Wallace's children march

29th July 2005 at 01:00
William Wallace would have been proud of the way children are being mobilised around Scotland - though in this instance they are marching not to battle, but to commemorate the 700th anniversary of his death.

August sees the final build-up in celebrations, which started at the beginning of the year. This week, an exhibition on "Wallace the Man" opened at the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum. Next Wednesday, David Ross, convener of the William Wallace Society, will start his "Walk for Wallace" to London, following in the great man's footsteps.

Mr Ross will attend a special "funeral" at St Bartholomew's Church on August 23, then accompany the symbolic coffin home to Scotland to be placed on a "medieval" catafalque at the centre of the exhibition two days later.

The coffin, containing poems and messages from the public on the "spirit of Wallace", will lie in state until September 10 when it will be borne to Lanark and laid to rest in a specially prepared mausoleum. It was at Lanark Castle that Wallace's wife was murdered by an English garrison, prompting Wallace's attack on the castle.

A conference will be held on the same day in Stirling (the day before the anniversary of the Battle of Stirling Bridge) where a number of teachers will speak, among them Audra McKee, whose P6 pupils from Armadale primary performed at the exhibition opening. The children raised more than pound;300 towards the purchase of a 1661 portrait of Wallace.

"Children don't learn enough about Scotland," Ms McKee said. "The 5-14 curriculum has guidelines that say children should learn about Scottish history and culture, but very little history is taught, in particular William Wallace. People see it as nationalist and political."

John Mackay, secretary of the William Wallace Association in Aberdeen, will be speaking on how to involve youngsters in the commemorations. "It is great that Wallace has been taken out of the darkness of history and given some illumination," Mr Mackay said. "Wallace stood for honesty and integrity. Whereas Bruce was a great politician, moving from one side to the other, Wallace always accepted that Balliol was the rightful king of Scotland.

"Without William Wallace, there wouldn't have been the critical situation for Bruce to take advantage of, and without that, Scotland wouldn't exist in its present form."

Some commemorations will hark on the medieval aspect of Wallace's times, but not Aberdeen's. "We look to the future with the youngsters. That is why we want school pupils involved," Mr Mackay said.

The city will hold a pageant on August 21, involving four primary schools (Victoria Road, Charleston, St Joseph's and Kingswells). This will be preceded by a children's concert, with youngsters coming from Aberdeen, Keith and Fraserburgh. Before the ceremony there will be a 500-strong procession through the town, reflecting Scotland over 2,000 years, with Pictish tribes, Vikings, Romans, medieval warriors and musicians taking part.

"Historians say that Wallace never came to Aberdeen," Mr Mackay said. "When he was hung, drawn and quartered, parts of his body were displayed in Newcastle, Berwick and Stirling. But according to the 1901 Book of Saint Fittick, a portion of Wallace's upper arm and shoulder was nailed on Justice Port in Aberdeen.

"We will celebrate him in Aberdeen the same way we celebrate Burns. The ethos of Wallace spread throughout the land."

Lanark, which hopes to become the leading centre connected to Wallace, is to hold major celebrations, with a medieval fair and re-enacted battle on August 21. From September 9-11, locals will celebrate the homecoming of Wallace's spirit in the coffin. There will be a torchlight procession including 100 children from local schools, traditional music festival, street theatre and story walks.

The Scottish Executive has run a competition on "Wallace - My Hero", inviting schools to put together projects on what they would get Wallace to do for them if he were alive today. Winners will be announced next week by Patricia Ferguson, Minister for Tourism, and awards made at a Wallace gala dinner on August 27.

An Executive-funded website, Wallace - Man and Myth, was launched in May.

Developed by Scran (the Scottish cultural resource access network), it carries educational information on his life and legacy (www.wallace-manandmyth.org). A lecture of the same title will be held on August 17 at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

Documents with a Wallace connection, including the Declaration of Arbroath, will be displayed at the Scottish Parliament from August 15 to September 9, and an events programme developed by Historic Scotland will be held in September at Stirling and Edinburgh castles.

"The 700th anniversary of William Wallace's death gives us the opportunity to celebrate a true Scottish hero," a spokesman for the Executive said.

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