The promise of hearing the skirling of bagpipes and seeing kilts and tartans drew me to the edge of the Congaree today (Sunday), and the opportunity to worship outdoors on a gorgeous Columbia Spring morn made the drive across the Gervais Street Bridge something The Eagles would call a Peaceful Easy Feeling.The promise was being kept by the processing Palmetto Pipes and Drums when a child noticed something overhead, and pointed to the sky where, just over the bridge, two planes flying training exercises had left a contrails cross in the sky. For a moment everyone in the service shaded their eyes and gawked in wonder at the pilots’ unexpected thumbs up. We were all right where we were supposed to be at that moment.
According to the Rev. Les Holmes, after the Battle of Culloden, April 16, 1746, English parliament banned all Scottish traditions that could fuel the formidable Scottish spirit. To weaken the Gaelic culture and attack the Scottish clan system, England forbade Scots to speak Gaelic, dance the Highland Fling or Scottish country dances or play Scottish music, including bagpipes.
Defiant not to relinquish their heritage, Scots came to their kirks (churches) with swatches of their clans’ tartans (plaids) hidden from view. At a predetermined pause during the worship service, swatches were brought out briefly and were blessed by the clergy who rendered a prayer for the protection of the clan. Tartans were, and are still, woven in patterns - and especially colors - that represent threads of a family’s history. The Kirkin’ O’ Tartans continues today as a reminder of Scots’ determination and allegiance to their culture.
Holmes called the first Kirkin’ The Ultimate Family Affair, in part because heads of households risked even death by hiding, somewhere in their clothing, a scrap of their tartans. Last Sunday, against a backdrop of tartans representing Columbia families, along with flags of Irish counties, Holmes emphasized faith, family and future.
Early Columbia was heavily populated by Scots and Irish who came to this country for a chance at a better life. Many of their descendants are still around as leaders in today’s local civic affairs, which include the arts.