Tartan Day 2002

6 April 2002


Vivien Devlin was one of the 70,000 spectators at the spectacular Scottishpower Tunes of Glory parade of 10,000 pipers marching up the Avenue of Americas in New York on Tartan Day.

Over a three day festival from 4 - 6 April, 2002, Manhattan celebrated everything Scottish from contemporary music, comedy and writers to whisky, tartan and the rich cultural heritage which unites Scotland and the United States.

Tartan Day was conceived by the U.S. Senate in 1998 in recognition of the valuable contribution made by the Scots to the foundation, character and prosperity of America. The date was selected to commemorate 6th April, 1320 when the Declaration of Arbroath, initiating an independent Scotland, was signed and presented to the Pope, a document later to be the inspiration behind the American Declaration of Independence.

Today there are said to be at least 13 million Americans claiming Scottish ancestry, according to the latest Census figures. Further research increases this figure to nearer 35 million - or even more. Statistics aside, the importance is the undeniable fact that many entrepreneurs, industrialists, inventors and politicians over the past few hundreds of years who achieved remarkable success across America came originally from Scotland. Andrew Carnegie, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Jefferson, Woodrow Wilson, Neil Armstrong and John Muir are just a few of the many famous Scots who made America great.

As George W. Bush [also with Scottish ancestry] stated in a letter to Scotland on April 3, 2002, to commemorate Tartan Day.

" Since our nation`s founding , Scottish Americans have greatly contributed to our progress and prosperity. This observance renews our appreciation for the diversity and remarkable heritage that unites us all."

Over the past four years Tartan Day has grown in cultural and political significance with events taking place in Washington, Chicago and New York to promote business, arts, travel and tourism. But this year`s major plan to set a world record with 10,000 pipers parading up 6th Avenue has been a turning point in the annual celebration.

Where did such an ambitious idea, to stage the largest pipe band in the world, originate?

In August 2000 the Rt. Hon Eric Milligan, the Lord Provost of Edinburgh supported a massed pipe band event along Princes Street to raise funds for Marie Curie Cancer Care. It was a great success and over 8,000 pipers turned up in pouring rain for the parade.

The organisers behind the whole concept, two young pipers were Thomas Grotrian and Magnus Orr of Epic Concepts, Ltd, in Edinburgh were then encouraged by the Lord Provost to continue their efforts and try and break this world record. Milligan can therefore take some credit for instigating the idea behind the Tartan Day parade this year.

" After the Millennium parade in Edinburgh, I asked myself how can we top this?. By bringing even more pipers to the centre of New York, the most exciting, glamorous and intoxicating city in the world".

The planning and fund raising began in earnest in September 2000. The breakthrough came in July 2001 when ScottishPower agreed to be the brand sponsors, contributing 150,000 to the event. ScottishPower, affiliated with PacifiCorp in the United States, is one of the world`s leading utility companies. The aim was to raise $1,000,000 for the Scottish and American cancer charities, Marie Curie and Gilda`s Club Worldwide. The next step for Epic Concepts UK was to entice 10,000 pipers from around the world to travel to Manhattan in April, 2002.

Tartan Day 2002

Saturday April 6th dawned bright and clear, a perfect blue sky but with a frosty chill to the air. The parade "kick-off" was 2pm, yet by 11am around the W hotel on Broadway where I was staying, there were pipers and drummers of every nationality - dressed either in full Highland dress or casually in kilt, thick sweater and baseball cap - as well as a Tartan army of visitors, tourists and local spectators walking around, enthusiastically getting into the Scottish spirit. Earlier at a diner on 47th Street we were joined by a dozen or so pipers digging into their eggs sunny side up and home fries, a perfect hearty breakfast to sustain them on their long march of 45 blocks up to Central Park.

With the sun shining brightly the first snow flakes began to flurry around the bright neon signs of Broadway. Surely there wasn`t going to be a thick blizzard blowing all day to freeze the pipers` fingers and chill the spectators? But it was a just a brief whirl of snow, as if a symbolic wintry message sent across the Atlantic from Scotland to say " Happy Tartan Day, New York". It all added to the extraordinary magical and surreal atmosphere which was quickly emanating all around as Manhattan turned a curious shade of tartan.

12 noon and time for a dram to warm the blood and where better than the St. Andrew`s Bar, on West 44th Street. This is a traditional Scottish pub, popular all year with visiting Scots as well as local New Yorkers with no Scottish connection, who simply enjoy whisky, beer and friendly hospitality. The pub today is packed out but we squeeze our way down to the end of the bar to be presented with a complimentary glass of Dewar`s which is also one of the Tartan Day sponsors and keen to promote their brand of Scotch. Sharon, one of the bar staff comes from Airdrie and despite a hectic day and late night ahead, she is thrilled by this wonderful celebration of Scotland in the heart of Manhattan.

