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Issue 3 - Transatlantic celebration

Scotland Magazine Issue 3
July 2002


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Transatlantic celebration

Roddy Martine attended the festivities of tartan week in the US, as thousands of Americans celebrated their Scottish links

Given that in centuries past Ellis Island was the first sight most Scottish immigrants had of their new American homeland, it was entirely appropriate for New York to host USA National Tartan Day’s most spectacular event to date, the march of between 6,000 and 10,000 kilted pipers and drummers up 6th Avenue on 6th April 2002.

At the same time there was a flurry of other activities taking place to complement it, and not just in New York. Across America, Tartan Day, now in its fourth year, has become an important opportunity for American Scots to celebrate their origins and heritage. Coast to coast, from Charlotte, North Carolina, to San Francisco, the fiddlers, harpers, pipers and dancers were out in force. USA Tartan Day has become a popular calendar fixture, revelling in its success.

On Ellis Island, the National Museum of Scotland’s Home and Away exhibition focussed attention on the emigrant Scottish ancestors of Americans. Opened by National Museums of Scotland chairman Lord Wilson of Tillyorn, the Save Ellis Island committee was fronted by Robert Currie, Commander of the Clan Gunn Society of America. On display was an Emigrant’s Kist containing the few treasures that would have been packed by the brave souls who, over 300 years ago, crossed the Atlantic to find a better life.

Pipers and drummers from 26 countries, and all 50 American states, took part in the Manhattan parade, led by New York Mayor Michael Bloomburg, film star Sir Sean Connery, and Scotland’s First Minister Jack McConnell. But there was a serious purpose behind this and the glitzy $1,000-a-ticket charity ball held the night before at the Waldorf Astoria. Both were designed to raise funds for two charities – Marie Curie Cancer Care in the UK and Gilda’s Club Worldwide, the latter being the support charity named in memory of comedian Gilda Radner, wife of actor Gene Wilder, who died of cancer in 1989. As a contribution towards the development of the Great Highland Bagpipe, five per cent of the takings will be donated to the Piping Centre in Glasgow to help develop their library, and a further five per cent used to develop piping in North America. With a further $64,000 raised from the auction, including $13,000 from Tee for Two in Scotland, a wonderful three-night stay for two plus three days’ golf at Gleneagles, the evening made a fantastic start to the Tartan celebrations.

In the Waldorf Astoria, top Scottish politicians and celebrities mingled with America’s rich and powerful. Meanwhile, downtown, a three-day Scottish cabaret took place in a Chelsea loft under the title Distilled Live: Scotland in New York. Scottish comedians Arnold Brown and Rhona Cameron were among those taking part, along with bands Mull Historical Society and Gutty Slippers. As a place to party late into the night, the consensus among young New Yorkers was that it was a “wow.”

And during the day there were also seminars featuring The Lighthouse, Scotland’s Centre for Architecture, Design and the City, Dundee Contemporary Arts, Edinburgh’s Dance Base, Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket Gallery, and the Edinburgh International Book Festival with writers A.L. Kennedy and Andrew O’Hagen.

Volunteer organisations The American Scottish Foundation, The St Andrew’s Society of the State of New York and The New York Caledonian Club have worked hard to create Tartan Day, which by virtue of its previous success has mushroomed into Tartan Fortnight. In Washington, DC, a separate committee spearheaded by Joanne Phipps produced a separate programme which kicked off on Sunday evening with a Scotch whisky tasting and supper in the Washington Arts Club.

The following morning a Scottish- American Business Forum sponsored by D. Euan Baird took place at the Pepco Conference Centre, addressed by Wendy Alexander, Scotland’s Minister for Enterprise and Life Long Learning. That same evening, guests attended a concert at the National Geographic Society featuring traditional Scottish songs from Alan Beck, Peter Alexander Wilson, and Paul Featherstone, three Scottish tenors.

As a gesture of respect to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, whose funeral was the following day, all programme events on Tuesday were cancelled, but on Wednesday, the universities of Glasgow, Strathclyde, Stirling and Montgomery College, Maryland met to discuss Scotland’s contribution towards the development and growth of the USA. Keynote speaker Professor Edward Cowan, head of the Scottish History department of Glasgow University, was outstanding as usual.