All posts by Richard K. Munro (Auld Munro)

Like Russell Kirk, I am a great admirer of the late Gilbert Highet. I am the president and founder of the Gilbert Highet Society (on Facebook) which includes many scholars and authors. I was intensely homeschooled as a boy learning English phonics, drama, and oratory as well as the history of the Raj and British Empire where my people prominently served as Empire builders in the Merchant Marine, Indian Civil Service or Highland Regiments. I learned to read and write at home before I went to school. My people specialized in building ships, trains, bridges and were soldiers, interpreters or scouts for the British Army or Navy for generations. For many generations, it was the desire of each son of Munro, Fraser, MacFarlane or MacKenzie to go a-soldiering far "frae the hame" and to return to marry a woman of his faith "and race and line" and by that was meant to marry a woman of the Gaeltacht (Gaidhealteachd). Two things changed this pattern forever. 1) the depopulation of the Highlands from 1790-1890 meaning there was no place to go home to and 2) the Catastrophe of what we called An Cogadh Mor (the Big War) and An Cogadh Hitler (the Hitler War) 1914-1945. This led to the biggest catastrophe of all -the British Empire went smash and so we became "Orphans of Empire." But the old Highland prophecy sang "Is gearr gach reachd ach riaghailt Dhe" (Each realm is short but the Kingdom of God. " We have seen many Empires rise and fall. I am a teacher of English, Spanish.& history. Author of Spying for the Other Side, KIM PHILBY &The Historic El CID. I have authored one-act plays such as "Euripides' Trojan Women (Calliope),"Romans on the Rhine", "Clad in Gold Our Young Mary" "Beneath Alexandria's Sapphire Sky" among others. I am a California Certified teacher in history, Spanish and English. MA Spanish Literature. BA with Honors (NYU '78) winner of Helen M. Jones Prize for History. ISI Fellow UVA 2004-2005. I am on the Board of PRO-ENGLISH. I have edited galleys of several books but especially CHURCHILL WALKING WITH DESTINY for my dear friend Andrew Roberts with whom it was my honor to serve. I consider this biography to be the greatest biography of our time both for history and as literature. To have been associated with it only in minor capacity was a great honor. I Have taught Spanish for Native Speakers, AP US HISTORY, AP Spanish as well as English for Learners in the USA and Spain. My specialty is English literacy for newcomers (emphasizing phonics, diction, and grammar) and sheltered English immersion Social Studies (history) for English learners. I believe in sheltered English immersion for newcomers (English language books, notes, tests and quizzes with some translation and bilingual glossaries available.) I believe in high-quality Dual Immersion instruction but I do not believe (generally speaking) that NENLI is a good idea, in most instances. NENLI is Non-English Native Langauge Instruction. Schools should be very honest about what they are doing. If they are NOT teaching the core curriculum in English they should say so. The temptation to retain students (i have seen it) and create alternative pathways without requiring students to study their core subjects in English is ultimately, in my opinion, harmful to students. Bilingual programs must have rigor. History, science and math classes must have rigor. If students only accumulate hollow credits then ultimately they are cut off from the satisfaction of higher academic endeavors. But I do believe local communities should have some choice as to what kind of educational programs they want to provide and what languages they teach. However, I believe English should be the official language of the United States. I do not believe we can or ought to be an officially bilingual nation. I have a New Wine Credential. I am married with three children. Two of our children are teachers (Spanish and Dual Immersion k-6) and one is an engineer. I am proud to have served as a peacetime "Ice Cream" Marine (reserves) and to hold an honorable discharge from USMCR. My parents emigrated to the USA when young in 1923 and 1927. The war destroyed the fragile economic communities from which they came and essentially no one ever returned. They became US citizens and were Americans by choice. Both graduated from public high school in New York and were the first and only members of their families to graduate from high school and go on to college. My mother was an RN and came from a strict Free Church Calvinist family. My father had a BA in English and French Comparative Literature and was a Roman Catholic. They were married in two separate Catholic and Anglican ceremonies. Needless to say, from a young age I was exposed to great sectarian hatreds and prejudices and this almost destroyed my Christian faith altogether. What saved me? The love of good Christians; the forgiveness of good Christians. In the 20th Century, my family emigrated to the Americas (Chile, Canada, and the USA) My uncle worked in Chile and Argentina circa 1914-1936 and my father was an American officer in Texas, Louisiana and the Pacific Theater during WWII. My father was a notable amateur linguist ( reading ancient Greek, Latin, speaking Tagalog, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Russian). I grew up in a multilingual cosmopolitan household and cannot remember a time when I spoke, sang or heard only English. My mother played the piano and sang in five languages. I lived and studied in Spain and got my MA in Spanish Literature there via the University of Northern Iowa under the legendary Adolfo Franco Pino. I first visited Spain and Italy in 1964. My primary interest is in classical literature (chiefly English and Spanish), history, music, and poetry particularly the music and literature of the Scottish Highlands and Lowlands. Cuimhnich air na daoine bhon tainig mise (I remember the people I came from...the Gaels of Cioch Mhor in Ferindonald My people lived there for over one thousand years). Most of my family today is Spanish-speaking (Spain, Mexico, Chile and the USA). Most of us follow the faith of St. Maelrubha, St. Columba, St. Patrick and St. Mungo. Of course, no Highlander ever recognized St. Andrew as a patron per se as he was later accretion of lowlanders as worthy as St. Andrew is. I was married in Spain on St. Columba's Day and my son was married in Mexico. It is a cognate fact that every marriage in our family for centuries has a direct or indirect connection to Spain either through marriage in Spain or marriage by priests educated in the Scots College in Spain or Rome. La fuerza del sino? (The Force of Destiny?) I believe in the policy of the Buen Vecino (the Good Neighbor) and in la conviviencia (peaceful coexistence) of different cultures, languages and religions. I realize I am the very last of my race but I am glad to be the father of a new race of Americans whose blood comes from the peoples and races of four continents. Hyphenations can be good descriptors but they are usually a temporary condition like bilingualism. Monolingualism, cultural diffusion and assimilation are the natural tendencies of the human race. From where I stand the melting pot bubbles on.


