o’ The Tartan
By Tomas Mc Rae, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, ©2008
First published on-line
in the 1990s
[This article is featured in the Lowlands-L Gallery and the Lowlands-L History presentations.]
although born and raised in Scotland, I knew nothing of this ceremony
until its practice in Brisbane, was brought to my attention. This led
me to investigate it in detail, find its origins, and recoil in horror
at the Brigadoonery and distortions of Scots history that have crept
into what should be a wonderful day.
of my investigation was via the Internet, in particular a discussion
group known as H-ALBION restricted to historians involved in the history
of The British Isles, and the Arran- based DALRIADA, devoted to Celtic
and particularly Scottish Highland.matters. Not one of the many historians
involved in the ALBION discussions claimed the Ceremony had any Scottish
connections whatsoever. Many American and Canadian contributors described
the origins of the ceremony in 1943 and the manner in which their churches
practised it, not one of those churches included the blessing of bits
of tartan in their service. All Scots historians stated they’d never
heard of the Kirkin’ until I described it and most expressed horror at
the things that had crept in as ‘authentic Scottish’.
Huntin Tartan of the Macrae Clan
DALRIADA Group on the other hand had contributions from some naive Americans
who made the most extravagant claims. For example The Kirkin’ allegedly
arose when “THE CLANS” were called by the church bells to assemble to
defend Scotland. (Must have been damned loud bells to ring all over The
Highlands.) Well into the 18th century the Clans continued as laws unto
themselves. While conceding the major contribution Clansmen in the British
army made in the wars of the periods the only time a large Highland contingent
assembled to fight for Scotland in later years was at King James IV’s
ill-fated invasion of Northern England. When they saw how things were
going at Flodden they had the sense to go home! With all the feuding
among the Clans any such church assembly would have put the average Rangers/Celtic
fitbaw match to shame.
involved in the discussion once again confirmed the ceremony was NOT
of Scottish origin. Some of the claims made by the Americas showed just
how ignorant they were of their ancestors’ history. The best was a lady
who claimed The Highland Clearances were started by John Knox! I wrote
her personally recommending a few good history texts, she responded by
calling me a “bird brain”. As to such texts there is none I know of that
mentions The Kirkin’, nor does the multi-volume Dictionary of the Scottish Tongue that has a large section on tartans and all pertaining to them.
what is the truth? The Chaplain to the U.S. Congress, a Scot named Peter
Marshall, preached some really great sermons. At the request of his admirers
he began publishing them when WW2 broke out, donating the proceeds to
the British War Effort. One such sermon he called “The Kirkin’ of the Tartans” and from this he organised a special service in Washington DC for Scots, those
of Scottish ancestry, and those who wished they were and encouraged folks
attending to wear their clan tartans. A truly great idea and once again
all proceeds went to the British War Effort. So popular was the Service
that it quickly spread and representatives of each Clan began marching
in with Clan banners. After the church service social events were often
held making it a truly great day.
custom spread to Canada then laterally to Australia and New Zealand but
somewhere along the line, I suspect in Canada, it was claimed that the
Kirkin’ originated in Scotland after the ’45. The tartan being banned,
people slunk bits into the kirks on Sundays to be blessed by the Minister.
As a result of this people started bringing bits of tartan to some Kirkin’ ceremonies.
it: Presbyterian ministers then, as now, regard the blessing of inanimate
objects as wrong and would certainly have never countenanced such a thing
in the 1700s. The flummery associated with this aspect of the Kirkin
is therefore not only un-Scottish but also an insult to the memory of
Rev Peter Marshall.
repeat: The Kirkin’ is not, and has never been, practised in Scotland.
It is significant that it is in no way included in the huge Gathering
of Clan Macrae in Scotland in 2000 although a special church service
is part of the Proceedings. I brought the result of my researches to
the attention of the Brisbane Clans Congress via our local Scottish Ethnic
Radio Station. Initially there was a hostile reaction but in the end
they stopped claiming the Ceremony was of ancient Scottish origin and
proclaimed it as a Celebration of the Tartan, and so it is!
Dress Tartan of the Macrae Clan
excellent Bundanoon Gathering was also marred for a time by similar claims
but when presented with my evidence, plus some gathered by their own
organisers, they also reverted to a Celebration of the Tartan.
the last year I have received quite a lot of electronic mail on this
topic, mainly from the U.S.A. and Canada. Many of those writing are Presbyterian
clergy who unanimously endorsed my views. As usual any Scot writing agrees
with me as do most others apart from a few naive Americans. I was confused
by this correspondence, wondering where they found me, until one clergyman
recently mentioned that Brittanica-on-Line had listed me as an expert
on the subject.
this info I was able to track it all down to a web site compiled by a
friend in Nova Scotia where she’d given material I sent her a special
section. I pray the day will soon done when the Brigadoonery associated
with The Kirkin’ will succumb to Truth and the Ceremony as Rev Marshall
envisaged it will prevail.