By Tomas Mc Rae,
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, ©2008
First published on-line
in the 1990s
article is featured in the Lowlands-L Gallery and the Lowlands-L Traditions 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
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
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