Let’s Get Kilt

You learn something every day. According to Wikipedia, it’s “Tartan Day” today, a “tradition” invented in 1987 in Canada to celebrate Scottish heritage. Apparently, it’s popular in both Canada and the USA now, although I’d never heard of it.

Typical Scottish Ladies

The basic idea of chequered cloth is very old indeed, and there’s some justification for associating it with Celtic tribes. The oldest “tartan” known from the British Isles is a bit of checked rag stuffed into a jar of Roman coins from the third century, which was discovered near Falkirk.

But the idea of particular tartans being associated with specific clans is an entirely modern concept. Tartans had been banned for about 40 years after the Jacobite rebellion, but when King George IV became interested in Scotland, and visited Edinburgh in 1822 in a version of Highland dress, it became fashionable. The Highland Society of London began to collect tartan designs around that time, and fix their associations with noble families. When Queen Victoria inherited the throne and her Uncle George’s Scotophilia, tartans became all the rage.

Once the royalistas got hold of the tartan, they had to invent rules and etiquettes about who should wear what, in order to feel superior to those unaware of such high standards. Supposedly, you must only wear a tartan based on your surname or noble descent. It must be worn as a sign of alleigance to your clan chief. It’s the latter that would rule me out, since my clan chief, the 8th Duke of Montrose, is a man of the political Right, whom I couldn’t possibly support. He is also the only hereditary Duke elected by fellow Peers to sit in the House of Lords after the reforms of 1999, and so is perpetuating the undemocratic system of government in the UK.

(Although, admittedly, at least somebody voted for him, unlike, say, Lord Mandelson. The former “New Labour” government’s contempt for democracy was clear in the number of Ministers appointed and not elected. In contrast, all the current coalition government’s Ministers are MPs.)

Of course, nothing should be worn under the kilt. I’m OK there, nothing is showing any signs of wear.


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