By Richard K. Munro

Chapter two “With God Came Letters and Numbers”

Anglo-Saxon and barbarian invasions of Britain (England)

Christianity came relatively late to the pagan Anglo-Saxons of whom it was said, “Neither numbers, nor letters, nor God.” Missionaries from Roman Britain spread Christianity to the Scotti (Gaels) of Ireland and the Picts of Scotland (St. Patrick c 432, St. Columba  c. 563 and St. Mungo c 560. for example) thus preserving the ancient faith and knowledge of schooling, books and the Roman alphabet. [1]

In turn, these Celtic missionaries reintroduced Christianity to southern Britain –now known as England- and the Latin alphabet to the Anglo-Saxons.   The Irish Gaels were instrumental in this time period in fomenting education and Christianity not only in England but on the continent as well planting an early missionary base on Lindisfarne Island as well as schools in Charlemagne’s empire (present day France, Germany and Switzerland). [2]

Figure 9 THE ROMAN ALPHABET The Latin alphabet originally had 20 letters; the Romans themselves added K plus Y and Z for loan words transcribed from Greek.

Figure 10 Book of Kells

Another force in Christianizing the Saxons came from Rome beginning with the mission of St.Augustine to Aethelbert, King of Kent, in AD 597. Aethelbert was chosen because he was married to a Frankish Christian princess[3] who encouraged the new religion. The story goes that Aethelbert, afraid of the powers of the Christian “sorcerers”, chose to meet with them in the open air to ensure that they wouldn’t cast a wicked spell over him!  In any case, St. Augustine, “the Apostle of the English” laid a solid cultural foundation for English Christianity and the English language.

St. Augustine

Augustine’s original intent was to establish an archbishopric in London, but at that time the London English were hard-core pagans, slavers and polygamists and so were very hostile to Christians.  Therefore, Canterbury, the capital of the Kentish kingdom of Aethelbert, became the seat of the pre-eminent archbishop in England. The Church was a very important force in medieval English society.  It was the only truly national entity –international really- tying together the various warring Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.  It is significant to report that no written records of the Anglo-Saxon language survive from before the seventh century AD.  The earliest substantial literature of the Anglo-Saxons is Beowulf[4]:

O flower of warriors, beware of that trap.
Choose, dear Béowulf, the better part,
eternal rewards. Do not give way to pride.
For a brief while your strength is in bloom
but it fades quickly; and soon there will follow
illness or the sword to lay you low,
or a sudden fire or a surge of water
or jabbing blade or javelin from the air
or repellent age. Your piercing eye
will dim and darken; and death will arrive,
dear warrior, to sweep you away.” 
(translation Seamus Heaney)

If the Anglo-Saxons had remained pagan it is possible that their language may never have been widely written and so may not have survived its many travails.  

