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Kirkin' of the Tartan Service at St Andrew's Church in Auckland

July 12, 2019 2 min read

Kirkin' of the Tartan Service at St Andrew's Church in Auckland

On 30 June 2019, a “Kirkin' of the Tartan” service was held at St Andrews Presbyterian Church in Auckland, attended by the Auckland Clans and representatives of the Scottish Clans Association Auckland Division (SCAAD).

But what is the history behind this ceremony?

According to legend, it goes back to the time after the Battle of Culloden and the suppression of Scottish Highlanders by the Duke of Cumberland. This included the 1746 Act of Proscription, forbidding members of Scottish clans to wear their tartans or their Kilts, play the bagpipes and other Scottish music or speak Gaelic - thus seeking to prevent any further rebellion and assimilate Highlanders into English society by duress.  

Determined not to lose all connection with their heritage, Clan members hid their tartans at home and wore a small square of it hidden on their person. Until the Act’s repeal in 1782, during their Sunday Church services they would touch the hidden piece of tartan under their clothes when the minister gave the benediction or kirkin’, thus rededicating themselves to God and their Scottish heritage.

In fact, while the Kirkin' o' the Tartan service celebrates Scotland and Scottish heritage, it is more likely a purely Scottish-American custom originating with the Rev. Peter Marshall as a way of reminding many Americans of their Scottish ancestors who emigrated due to the Clearances.

Rev Marshall, originally from Coatbridge, Scotland, was Pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington DC and served as Chaplain of the US Senate. He held prayer services at New York Avenue to raise funds for British war relief. To help with this and to reconnect Scottish-descended Americans with their past, he devised a ceremony called Kirking the Tartan, most likely held for the first time on April 27, 1941 - and so a legend was born. To this day a ceremony is held annually in Washington Cathedral; and many Scottish, Caledonian and St. Andrew's Societies across the United States and Canada hold Kirkin' of the Tartan celebrations – not just in Presbyterian Churches, but also in Episcopalian, Methodist, Roman Catholic and other denominations. They are held year-round, but St. Andrew's Day (November 30th) and Tartan Day (April 6th) are very popular, and Kirkin's are also sometimes held at Scottish Games and Gatherings.

The ceremony involves a roll call of the Clans with Clan representatives presenting their banners, a blessing of the Tartans, and there may be a brief sermon recalling the events of Culloden and the Clearances. It gives those gathered a chance to remember their ancestors and bagpipes are played, featuring tunes such as “Amazing Grace” and “Flowers of the Forest”.

Some Clan members are shown here outside the Church with their Clan banners.



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