Apr 062015



Tartan Day is a celebration of Scottish heritage on April 6, the date on which the Declaration of Arbroath was signed in 1320. An ad hoc event was held in New York City in 1982, but the current format originated in Canada in the mid-1980s. It spread to other communities of the Scottish diaspora in the 1990s. In Australasia the similar International Tartan Day is held on July 1, the anniversary of the repeal of the 1747 Act of Proscription that banned the wearing of tartan. Tartan Days typically have parades of pipe bands, Highland dancing and other Scottish-themed events.


In 1982, under the auspices of the New York Caledonian Club, New York State Governor Hugh Carey, and New York City Mayor Ed Koch declared July 1, 1982, as Tartan Day, a one-time celebration of the 200th anniversary of the repeal of the Act of Proscription of August 12, 1747, the law forbidding Scots to wear tartan.

On March 9, 1986, a ‘Tartan Day’ to promote Scottish heritage in Canada, was proposed at a meeting of the Federation of Scottish Clans in Nova Scotia. Jean Watson, President of Clan Lamont, petitioned provincial legislatures to recognize April 6 as Tartan Day. The first such proclamation was by Nova Scotia in April 1987; other provinces followed suit until Quebec was the last to go along, in December 2003.

In Australia, wearing tartan on July 1 has been encouraged since 1989. The day has been promoted as International Tartan Day in Australia since 1996 and has been formally recognized by many states, but not at national level. The United States Senate recognized April 6 as Tartan Day in 1998.

An annual ‘Gathering of the Clans’ will take place each April 6 or on the Sunday nearest to it on Parliament Hill in Ottawa at noon with pipes, drums, and dancing hosted by the Sons of Scotland Pipe Band, Canada’s oldest civilian pipe band. The 2011 celebrations marked the first time that Tartan Day has been celebrated with Canada’s official tartan having been named: the Maple Leaf.

Three million Australians are either Scottish or of Scottish descent. International Tartan Day in Australia and New Zealand is celebrated on a local basis in most states on July 1 (or by some community organizations on the nearest Sunday), the anniversary of the Repeal Proclamation of 1782 annulling the Act of Proscription of 1747, which had made wearing tartan an offense punishable with up to seven years’ transportation. According to Scottish House secretary Moyna Scotland, the tendency to disguise Scottish associations was mirrored in Australia: ‘Scots did what they were told to do when they came to Australia; assimilate and integrate and they almost disappeared’, and consequently one aim of Tartan Day is to help Australians reconnect with their Scottish ancestry. A tartan revival started in 1922, and now many of the Australian States as well as the Commonwealth of Australia itself have their own tartans.


In 1989 the Scottish Australian Heritage Council began to encourage Australians to wear tartan on July 1, when more than half a million Australians gather for a celebration of Scottish heritage, combining nostalgia with Australian citizenship ceremonies, and fund-raising for charitable causes such as drought assistance. Australians without a family tartan are invited to wear the Royal Stewart tartan or the military tartan of the Black Watch. Tartan articles worn on the day include hats, ties and socks. There are many pipe band associations in both Australia and New Zealand, some originating in disbanded Second World War army battalions, and almost 30 heritage events in Australia alone. Some clans, notably the McLeods of South Australia, come together in private events to honor their chief, recite Burns, eat haggis and take part in Highland dancing. A butcher in Maclean, New South Wales, ‘the Scottish town in Australia’, reportedly celebrates the day by selling haggisburgers.

In the United States it is estimated that there are 6 million people who claim Scottish descent. Little was done to follow up the New York event in 1982. In 1998, a Coalition of Scottish Americans with the Support of Senator Trent Lott, successfully lobbied the Senate for the designation of April 6 as National Tartan Day “to recognize the outstanding achievements and contributions made by Scottish Americans to the United States.” Senate Resolution 155, passed on March 20, 1998, referred to the predominance of Scots among the Founding Fathers and claimed that the American Declaration of Independence was “modeled on” the Declaration of Arbroath. While this link is plausible, there is no real evidence for the claim.

In 2004, the National Capital Tartan Day Committee, a coalition of Scottish-American organizations, successfully lobbied the US House of Representatives. On March 9, 2005, the United States House of Representatives unanimously adopted House Resolution 41, which designates April 6 of each year as “National Tartan Day.”

Outside New York City, one of the largest Tartan Day celebrations in the United States takes place each year on the weekend closest to April 6 on the banks of the Missouri river in St. Charles, Missouri. The Missouri Tartan Day Festival began in April 2000, after successful lobbying at the State Capital in Jefferson City, members of the St. Andrew and Celtic Societies of St. Louis, Kansas City, Jefferson City and Springfield, Missouri, gathered on the steps of the State Capitol in Jefferson City to receive the first proclamation of Tartan Day in Missouri. This was for the year 2000 only.

