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KIRKIN' O' THE TARTAN

The ceremony known as the "Kirkin' O' the Tartan" dates back to 1943, during World War II. The Kirkin' ceremony was instituted by Rev. Peter Marshall, then Chaplain of the United States Senate. At that time there was concern that Americans were not rallying their support for our country's British allies. In an attempt to instill ancestral pride among Scots living in America, Marshall instituted the Kirkin' O' the Tartans, which as conducted in Presbyterian churches across the nation. The presence of the Presbyterian Church in America is due to the migration of Protestant Scots and Irish. The ceremony is significant in that it's a celebration of thanksgiving for our Scottish heritage. "Kirk' is Scots' Gaelic for "church". The Kirkin' O' the Tartans" is a ceremonial blessing of the traditional garb of a Highland Scot. The ceremony usually includes a procession of flag bearers or banner carriers, and may include bagpipes, drums, fiddles, dances and songs.

As the Scottish legend goes, after the failure of the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 against the English, the wearing of the tartan - or keeping of any Highland custom - was forbidden. The invading English hoped to subdue any sense of Scottish pride. The Jacobite leader, Prince Charles Edward Stuart ("Bonnie Prince Charlie"), had escaped to France, leaving the Highlanders vulnerable to the troops loyal to the Duke of Cumberland and the Royal House of Hanover. These troops scoured the Scottish Highlands, rooting out the Jacobite supporters.

Although the wearing of tartan was prohibited, the Highlander would allegedly take a small piece of his clan's tartan and hide it beneath his clothes on his way to the village kirk. Then at a designated moment during the service, worshipers would secretly touch their tartan. At that moment, the minister pronounced a blessing on all tartans and each Scot pledged his loyalty and respect for his country's heritage and traditions. In this way, the Kirkin' O' the Tartan continued, but in secret defiance. The ban against tartans was lifted after 35 years, and, in 1782, GEORGE III of England encouraged the wearing of the tartan as a way of lessening tensions between Scotland and England. Today, this is still a reminder of the founding fathers, their denominations and another way of worship.

...adapted from article by Maria and Bob Spence

in MAC DHUBHAICH, Winter 2001


Last Update: April 2005