Figure 11 Lindisarne Gospels

Anglo-Saxon England’s most famous historian and Doctor of the Church , the monk Bede, known as the Venerable Bede, lived most of his life at the monastery of Jarrow, in Northumbria (died 735). Nearby, the monastery of Lindisfarne  is famous for its’ celebrated hand-colored  illuminated  Bible, an 8th century masterpiece of Celtic- inspired art, which is now in the British Library.[5] Lindisfarne Gospels, is a Latin Vulgate text with interlined Old English paraphrase.  So it is very important in the history of the English language.

This is evidence that the Masses were given in Latin but the sermons were given (usually) in English.  King Alfred’s circle of (Old) English-speaking teachers (Plegmund, Waerferth, Aethelstan, and Werwulf) led to a late 9th century revival of learning in Latin as well as the growth of Anglo-Saxon literature. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle, for example, was written in Old English not Latin). Alfred the Great’s unique importance in the history of English letters came from his conviction that a life without knowledge or reflection was unworthy.  Alfred’s enthusiasm to spread learning to the people in English may have been a turning point for the survival of English. Under the auspices of Alfred the Great church schools were encouraged for common people, and many Latin works were translated into English.  English was becoming a literary language and a language of local commerce.  French was still important for the nobility and Latin for higher education but English soldiers, sailors and merchants continued to speak, to sing and to pray in English among themselves.  And, increasingly, keep records and write in English.     English became strong enough even to survive the catastrophic subjugation of the English which came after 1066.

Figure 12 Manuscript of Beowulf (Anglo-Saxon)

During this time the influence of Church Latin and St. Jerome’s Latin version of the Bible (known also as the “Vulgate” was colossal.  Churches were almost the only forum for higher education[6] during the middle Ages. The higher church officials also played important secular roles; advising the king, witnessing charters, and administering estates of the church, which were extensive. The Magna Charta (1215) was written in Latin and so was the Scottish Arbroath Declaration of 1320. Previously Anglo-Saxon had a few Latin words most of them products or indicating spheres in which the Romans excelled such as road-building, commerce, travel and communication. These early Anglo-Saxon borrowings from Latin or Greco-Latin include, anchor, butter, candle, chalk, cheap[7], cheese, kettle, kitchen, to cook, dish mile, mint, crisp, pepper, port,  pound, sack, school (originally Greek) ,shrine, street (paved road), tile and wall.   Now with the introduction of a literate Latin Christian culture we have many new words (many originally Greek like the word Bible meaning in Greek “books”)[8] Hundreds of words come into English at this time from Latin and here are just a few: altar, apostle, circle, crystal, monastery, martyr, monk, nun, priest, clerk[9], commandment, devil, demon,  relic, cat, fork, creed, mass, camel, psalm, paper, chapter, verse, lily, temple, and trout.

Viking-landing[1]The early monasteries of Northumberland were vital centers of learning and the arts until they were wiped out by savage Viking raids of the 9th century.[10] Much of England, Ireland and Scotland were conquered by the Vikings (c.800-1263) but the Vikings dominated the off shore islands, the sea and the coasts not the hinterland.


Figure 13 Viking attack on Christian monastery

The northern dialects of English were very influenced by Old Norse (an ancestor of Norwegian and Swedish but Germanic like Anglo-Saxon).  Some examples of Old Norse (Viking) words  are fellow, hit, sly, take, skirt, scrub, gill, kindle, kick, get, give, window, skipper, sister, thrall (slave),earl(warrior/noble),  want and dream (it meant ‘joy’ in Anglo-Saxon.). [11] Yet despite these sporadic attacks both English and Christianity set deep roots.  I cannot but help think that the Vikings were vanquished not only by the sword but by the faith and virtue of young Christian maidens with whom the Norseman cohabited and later married.  In time language and religion assimilated and transformed the invader.

[1]  After its adoption by the English, this 23-letter Roman alphabet developed W as a doubling of U and later J and V as consonantal variants of I and U. The resultant alphabet of 26 letters has both uppercase, or capital, and lowercase, or small, letters. 

English spelling is essentially based on 15th century orthography, but pronunciation has changed considerably since then, especially that of long vowels and diphthongs.

