The Long’s Peak Scottish Highland Festival is a weekend of celebration of Scottish/Irish culture.  There are athletic events, dance competitions, music, free-flowing Guinness and scotch, pipe bands, a parade, clan booths and everywhere there are men and women in kilts.  The variety of woven fabric seen on the kilts is dazzling.  Each fabric is unique to a particular clan, and people-in-the-know are pretty good at identifying the clan of others by the kilt.

The tartan, as the woven fabric is called, has played a significant role the dress codes of the Highlanders as well as in their battle dress.  In earlier times, it was central to the identity of the family, or clan, and was worn proudly by the men.  The tartan consists of yards and yards of fabric which is pleated into the kilt.  In the 1700s, the clans would wear their kilts to battle, following their band of pipes and would be a formidable foe not only to other Scots, but to the English as well.

Following attempts by the Duke of Cumberland to put down all Jacobite resistance among the highlanders, The Act of Proscription of 1746 was passed.  This was an attempt to assimilate the Scots into the English fold and to destroy their Scottish identity.

By this Act, “Any persons within Scotland, whether man or boy (excepting officers and soldiers in his majesty’s service), who should wear the plaid, philibeg, trews, shoulder belts, or any part of the Highland garb, or should use for great coats, tartans, or parti-coloured plaid, or stuffs, should, without the alternative of a fine, be imprisoned for the first conviction for six months, without bail, and on the second conviction be transported for seven years”.

The use of the bagpipes was also forbidden in the proscription.

This onerous law was repealed in 1782 and read:

 “Listen Men. This is bringing before all the Sons of the Gael, the King and Parliament of Britain have forever abolished the act against the Highland Dress; which came down to the Clans from the beginning of the world to the year 1746. This must bring great joy to every Highland Heart. You are no longer bound down to the unmanly dress of the Lowlander. This is declaring to every Man, young and old, simple and gentle, that they may after this put on and wear the Truis, the Little Kilt, the Coat, and the Striped Hose, as also the Belted Plaid, without fear of the Law of the Realm or the spite of the enemies.”

The Kirkin’ o’ the Tartans was conceived by Dr. Peter Marshall, who was the first Chaplain of the US Senate as a commemoration of these events of the 1700s.  It is still held at Washington, D.C.’s historic National Cathedral; with its sermon being delivered by the Presiding, or Senior Minister of the Washington, D.C. Catholic Archdiocese; or by a special guest speaker, primarily one of Scottish and/or Scottish-American background.

The Kirkin (churching or blessing) of the tartans is a moving ceremony.  It celebrates the end of proscription and the freedom to “show the colors” of the clan tartans.  This particular kirking was held outside.  Led by bagpipers, the knights of The Imperial Constantinian Military Order of Saint George, clad in white capes, processed onto the field followed by the clans, with their tartan flags held down at their sides.  After a rousing “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes, the national anthems of the various countries represented were played.  Then, a brief history of the proscription was read, and as the name of each clan was called, the clan flag was quietly raised.  When all the flags were raised, they were blessed by the chaplain with the following prayer:

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 priest who offered the benediction ended by saying “Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord.”

After the blessing, all the flags were raised and there was a loud cheer.  More music, and then the final prayer was read.  The clans and knights were led off the field by the pipers as they had entered.

The Kirking was solemn, dignified, and full of meaning.  It was a good reminder to us all, that freedom should never be taken for granted.  At all times in history, people have been oppressed, and just as the Jews celebrate their freedom annually during the Seder, and as Americans celebrate their freedom every 4th of July, the American Scots celebrate the freedom of their ancestors with the Kirking of the Tartan.

Kirking the Tartan 2

Larry and Fran