Kirkin' o' the Tartan

"Wherever I wander, wherever I rove,
The hills of the Highlands for ever I love.
My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here,
My heart's in the Highlands, a-chasing the deer;
Chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe,
My heart's in the Highlands, wherever I go."
-Robert Burns

The air was filled with bagpipes and heavy with the scent of what was to come. Family tartans adorned men, women, and children; and for once the bagpipers weren't the only ones wearing kilts!

This uniquely Scottish event being held in America was to celebrate the 249th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns. Celebrating the life of a writer, a poet no less! What a novel idea! In the face of our celebrity obsessed society, only the pure tenacity of the Scots could pull off such a feat.

The last time I attended a Burns Supper was in Stirling, Scotland in 2000-a tough act to follow. There were a lot of similarities of course, after all, the Scots have had the last 249 years to perfect the format of the dinner. But some parts of the dinner were of course uniquely American.

The event was held in a church. I had to get there a bit early to tune up and found myself stuffed into a basement room that was not meant to hold 10 bagpipers and all the noise they can make. Did I mention that I was wearing my brand new special piper shoes, my Ghillie Brogues. I thought I would be quite uniform with the rest of the band, and I was of course, but I was the only one not wearing a special piping jacket. So now I'll have to get that.

After tuning we settled our pipes into a room upstairs and went in to the church to take part in an event called the Kirkin' o' the Tartan. This was not something that was part of the Burns Supper that I attended in Scotland. It's basically a church service but with a little twist. At the start of the service the minister called for anyone to come to the front of their church with their tartan and call out their clan name. This was followed by the Blessing of the Tartans.

I read up a bit on the Kirkin' o' the Tartan and found that it is something that is pretty much only practiced in America and Canada. Its history can be found in the defeat of the Highlanders with Bonnie Prince Charlie at the Battle of Culloden in 1746. To subdue and punish the Highlanders the English Parliament passed the Act of Proscription which outlawed wearing tartans, speaking Gaelic, and outlawed Scottish music including the playing of the bagpipes.

To make these restrictions more bearable, Highland churches would have 1 day in the year when Highlanders would bring a small concealed piece of tartan and join in a prayer for the end of the Act.

In 1941, the Reverend Peter Marshall who was the chaplain of the U.S. Senate basically revived the ceremony for Scottish Americans involved in the war. Probably more history than you wanted to know, but the history makes it more meaningful to me so I hope it does the same for you. After the half hour service we went into the dining area to have dinner.

I'm not Scottish so I didn't have a tartan to present, but it was quite a sight to see all of those tartan bits laying in the front of the church.

I know I haven't even gotten to the actual dinner yet but this event is big enough to be broken into several blog posts so to be continued!!
Pipe on!

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