Way back in May of 2006, I did a post about the MacGregor tartans. I had received in my email a copy of a letter written by Sir Malcom MacGregor of MacGregor, clarifying just what was and was not an officially approved MacGregor tartan. I praised the letter at that time with the words, "it is always nice to know the wishes of the chief of a clan as to his own clan tartan or tartans, and now we know, straight from the source, the 'skinny' on the MacGregor tartans. Thanks to Sir Malcolm!"
It would seem that the letter was occasioned by the recording of tartans such as "Trade MacGregor" and "MacGregor of Balquidder," etc., by groups such as the Scottish Tartans Society, Scottish Tartans Authority, and Scottish Tartans World Register. These (and others Sir Malcolm mentioned) have never been approved MacGregor tartans, and he was simply dealing with the confusion and setting the record straight as far as what is and what is not a true MacGregor clan tartan.
Speaking of the multiplicity of "MacGregor" tartans, he wrote in that letter, "I am sure that many families, in the same vein as estate tweeds are used today, had tartans woven with a distinctive variation from the main clan tartan, being woven once and not repeated."
I followed that statement with my own comment in my blog post, "Like the 'Black MacGregor' tartan that I had woven as a personal tartan for my friend Ronan MacGregor, who simply does not like red tartans! This is a personal tartan, not a clan tartan, and there is nothing wrong with wearing a custom personal tartan, so long as erroneous claims are not made about it."
And all is right with the world, at least as far as MacGregor tartans are concerned, right? Well, almost...
This past weekend when conversing with Sir Malcolm at the Stone Mountain Highland Games (see my most recent blog post), he commented that he had done some further research into his clan's tartans and made some additional comments which were subsequently posted on the clan's web site. So this evening I took the opportunity to take a look. You can see "Part Two" of Sir Malcolm's article on the Clan Gregor web site, here:
Like the first one he wrote, this is a very helpful article in cutting through the confusion and getting right down to what the real story is behind the MacGregor clan tartans. The new article makes reference to "dialog" about the tartans on the Clan Gregor Society web site. Sir Malcolm references the STA database, and even myself in his introduction! And, I was delighted to note, he also references the Black MacGregor tartan that I am partly responsible for.
My curiosity getting the better of me, I took a look through the Clan Gregor Society web site archives. I found a few posts from last summer that mention my name. Four in particular are relevant here. They represent a discussion between a Mr. Dennis Bowers and Mr. Wesley Walker (whom I have had the pleasure of making a box pleated kilt for in the weathered MacGregor tartan).
The first post by Mr. Bowers is on June 5, 2008. He writes of the Scottish Tartans Authority and says:
"It has been many months since I looked at this page. It seems, once again, that some 'new' unsanctioned tartans, that are not officially endorsed by our Chief have sprung up thanks to Matthew Newsome of the Tartan Authority... I realize it comes down to money for these retailers but, there seems to be a false sense of what is accepted by our Chief and what is being called a MacGregor tartan... say someone was a 'newbie' at a MacGregor gathering, for an example, and they are wearing one of those 'MacGregor Black' tartans, which is actually green and dark grey with a little red....and everyone else is wearing the accepted tartans. Would that person not feel a little out of place?I know that I had sent the letter from our Chief to Matthew Newsome about a year ago. I see he has removed some of the tartans which were in question but added new ones in their place.Sorry for the rant. It seems that somewhere the line of communication lacks or there is a lack of consideration and respect."
Mr. Bower seems to be rather confused on more than one issue, I am afraid. First of all, though I am a life member of the Scottish Tartans Authority (by virtue of my acceptance into the Guild of Tartan Scholars), I am not employed by them, I am not on their board, and so describing me as "of the Tartan Authority" is a bit misleading. (By the way, there should be an "s" on the end of "tartan" in "Scottish Tartans Authority." It is plural -- there is more than one tartan, after all!).
I confess that I do not recall who sent me the initial email containing Sir Malcolm's letter, but it very well may have been Mr. Bowers. My response was to write my initial blog post, to help spread the word. I certainly have no control over what gets included on the Scottish Tartans Authority web site -- he seems to have me confused with Brian Wilton, director of the Scottish Tartans Authority.
And, by the way, the Black MacGregor tartan he references is most definitely black, dark green, red and white. There is no grey in the tartan at all. As I have made the only kilt ever made in that tartan, I think I'm in a position to know the colors in it.
But moving on... I was pleased to see Mr. Walker come to my defense a bit in his reply. He wrote, in part, "in my dealings and discussions with Mr Newsome, I have found that he is quite competent, not to mention well-read, on the subject of Tartan and its documented history as well as its legal status."
Regarding the STA, he pointed out, "they do distinguish between 'clan' tartans and 'personal' tartans... In other words, it appears to me that the Tartan Authority is distinguishing those tartans that are 'sanctioned' by the chief as 'clan' tartans." This is actually a very good point, and the STA has in fact recently introduced another classification -- "name" tartans. A "clan" tartan would be one approved by a clan chief or some other person or body authorized to represent that family or clan. A "personal" tartan is just that, a private design for personal use. A "name" tartan would be a tartan designed for use by all of the name, where there is no authority who is capable of determining a tartan for that name. Previously this latter category has also been labelled "clan" which has led to confusion.
