The name “Currie” is the anglicised form of MacMhuirich [pronounced “MacVurich”], one of the oldest and most illustrious names in Gaelic Scotland’s history.
However there has never been a Clan Currie or a Clan MacMhuirich. But as Highlanders and hereditary bards to a number of clan chiefs, they were in every sense a ‘learned kindred’ which may be the most appropriate designation for Currie.
Not only were MacMhuirichs considered as ‘filidh’ – bards of the most senior rank – but as historians, genealogists and storytellers too.
The role of the bard within a clan was important in Gaeldom and to become a ‘professor of literature and a man of letters’ a bard faced years of training. To succeed he must truly know the history of his chief, record his words, proclaim the glory of his deeds and stir his clansmen to battle.
Gaelic scholars have traced the MacMhuirich bardic dynasty to Muiredach O’Daly. He was born, according to Irish tradition about 1180 in Meath, into an Irish literary family which claimed descent from Conn of the Hundred Battles, a High King of Ireland.
O’Daly came to Scotland as a fugitive following his murder of Fionn O’Brollaghan, the Prince of Tyrconnell’s tax collector. In Scotland he took the name Muiredach Albannach.
Although it’s not known whether he already had contacts in Scotland there is evidence to support the notion that Ireland and the Gaelic parts of Scotland were considered one culture-province, and travel and dialogue between them was already established. Whatever the circumstances he found a supportive patron in Earl Alwyn II of the Lennox.
Following Alwyn’s death in 1217, Muiredach made a pilgrimage to Rome where it’s possible he met or travelled with Donald of the Isles. Also, a journey to join the Fifth Crusade in the Holy Land. It’s conceivable this may have been one extended journey.
Muiredach died about 1240. With 11 or more children, his line of succession stretched 18 generations to the beginning of the 19th century, thus establishing the Learned Kindred of Currie.
The Lords of the Isles, a title first used by John of Islay, patrons to many generations of MacMhuirich bards, owe their existence to Somerled, who as King of the Isles ruled over much of western Scotland. It was his descendent Donald Mór MacDonald who founded the powerful Clan Donald.
The Macdonald Lords of the Isles chose Finlaggan on the Island of Islay as their centre of power. Accounts of the time clearly show the honoured position held there by the MacMhuirich bards.
At some point following the forfeiture of the Lord of the Isles to the crown in 1493, a branch of the MacMhuirichs became hereditary bards to the MacDonalds of Clanranald on the Island of South Uist. Their home for several centuries was the small settlement of Stilligarry.
Of course, MacMhuirichs and later Curries settled not just in South Uist but across the western seaboard – Campbeltown and the islands of Arran, Colonsay, Jura and possibly Iona.
A corpus of MacMhuirich poetry remains in universities and libraries across Ireland and Scotland. Among it the Harlaw Brosnachadh written by Lachlan Mór MacMhuirich and around a dozen, mostly eulogies and elegies, from Cathal MacMhuirich.
But any list of MacMhuirich bards is incomplete without mention of Niall Mór MacMhuirich (d. 1726), considered the last trained practitioner of the MacMhuirich bardic dynasty. His compilation of the Red Book of Clanranald, an important surviving example of Gaelic literature, is on display at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. Thankfully around 20 poems ascribed to Muiredach also still exist.
That the ‘story’ of this Highland bardic dynasty has captured the attention of a number of highly respected Gaelic historians should come as no surprise.
The late Professor Derick Thomson, to whom current scholars owe so much said, “Their [MacMhuirichs] claims on our interest are strong and numerous. We cannot but be impressed by the remarkable length of their service; amounting to well over 500 years…”
Professor Hugh Cheape of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the National Centre for Gaelic Language on the Isle of Skye said, “This kindred as ‘bardic dynasty’ with such remarkable history ought now to be recognised on the wider stage of Scottish culture as a family with an independent role at the centre of a widely connected and well-ordered culture that characterised Gaelic Scotland.”
The Clan Currie Society
William McMurdo Currie formed the first Currie Society in Glasgow in 1959. Shortly before his death he handed the reins to Robert Currie who became the President of the Clan Currie Society, today a leading Scottish non-profit, cultural and educational organisation.
Robert Currie has acted as custodian of the kindred since the late 1980’s. Some of his many accomplishments include the release of the historic Currie tartan, once restricted, to serve as the tartan for the entire Currie family. Currie has also embarked on a monuments program. Today, one can find permanents tributes to the MacMhuirichs on South Uist, Arran and Edinburgh.
At the suggestion of the Lord Lyon, King of Arms, Dr. Joseph Morrow strongly encouraged the Curries, with the support of their near five thousand members, to conduct an ad hoc derbfine or family convention to formalize their important position in Scottish history and begin the process of electing a chief.
Following a worldwide campaign to search for a suitable candidate, and a subsequent Family Convention held in Glasgow in 2017, the Lord Lyon commissioned Robert Currie as Commander of the Name and Arms of Currie – the first step towards electing a chief. Currie has also been elected to membership in the prestigious Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs. He resides in NJ in the USA. Currie and his wife Suzanne, have two adult daughters.
The Learned Kindred of Currie works closely with a number of prominent educational institutions awarding annual, traditional music and arts scholarships to young people in the United States, Canada and Scotland.
Of the Kindred’s many goals is to further engage kinsfolk in Australia and New Zealand. An important first step was the Kindred’s participation in the most recent production of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.
In addition, two annual events dominate the Society calendar. The Pipes of Christmas concerts – held in the United States since 1999 – have remained a joyous holiday celebration of Scottish traditional music and poetry.
Tartan Day on Ellis Island – now one of the largest Tartan Day events in the world – is an opportunity to tell their audience, through a variety of media, of the contribution that Scots and their descendants have made to the United States.
Money raised from both events helps support the Society’s scholarship and other charitable programmes.
For more information about the Learned Kindred of Currie, go to their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ClanCurrieSociety/ or email Robert Currie directly at firstname.lastname@example.org