[2] See Thomas Cahill’s charming small book How the Irish Saved Civilization

[3] Named Bertha

[4] Beowulf, Seamus Heaney, trans. ( New York. Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2000)

[5] Older than this are the Book of Kells, its inspiration which was probably created in Iona generations before.

[6] Almost entirely in Latin.

[7] Cheap comes from the Latin caupo meaning “wine-seller”; a Chapman was original a merchant.

[8] Of course, the Anglo-Saxons called the Bible the Gospels, or the Good Book or the Old Book; these are expressions still used in modern English today.

[9] In Britain “clerk” is pronounced like “Clark” as in Clark Kent (Superman); it almost sounds like “clock”.

[10] There was an ancient prayer known round the Isles that went like this: A furore normannorum libera nos domine (“From the fury of the Norsemen deliver us, O Lord!”).

[11] Thomas Pyles and John Algeo The Origins and Development of the English Language Harcourt Brace, 1982 p299-300.

Give me not the hard man

Spirit of Cecilia

I dislike and distrust RUTHLESSNESS, CRUELTY TO THE YOUNG OR WEAK, COLDNESS to our neighbors and loved ones, INDIFFERENCE to the old, sick or poor, HARD-HEARTEDNESS and INSENSITIVITY.

Give me a person who is of a softer heart and open ear. Nil am fear crua gan croí báúil nó cluaise (not the hard man without a sympathetic heart or ear).

What is sympathy? It is an emotional participation in the feelings of others and let us not forget there is a pleasure to be found and a appeal as a result of those feelings.

Compassion is the opposite of cruelty which rejoices in the suffering and humiliation of others and egoism which is indifferent to the suffering and humiliation of others. Hasta los pobres tiene derecho al honor y dignidad as the Spanish say; even the poor have the right to honor and dignity.

I believe men and women who…

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Give me not the hard man

I dislike and distrust RUTHLESSNESS, CRUELTY TO THE YOUNG OR WEAK, COLDNESS to our neighbors and loved ones, INDIFFERENCE to the old, sick or poor, HARD-HEARTEDNESS and INSENSITIVITY.

Give me a person who is of a softer heart and open ear. Nil am fear crua gan croí báúil nó cluaise (not the hard man without a sympathetic heart or ear).

What is sympathy? It is an emotional participation in the feelings of others and let us not forget there is a pleasure to be found and a appeal as a result of those feelings.

Compassion is the opposite of cruelty which rejoices in the suffering and humiliation of others and egoism which is indifferent to the suffering and humiliation of others. Hasta los pobres tiene derecho al honor y dignidad as the Spanish say; even the poor have the right to honor and dignity.

I believe men and women who do not know mercy miss much of the joy and happiness to be found in life.

There is sadness in pity -commiseration- but there is happiness mingled together with compassion whose example generates generosity and love from others.

Sadness devoid of hatred for anything but injustice and unhappiness and suffering is a good thing, a humane thing.


Upon losing a beloved father

Thomas Munro Jr.

Spirit of Cecilia

By RIchard K. Munro

My father and me at our wedding on St. Columba’s Day June 9, 1982. I am wearing Auld Pop’s Munro tartan tie. I still have it and the tie my father was wearing that day.
The ladies to my father’s left are my mother, Ruth L. Munro and in the back Juanita Donado Perez my beloved mother in law. A grand lady and like my grandmother lost her husband when very young (at age 26). My wife was like my mother “the widow’s curly haired daughter who was the loveliest of the throng.”

I know what it is to love a father and to lose a father.

“Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.” is an old Irish saying.


People you love never die entirely. They live in your mind in, the way…

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“I can skirt the boundary of Italian, but the interior of the language escapes me. I don’t see the secret pathways, the concealed layers. The hidden levels. The subterranean part. At Hadrian’s Villa, in Tivoli, there is a gigantic network of streets, an impressive and imposing system that is entirely underground. This complex of passages was dug to transport goods, servants, slaves. To separate the emperor from the people. To hide the real and unruly life of the villa, just as the skin hides the unsightly but essential functions of the body. At Tivoli I understand the nature of my Italian project. Like visitors to the villa today, like Hadrian almost two millennia ago, I walk on the surface, the accessible part. But I know, as a writer, that a language exists in the bones, in the marrow. That the true life of the language, the substance, is there.”

In Other Words, Jhumpa Lahiri