• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Bannockburn prepares to welcome foreign invaders

AT the battle site, verdant under the new summer sun, men are setting up tents.

Top, Malin Heen Allan and her husband, Charlie Allan, are principle organisers of the re-enactment; above, Pete Irvine of Unique Events, said Bannockburn Live will be a respectful commemoration.Right, the statue of Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn and an image from one of the films at the site's new visitor centreMain photograph: Steve Cox
Top, Malin Heen Allan and her husband, Charlie Allan, are principle organisers of the re-enactment; above, Pete Irvine of Unique Events, said Bannockburn Live will be a respectful commemoration.Right, the statue of Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn and an image from one of the films at the site's new visitor centreMain photograph: Steve Cox

These men, who presumably would have been soldiers 700 years ago when the real Battle of Bannockburn raged, are preparing for next weekend's commemoration of the totemic fight.

On the same weekend as Armed Forces Day - to be held, coincidentally, in nearby Stirling - about 20,000 people are expected to attend a two-day festival marking a defining moment in Scottish history.

With a music festival, literary events, battle re-enactments and medieval cooking displays, Bannockburn Live is being hailed by organisers as one of the most individual festivals the country has seen.

Concerns were raised earlier this year after the event was cut from three days to two amid worries over ticket sales, but organisers say sales have perked up over the past week.

Bannockburn Live has also faced charges of being in slightly bad taste, given that it seems to lean towards celebration rather than commemoration, and does so in a year when Scotland faces a historic vote to determine whether it will separate itself from its southern neighbour.

Dr Tony Pollard, senior lecturer in history and battlefield archaeology at Glasgow University, recently made a two-part BBC documentary, The Quest For Bannockburn, with historian Neil Oliver.

Pollard believes Bannockburn, if marketed correctly, could become a site of reconciliation between the two nations.

He said: "I was in South Africa for the 120th anniversary of a battle between the Zulus and the British, which allowed both black and white to remember that event and bring the two together in post-apartheid South Africa.

"The same thing could happen at Bannockburn between the Scottish and the English - the site is not just a place of conflict but possibly a place of reconciliation.

"I have a slight degree of discomfort that Bannockburn is being celebrated while the First World War is being commemorated; this is still an event where hundreds of men died.

"There is an opportunity for reconciliation and learning from this anniversary and I would worry that the subtleties are lost among a cartoonish version of Scottish and English relationships."

A re-enactment of the battle, to be held near the Bannockburn museum and which will culminate in a clash between the English infantry and groups of Scottish pikemen brandishing 12ft lances, will be the centrepiece of the weekend.

The participants, drawn from specialist medieval re-enactment clubs from 10 countries including Norway, Poland, the US, Sweden, Ireland and Portugal, have been training for the event since earlier this year. Another 150 enthusiasts will play camp followers, arrow-makers, leather-workers, cooks and blacksmiths, to recreate the smell, sounds and chaos of a medieval war.

However, Pete Irvine, of Unique Events, which is organising the festival, is keen to distance Bannockburn Live from any notion of celebration.

He said: "Celebration is just the wrong word; this is not a celebration. Just as with the First World War events this year, this is a commemoration.

"We now have a history channel on television and there are historical programmes on every night - people are fascinated by history and so they are going to be really interested in this event.

"It is highly unique in that it brings together music, poetry, food and battle re-enactments, but it is all done in a very respectful way."

The National Trust for Scotland, the site's owner, has banned party political and referendum campaign slogans from Bannockburn Live.

However, political support for the weekend is positive and cross-party, with politicians saying the event is important for learning the lessons of division.

But in the heightened atmosphere ahead of the referendum, the issue is becoming politicised, with the pro-Union Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrats, and pro-independence SNP, each seeing the occasion through the prism of their own political agenda.

Richard Simpson, Labour MSP for mid-Scotland and Fife, said: "At a time and in an era when nation states were asserting their independence this was an important battle. Celebrating the Battle of Bannockburn is appropriate only as part of our history, not as a present day anti-English rallying point.

"It is fitting that we celebrate Armed Forces Day at the same time to celebrate our collective stand as the United Kingdom, the most successful union of nations, in our fight against fascism exemplified in the D-Day landings." The 70th anniversary of D-Day was marked at the start of June.

He added: "In doing so we should remember that our two nations have been at peace since 1745. Splitting up that union in an increasingly global world will diminish the UK's ability to play a major role in support of democratic values for the future and will marginalise Scotland."

Willie Rennie MSP, LibDem leader, said: "It is worth marking such a significant event in our past. Other than a limited number of people, few would celebrate the death of so many - no matter which country they were from and how long ago it was.

"Just like we commemorate the start of the First World War, we should commemorate Bannockburn and use it to remember the fallen and learn the lessons of division and war."

The Scottish Conservatives' Elizabeth Smith MSP said: "Bannockburn is an important part of Scottish history and it is right that the 700th anniversary is marked appropriately, particularly as the new visitor centre there is one of the best heritage sites in the country. However, this anniversary should be kept in perspective. 2014 is obviously the centenary commemoration of the start of the Great War, an event which clearly had far greater implications for world history than one battle between the Scots and the English.

"The recent events which marked the 70th anniversary of D-Day demonstrated just how important the commemorations of both world wars are to veterans and their families and, as such, their significance touches many more people across the whole international community."

Bruce Crawford, SNP MSP for Stirling, said: "The centenary of the Great War, which caused such huge loss of life for Scotland and many other nations, is a time for sombre reflection and commemoration, and should be marked with the utmost respect here and across Europe.

"The Battle of Bannockburn was a pivotal event in Scotland's history, and so it is right that this year's anniversary is marked.

"Bannockburn Live is set to be a fantastic occasion that will effectively transport people back in time, giving a real sense of what life was like for those at the time, and is part of the series of events marking Scotland's second Year of Homecoming."

Contextual targeting label: 
Local government

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

242136