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Issue 15 - My kinda town...

Scotland Magazine Issue 15
July 2004

 

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My kinda town...

Roddy Martin talks...

So what were my New York Moments during Tartan Week 2004? Sky scrapers, tartan taxi cabs, diminutive Highland dancers, Scotty dogs wearing tartan waistcoats, and Gutty Slippers, a wacky bagpipe and drums rock band from Glasgow.

Then there was the Tartan Day Parade down 6th Avenue with Bob Currie of the Clan Currie Society dispersing Walker’s Shortbread to cheering onlookers on the sidewalk.

What a buzz. I now fully understand why presidents and the Royal Family do it.

What else? Helping to hump boxes of tartan cloth through Central Park with Lana and Melanie from Visit Scotland for the Scottish Executive’s reception party. The Lord Provosts (Mayors) of Edinburgh and Glasgow, both of the female gender, cheering at the finishing line for the kilted run through Central Park.

Sharing a late night bevy in the Algonquin Bar with Iain Clark and his wife, the designer Jilli Blackwood, and being told to keep the noise level down.

Eat your heart out Dorothy Parker!

Being invited to judge at the Dressed to Kilt Fashion Show held at Sotheby’s on 72 and York, and finding myself walking down a catwalk in front of 800 New York luvvies. Sir Sean Connery with a cold, gruffly sorting out the back-stage confusion. Hollywood actor Kyle McLachlan in a Vivienne Westwood tartan suit and television’s Monarch of the Glen star Alistair Mackenzie in a corduroy kilt. The Earl of Caithness, chief of Clan Sinclair, wearing the three feathers of a Scottish clan chief, and Scotland’s First Minister Jack McConnell wearing a pin-stripe kilt supplied by Howie Nicholsby of 21st Century Kilts.

And finally, on the following night, being called upon to introduce the Icons of Scotland Awards at the Hudson Theatre. My first appearance on Broadway!

Whatever reservations anybody might have had to begin with about Tartan Day, or Tartan Week, as it has now become, in the USA and Canada, it has certainly come into its own.

Five years on since it was launched there were celebrations this year taking place across the continent, from Pittsburg to San Diego, in Toronto and Montreal.

The anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath on 6th April 1320 is now firmly established in the international Scottish calendar to the extent that my friends, the Stirling brothers, Iain and David, veterans of the New York weekend, this year launched a string of events in Arbroath itself. That says it all, really.

However, in Australia and New Zealand, the chosen date for Tartan Day is 1st July, commemorating the date in 1782 when Royal assent was granted for the repeal of the Act of Proscription which, following the defeat of the Highland clans at the Battle of Culloden, banned the wearing of tartan and the playing of bagpipes. Such was the sight of a kilt or sound of the pibroch even in those days that it forced Scotland’s enemies to run for cover.

I don’t think it matters which day Scots around the world choose to celebrate their heritage, so long as they do so and do so with pride and with pzazz.

What they are recognising is far more important than a mere passing moment in their history and blood line. St Andrew’s Day, Burns Night, Tartan Day – each has its role to play in our global Scottish culture.

Each reflects the diversity and brilliance of the northern people of an island race on the edge of Europe, a people whose curiosity and courage led them to explore and colonise the world.

The legacy which they have passed on to us is so much more than tartan and bagpipes. On the streets of Manhattan there was an instant buzz of recognition. The Scots were in town, so something out-of-the-ordinary must be going on. And it certainly was.