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Reclaiming Highland Catholic Literature

Auntie Robbo and Aboard the Bulger were initially published in the 1940s. Auntie Robbo was deemed ‘too Scottish’ for London publishers but was printed in America. Aboard the Bulger was set to become a bestseller, but tragically almost all copies of it were obliterated in the London blitz. A few of the original prints existed in our family and I grew up reading them. I am delighted that more children now have the chance to enjoy them as much as we did, in the beautiful new editions now printed and sold by Scotland Street Press.

By all accounts Ann Scott-Moncrieff was not the sort of person you would forget meeting; her joie de vivre, faith, love and artistic talent was a great inspiration to those who knew her. She was my great-grandmother and I owe her a lot – not least for my Catholic faith! Ann converted in her early twenties and, through her living witness, my great-grandfather, George, was also brought to faith.

Both Ann and George were part of a literary movement, known as the ‘Scottish Renaissance’, that sought to celebrate and revitalise Scotland’s heritage and culture. Interestingly, they were not the only artists in this ‘movement’ to convert to the Catholic faith! I believe it was an exciting time for this aspirational group of friends – one of great hope, deep questioning and of a profound search for the source of the inherited goodness they witnessed in their beloved Scotland. Some works by George Scott-Moncrieff include a Catholic novel set in Edinburgh, a morality play about the martyrdom of Mary Queen of Scots, and a history of the Catholic faith in Scotland.

Father Habbie Rodgers, their spiritual director, used an entertaining parable to describe the contrast between Ann’s more intuitive and George’s more intellectual conversion:

But Ann, flinging herself about in the water, and swimming more by instinct than training, and shouting songs of joy, plunged ahead, sending large gobbets of salt water into George’s eyes, and down his throat. And so they swam steadily on, tossing sometimes rather sickeningly, arguing most of the time, with Ann giving an occasional shove to George, and George hanging on to Ann now and again, and Habbie watching both carefully lest they tired.

I have included this quotation here because I think it illustrates something of the true significance of Ann Scott-Moncrieff’s writing – especially the literature she wrote for children. She was a woman who seemed intuitively to recognise that which was True, Good and Beautiful – not a saint, but someone whose life and work helped and helps others to see Christ. Inspired by what he learned about living in faith, from Ann, from his own children, and from traditional Highland people, George Scott-Moncrieff would go on to explore the theme of ‘spiritual innocence’ in his writings. This he understood as the kind of intuitive knowledge of things that comes through faith, hope and love – it is something that helps us to see things as they truly are, and not what our sin-tainted worldly knowledge makes them appear to be.

I find Ann Scott-Moncrieff’s innocent and sensibly anti-authoritarian writings particularly refreshing and pertinent in our own times. Just as George Scott-Moncrieff’s history of Scotland and the Catholic Faith reminds us of countless saints who have gone before us and spoken out for what is True, so today we are called to stand strong in faith, innocence and hope, against all the lies of the culture of death, fear and confusion which increasingly threaten to overcome us.

Ann died tragically aged only 29. Edwin Muir, who eulogised her in his beautiful poem, ‘For Ann Scott-Moncrieff’, believed that,‘If she had lived, she would have been one of our best writers, and in losing her we do not know how much we have lost’. Aunty Robbo and Aboard the Bulger are two hidden gems of Scotland’s recent but forgotten Catholic literary heritage. Through them something of Ann’s light shines, and we could all do with a bit more of that this winter!

This is the poem Edwin Muir wrote for Ann Scott-Moncrieff!

For Ann Scott-Moncrieff (1914-1943)

Dear Ann, wherever you are Since you lately learnt to die, You are this unsetting star That shines unchanged in my eye; So near, inaccessible, Absent and present so much Since out of the world you fell, Fell from hearing and touch– So near. But your mortal tongue Used for immortal use, The grace of a woman young, The air of an early muse, The wealth of the chambered brow And soaring flight of your eyes: These are no longer now. Death has a princely prize. You who were Ann much more Than others are that or this, Extravagant over the score To be what only is, Would you not still say now What you once used to say Of the great Why and How, On that or the other day? For though of your heritage The minority here began, Now you have come of age And are entirely Ann. Under the years’ assaults, In the storm of good and bad, You too had the faults That Emily Brontë had, Ills of body and soul, Of sinner and saint and all Who strive to make themselves whole, Smashed to bits by the Fall. Yet ‘the world is a pleasant place’ I can hear your voice repeat, While the sun shone in your face Last summer on Princes Street

To order any of the books click on the following links:

Rebecca Blakey | Fort Augustus

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