A Skinful of Scotch by Clifford Hanley: A Short Review

I’ve found as I work hard in my frequent trips promoting my writing, storytelling, and music that serendipity often comes my way. That was certainly true for the book I just finished reading, which I paid a dime for at the Montgomery, Alabama Public Library. The title is A Skinful of Scotch (Houghton-Mifflin) and it’s written by journalist Clifford Hanley. The subtitle is “The guidebook that guides you to nothing–except what the Scot is really like.” Now admittedly, I have a rather odd sense of humor, but I found Hanley’s writing to be quite amusing with some of the funniest stories I’ve ever read, but I also found the book to be informative. He throws in so much “by the way” type of information (almost like you were talking to a Scotsman) that I now have a long list of items (people, places, terms, etc.) to research. So, if you want to know about “Auld Reekie” or a multitude of quirky Scottish facts, this is a book to read.

Hanley is well-published, a known and respected journalist and humorist, but he also has an autobiography and three novels. The MOST interesting bit of information was that he was the man who wrote the words for “Scotland the Brave”, which is an unofficial anthem of Scotland (along with “Flower of Scotland”) and I’ve included those lyrics in this post. The book’s jacket claimed that he was the author of Scotland the Brave and I thought the claim was a joke, but it turns out that he really did write the lyrics around 1950, though the tune had been in existence since 1900. As a Civil War reenactor, I find the tune a good one to march to.

Scotland the Brave

Hark! When the night is falling
Hark! Hear the pipes are calling,
Loudly and proudly calling, down through the glen.
There where the hills are sleeping,
Now feel the blood a-leaping,
High as the spirits of the old Highland men.

Towering in gallant fame,
Scotland my mountain hame,
High may your proud standards gloriously wave,
Land of my high endeavour,
Land of the shining river,
Land of my heart for ever, Scotland the brave.

High in the misty Highlands,
Out by the purple islands,
Brave are the hearts that beat beneath Scottish skies.
Wild are the winds to meet you,
Staunch are the friends that greet you,
Kind as the love that shines from fair maidens’ eyes.


Far off in sunlit places,
Sad are the Scottish faces,
Yearning to feel the kiss of sweet Scottish rain.
Where tropic skies are beaming,
Love sets the heart a-dreaming,
Longing and dreaming for the homeland again.

Though there were too many to list them all, here are some of my favorite lines from the book:

“The vanishing Highlander was helped to vanish by a fiscal exercise known as the Highland Clearances.” (17)

Gaelic was, “as every Scotsman knows, the tongue they spoke in the Garden of Eden” (18).

“Inverness is a pretty place . . . simply a lunatic asylum from which no traveller [sic.] returned” (21)

“[T]he tartan was taken to be a very big juju, heap strong totem, like Sioux war-bonnets, and the Government realised it could shear the Scotsman of his courage by abolishing the stuff altogether. A law as passed in 1746 forbidding the wearing of multi-coloured cloths in the Highlands. Penalty for the first offence, six months in jail; for a second offence, seven years’ transportation to the Colonies” (33)