Tartan Day, New York, 2005

Graeme J.W.Smith

This article was written by Graeme J.W.Smith a member of the St Andrew’s Society of New York State who has been writing about and recording the Tartan Day celebration in New York every year since 2002. His accounts and illustrations have resulted in collecting considerable sums of money for charity via his Web sites - see Tunes of Glory!

All the illustrations here are courtesy of Anne Allardt.

The Scottish Village
Pipers It started on Friday night and finished on Sunday morning and for about 36 hours straight the big man in the sky poured big buckets of water over New England and New York.

The day had started with the opening of the "Scottish Village" in the Vanderbilt Hall of Grand Central Station - VisitScotland's multimedia display of all that is best about Scotland. Celtic folk band Shooglenifty wowed the crowd for a warm up, the station staff kept vainly trying to move people along - "this is a public station - you must keep moving" and at precisely 11am Mary Hamilton of the Mount Kisco Scottish Pipes and Drums and Patrick Duffy of the Caledonia Society (pictured here) struck up a duet of "Scots Wha Hae".

Mary Hamilton commented - "The acoustics in Grand Central Station were WONDERFUL - it made the two of us sound like the whole of Shotts and Dykehead Pipe Band!"

Wallace's Sword
The pipers led in William Wallace's sword, on it's padded Saltire covered bed, into Grand Central Station - guarded by Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament George Reid, the Provosts of Glasgow and Edinburgh and the Constables of Edinburgh. The Wallace Sword has never before left Scotland - and has been displayed in the Wallace Monument near Stirling since 1888, having been kept in Dumbarton Castle before that. Some loyal Scots in the crowd sang the words to "Scots Wha Hae" (I admit to a tear in my eye) and the American's looked on in wonderment at seeing the REAL Braveheart's sword. Mel Gibson - you may not have been historically too accurate - but Americans know who Braveheart is and as a 700 year old sword is 475 years older than America - they were truly fascinated!

Kirkin' of the Tartan
George Reid Uptown at the Presbyterian Church on Park Avenue the St Andrew's Society of New York State had organized a non-denominational "Kirkin' of the Tartan" Service and afterwards, the congregation and the honorary guard of dignitaries from Grand Central Station sat down to a brunch and George Reid - Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament - addressed the assembly on the topic - "They said we couldn't do it" covering a variety of modern Scotch ambitions and their subsequent achievement including the first Tartan Day in the USA and the new Scottish Parliament!

The Big Parade Big Parade

Out in Park Avenue, our buses awaited us to take us to the start of the parade. Those BIG buckets were still getting emptied from overhead and the open top deck was not a good place to be! There were serious puddles in the streets and as cars went through them it was enough to leave pedestrians (and Oor Wullie if he had been there) proclaiming "Help Ma Boab - A'm Drookit!" But magically the luck of the Scots kicked in (for once) and for a blessed two hour window starting on 1pm and ending at 3pm there was a lull and on 45th and 44th St E bands, clans and the New York branch of the Tartan Army formed up, tuned up and marched the Tartan Day Parade up 6th Avenue in fine style.

With bands left to play their own selections this year there was a welcome mix of great pipe tunes and Mount Kisco honored us with "Flower of Scotland" at one point - and as more ex-pats are becoming aware of the meaning of the song to many - there were more than a few who knew the words to sing along this year. As the parade finished the taps in the sky got turned on again and the groups repaired to the various clubs and bars in the area that had been primed with bands, beer and scotch (thank you Glenfiddich!) to give everyone a great night out.

VisitScotland's Intransigence
Tartan Cow The only sour note - for a number of us - was VisitScotland's intransigence on Saturday night when a number of us went to see Wallace's sword mounted in the Scottish Village. Arriving well before the advertised closing time we were turned away as "a private party was in progress". "Come back tomorrow" was not a possibility for many who had traveled to New York for the day. While we understand the need to keep sponsor parties private so they are not gate crashed by the rabble - either advertise the real closing time of the village for that day OR be a little more sympathetic to the situation. It was not as if there was even a crowd around the sword looking at it - they were all off at the bar!

The picture here is part of the Scottish Village in Grand Central Station - You know there are days you really need to wonder about VisitScotland!........... Or I didn't get it. Or I have been away from Scotland too long!

Graeme J.W.Smith

Where else would you like to go in Scotland?

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