rankly, 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.
Much 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
The 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.
Scots 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.
So 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.
The 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.
ace 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
I 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
The 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.
Over 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.
From 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.