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Issue 69 - The Scots are here - New York's Tartan week

Scotland Magazine Issue 69
June 2013

 

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The Scots are here - New York's Tartan week

We look at the recent events of New York's Tartan week

Nothing compares to a big parade, especially when it features tartan and bagpipes. When it is held on the canyon of 6th Avenue in Manhattan, it becomes an entirely unique and richly unforgettable experience. Accompanied by cries from the sidewalk of “The Scots are here!” and “We love you, you're Scottish!”, the Tartan Day parade that takes place in New York every year on 6th April (or on the nearest Saturday) has to be one of the most exhilerating spectacles of all time for anyone of Scottish blood to take part in or witness.

Across the United States, with Tartan Day having grown into Scottish Week, the response is the same, with a stream of themed “Scottish” events held in Washington, Chicago, Boston, Seattle and Los Angeles.

Tartan Day has come a long way from that first, rather modest parade through New York's Central Park only 16 years ago. So how did it begin?

Although American Scots have long celebrated St Andrews Day at the end of a chilly November, and traditional Burns Suppers take place throughout the continent on 25th February, here was an opportunity to hold an out-of-doors parade in the Spring.

With the impact of the Irish community's St Patrick's Day celebrations in North America and Canada, it was decided among the USA's Scottish ex-patriate community that they too should have a national day to commemorate and celebrate their roots and origins.

Inspired by The Caledonian Foundation's remarkable Duncan MacDonald, and the Clans & Scottish Societies of Canada (CASSOC), a meeting was convened involving the American- Scottish Foundation, the Association of Scottish Games & Festivals, the Council of Scottish Clans and Associations, Scottish Heritage USA, and the Tartan Educational and Cultural Association. With unanimous support, the concept of an annual American National Tartan Day was born.

The day chosen was the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath on 6th April 1320, a moment of immense significance in Scotland's national psyche when the long ago nobles of Scotland petitioned the Pope in Rome to recognise Scotland's independent status.

The next step was for Trent Lott, Senate Majority leader at the time, to introduce Senate Resolution 155, which officially confirmed the 6th April as an annual National Holiday for all Scottish-Americans.

It proved an instant success. Across America, Scots-Americans found ways to observe the first Tartan Day in churches, on village greens, at Scottish festivals, at social gatherings, and in their homes, and the annual pageants continue.

With such celebrities as the Oscar winning filmstar Cliff Robertson, Sir Sean Connery, Brigadier Melville Jameson of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo and actor Alan Cumming as previous Parade Grand Marshals, this year's march, which was organised by the New York National Tartan Day Parade Committee, was led by Grey's Anatomy star Kevin McKidd. Among those taking part on a picture perfect day were Tricia Marwick MSP, the Scottish Parliament's Presiding Officer, and Committee Conveners Duncan McNeil MSP and Bruce Crawford MSP. A group of 40 Viking warriors led by Shetland MSP Tavish Scott and two Shetland ponies bedecked in Fair Isle jumpers walked in company with a tartan wrapped bus, supplied by the American Scottish Foundation.

This year the celebrations stretched out for over a fortnight. Two days earlier, Whisky Magazine, this magazine's sister publication, hosted the World Whiskies Conference and Whisky Live! at The Lighthouse at Pier 61. On the Friday evening, Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond, in the USA to launch Visit Scotland's Homecoming 2014 tourism campaign, opened an exhibition of the work of Scottish photographer David Eustace. The Saint Andrews Society of the State of New York held a Kirkin o' The Tartan at the Church of Our Saviour, and in conjunction with the Brick Presbyterian Church, the American Scottish Foundation promoted a performance of Fiona Kennedy's The Kist.

On Sunday, Alex Salmond was a spectator when in the region of 8000 contestants took part in the annual Tartan Run. At Broadway's Ethel Barrymore Theatre, Alan Cumming opened in a much applauded version of the Shakespearean play Macbeth.

At the Bank of America's energy efficient tower in Bryant Park, the ASF held an Energy Forum with presentations from Britain's Edinburghbased Green Bank and New York States' Green Bank. Also sponsored by the ASF was an exhibition at the Federal Hall National Memorial entitled “In the footsteps of John Muir” by Edinburgh-based photographer Ken Patterson. This was so successful that it has not only been extended, but is to go on tour.

The overwhelming success of the fortnight is best judged from the anticipation created at the New York Caledonian Club's immensely enjoyable pre-parade ceilidh and at the postparade reception at Scotland House when a euphoric Grand Marshal was only persuaded to leave the stage by his mother telling him that it was time for dinner!