Kirking the Tartan
Our story takes us way back to the months following the battle of Culloden. After defeating the Scots in a final battle, the Duke of Cumberland knew he needed to do something to prevent any further rebellion. He was determined that this final battle would be the last bloodshed over the divided countries and set out to ensure a union was formed.
Passing one of the most famous laws in Scottish history, he passed the 1746 Act of Proscription. This forbade members of any Scottish Clan from wearing their tartan, playing the bagpipes and other traditions relating to Scottish culture at the time. There was outcry as the highlanders felt suppressed. With tartan and piping being their aggressive symbols of battle, taking away their ability to use these symbols sent a strong message, that the war for independence was over. Although extreme, the Duke maintained that this be the only way to effectively assimilate the Highlanders into English society.
Although they couldn't publicly rebel anymore, the Highlanders were determined not to lose all connection with their heritage. Hiding small pieces of their tartan on their person, they used this as a small comfort to get them through the almost four decades that followed.
In 1782 the act of Proscription was repealed, however not without consequences. A few years later the highland clearances began. Clan chiefs were forced to accede to English jurisdiction. If they refused, they were to be removed of their power to run the lands owned by their clan. Many chiefs refused and so were legally stripped of their land ownership. In their place the government appointed Landlords, awarding them the land to use for farming.
One landlord, the Duke of Sutherland, came to own more land in Scotland than most. He was one of the richest men in the world, at the time, and sought to use his land in a more economical way. From belonging to the clan chiefs, the land had come to belong to Sutherland and a handful of other landlords. With no control over their home or lands, many of the highlanders were evicted and forced to emigrate to Ireland or further. Replacing the previous residents with sheep, Sutherland and the other landlords felt the most economical way to use the land was for sheep farming.
Many of the highland clans moved to North American and Canada to start a new life. Had they stayed in Scotland they risked persecution and many young men who did stay were forced to join the army and fight in the Napoleonic Wars.
In 1941, to commemorate this painful time in Scottish history, Reverend Dr Peter Marshall, who was originally from Coatbridge in Scotland, was a pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington D.C. He devised a ceremony called Kirking the Tartan and to this day a ceremony is held annually in Washington Cathedral and in many Presbyterian churches across the country. Although some ceremonies are held in churches, some are also held outside in the open at the numerous highland games that take place in North America.
Here is an example of how the Kirking of the Tartan Ceremony might go:
The pastor firstly introduces the service by explaining its significance and then might say:
'We begin this commemoration with the roll call of the Clans. As you hear your own clan being called, please stand. Honored representatives, proudly declare the names of your sacred clans!'
Starting at the left, the Flag bearers will state the name of their Clan, Society or District. The Flags are held upright. When finished with the Roll Call, the pastor announces and gives the prayer of Dedication. During this prayer, heads are bowed and flags are tipped at a 45 degree angle.
'On behalf of all Scots away from Scotland, these honored representatives present their tartans before Almighty God and ask His blessings on these sacred colors. Let us dedicate these tartans to the One, True and Living God'
The pastor then recites a form of Dr Marshall's benediction prayer for this ceremony:
'On behalf of all Scots away from Scotland, and in the name of all the Scottish Clansfolk that are here represented, we present these Tartans before Almighty God in appreciation of our Heritage; and we ask His Blessings upon these, His humble servants.
O Lord, Thou hast promised that in all places where Thou recordest Thine Holy Name, Thou wilt meet with Thy servants, and bless them; fulfill now Thy Promise, and make us joyful in our prayer, so that our Worship, being offered in the name of Thy Son, Jesus Christ, and by the guidance of Thy Holy Spirit, may be acceptable unto You, and profitable unto ourselves.
Bless, we pray, these Tartans, that they may be unto us and unto all people a token of the faith of our Fathers; and a sign of our service unto You.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.'
The flag bearers then raise their clan flags. A piper may play 'Amazing Grace' and 'Flowers of the Forest'. The pastor gives a short sermon recalling the events of Culloden and the Clearances. Those gathered remember their ancestors in silence. He then closes the service with a short prayer of general benediction, after which the flag bearers exit to a national hymn, such as 'Scotland the Brave'.
The Kirking of the Tartan is something that has grown in popularity since the 40s, with countries all over the World taking part with their own adaptations of the ceremony. To this day the history of Scotland will be remembered, and although the ceremony remembers a turbulent time, it also celebrates the survival of tartan and the Scottish natives' determination to remember their heritage.
If you're attending a Kirking of the Tartan ceremony this year, let us know all about it!
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