25th April

The Total Eclipse of Scotland

On this day, the first recorded total eclipse of Scotland took place. Such events must of course have occurred before, but no one could say for certain when. Advances in astronomy and meteorology meant that for the first time the exact moment and duration of the eclipse could be accurately predicted. As a result there was mass observation of the spectacle.

Despite many scientific reassurances that the eclipse was an entirely nat- ural phenomenon, it was an unnerving seven minutes for many Scots. As the sun, moon and Scotland aligned, the lunar shadow rapidly and ominously spread from west to east across the Outer Hebrides, the inner islands, Argyll, Galloway and Wester Ross, until the whole country was cast into utter darkness, and did not begin to re-emerge for some three minutes.

A not insubstantial minority was convinced that the event must carry some fateful meaning: some said it signified God’s displeasure in a backsliding and licentious people, while others thought it heralded the dawn of a new age for the nation. Pagans, Druids and other practitioners of alternative lifestyles gathered at standing stones and similar prehistoric monuments. Several suicides and a number of never-to-be-solved murders took place during those seven minutes, in places as far-flung as Campbeltown, Cumbernauld and Arbroath, although no convincing evidence that the eclipse was responsible has ever been produced.

Civic Scotland responded in different ways. In Edinburgh, a fireworks display on the castle battlements marked the occasion. In Inverness, pubs were allowed, indeed encouraged, to stay open for twenty-four hours as refuges for the nervous or superstitious. Along the 96-mile border with England, relays of cyclists, runners and, in the Tweed, swimmers, ‘raced’ the eclipse from Gretna to Berwick, cheered on by thousands of spectators: those to the south, bathed in sunshine, enjoyed marvellous views, while those to the north, plunged in gloom, were unable to see a thing.

In a post-eclipse opinion poll, thirty-five per cent of the population said the eclipse should become an annual event; twenty-five per cent said they would prefer a total, and permanent, eclipse of England; and the remainder said they didn’t care what was eclipsed so long as they got the day off work.

Reader: Kate Molleson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Harmonium: Kit Downes
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