Whisky, haggis, and four other things that aren't actually Scottish

A worker at Bruichladdich distillery takes a whisky sample from a cask. Picture: Getty ImagesA worker at Bruichladdich distillery takes a whisky sample from a cask. Picture: Getty Images
A worker at Bruichladdich distillery takes a whisky sample from a cask. Picture: Getty Images
SOME of Scotland's most famous 'exports' '“ including haggis and whisky '“ are, according to the history books, actually imports. Alison Campsie trawls the annals in search of their origins.


It is a national drink proudly held to the lips of Scots the world over, but the first written record of whisky drinking was actually made in Ireland in 1405.

The Annals of The Kingdom of Ireland charts the death of Richard Magranell, chieftain of Moyntyreolas, who died at Christmas of that year after one dram too many - or “a surfeit of aqua vitae.”

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It added: “Mine author sayeth that it was not aqua vitae to him, but aqua mortis.”

The annals conclude this was the “first notice” of aqua vitae, usquebaugh or whisky in the historic document.

The earliest documented record of distilling in Scotland was made in 1494, when an entry in the Exchequer Rolls listed “Eight bolls of malt to Friar John Cor wherewith to make aqua vitae” (water of life). This was sufficient to produce almost 1,500 bottles.

Distilling was clearly a well-established practice and it is almost inconceivable that a form of distilled alcohol was not drunk in Scotland before the 1400s

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Ancient Celts, who settled in Scotland from around 400AD, were known to have practised the art of alcohol making with uisge beatha empowered to “revive tired bodies, drive out chills and rekindle hope.”

Distilling may have been practised as far back as 800BC in Asia, and found its way to Europe via Egypt.


Scotland’s golfing links are some of the country’s most prized terrain but there is strong evidence to suggest that the game was actually an import from northern Europe.

The still and ball games of France, Germany and the Low Countries may well have been imported to Scotland in the 1300s to 1400s due to trade links, but there is no doubt the modern game was developed in Scotland, starting in the Middle Ages.

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However, by then the Dutch were already striking balls with sticks curved at the bottom, with the winner being the player who could move the ball between two points with the least number of attempts.

These games were played mainly on ice, with the first written record of the game - played with a kolf, or club - in the Low Countries made in 1261.

The first documented mention of the game in Scotland appears in 1457 Act of the Scottish Parliament, when King James II of Scotland banned “gowf” and football as they were a distraction from archery practice for military purposes.

The Old Links, Musselburgh, is considered to be the oldest playing course in the world with a written account made of a game there made by lawyer Sir John Foulis of Ravelston.


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He is a member of the Tartan Army, can be see in the stands at Parkhead and hasn’t been averse to wearing tartan in his time.

But Rod Stewart is not Scottish and has never lived north of the border, with his links more of a “spiritual thing.”

Stewart was born in north London, the youngest son of Edinburgh-born newsagent Robert and Elsie Gilbart.

His parents had four children while still in Scotland, but Rod was born at home in Upper Holloway during WWII.

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Stewart, who turned 70 last year, said he was always surprised when people presume he is Scottish.

He said: “It does surprise me when people say to me, ‘I thought you were Scottish.’ I have never ever said I was Scottish.

“All I am is very proud of my father who was Scottish and the wee bit of Scottish blood I have in me. It’s a spiritual thing for me.”

In a separate interview, Stewart - who played at the opening ceremony for the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games – said the Scottish blood “overpowered” the English blood and that he was happy to be considered a Scottish Cockney.


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Its sonsie face will be roundly celebrated on Burn’s Night, but the origins of the humble haggis is believed to be English.

In recent years, a 1615 reference to the dish of “haggas” was found in a text called The English Hus-Wife.

Author Gervase Markham referred to “this small oatmeal mixed with the blood, and the liver of either sheep, calfe, or swine, maketh that pudding.”

Food historian Catherine Brown said Burns claimed the pudding as Scottish with his 1786 Address to the Haggis because it was a thrifty contrast to the flamboyant French cuisine popular in Edinburgh at the time.

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Ancient Romans are also said to have made a haggis-style equivalent to feed their Roman armies.

Sweden has its own version, too, called polsa.


There perhaps is no greater expression of being Scottish than wearing a piece of tartan.

But archaeological finds have suggested that tartan - or plaid - was found in both Central Asia and Austria long before it was first woven here.

While synonymous with Scotland’s old clan system and popularised in the Victorian era, tartan has been fundamental textile design across Asia and Central Europe for 4,000 years.

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The oldest known examples of tartan were found in the 1970s on the Ürümchi mummies, which dated from around 1500 BC.

They belonged to group of caucasian Indo-Europeans who explored the Silk Route between Europe and Central Asia. The mummies were found in the Xinjiang region, western China, and found wrapped in tartan plaids.

Tartan cloth was also found in the ancient salt mines at Hallstatt, in the Austrian Alps, and believed to have been woven about 1,200 BC.


The sound of the pipes will stir many a Scot’s soul, but versions of the instrument have been traced all over the world.

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The first pipe may well have come from Egypt, with sound made by just a chanter and a single drone.

The Earliest written references to bagpipes have been found in Greece, where the instrument is known as the piovala.

Dio Chrysostom, a Greek writer, wrote this about Nero in the eighth century: “They say that he can write, carve statues, play the aulos both with his mouth, and also with the armpit, a bag being thrown under it.”

Nero is also depicted playing a bagpipe-type instrument on Roman coins.

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Musicologists have suggested that the earliest known records of bagpipes in the British Isles are English, dating from the 13th and 14th centuries - with the pipes not appearing in Scots written records until the 15th century.

Claims have been made that the pipes could be heard at the Battle of Bannockburn but composer and piper Alan MacDonald has suggested it was more likely that horns could be heard.

Francis Collison, in The Bagpipe: The History of a Musical Instrument notes that records of the Battle of the North Inch of Perth references “warpipes” being carried into battle in 1396.

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