Back to our discussion of the MacGregor tartans, Mr. Bowers was apparently not impressed by Mr. Walker's reply. He wrote, "In regards to Matt Newsome and your defense of him. Just for your personal information, it took some doing and a letter from Our Chief to correct what he had listed on his page. He wasn't quite as willing to be educated ,as your said, or understand until that information crossed his palms."
Again, he seems to have me confused with Brian Wilton. I'm honestly not quite sure where this confusion comes from. He's much better looking than I am. :-) That, and he lives in Scotland, while I am in North Carolina. And he's director of the Scottish Tartans Authority, and responsible for what gets in their International Tartan Index and what goes on their web site -- and I am not.
But I digress. One way or another Sir Malcolm got wind of the debate about the tartans listed on the Scottish Tartans Authority site and the "Black MacGregor" tartan in particular, and revised his article on the clan tartans. His conclusions really do cut to the heart of the matter. For example, of the STA (which he correctly understands to be run out of Scotland and not from my home in North Carolina!), he writes, "I have recently been in liaison with the STA in Crieff who have been most helpful in understanding the general predicament. Consequently, the MacGregor section of their website is helpful and accurate."
Regarding myself, he writes, "The discussion group made reference to Mr. Newsome from North Carolina, who has written some interesting articles on the subject. His history of recording tartan really is helpful in trying to understand something of the evolution of tartans and is well worth reading."
To this I say a very humble, "Thank you." I take his compliments as truly high praise indeed.
Regarding the Black MacGregor tartan, he includes this under "Miscellaneous Tartans" in his article and he simply states, "This is not a clan tartan. It was designed by a Mr. Ronan Macgregor from North Carolina for his own use and should not be worn by anyone else. He has paid for it and designed it. Individuals have been designing their own tartans for many years perfectly legitimately, but they should not be registered or promoted as clan tartans. The STA use the words ‘personal’ within its categorisation."
This is, of course, all very true, except the caveat that "it should not be worn by anyone else." This implies that Ronan MacGregor, the originator of the tartan, wishes to restrict its use. He does not. I work with him at the Scottish Tartans Museum and know for a fact that he doesn't mind if anyone else wants to wear the tartan. But he does not pretend that it is a clan tartan, and makes no claims for it to be one.
Since this has become the subject of some debate, which I was until recently not aware of, I wanted to take the time in this blog post to give the story of the "Black MacGregor" tartan, such as it is.
In early 2005, Ronan MacGregor, who is my assistant at the Scottish Tartans Museum, wanted to have a kilt made for himself. He favors dark colors. The MacGregor tartans are, for the most part, mainly red and he simply does not fancy red tartans. But he wanted something that would be evocative of his MacGregor name.
In speaking to him about this, I mentioned the common practice in earlier centuries of having a variation of a preexisting tartan custom woven for personal use. For instance, people would write to the mills as request a particular tartan with an additional yellow stripe, or with red changed to blue, etc. This was once much more common than it is today. But there is no reason one should not feel free to come up with custom variations for personal wear. In The Kilt and How to Wear It, c. 1901, the author speaks of designing tartans in seasonal colors to wear, speaking fondly of "hill checks" and the like.
So I suggested to Ronan that if he wanted a dark tartan, why not come up with a variation of the MacGregor clan tartan that was based in black, not in red. He and I sat down together and came up with three or four possibilities, and in the end settled on the design which he called "Black MacGregor." We had just enough fabric woven for his kilt, which I made for him. A sample piece was sent to the Scottish Tartans Authority for their records -- remember, the STA includes all woven tartans in their Index, not just clan tartans. It was added to their database and properly classed as a "personal" tartan.
We did not copyright it nor have we attempted to restrict the design in any way. Anyone who wants to have it woven is free to do so. However, they should be aware that it is not a clan MacGregor tartan.
Why is it called "MacGregor" if it is not a clan MacGregor tartan? Because it is an obvious variation of the MacGregor design. It is a tartan in the MacGregor "family" of tartans, even if it is not an approved clan tartan. It maintains the MacGregor motif. I suppose a good name for it would have been the "Ronan MacGregor" tartan, but the intent was not for him to have his own personal tartan that no one else could use, as if he had some entitlement to such. He just wanted a kilt in a black version of the MacGregor tartan for his own wear.
And this is not a unique case. There is another tartan recorded by the STA as a black version of the MacGregor tartan that replaced the green with black. It was woven special for the mother of actor Ewan MacGregor, for the same reason as Ronan had his woven -- to cater to his own personal taste.
But I want to point out here in no uncertain terms that neither he nor I have ever made the claim -- nor would we -- that this is meant to anything other than a personal tartan designed for his own use. It most certainly is not a clan tartan and should not be regarded as such. That was not and is not the intent.
And this was most certainly not a money-making scheme, as Mr. Bowers implied in his June posting to the CGS forum (note the reference to "retailers"). To our knowledge, only one length of this cloth was ever woven and it was for Ronan MacGregor's personal kilt. Neither he nor I have made a dime off of the creation of this tartan.
If anyone has any questions or needs any more clarification on the above, they would do well to contact either myself or Ronan MacGregor at the Scottish Tartans Museum, as we designed the tartan; Sir Malcolm MacGregor of MacGregor, who is the final authority on what is a sanctioned tartan for the clan; or the Scottish Tartans Authority whose business it is to collect and dissimate information on tartan -- and with over 7000 of them in the International Tartan Index, that is not an easy task.
Making assumptions and posting misinformation on Internet forums without having all the facts, though, only adds to the confusion. And there is already more than enough of that out there in the world of tartan.