Kirkin’ o’ the Tartan celebrates Scottish heritage

On Sunday, Aug. 14, the community turned out to watch the First Presbyterian Church of Highlands during its annual Kirkin’ o’ the Tartans parade which celebrates Scottish heritage.

Adhering to COVID19 restrictions, masked church members followed the Beadle Duncan Greenlee, bagpipers and those carrying tartan flags, as they distantly walked west from the church on one side of Main Street crossed and walked east down the other ending up at K-H Founders Park.

Once assembled on the stage at the park, Pastor Curtis Fussell read the onlookers the Scots Confession and Prayer:

“Almighty God, bless these symbols of the Scottish heritage, and grant that those who wear them, and the families they represent, may do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with You; through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Beadle, bagpipers, and those carrying tartan flags assembled on stage at Kelsey-Hutchinson Founders Park.

“We proclaim that we are all united in the covenant of Jesus Christ for there is but one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all.

“We rejoice, O God, in the opportunity to dedicate to you these symbols of the unswerving loyalty, steadfast faith, and great achievements of our ancestors. We take pride in their stamina as individuals in the face of adversity, in the tenacity of their loyalty to their families and clans, in their undying faith in you. In the blessing of these symbols, bless us with loyalty, faith and achievements in the preservation of our heritage. The blessing of God and the Lord be yours, the blessing of the perfect Spirit be yours, The blessing of the Three be poured out on us generously.”

Pastor Curtis Fussell leads the gathering in prayer while Stell Huie looks on.

As far as scholars can tell, the Kirkin’ o’ the Tartan is a purely American tradition that celebrates Scottish heritage. It was begun in 1941 at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC by the great Presbyterian minister and chaplain of the U.S. Senate, Dr. Peter Marshall.

Sunday morning First Presbyterian Church celebrated its annual Kirkin’ o’ the Tartan. Beadle Duncan Greenlee, carrying the Holy Word, led the parade followed by husband-wife pipers Margaret Tooke and Glen Morris, and Pastor Curtis Fussell.

However, popular legend has it that the Kirkin’ o’ the Tartan began in the years following the great defeat of the Jacobites at Culloden in 1746, when tartans were banned. Families supposedly took small scraps of cloth to church (the kirk) to surreptitiously have them blessed during the service. However, no historical evidence has ever been uncovered to lend even the slightest validity to that myth.

The point of Sunday’s event was to honor the heritage of Scottish Americans, plain and simple.

Of course, the history of Scotland is anything but simple. It goes back to the Stone Age (8300 B.C.). The Gaelic language was introduced around 750 B.C. The various Norse dialects, French, and English have played their roles as well. Recorded history in Scotland began about 80 A.D. when Roman soldiers invaded.

Out of this tradition and heritage came the Presbyterian Church. In 1572, the “Golden Act” was established which gave form to Presbyterianism. In the 18th and 19th centuries many immigrants came to America from Scotland and many by way of Northern Ireland. Some eventually came to Pennsylvania and down the Shenandoah Valley, settling in the mountains of Western North Carolina. They brought their Presbyterian religion and culture with them, remnants of which can still be found today throughout much of Appalachia.

Wearing Highland dress was banned in the last half of the 18th Century, following the third Jacobite rebellion. Banned also were the playing of the bagpipes (great pipes), carrying weaponry, and other behaviors associated with war. However, there is some evidence that these measures were not fully enforced, particularly on the wealthy who supported the winning side.

Still, whether due to proscription (repealed in 1762) or the cost of the fabric, the wearing of the tartan appears to have become largely unfashionable for more than half a century.

The early 1820s brought a rebirth in interest in Highland dress, when King George IV (and later Queen Victoria) became enamored of Scotland and all things Scottish.

As chiefs and lords scrambled to be appropriately adorned in their family’s traditional tartan for state affairs, royal visits and the like, many weavers and suppliers were not always scrupulous in pulling the right bolt of cloth (ells) from the shelf. It was during this period that many official clan tartans were born.

Among the Scots and Irish, the bagpipes have a long tradition as a military instrument in battle, a device for calling the clan together, and a herald for ceremonial occasions. The instrument most recognized as a bagpipe today are really the great pipes or Highlands Pipes (as opposed to the much smaller and mellower lap pipes played for dances and entertainment).

Traditionally, the Beadle was the parish official employed to usher and keep order during the service. Part of those duties may have included securing the Bible when it was not being used.

During the Middle Ages all books, including Bibles, were rare and highly prized objects. Today, the role of the Beadle is entirely ceremonial. The Beadle carries the Holy Word into the sanctuary at the start of the service, leading the procession of banner carriers and piper. Following the benediction, the Beadle leads everyone out of church.

Article and photos by Kim Lewicki, Highlands Newspaper

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