In addition to the above celebrations, the Washington, DC, and Baltimore, Maryland, Scottish-American Societies hold Tartan Day Celebrations. These celebrations include a Congressional Reception hosted by Congressman McIntyre and Congressman Duncan and organized by the National Capital Tartan Day Committee, a Tartan Day Festival in Alexandria, Virginia, and various social and educational programs in the first two weeks in April. On the west coast, one of the oldest and largest festivals is held each year in San Diego’s Balboa Park, founded in 2003 by San Diego’s six fraternal Scottish organizations and involving participants from throughout Southern California. Tartan Day celebrations are held by St. Andrew’s Societies throughout the United States.

Argentina claims around 100,000 people of Scottish descent, the largest such community outside the English-speaking world. The Tartan Day parade of Scottish porteños was inaugurated in Buenos Aires on April 6, 2006 and is organized every year by the Scottish Argentine Society. A symbolic key to the gate of Arbroath’s Abbey is carried to honor this historic date. Names like mine – Juan Alejandro Forrest – are very common. One of my church friends is Rodrigo McGregor, another is Guillermo McKenzie.


The Declaration of Arbroath is in the form of a letter in Latin submitted to Pope John XXII, dated 6 April 1320, intended to confirm Scotland’s status as an independent, sovereign state and defending Scotland’s right to use military action when unjustly attacked. Generally believed to have been written in the Arbroath Abbey by Bernard of Kilwinning, then Chancellor of Scotland and Abbot of Arbroath, and sealed by fifty-one magnates and nobles, the letter is the sole survivor of three created at the time. The others were a letter from the King of Scots, Robert I, and a letter from four Scottish bishops which all presumably made similar points.

The Declaration made a number of rhetorical points: that Scotland had always been independent, indeed for longer than England; that Edward I of England had unjustly attacked Scotland and perpetrated atrocities; that Robert the Bruce had delivered the Scottish nation from this peril; and, most controversially, that the independence of Scotland was the prerogative of the Scottish people, rather than the King of Scots. In fact it stated that the nobility would choose someone else to be king if Bruce proved to be unfit in maintaining Scotland’s independence. Some have interpreted this last point as an early expression of ‘popular sovereignty’ – that government is contractual and that kings can be chosen by the community rather than by God alone.

The Pope heeded the arguments contained in the Declaration, influenced by the offer of support from the Scots for his long-desired crusade if they no longer had to fear English invasion. He exhorted Edward II in a letter to make peace with the Scots, but the following year was again persuaded by the English to take their side and issued six bulls to that effect. It was only in October 1328, after a short-lived peace treaty between Scotland and England, the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton (which renounced all English claims to Scotland and was signed by the new English king, Edward III, on 1 March 1328), that the interdict on Scotland and the excommunication of its king were finally removed.

The original copy of the Declaration that was sent to Avignon is lost. A copy of the Declaration survives among Scotland’s state papers, held by the National Archives of Scotland in Edinburgh. The most widely known English language translation was made by Sir James Fergusson, formerly Keeper of the Records of Scotland, from text that he reconstructed using this extant copy and early copies of the original draft. One passage in particular is often quoted from the Fergusson translation:

…for, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.

Today tartan is mostly associated with Scotland; however, the earliest evidence of tartan is found far afield from the British Isles. According to the textile historian E. J. W. Barber, the Hallstatt culture of Central Europe, which is linked with ancient Celtic populations and flourished between the 8th and 6th centuries BCE, produced tartan-like textiles. Some of them were discovered in 2004, remarkably preserved, in the Hallstatt salt mines near Salzburg. Textile analysis of fabric from Indo-European Tocharian graves in Western China has also shown it to be similar to that of the Iron Age Hallstatt culture. Tartan-like leggings were found on the “Cherchen Man”, a 3,000 year-old mummy found in the Taklamakan Desert in western China (see Tarim mummies). Similar finds have been made in central Europe and Scandinavia. The earliest documented tartan in Britain, known as the “Falkirk” tartan, dates from the 3rd century CE. It was uncovered at Falkirk in Stirlingshire about 400 meters north-west of the Antonine Wall. The fragment was stuffed into the mouth of an earthenware pot containing almost 2,000 Roman coins. The Falkirk tartan has a simple check design, of natural light and dark wool. Early forms of tartan like this are thought to have been invented in pre-Roman times, and would have been popular among the inhabitants of the northern Roman provinces as well as in other parts of Northern Europe such as Jutland, where the same pattern was prevalent.


Tartan as we know it today, is not thought to have existed in Scotland before the 16th century. By the late 16th century there are numerous references to striped or checkered plaids. It is not until the late 17th or early 18th century that any kind of uniformity in tartan is thought to have occurred.[20] Martin Martin, in A Description of the Western Islands of Scotland, published in 1703, wrote that Scottish tartans could be used to distinguish the inhabitants of different regions. He expressly wrote that the inhabitants of various islands and the mainland of the Highlands were not all dressed alike, but that the setts and colors of the various tartans varied from isle to isle. As he does not mention the use of a special pattern by each family, it would appear that such a distinction is a modern one.

