How it’s New York: A parade up Avenue of the Americas – what’s more New York than that?

How it’s [Scottish] Irish: Listen to the pipes and drums. If that doesn’t convince ya, I have three words for ya: men in kilts! 

Intrepid blogger Sue Sylvester reports on the- Kirkin ‘O’ the Tartan, and the Tartan Day Parade in April… filling us in on history… and having a little too much fun!

Get me to the church on time…in NYC on a Saturday morning. After the pre-Parade ceilidh. Well, it appears that enough New York Caledonian Club and St. Andrew’s Society folk and their guests did take the high road and arrive at the Church of Our Saviour for the annual Kirkin ‘O’ the Tartan.

To most folks’ ears, this may sound like a fancy brunch item, but the celebration of the Kirkin ‘O’ the Tartan marks two auspicious times in history.

It was originally a clandestine way for the Scottish Highlanders to thumb their noses at the British, who had defeated the Highland clans and Bonnie Prince Charlie on April 16, 1746, preventing them from taking back the throne for the House of Stewart. Among other prohibitions instituted by the British in the Act of Proscription – in effect for 36 years! – the Highlanders were forbidden to wear the tartans of their clans.  But the resourceful Scots used to carry a bit o’ the fabric hidden under their clothes to their churches to be blessed. 

Centuries later, in 1941,  to encourage Scottish-Americans to enlist in World War II to fight on behalf of the British, the Rev. Peter Marshall, chaplain of the US Senate and minister of Washington New York Presbyterian Church, created the special Sunday service here in the US. To further rejuvenate pride in their homeland, the Scottish-American soldiers were permitted to wear their tartans to war – which worked.

For this annual celebration, hosted by the St. Andrew’s Society of the State of New York, many – including young children – were decked out head-to-toe in traditional dress. The Color Guard marched through the church and played while the honoured guests including members of the Scottish Parliament, clergy, and other participants watched, prayed, and sang their way through the stirring ceremony.  Afterward, whole families came together for a brunch in the church’s undercroft (basement).

Then I discovered the best way to travel through NYC: by double-decker tour bus – with a group of Scots. Aside from not having to scurry along to the parade, I considered myself fortunate to have the opportunity to listen in on some wonderful conversations, watch some colorfully-dressed folk and, if I’d sat any closer, I would have been offered a “swig off” a  practical wife’s flask. I came away realizing three things:

Scots can be very tall!

They are also very accomplished in many areas, judging by the varied and spirited discussions. 

And they are a hospitable lot, taking responsibility for their guests with great care and pride.

And then there was The 10th Annual Tartan Parade. 
Members of the Scottish Parliament marching!

Scores of bands and marchers carrying banners came from everywhere, all lined up in side streets, waiting to start up the Avenue. Then waves of fabulous music from pipes and drums bathed the crowds, while colorfully dressed clans and clubs, and miles of smiles covered the Avenue of the Americas with a sunny spirit that echoed the warm, bright day. A cadre of wee doggies, up in numbers from the original few Westies and Scotties and also dressed in kilts, brought up the rear. And ambling ’round with a knight guardian was Nessie, the Loch Ness “monster” – and, from all the impromptu photo ops I observed, “she” was a very popular addition to this year’s lineup.

Finally, there were scores of post-parade parties all around town – like the one with Scocha and Prydein (“the band they couldn’t stop”/Vermont-based Celtic bagpipe rockers) at Stout, the “official” venue – and assorted pipe bands’ end-of-parade performances. But this honorary Scotswoman needed to turn her weary eyes toward home. 

I gotta work on my stamina…


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  1. Avatar
    Anonymous / May 18, 2012 at 10:41 am

    Great review! I especially like getting some of the backstory on the Kiltin’ of the Tartan church event.

  2. Avatar
    Keith / May 19, 2012 at 2:24 am

    Would have love to have gone this year but we have some family medical issues. Have gone in the past and my now 7 year old daughter was wearing her Donachie (Robertson) colors. She was a true Scot and caught everyone’s eye with her kilt. Plan to go later on when things sort themselves out. Alba gu brath!

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