Just before 2 o`clock, 6th Avenue from 43rd Street up to Central park is closed to traffic. The 10,000 pipers have been gathering over the past hour in the side streets, in carefully co-ordinated groups. Representatives from pipe bands as well as individuals have travelled from 50 states across America, from Canada, as well as 26 countries around the world, from China, Malaysia, Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand, Trinidad, Tobago. There is an estimated 2,000 from the United Kingdom, with 1,200 from Scotland itself.

The pipe bands selected to lead the parade are the New York Police and Fire Department, together with brand sponsors, the ScottishPower pipe band, regarded as one of the best in the world. The youngest piper registered to play is Kevin Harraughty aged 9, marching with his father as part of the Nairn Pipe Band. The youngest participant will be Liam McGill, a five year old drummer boy from New Jersey.

American Flags

The first Pipe Bands set off and the ScottishPower Tunes of Glory parade has begun. Amidst a flurry of flags, the Saltire and the Stars and Stripes all around, a line-up of official dignatories march proudly behind, representing the two nations - Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Sir Sean Connery and First Minister Jack McConnell as well as other leading members of the Scottish Executive and Scottish Parliament.

Over the next couple of hours, the pipers, drummers, banner and flag carriers marched up the Avenue, continuing up to around 85th street on Central park. I was fortunate to be given a perfect view from an open top double decker Stagecoach sightseeing bus, painted in bright yellow tartan. It was a magnificent and spectacular sight to witness such a fabulous and colourful parade. To hear those familiar tunes played by musicians from every corner of the globe sharing and celebrating Scottish culture and heritage was a most emotional and inspiring occasion.

An estimated 70,000 people packed the sidewalks, many keen to listen to the bands but also to catch a glimpse of Sir Sean Connery, Mr. James Bond, 007, himself, grinning broadly at the top of the parade. Who could be a better ambassador than such a renowned celebrity. As he commented to the press afterwards -

" I was so proud of my country today . At long last we are starting to make our mark on the world. There is nowhere better to begin the process than here in the city of New York, the beating heart of America. "

Sean Connery was wearing a kilt and tie made in the New York tartan, a specially commissioned design manufactured by Lochcarron of Galashiels, which was presented to the Mayor Bloomberg, as a gift from the people of Scotland. The blue and green colours represent the Hudson river and Central Park of New York City and symbolise the friendship and solidarity between the two nations, following September 11th. Mayor Bloomberg wore a baseball cap in the same New York tartan.

"Today we are all a wee bit Scottish" he said, waving at the crowds.

One of the spectators I met was Sue Flanagan who had travelled down by train from her home an hour north of the city. She found the whole experience extremely emotional and uplifting.

" Since September 11th, the bagpipes has been the sound of our grief at the funerals, the sound of our heartbreak. But today for the first time I heard laughter in the bagpipe. We needed this. The New York Fire and Police pip bands needed this. It has been an incredible healing and beautiful day. Fantastic, fantastic."

Scotland of the 21st Century While the ScottishPower Tunes of Glory parade was the highlight and climax of Tartan Week, the aim was also to present a showcase of what Scotland represents and offers the visitor today. The stereotypical image of tartan, bagpipes, whisky and shortbread is seen by many as outmoded and which may not attract the younger American to visit Scotland.

Distilled - Live Scotland in New York was a three day arts festival, offering a taste of contemporary rock, jazz and celtic music, comedy and cabaret, DJ club nights and a selection of our leading writers, novelists and poets. More than 3,000 young New Yorkers made their way to the Boylan Studios in the Chelsea district of downtown Manhattan for a series of cabaret variety shows featuring such hot talent of today including Tommy Smith, the superb young jazz saxophonist, the Mull Historical Society, a chart topping rock band, Rhona Cameron, the sassy comedienne and Arnold Brown, who wowed the crowd with his Scottish Jewish humour.

With so many exciting theatre, film, music and book festivals across Scotland from summer to Hogmanay, the Distilled performances gave people a lively taste of what `s on offer all year round and were a perfect opportunity to encourage people to come to Scotland and enjoy a great night out.

Postcards were handed out to everyone who came along saying invitingly:

" You`ve sampled a wee bit of Scotland - now experience the real McCoy".