For many centuries the patterns were loosely associated with the weavers of a particular area, though it was common for highlanders to have a number of different tartans at the same time. A 1587 charter granted to Hector Maclean of Duart requires feu duty on land paid as 60 ells of cloth of white, black and green colors. A witness of the 1689 Battle of Killiecrankie describes “McDonnell’s men in their triple stripes”. From 1725 the government force of the Highland Independent Companies introduced a standardized tartan chosen to avoid association with any particular clan, and this was formalized when they became the Black Watch regiment in 1739.


The most effective fighters for Jacobitism were the supporting Scottish clans, leading to an association of tartans with the Jacobite cause. Efforts to pacify the Highlands led to the Dress Act of 1746, banning tartans, except for the Highland regiments of the British army. ″[I]t was probably their use of it which gave birth to the idea of differentiating tartan by clans; for as the Highland regiments were multiplied … so their tartan uniforms were differentiated.”The Act was repealed in 1782 due to the efforts of the Highland Society of London. By the 19th century the Highland romantic revival, inspired by James Macpherson’s Ossian poems and the writings of Sir Walter Scott, led to wider interest, with clubs like the Celtic Society of Edinburgh welcoming Lowlanders. The pageantry invented for the 1822 visit of King George IV to Scotland brought a sudden demand for tartan cloth and made it the national dress of the whole of Scotland, rather than just the Highlands and Islands, with the invention of many new clan-specific tartans to suit.


The popularity of tartan was greatly increased by the Royal Visit of George IV to Edinburgh in 1822. George IV was the first reigning monarch to visit Scotland in 171 years. The festivities surrounding the event were originated by Sir Walter Scott who founded the Celtic Society of Edinburgh in 1820. Scott and the Celtic Society urged Scots to attend festivities “all plaided and plumed in their tartan array”. One contemporary writer sarcastically described the pomp that surrounded the celebrations as “Sir Walter’s Celtified Pagentry”.

ollowing the Royal visit several books which documented tartans added to the craze. James Logan’s romanticized work The Scottish Gael, published in 1831, was one such publication which led the Scottish tartan industry to invent clan tartans. The first publication showing plates of clan tartans was the Vestiarium Scoticum, published in 1842.The Vestiarium was the work of two brothers: John Sobieski and Charles Allen Hay. The brothers, who called themselves John Sobieski Stolberg Stuart and Charles Edward Stuart, first appeared in Scotland in 1822. The two claimed to be grandsons of Prince Charles Edward Stuart and his wife Princess Louise of Stolberg, and consequently later became known as the “Sobieski Stuarts”. The Sobieski Stuarts claimed that the Vestiarium was based upon a copy of an ancient manuscript on clan tartans — a manuscript which they never managed to produce. The Vestiarium was followed by the equally dubious The Costume of the Clans two years later. The romantic enthusiasm that Logan and the Sobieski Stuarts generated with their publications led the way for other tartan books in the 19th century.


Twenty years after her uncle’s visit to Scotland, Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert made their first trip to the Scottish Highlands. The Queen and prince bought Balmoral Castle in 1848 and hired a local architect to re-model the estate in “Scots Baronial” style. Prince Albert personally took care of the interior design, where he made great use of tartan. He utilised the red Royal Stewart and the green Hunting Stewart tartans for carpets, while using the Dress Stewart for curtains and upholstery.


The Queen designed the Victoria tartan, and Prince Albert the Balmoral, still used as a royal tartan today. Victoria and Albert spent a considerable amount of time at their estate, and in doing so hosted many “Highland” activities. Victoria was attended by pipers and her children were attired in Highland dress. Prince Albert himself loved watching the Highland games. Ironically, as the craze swept over Scotland the Highland population suffered grievously from the Highland Clearances, when thousands of Gaelic-speaking Scots from the Highlands and Isles were evicted by landlords (in many cases the very men who would have been their own clan chiefs) to make way for sheep.

It is generally regarded that “clan tartans” date no earlier than the beginning of the 19th century, and are an example of an invented tradition. It is maintained by many that clan tartans were not in use at the time of the Battle of Culloden in 1746. The method of identifying friend from foe was not through tartans but by the color of ribbon worn upon the bonnet. David Morier’s well-known painting of the Highland charge at the Battle of Culloden shows the clansman wearing various tartans. The setts painted all differ from one another and very few of the those painted show any resemblance to today’s clan tartans.

