The Story behind The Truth . . . The Myth . . . The Kirkin’
The history of the Kirkin is a bit varied. The popular or more romantic version goes as follows:
A young Prince Charles Edward Stewart, “Bonnie Prince Charlie”, in 1745 returned from exile in France and landed at Lochnanaugh in Scotland where he began to enlist the Highland Clans for an unsuccessful attempt to dethrone George II of England and to restore the Scottish throne to the Royal House of Stewart.
Following this defeat, the ACT of Proscription and Disarming Act of 1746 to subdue the vanquished Highlanders, banned the wearing of any sign of the Tartan, forbad and speaking in Gaelic, outlawed Scottish music, dancing, or the playing of the pipes. For the 36 years following the when Hanovarian English government strictly enforced this ban, during the Sunday service Highlanders would touch the hidden cloth when the minister gave the benediction, thus rededicating themselves to God and their Scottish heritage.
A curious wrinkle in this legend is that many people in Scotland don’t know this so called “history” about the Kirkin’. It is difficult to find an unbroken line of history tracing the practice back specifically to this origin in the mid-18th century.
A more recent and better documented version of the story is that the Kirkin’ O’ The Tartan began as a Scottish-American custom:
The service was created during World War II by reverend Peter Marshall. He was originally from Southwest Scotland and at one time Pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington D.C. In 1947 he served as Chaplain of the U.S. Senate. In order to encourage Scottish-Americans to sign up to fight on behalf of Great Britian, Rev. Marshall created or recreated the ceremony to in still pride among Scottish Americans in their Scottish Homeland.
The ceremony was at that time held in Presbyterian churches, but is found in Episcopalian, Methodist, Roman Catholic, Orthodox and other denominations around the world. While often celebrated on Reformation Sunday, the last Sunday in October, Kirkin’s are also celebrated at other times of the year such as St. Andrews Day or Tartan Day. In Dunedin, we celebrate our Scottish heritage and Kirkin O’ The Tartan as part of our Scottish week around our Highland Games.