Focal Point: Saltire Across the Blue

Published on Wednesday, 3 September 2014 02:53 - Written by Dave Berry,

I can see the shining light of freedom in your eye.

I can see the arrows fly as arcs in the sky.

I found the road, where I hear the battle cry.

I can hear the nation tonight.”

— Michael Callaghan

He said his name was Cal, and he wanted to talk about Scotland.

Stepping from the shade of one of the stunted trees that crowded the roadside overlook, he eased up beside me and pointed at the lake that filled the valley below.

“What do ye see,” he asked in a friendly Scottish brogue.

“A loch,” I replied, smart enough to know what the Scots called these inland waters.

“Yes,” he said, a smile spreading across his broad face. “Look at the shape of it. Do ye see it?”

His manner was open, non-threatening, face alight as he stepped a few paces ahead to trace in the air the ragged outline of the loch. “It’s the map of Scotland,” he said, his grin widening as he talked about the country he loved.

“See the three sections,” he said, turning away to conduct his virtual spin around Scotland. “Across the top are the Highlands, cut through by the Great Glen … there where it narrows.”

He pointed out the Midlands and Granpian Mountains in the middle and pointed out the triangle of lake to the left that reminded him of the Arran Islands. His longish brown hair, tied loosely in a ponytail, bounced with each sweep of his arm.

“Where the land juts out on the right, there where the bridge cuts across, that’s the Lowlands, with Glasgow to the left and Edinburgh on the right. Down below is the border region,” he said as he finished the tour.

Loch Garry, a long thin Highland lake, because of a quirk of perspective, took on the shape of the country when viewed from that overlook. It was a chance encounter, and a pleasant one. There was no rush, and we stayed to chat with this friendly Scotsman.

We had spent the night at Letterfinlay Lodge, a former hunting retreat on the south shore of Loch Lochy. After three sodden days in Edinburgh, we were hoping for clearer skies in the Highlands, and that day our destination was the Isle of Skye.

Cal told us his full name was Michael Callaghan, and he was a Scottish rock singer. He had taken his band to the United States, where — as lead singer and songwriter — he struggled to hit it big. But his heart never left Scotland, he said. His songs were about Scottish pride and nationalism and freedom … and he was back home “where he belonged.”

When we met at the overlook, he was still trying to make his mark. He had finished a demo CD of three songs, and they came from his heart.

“I Can Hear The Nation,” was about Scottish nationalism and the upcoming Scottish referendum, still three years away. “Saltire Across The Blue” saluted the Scottish flag. The third, “Long Journey Home,” told of his inner struggles and his need to return from Los Angeles to his native land.

We didn’t know much about Scottish history, still don’t know enough, but over the next few days we would soak it in.

At Stirling Castle, we looked out across a beautiful valley — what had been a killing field in 1297 — to the monument for William Wallace, who led the Scots to victory at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. Inside the castle walls, we studied Robert the Bruce, who ruled as the first king of a newly independent Scotland following his conquest of the English king at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. And farther north, outside of Inverness, we had walked among stones marking the mass graves of Highland clansmen, killed by the hundreds in the Battle of Culloden in 1746.

That final defeat marked the end of Scottish independence to this day.

The vote for autonomy takes place on Thursday, Sept. 18, just over two weeks away ... and the pollsters believe it will fail.

I have an opinion. My Scottish roots go deep in the Highlands. But, in the end, it’s up to them — the citizens of Scotland — to decide. The arguments on both sides are complicated and persuasive, involving banking and currency, energy and markets, nuclear submarines and defense agreements. It’s not a simple vote.

But Cal would say that all those things are simply complications and side issues. … That the real issue is freedom.

Walk the road, feel the battle cry.

Feel the pride, when you hear the distant pipes.

Loud and clear, a thousand voices cry.

I can hear the nation tonight.

Cal’s song, “I Can Hear the Nation,” has become a rallying cry for the nationalists, sung at freedom rallies throughout the country. In the end, whichever way it goes, the vote is a victory.

The forces of freedom are on the move, and some day, Scots will again have their independence … achieved without armor and cavalry, without longbows and broadswords, without bloodshed.

As the thunder in the fields echoes through my mind,

takes me to another place, with beauty all around.

In dreams of gold, where freedom is never sold,

can you hear the nation tonight?

Thanks to Cal, I can hear the throbbing beat of the bodhran over the waters of the lochs and the low wail of the bagpipes echoing in the glen.

Yes, I can hear the nation.


Dave Berry is editor of the Tyler Morning Telegraph. His column runs on the front of the My Generation section every Wednesday. Michael Callaghan has just released his fifth album. You can find more about his music at .