Film It in Scotland

American film, TV and advertising companies were also being wooed to "come to Scotland". A mini film festival screening the newest Scottish film, Strictly Sinatra, to the classic, Whisky Galore, as well as seminars and discussions were arranged to inform the American film industry of the great locations and opportunities for filming against the beautiful backdrop of the Scottish landscape.

Home and Away

The essence and heart of Tartan Day is of course to celebrate and recognise the great ancestral bond between Scotland and the United States. An exhibition, Home and Away, Highland Departures and Returns has just opened on Ellis Island which documents the story of the many hundreds of thousands of Scots who arrived here during the 19th century. Many had fled from the Highland Clearances, others to seek adventure or find work opportunities. The Ellis Island museum is the former Immigration Centre in New York harbour where millions arrived as refugees from the United Kingdom, Ireland and across Eastern Europe

The exhibition features census forms, registers, photographs and a typical travelling trunk, a kist, used by the immigrant families, into which they had to bring their entire belongings - a bible, sewing kit, jewelery and small sentimental objects to remind them of the home they had left behind.

Today with home computers and the vast information network through the internet, it is much easier to try and trace a family history. Websites such as help you begin the research with excellent advice on place names, surnames and parish records with a click of a button.

The Scots travelled to America for the opportunity of work and a new life. They rarely looked back nostalgically and were regarded as the invisible immigrants. Traditional customs such as bagpipes and Burns Suppers were celebrated privately at home. It is only in the past twenty years or so that there has been a renewed interest in celebrating their ancestry and retracing their roots to the Homeland. It is estimated that today around 20% of American visitors to Scotland make a journey in order to visit towns, islands and regions associated hundreds of years ago with their family.

This Home and Away exhibition which continues until June may encourage more American Scots to delve into their past and persuade them to visit Scotland and the birthplace of their great-great-grandparents. As one visitor from Delaware commented,

"I love being able to find information about Scotland. While I am now an American my soul belongs to my native country."

Painting Manhattan Tartan

Scotland really did come to town during the first week of April this year. Sightseeing buses were painted in red and yellow tartan, the Empire State Building lit up the night sky in the colours of the Saltire and 45 miles of kilt paraded up the Avenue of the Americas.

The Distilled arts festival, the Tunes of Glory march and a glittering Pipes and Drums charity ball at the Waldorf Astoria combined to present a true reflection of what Scotland is today, both proud of its traditional heritage and culture as well as a forward-looking cosmospolitan European country.

With a strong contingent from the Scottish Executive, Scottish Parliament and Visit Scotland, Tartan Day offered the opportunity to promote Scotland across the broader perspective.

"Tartan Day was a magnificent day and has put Scotland firmly on the map", said First Minister, Jack McConnell. "The creation of a Scottish Parliament will assist us to make a contribution on the international stage for progress in business, commerce and the arts. We are very ambitious for both Scotland and the USA. "

Tartan Day was covered not just by the Scottish newspapers and television but by the world media - CNN, The Washington Post, Reuters, BBC News, Newsday, Canada Newswire, and the Times of India.

Perhaps we can now catch up with the Irish who have long promoted and celebrated their national culture across America each year on St. Patrick`s Day. Apparently everyone wears something green and even bagels are baked in Celtic colours that day. According to my friend on Central Park, Sue Flanagan, a New Yorker of Scottish and Irish ancestry, the St. Patrick`s Day parade was not nearly as exciting as the Tunes of Glory march on Tartan Day.

Whether next year bagels will be coloured tartan remains to be seen but certainly Tartan Day on April 6th is definitely on the American calendar as a significant day to celebrate all things Scottish.

The American-Scottish Foundation is, naturally, crucially involved in the planning of a number of Tartan Week events, presentations and receptions, which has taken months of careful discussion, arrangement and fund-raising. It has not been plain-sailing with the obvious problems of communication and negotiation across the Atlantic between the various Scottish and American organisations., including corporate bodies, sponsors, Visit Scotland and the Scottish Executive. Alan L Bain is the President of the American -Scottish Foundation and an indefatigable international ambassador to promote a two-way friendship and cultural understanding between the two nations.

"Tartan Week was very well received here. There are things that could have been done differently but I think only good can come of Tartan Week. I think it`s given Americans a better sense of Scotland overall."

For everyone who participated or witnessed the events of Tartan Week in New York, the spirit of Scotland will surely haunt their minds and hearts over the next year, and perhaps many more Americans - with or without a tint of Scottish blood - will wish to visit and experience Scotland for themselves.

Tartan Day, Tartan Week and a Distilled festival of contemporary arts and culture, 2003 is already in the planning stages!

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