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IPC's Annual Kirkin' o' the Tartan

Scottish bagpipes and plaid

Sunday, January 21, 11 am worship service

Please wear your kilt and join us in the bagpipe procession at the beginning of the service!

Bring a bit o' tartan to the 11 am worship service on Sunday, January 21, for our annual Kirkin' o' the Tartan. We will enjoy music from a bagpiper in the cloister outside and have a special blessing during the service to celebrate both the Scottish and American aspects of our heritage. Those who bring a family tartan (a piece of cloth such as a scarf, shawl, or small blanket with the plaid pattern of a Scottish clan) can lay it on the table at the front for the blessing and pick it up after the service. Those who come dressed in Scottish attire may also participate in a procession; please be ready in the Narthex before the service.

According to legend, the “kirkin’ o’ the tartans” began in Scotland after August 1746 when Highland chiefs and clan members hid bits of forbidden tartan cloth tucked in their boots, tied around their forearms beneath their shirts, and stuffed into their hats on their way to the “kirk,” or church (more specifically, the Presbyterian Church of Scotland). At a secret cue from the priest during the service, each Highlander touched his bit o’ tartan, and the priest spoke an innocuous blessing, surreptitiously blessing the symbol of each Scotsman’s national pride and family identity.

This furtive act of rebellion spited the Act of Proscription of 1746, in which the British Parliament attempted to control, suppress, and diffuse the power of the Scottish clans by forbidding them, among other things, from wearing “the Highland dress,” such as the kilt and any kind of tartan. Although these laws were repealed in 1782, the tradition, as legend says, of presenting the tartan during the church service for a special blessing has continued over the centuries.

The reality, of course, is less romantic but has a pleasing ironic twist. For starters, the custom is not Scottish but Scottish-American. During the Second World War, Dr. Peter Marshall held prayer services at his church, the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., to raise funds for war relief. At one of those services--usually identified as April 27, 1943, but sometimes May of 1943—Dr. Marshall gave a sermon entitled, “The Kirkin’ o’ the Tartans,” and the custom began. The funds raised went toward a mobile kitchen in—as you may have guessed—Britain. The very tradition that supposedly began as an act of rebellion against the British now supported their efforts two centuries later. After Dr. Marshall’s death, the kirkin’ moved from place to place and in 1954 was held at the Washington National Cathedral where it is still held today.


from “A Man’s A Man For A That” Robert Burns, Scotland’s National Bard

Then let us pray that come it may,

(As come it will for a’ that,)

That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth,

Shall bear the gree [victory], an’ a’ that.

For a’ that, an’ a’ that,

It’s coming yet for a’ that,

That Man to Man, the world o’er,

Shall brothers be for a’ that.