Montreat to resound with annual Kirkin of the Tartan

Margaret Hurt
Special to The Black Mountain News

The McCaskill family in Montreat reserves the Memorial Day weekend long in advance on the family calendar.

Bill and Susanne McCaskill know their children will travel to Montreat to bring their own children to the annual Kirkin of the Tartan, held this year on Sunday, May 29. Carr McCaskill, Bill and Susan’s son, looks forward to it too.

“It’s a mini homecoming weekend for us, a time to celebrate family and our Presbyterian and Scottish ties,” the Winston-Salem resident said. “We always look forward to coming.”

Once his children, Will and Duvall, had reached 10 years of age, they were eager to carry the McCaskill and McLeod family tartans in the banner procession. With other family members, the sons, now in their 20s, have enjoyed participating in the tartan procession and do so as often as they can. They wear tartan kilts and sashes as part of the celebration, their father said.

Monteat and the surrounding Swannanoa Valley have deep Scottish roots, having largely been settled by the Scotch-Irish immigrants. With so many Scottish and Presbyterian ties in the area, three Montreat couples formed the Montreat Scottish Society in 1981. Bill and Susanne McCaskill are the remaining founding members; others included Jack and Gene McTigue and Royalle and Betty Tilley.

The society now has 350 members and now puts on one of the nation’s largest Kirkin of the Tartan (“Churching of the Tartan”) worship services. It is a day to commemorate the ties of family and Scottish heritage, to celebrate with worship and music, to display family tartan banners and wares.

At this year’s 35th annual event, Montreat Conference Center’s Anderson Auditorium will reverberate with the sounds of Scottish bagpipes playing the hymn “Highland Cathedral.” Nearly 100 tartan banners will be carried in and out of the auditorium. Tartan banners, kilts, sashes and ties will fill the room.

The event is expected to draw more than 1,500 guests, as it has in the past, according to Ron Vinson, an event board member and director of the Presbyterian Heritage Center ( in Montreat. Pre-service bagpipe music starts at 10:30 a.m. outside on the Anderson Auditorium green, followed by an 11 a.m. worship service in Anderson Auditorium featuring speaker the Rev. Dean K. Thompson, the former president of Louisville Theological Seminary.

The event marks the start of the summer worship season; Montreat Conference Center begins its conference and weekly worship season on June 5. Even for those with little Scottish connection, there is much to enjoy.

“Nothing brings the spirit of the mountains alive like Kirkin of the Tartan,” said Jane Murray of Black Mountain. “The color, music and community feeling are bright, celebratory and beautiful. My family has loved going over the years.”

The Kirkin of the Tartan “is open to everyone from all denominations to attend the worship service, not just those with Scottish background,” said Montreat Scottish Society president Brown McCallum.

For more about membership in the Montreat Scottish Society, visit Other activities of the society include the St. Andrews Tea, Scottish Saturdays at the Movies and scholarships and uniforms for the Montreat Scottish Pipes & Drums.

If you wish to carry a tartan banner on May 29, contact Vinson at 669-6556. For those who wish, the service is followed by a buffet at the Assembly Inn. The cost is $20 adults and teens 12 and older, $10 children 5-11, free for children younger than 5. For reservations and payment, call 669-2911.