THE DIARY: Sheffield is proud of its Scots roots

Scottish pride: A dinner dance organised by the Caledonian Society Of Sheffield.
Scottish pride: A dinner dance organised by the Caledonian Society Of Sheffield.
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HOOTS, mon! You don’t have to like Robert Burns, Archie Gemmill or Mel Gibson to appreciate this is news worth draining a dram of whisky to.

The Caledonian Society of Sheffield is 190 years old this month.

Members of the city’s premier Scottish organisation have been gathering to eat haggis, listen to bagpipes and compare kilts since 1822.

That makes it - ye may nae believe it, Jimmy - one of the longest running organisations of any kind in South Yorkshire.

“We get called the Scottish Mafia,” says Ian McMaster, current president as he prepares to mark the occassion today. “But in a nice way, I think.”

And what a mafia it is.

More than 160 members regularly meet at various venues for arts groups, dance classes, socials and outings. Flagship events include the St Andrew’s Dinner and Burns Supper, both attended by both the Lord Mayor, and an annual golf tournament.

And every year money is raised for two charities - one based in Scotland and one south of the border.

In 2012, there will also be a special tree planting in the Botanical Gardens to mark the anniversary.

“Wherever they are in the world, the Scots like to gather together,” says Ian, who is originally from Crieff, and joined the society with wife Arlene, when they moved to Sheffield in 1974.

“I suppose it’s a desire to be with people who share your history. A need to keep your traditions alive even if you are a...missionary in the south.”

Indeed, it was that desire which led to the group being formed in the first place.

In the early 19th century thousands of Scots moved here to find work in the burgeoning steel and coal industries.

Hundreds of miles from home and in a pre-railway age, they came together to offer mutual support, help with integration - and to share the odd haggis.

Thus, the society was formed, and, though its early history is sketchy, by 1900 there were more than 1,000 members.

“Numbers have gone down now,” says 71-year-old Ian, a retired director with couriers TNT. “There are fewer people coming from Scotland and how people interact has changed.

“I have three grown-up sons. One is a member and one has moved from the area but the other isn’t interested.

“It’s not that he’s not proud of his roots - he supports the right team at rugby - but he has other ways of meeting people.” In response to the changes, the group - average age 74 - is currently trying to host more youthful events such as ten-pin bowling.

And just two years ago, they tweaked the constitution: you no longer need to be Scottish to join.

“It was a bit controversial,” winces Ian. “Not everyone was happy but it passed. Now you have to be Scottish or have an interest in Scottish culture. It’s meant more members.”

This includes current social secretary Sue Cameron. She’s a Sheffielder born and bred. But after marrying a Scot, the couple joined the organisation to find new friends.

“We were living in Jersey and when we came back it was a way to meet people who my husband had something in common with,” explains Sue, of Dronfield. “I’ve been made to feel really at home.”

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Two nations, one people?

The people - Scots are portrayed as hard-drinking, tight-fisted and proud of where they come from. Ditto Yorkshire people.

The place - Scotland’s biggest city is Glasgow, built on heavy industry. The Highlands are rugged and stunning.

South Yorkshire’s only city is Sheffield, built on heavy industry. The Peak District is rugged and stunning.

The poets - Robert Burns is a Scottish legend - but even he never rhymed ‘market’ with ‘start it’ like Sheffield’s Jarvis Cocker did.

The politics of independence - Scotland is currently debating independence.

This region was termed the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire during the 1970s and 80s.