Kirkin' O' the Tartans

Clifton Thach, left, and Reese Pillow display pride in their Scottish heritage with Claymore swords and kilts. The First Presbyterian Church of Greenwood hosts the 20th annual Kirkin’ O’ The Tartan on Sunday, March 10, in celebration of Scottish Presbyterian heritage.

Scottish clans from across the Delta will be gathering at the First Presbyterian Church of Greenwood on March 10 for the 20th annual Kirkin’ O’ The Tartans, a celebration of Scottish Presbyterian heritage.

There’ll be bagpipes skirlen, men in kilts, fancy sporrans, prince Charlie jackets, ghillie brogues, and with a sgian dubh stashed in their hose, women in kilted skirts with a tartan sash, all carrying pikes showing their family’s ancient colors and Claymore battle swords pounded out on Scottish anvils to defend the Highlands, mostly from the Brits.

The Kirkin’ O’ The Tartans may be an American tradition that reaches back to Scotland in the 1740s for inspiration. After the tyrannical Brits put down the uprising of 1745, as Bonnie Prince Charles tried to claim the throne for the house of Stuart — think “Game of Thrones” without the dragons and white walkers — bagpipe playing and kilt wearing were banned in Scotland. Both were considered symbols of the Highlanders who backed the rebellion.

Legend has it these fierce warriors would hide pieces of their tartan inside their clothing when attending church, where it would be blessed in secret by the protestant minister. The Kirkin’ O’ The Tartan at the First Presbyterian Church recreates that blessing through this special service.

There is evidence this legend was promoted by the Rev. Peter Marshall, who came from Coatbridge, Scotland, to become pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., and chaplain of the U.S. Senate in the 1940s.

Marshall may stretched the storyline a bit, all with the intention of recognizing and celebrating the strong link between his Scottish heritage and the Presbyterian Church.

“I think there’s probably some truth to that,” said Dr. Rusty Douglas, pastor of First Presbyterian. Marshall is a graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary, a Presbyterian seminary in Decatur, Georgia, where Douglas earned his doctorate.

Whether the blessing of the tartans stretches back to Scottish practice or not, it is right to recognize and celebrate the gifts Scots have shared in the New World.

“The Scots have made a great contribution, not just in America but worldwide,” said Douglas. “They left by the tens of thousands from Scotland and Northern Ireland in the 1700s and came to America. A lot of them would fight for America in the revolutionary war. They’d been fighting the Brits for hundreds of years.”

Events over the weekend include Saturday, March 9, golf — invented by Scots in 1457 — with the winner presented the Kirkin’ Cup. The day may also feature some drinking of the sacred Scotch, also known as “the water of life” — invented by Scots in 1494, likely to warm themselves as they played golf at St. Andrews.

The March 10 events begin at 9:30 a.m. in the church parlor with The Kirkin’ Lecture, presented by Dr. Richard Gibbons, a native of Scotland and senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Greenville, South Carolina.

At 10:15, the Lyons Pipes and Drums will perform in front of the Main Street entrance to the church sanctuary.

At 11 a.m., the Kirkin’ O’ The Tartans service will begin with a procession of pipes and drums, swords and pikes displaying tartans of First Presbyterian families. Congregation members will lay pieces of their own family tartans on the table for special blessing. Gibbons will provide the sermon for the service.

Douglas, who has visited and spoken at many Presbyterian churches with strong Scottish ties, says the procession, with its music and pageantry, is the best in the South and among the best anywhere.

A lunch follows for $7 for adults and $5 for children 10 and younger. Music during lunch will be provided by the Reel McCoy Celtic Band from Memphis. The traditional Knobbiest Knees Contest has been replaced  this year with a more dignified Best Scottish Beard Competition. An election, at $1 a vote, will be held for someone to receive a family kilt to be worn for the first time at next year’s Kirkin’ O’ The Tartan.

The celebration is not just for members of the First Presbyterian Church. The public is welcome to attend and enjoy. For more information or to purchase luncheon tickets, call 453-4680.

Contact Gavin Maliska at 581-7235 or


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