Brigadoonery or Tradition, Scotching the Scottish Myths.

brigadoon1We get a lot of odd requests at ScotClans. Despite living here all our lives (well apart from a year in Carlisle but I don’t like to talk about that!) and thinking we know pretty much all there is to know about Scottish Traditions we do hear about ceremonies that are a complete mystery to us.

Perhaps the most common one we hear about is the ‘Kirking of the Tartan’. This ceremony takes place on a Sunday close to St Andrew’s day when clan leaders march in procession into their local church, each carrying a sample of their clan tartan. At the culmination of the event the swatches of tartan are brought to the front and blessed.

It was a good few years ago when we first heard about this and like so many others had to immediately fire up the old web browser to find out what it was all about. As far as we are aware this ceremony has NEVER been carried out in Scotland. Some people claim that this ceremony dates back to the days after Culloden when the clans were proscribed from wearing their tartan and that the clan people hid samples of tartan to preserve their heritage, however research quickly uncovers this event as only dating back to 1941 and was introduced in the United States by the Rev. Peter Marshall at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C.

Another one we hear a lot about is the ‘hand tying ceremony’ this is related to a pagan ritual of binding the hands during a wedding ceremony to signify union. It is also connected to ‘handfasting’ which is also a sort of ‘trial marriage’ which would last for a year and a day – gosh a Marriage with a get out clause! who called them primitive! In recent years though (and due in no small measure to the film Braveheart) an element of ‘Tartanry’ has crept into this – we get many requests for strips of tartan to use at these ceremonies where the couple is bound with the husband’s tartan to signify her entry into the ‘clan’.

I guess most people on these shores would sneer at this and call it as the title suggests just pure Brigadoon nonsense (that’s the version with Gene Kelly) but its all too easy to be cynical about so called ‘traditions’ that appear to have sprung up from nowhere. Lets be honest its easy for us to be steeped in tradition. We only have to walk out of our office to stand on the spot where the French fought against Scots in the 1560′s during the Siege of Leith – ancient history and traditions surround us – for the descendants of families who emigrated generations ago, many during the infamous ‘Clearances‘ there is no such luxury, so let them have their own traditions, it does no harm and in a way helps promote Scotland worldwide.

I have on caveat though – there has to be a limit. In one story I read a Scot was guest of honour at a St Andrew’s ball in Chicago. At the peak of the festivities a large trolley was wheeled in on which sat a large tartan tea cosy – suddenly a girl popped out of the middle in a tartan dress much to the Scots astonishment. a whispered voice informed him ‘that’s the ‘haggis lassie’ its traditional!’ – just one word… Nooooooooooooooooo!


Have you heard of an odd Scottish tradition? why not tell us about it


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3 thoughts on “Brigadoonery or Tradition, Scotching the Scottish Myths.

  1. Roger Clarke

    For those not old enough to remember

    Brigadoon is a 1954 MGM musical film based on an older Broadway show. The story was written by Lerner and Loewe The film stared Gene Kelly, Van Johnson, and Cyd Charisse. Total fiction Brigadoon, was not even filmed in Scotland, is a village that rises out of the mists every hundred years for only a day and the hero falls in love, leaves and tries to get back to his love.
    Could’nt have been a real Scot at the Chicago dinner can’t imagine one dissapointing the ‘haggis lassie’

    • Allan Hewitson

      Whereas Brig o’ Doon, is the bridge over which Tam o’Shanter fled from witches cavorting in the auld church cemetery at Alloway, the home of Robert Burns.

      When I was a schoolboy at Ayr Grammar School we spent a school term (no some unremembered reason) at Alloway School and the bus stop was just before the Aud Kirk — and I can assure you we all scampered past quickly going and coming from school…

  2. Allan Hewitson

    I’m now living in Kitimat in Northern B.C. Canada — and I’m 73 — but these memories have been reinforced by numerous visits to Alloway, Burns Cottage and all the memorials in the area. The most recent was 2012…


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