The Canadian McNab and District Celtic Heritage Society – What is Kirking the Tartan?

| March 24, 2014 | 0 Comments

This was sent to us by The MacNab Township in Canada.

What is Kirking of the Tartan

Kirking The Tartan

Kirking The Tartan


Scots were very unhappy after being forced to give up wearing tartan of any kind. This anger towards Edward and his people was well shown in the movie “Brave Heart”. They were so upset that they created something called Kirking of the Tartan. So you say, what’s kirking of the tartan. A kirk is a church which even back then was considered a “safe” place. Warring factions or any enemy could not enter a kirk except for peaceful reasons. The Scots would carry a little piece of tartan somewhere concealed on their body or in their clothes. Once everyone was safely inside the kirk the doors would be barred and the windows shuttered so that no one could see in. Then and only then the discreetly hidden tartan would be brought out and blessed. The prayers of the blessing would always hold hope that the tartan would someday soon be allowed to be worn again.

The treaty of Arbaroth on April 6th 1320 was an historic and important step towards the restoring of the use of the tartan and the bag pipes. The dating of this treaty had nothing to do with the date the Nova Scotia group picked. When Canada affirmed the date they did so with the date of the treaty in mind. This treaty had many very important points in it, such as recognizing that Scotland had always been independent longer then England had. It recognized that Edward 1st had unjustly attacked Scotland and perpetuated atrocities on the Scottish people. It concluded that Robert the Bruce had delivered the Scottish nation and should no longer be thought of as a traitor. Maybe one of the most important things that came to light with that treaty was that Scotland’s independence was the prerogative of the Scottish people rather than any King including a king of Scots.

Unfortunately the Pope’s allegiance tended to float back and forth between the Scottish and the English. Eventually the Act of Proscription came out in 1746 again abolishing the wearing of the tartan. While there is much speculation that the bagpipe was included in this Act, again there is no mention of it in the act. However there is evidence that after Culloden the central government was eager to condemn and punish as many Jacobites as possible so as to make an example of them which none would ever want to emulate again. “When it was found that one soldier, James Reid, did not carry arms but bagpipes, the Court in York observed that ‘a Highland regiment never marched without a piper’. This was sufficient reason to condemn him to death in 1747 for playing a part in the Jacobite Rising.” This may have been why there was the idea that the pipes were included in the Act.

George IV visited Scotland in 1822 being heralded as a Stuart prince on a par to Bonnie Prince Charlie and was himself a Jacobite King. It was in the pageantry of this visit that the Act of Proscription was repealed. This was in a way emphasized by a “Grand Ball” that was to be held by the peers of Scotland to entertain the king. At this “Highland Ball”, the king had ordered a kilt for himself and set the condition that, unless in uniform (kilt or some form of tartan), “no Gentleman is to be allowed to appear in anything but the ancient Highland costume”. At this, lowland gentlemen suddenly embarked on a desperate search for Highland ancestry (however remote) and a suitable tartan kilt from the Edinburgh tailors, who responded inventively. This can be seen as the pivotal event when what had been thought of as the primitive dress of mountain thieves became the national dress of the whole of Scotland.

Based on all of this history, it seems that the Scottish heritage has been faced with large obstacles in retaining the historic garb. The group in Nova Scotia made a good decision to establish a special event to celebrate Scottish heritage.

The Celts have spread all over the world for a variety of reasons like potato famine in Ireland , Bringing of Scottish pioneers to our area by the Laird of McNab, to Brittany to avoid proscription, to Poland and Ukrainan countries, during WWI, and the list goes on as to where they went and why. An interesting note is that Poland itself has four national tartans. There are six official Celtic nations, Scotland, Ireland, Brittany, Isle of Man, Wales, and Cornwall as well as many informal Celtic nations. Tartan Day came to be celebrated all over world for the reason that Celts are all over the world.

The McNab and District Celtic Heritage Society is planning on celebrating Tartan Day on April 6th, 2014 at Horton Community Center. We suggest that you dig out your tartan finery and plan to join us. The McNab and District Celtic Heritage Society is planning on celebrating Tartan Day with a pot luck meal at 12:30 that day. Come prepared for a good time with food, music and dancing and a tartan weaving demonstration by Bob Hinchley. Everyone is welcome to come and help us celebrate. This will be a pot luck at 12:30 that day. As King George IV required for the Grand Ball, we suggest that if you have tartan in kilt, plaid , or any form , please wear it to your respective churches and then come to our event.

Category: Clansmen and Clanswomen Around the World

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