My first introduction to anything Irish and goose-like took place in the folk music sessions of Edinburgh in the 1980’s in bars like the Royal Oak and this led to many late night music parties behind closed doors.
It was there that I was first introduced to the idea that folk culture could be a political tool of various nation states – promoted by some and censored by others.
I still have memories of the ex-Royal Navy guy supplying percussion behind the music with antique prison manacles !!
In this context the cultural notion of Wild Geese is very Irish but as I was later to discover it is also the very essence of a secret and mystical Scotland.
Most people tend to think of the Wild Geese in its historic Irish context.
The Flight of the Wild Geese refers to the departure of an Irish Jacobite army under the command of Patrick Sarsfield from Ireland to France, as agreed in the Treaty of Limerick on October 3, 1691, following the end of the Williamite War in Ireland. More broadly, the term “Wild Geese” is used in Irish history to refer to Irish soldiers who left to serve as mercenaries in continental European armies in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.
It has been estimated that as many as half a million or more Irishmen died fighting for France in the century after Limerick. The majority of the recruits came from the counties of Clare, Limerick, Cork, Kerry and Galway. French ships which arrived on the west coast smuggling in brandy and wine would depart with recruits for the Irish Brigade. In the paper work of the ships, the recruits would be listed as “Wild Geese,” thus the origin of the name.
In 1745, after France’s Irish Brigade was so instrumental in the famous victory over the British at Fontenoy, England’s King George II would express a sentiment many British soldiers would have reason to second over the years: “Cursed be the laws which deprive me of such subjects.”
Though the term “Wild Geese” is usually used for the men of the France’s Irish Brigade, France was not the only destination of these “Wild Geese. ” Many went to Spain, where Irishmen had actually been serving for many years in great numbers, forming a number of regiments in the Spanish army. Irishmen served in the Armies of Austria, Russian, Poland and the various German Kingdoms.
( see http://home.earthlink.net/~rggsibiba/html/sib/sib4.html )
The Wild Geese can also be associated with contemporary mercenaries i.e.
The Wild Geese is also known as a British 1978 adventure film directed by Andrew V. McLaglen about a group of mercenaries in Africa. It stars Richard Burton, Roger Moore, Richard Harris and Hardy Krüger.
The origins of my Scottish Wild Geese idea comes from a more mystical, peaceful, spiritual and Celtic idea which ties in the Spiritual mythology of the indigenous wild goose sula bassanis the gannet to its natural roosting place the symbolic prison fortress of the Bass rock, a volcanic basalt plug thrust out of the ocean opposite the sea port of North Berwick on the Scottish south east coast in East Lothian.
Legend has it that the form of the Solan Goose is taken by the Celtic sea goddess Sula who is said to dive into the seas of fate to fish for Celtic souls.
The Bass rock is symbolic of the Celtic sea goddess and may also have been secretly adopted by the Scottish Jacobite movement.
During the 1745 Jacobite uprising in Scotland, many Jacobite prisoners were held under high security in the prison fortress on the Bass rock.
According to Scottish historian Robert Brydon, near the end of the war however, there was a mass escape and the Jacobite prisoners overcame the garrison and manned the fortresses powerful guns.
Over the next few months they would bombard shipping attempting to dock at North Berwick and even hit a gallows set up on the cliffs to hang a Jacobite rebel.
It is very difficult to land an assault on the Bass rock because of the swell of waves and eventually the English authorities realised that the new Jacobite garrison on the Bass rock could hold out indefinitely whilst causing real problems.
At the end of the Jacobite uprising the Jacobites on the Bass rock were offered a full amnesty by the English crown if they would cease hostilities/bombardment against shipping and roads around North Berwick.
The Bass rock, the natural home of the Solan gannet therefore could well be a secret symbol of Jacobite defiance which could give a Scottish Wild Goose a bit more of an anti-authoritarian militancy in certain circles.
Tied in with notions of national and spiritual independence for Scotland the Solan Goose is also symbolic of nurturing family relationships – as it is said to mate for life.
The notion of the Celtic Spiritual matriarchy that is symbolised by the Scottish Wild Geese however is also intimately tied up with prophesy made by a Scottish Seer c.a. 1450AD.
This scottish revelation speaks of the coming steward of advent ..
‘ syne all the lentryne but leis and the lang reid, and als in the advent, the soland stewart was sent ..’ [c.a 1450]
then all lent, without lying, and the long reid, and also in the advent, the solan goose was sent as steward.
This prophesy sounds as if the Stewards are actually the Stewarts and can be read to mean that the Stewarts/Stuarts were going to be sent by God to be custodians of Scotland at some point.
My own romance with the Scottish Wild Geese started in 1984 with the foundation of my Scottish theatre group the Solan Company which specialised in portraying the human quest through the medium of original story, music and song.
At that time I had some contact with a mystical Templar group in Edinburgh called the ‘Sisters of the Grail’ who had a thing about the Celtic goose-goddess Sula. Time passes though and my own quest for truth and life’s journey takes me elsewhere.
My ceilidh band the Wild Geese was formed in Leith, Edinburgh in 1996 with Martin Lennon, a considerable musician, vocalist, writer and artist and later Bassist Andrew Gilmour and Nick Arkless on drums.
In my cultural quest to discover all things Wild and Geese I discovered that the Scottish Country dance called the Wild Geese is almost easier to demonstrate than the eightsome reel. Most people at a ceilidh suddenly exposed to the intricate and esoteric world of Scottish Country dance moves would find their time trying this on the dance floor rather adventurous (or problematic) – but I suppose the fun failsafe position at a ceilidh if one tried and failed to execute the Wild Geese Country Dance is that folks could always revert to the Chinese dance called the Wild Geese which is where people stand about waving their arms in slow motion in a Tai Chi -like manner aka slow moving goose wings !! lol
The notion of the ocean though is deep within the Scottish and Celtic psyche:
Speaking of moving wings, from the poetess Violet Jacob’s “Wild Geese,” a.k.a. “Norlan’ Wind”
“And far abune the Angus straths I saw the wild geese flee,
A lang, lang skein o’ beatin’ wings, wi’ their heids towards the sea,
The Celtic Wild Goose therefore is much more than a militant mercenary but is symbolic of the Celtic soul, the restless human spirit tied into natural cycles of seasons and migrations – and it is this aspect of Gooseness which is taken up by the theme of the Wild Geese Scottish ceilidh band.
I suppose in the true nature of Scottish defiance I am not willing to surrender a beautiful idea to associations of warfare.
If we globally gave up every beautiful idea that had ever become militarised we would have nothing left.
So here’s to the Wild Geese Ceilidh Band’s 2013 incarnation and its latest website http://www.wildgeese.biz