achieved immortality, for his name if not for himself. Sadly, perhaps, he was to die a few months before his thirty-sixth birthday without ever knowing that sometime in the future his name would come so readily to the lips of every English man and woman and that his deeds would be celebrated each year with a festival of fire, fireworks and fun. I refer, of course, to Guy Fawkes, or Guido as he liked to be known, a man who became famous for failing, in 1605, to set off a charge of gunpowder beneath the Palace of Westminster in London.

Guy Fawkes may have been unknown until the moment of his downfall but what is clear from recent events is that he is making a comeback today in the shape of masks being worn in cities all over the world by protesters in need of anonymity. His stylized face has become an international symbol for rebellion and were it not for the manner in which his body was disposed of (quartered and distributed to the four corners of the kingdom) one might be fearful of him turning in his grave at the thought of the royalties he is missing out on.

Having both been brought up with ‘Guy Fawkes Night’ as a part of our lives, Kate and I arrive at the first November of our life in Scotland with little understanding of the significance of this event to the people who now live around us and to others like them who live in the more northern parts of the kingdom. One has to delve into history a little to understand and appreciate that it was only two years before the gunpowder plot, in 1603, that King James VI of Scotland acceded to the English throne thus also becoming King James I of England, immediately announcing his intention to unite the two realms and give birth to the concept of Great Britain as we know it today. Guy Fawkes, as well as being a fanatical Catholic, had no love for the Scots and it was his and his fellow conspirators’ intention to assassinate the king (together with most of his government) and place the king’s daughter, Princess Elizabeth, on the throne instead. Fawkes’ capture, trial and execution are now amongst the most well documented of historical events and almost from the moment of his death Londoners were being encouraged by Act of Parliament to celebrate the king’s close escape by lighting bonfires, a custom that continues to this day even if the cause being celebrated is lost in time.

The union of England and Scotland might have been in the mind of King James but at the time it was far from popular elsewhere in either country so despite his intentions it was not until 1st May 1707, in the reign of Queen Anne, that full union between the two countries finally came into being. All this is water under the bridge now, of course, but with an understanding of the historical perspective it is far easier to understand why the story surrounding Guy Fawkes is less likely to be celebrated here in Scotland. At the time of the plot the two countries may have been separate ‘states’ but most who lived in Scotland would have regarded the goings on of an absent and far from popular monarch down south in London as largely irrelevant.

Lantern processionAll this having been said the village of Carradale is not slow to seize an opportunity to light a celebratory bonfire or to set off a few fireworks. We don’t need the excuse of a close escape from assassination for this, merely a group of schoolchildren with home-made lanterns keen to venture out in the dark in the safe company of the rest of the village.

The stars had been blazing away in the clear sky for some hours by the time the participants were all gathered at the primary school, lanterns were lit and held aloft, then the skirl of the pipes announced the start of the procession across the village to the playing field where things were starting to get underway. An enormous pile of wooden pallets, kindly donated by Jewsons, was soon alight and we were queuing for hot soup just as the pipes started again, this time to coincide with a spectacular firework display, funded courtesy of the Kintyre Windfarm Trust. There may have been some English people present who looked expectantly for the effigy atop the bonfire but somehow this was not necessary for the occasion and the absence of Guy Fawkes took away nothing at all from the event. Maybe we were just celebrating the beginning of the winter season – who cares anyway.

Despite the cold of the night we felt bathed in warmth from the company of villagers like us who have chosen to make this place their home. When we finally steered ourselves the short distance back home, half a moon was staring at us from above, lighting our way like a searchlight though hiding the galaxy of stars behind it. The air was still and it was quiet once more, the wildlife going back to sleep again, glad it was all over for another year.

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