Frontline Index






Gypsy Travellers

Dear Frontline

I have just read Colin Turbett’s excellent article (Frontline Volume 2, Issue 10).

Although we may appear to be at odds over the “racial” background of Gypsy Travellers it’s more appearance than substance. I for one think that Travellers, whether Gypsy or not (and there is considerable overlap and intermarriage by now between what were once separate groups of Highland, Lowland and Romany Travellers), are a distinct ethnic group with their own shared language, culture and lifestyle. That means that they should have always had protection under the RRA.

When I used to be a Racial Equality Officer we (Lothian Racial Equality Council) began a case to establish this protection but unfortunately the defenders in the action, the old DHSS, issued a grovelling apology for their previous behaviour effectively bringing the court action and the chance to establish precedent in Scotland to a halt.

I’ve not read Timothy Neat’s book but suspect that he favours Hamish Henderson’s view that the Highland Travellers pre-date the arrival of Gypsy Travellers. I think the historic and linguistic evidence for that is too strong to be denied but nevertheless don’t think that this contradicts the view of Travellers today as a distinct ethnic group.

Moreover whether modern Travellers are, or are not, all descended from Gypsies is irrelevant. If people of South Asian and Chinese descent wish to call themselves “Black” as a political statement no one gainsays their right to do so. Similarly with “Gypsy” Travellers – if people self-identify as members of that group no genetic proof of descent from Romanies should be necessary. Otherwise we are swallowing too much of the racial stereotypes of our oppressors – it’s not in the blood but in our beliefs that community should be founded.

All the Best,
Bill Scott

John McEvoy

Dear Sir/Madam,

I would like to correct you on one point which I think is important.

The Wee Magic Stane is written by John McEvoy my grandfather.

Ewan McVicar has informed me that Timothy Neat’s biography of Hamish Henderson uses both spellings( McAvoy, McEvoy). For what reason I do not know. I would like to get to the bottom of this.

I don’t know why his first name is given as Johnny. I have only ever heard my grandmother Ella call him John. In the family he was always called John. He may have been called Johnny in his younger days.

John is still living in Lynn of Lorne Nursing Home, though too old to speak out on this issue. To respect the man and his legacy I think it is more appropriate to call him by his name John McEvoy.

Ian Hamilton replied to my email and said he remembered John.

The article itself is very interesting. Before I knew much about the wee stane, John sang his song at the dinner table on a visit to New Zealand in 1990.


Dominic Bowley from Auckland, New Zealand

Bill Scott replies:

Dear Dominic,

Great to hear from you. I didn’t know that Frontline had such an international readership!

Absolutely no disrespect was meant by me when using “Johnny McAvoy” rather than John McEvoy. As I’m only in my 50s myself I had to use secondary sources and they vary in spelling your grandfather’s surname as McAvoy and McEvoy, some even use both! For example see this German hosted website on traditional song which attributes the song’s authorship to “Johnny McAvoy” -
On the other hand this site and several others give your grand-dad’s name correctly as “John McEvoy”.

I also, as you suspected, used Timothy Neat’s bio of Henderson as a source and so have compounded the confusion. Happy for Frontline to carry a correction. Please accept my apologies for the mis-attribution. From now on if I refer to your grand-dad’s song it will be correctly attributed to John McEvoy.

However I do think that some people may have called your grand-dad “Johnny” way back then as some of his contemporaries on the folk scene give his name as “Johnny” when referring to him in writing (e.g. Thurso Berwick/Morris Blythman does whereas Alex Campbell does not). I myself was “Billy” to everyone until I hit my mid-20s but friends made since then, including my wife, have always known me as “Bill” - however my family still refer to me as “Billy”. Therefore if you asked my current friends if they knew a “Billy” Scott they’d probably say no. It may well be the opposite with your family where your grandfather was always “John” to them.

Regardless of all that speculation the real intention of the article was to tell a new generation of independence supporters about Ian Hamilton and co’s reiving and also about the great song that was written about it. It’s one of the first Scottish republican songs that I remember hearing (performed live by Hamish Imlach) and it’s a great comic song. Your grand-dad has every reason to be proud of it (and therefore for it to be correctly attributed).

If you are in contact with your grand-dad please pass on my best wishes.

All the Best,

Bill Scott