The naming and registration of official clan tartans began on 8 April 1815, when the Highland Society of London (founded 1778) resolved that all the clan chiefs each “be respectfully solicited to furnish the Society with as Much of the Tartan of his Lordship’s Clan as will serve to Show the Pattern and to Authenticate the Same by Attaching Thereunto a Card bearing the Impression of his Lordship’s Arms.” Many had no idea of what their tartan might be, but were keen to comply and to provide authentic signed and sealed samples. Alexander Macdonald, 2nd Baron Macdonald of Sleat was so far removed from his Highland heritage that he wrote to the Society: “Being really ignorant of what is exactly The Macdonald Tartan, I request you will have the goodness to exert every Means in your power to Obtain a perfectly genuine Pattern, Such as Will Warrant me in Authenticating it with my Arms.”

Today tartan and “clan tartan” is an important part of a Scottish clan. Almost all Scottish clans have several tartans attributed to their name. Several clans have “official” tartans. Although it is possible for anyone to create a tartan and name it any name they wish, the only person with the authority to make a clan’s tartan “official” is the chief. In some cases, following such recognition from the clan chief, the clan tartan is recorded and registered by the Lord Lyon King of Arms. Once approved by the Lord Lyon, after recommendation by the Advisory Committee on Tartan, the clan tartan is then recorded in the Lyon Court Books. In at least one instance a clan tartan appears in the heraldry of a clan chief and is considered by the Lord Lyon as the “proper” tartan of the clan.

Many people own only the tartan with which they feel associated, whether through a clan, family, surname, or military unit. Others choose their tartan only out of personal taste. Since the Victorian era, “authorities” on tartan have claimed that there is an etiquette to wearing tartan, specifically tartan attributed to clans or families. This concept of the “entitlement” to certain tartans has led to the term of universal tartan, or free tartan, which describes tartan which can be worn by anyone. Traditional examples of such are the Black Watch (also known as Government, Universal, and Campbell), Caledonian, Hunting Stewart, and Jacobite tartans.In the same line of opinion, some tartan attributed to the British Royal Family are claimed by some to be “off limits” to non-royals.Even so, there are no rules on who can, or cannot, wear a particular tartan. Note that some modern tartans are protected by trademark law, and the trademark proprietor can, in certain circumstances, prevent others from selling that tartan. An example of one such tartan is the Burberry Check.

Some Scots I know are passionate about the conventions of clan tartans, especially ex-pats, whilst others, including myself, are less emotional about the whole thing. I make haggis and hold a Burns Supper once in a while, I wear a kilt on occasion, and I value the range of Scots recipes. But I am not a patriot (of Scotland or any other country), and I do not see the conventions associated with the tartan as more than that: conventions.


I usually wear the Black Watch because my father’s brother was a piper in the Black Watch.

Hooray !! Yet again I get to sing the praises of the cooking of Scotland, to thumb my nose at the ignorami. This time I will focus on smoked fish. I well remember an oddly shaped package arriving at our house in South Australia when I was a teen. It was from my father’s brother and carried an Arbroath postmark. My father could not contain his joy when he opened it up to find a pair of Arbroath smokies – whole haddock split open and hot smoked. An amazing treat. Smoked fish is common in Scotland, the other popular one being Finnan Haddie. tartan4


Either of these fish can be made into a soup known as Cullen Skink – smoked fish in a milky/creamy fish broth with onions (or leeks) and potatoes. There are plenty of variants to suit all tastes. I tend to keep the flavorings to a minimum because the smoked fish provides plenty of savor. I use leeks for that reason. If you cook and mash the potatoes, the soup is thick but lacks variety in texture. Always it’s cook’s choice mixed with a strong dose of regional and family tradition. I prefer half mashed, half diced.


Cullen Skink


1lb/500g undyed smoked haddock, skin on
1 bay leaf
1tbsp butter
2 leeks washed and cut into chunks
2 medium potatoes, unpeeled, cut into chunks
2 cups/500ml whole milk or ½ milk, ½ cream
chives, chopped, to garnish


Put the fish into a pan just large enough to hold it comfortably, and cover with cold water (do not drown it). Add the bay leaf, and bring gently to the boil. By the time it comes to the boil, the fish should be just cooked – if it’s not, then give it another minute or so. Remove from the pan a slotted spoon, and set it aside and the broth to cool.

Melt the butter in another pan on a medium-low heat, and add the leeks. Cover and allow to sweat, without coloring, for about 10 minutes or until softened. Season generously with freshly ground black pepper.

Add the potato and stir to coat with butter. Pour in the haddock cooking liquor and bay leaf, and bring to a simmer. Cook until the potato is tender.

Meanwhile, remove the skin, and any bones from the haddock, and break into flakes.

Lift out a generous slotted spoonful of potatoes and leeks, and set aside. Discard the bay leaf. Add the milk, and half the haddock to the pan, and mash roughly with a fork.

Serve with a generous spoonful of the potato, leek and haddock mixture in each bowl, and a sprinkling of chives.


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