Tartan Day South has celebrated generations of Celtic heritage for 11 years. This year’s festival honored the late Donovan Murray, a founder of the event. (Photos by Emily Okon. See photo gallery below)

Tartan Day South has been honoring Irish and Scottish heritage in the Midlands for 11 years.

This year’s annual event was a four-day festival starting with a gathering at the British Bulldog Pub and ending with the Kirkin’ of the Tartans this past weekend.

From Highland games to foods from the United Kingdom, the eight-hour festival had something for everyone.

The Celtic heritage and culture festival features events to keep all ages entertained.

John Banks, co-founder and director of Tartan Day South, has been working since Day One on the Celtic heritage and culture festival’s entertainment and education events to engage all ages.

“It’s something Columbia had never seen before,” Banks said. “There have never been a Highland games event in the Midlands. There’s one in Greenville and one in Charleston, but not here.”

Celebrating Heritage

The festival features classic Scottish dishes such as haggis, a savory pudding containing sheep stomachs.

The meal may not be for everyone, but for some festival-goers, that was the star attraction.

“The haggis was amazing,” said Aaron McLucas, a member of clan Lamont.

Sheep herding was just one of the events that has been a fan-favorite since the first festival in 2010.

Red Creek Farm’s trainer, Carol Ann Bailey, brought her impressive working border collies, giving the Midlands a sneak peek at what working on a farm looks.

On the other side of the festival site, a British antique car show displayed more than 100 cars.

And bands played from across the Southeast.

Banks’ No. 1 goal for the event isn’t just to educate Midlands residents but to entertain them.

“That’s the biggest compliment to us is that they’re entertained and having fun,” Banks said.

This year’s festival featured nearly two dozen clans from the Columbia area. McLucas hopes to see that grow in the next year.

“COVID hit a lot of the clans, so there was limited funding this year,” McLucas said. “I’m hoping next year some of the clans will have some additional funds, so that we can have even more representation.”

Even though this year’s event was hit by a thunderstorm early in the day, the staff made the best of it.

“People are just happy, and they’re joyous,” Banks said. “And, those kinds of things bring tears to your eyes when something that you created has an impact on somebody else’s life. It’s worth more than any money I’ll ever make in my life.”

History of the Tartan

In 1998, the United States Senate passed a resolution to officially recognize April 6 as National Tartan Day.

A tartan is more than just a plaid of woven cloth.

National Tartan Day commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath, when Scotland broke away from England in 1320. The day is celebrated across the globe.

Columbia’s Tartan Day South is among the largest festivals to celebrate Celtic heritage in the United States. New York and San Antonio have the largest.

Tartan Day South has even created and registered a tartan representing the city of West Columbia and Cayce.

Order of the Flaming Caber

For every Tartan Day South festival, there has been a new member inducted into the Order of the Flaming Caber.

The order recognizes individuals who have contributed greatly to Celtic heritage on both a local and national level.

The ceremony of recognition, held on the main event day, features a caber – a 10- to 12-foot pole – being lit aflame and thrown.

Symbolically, the caber represents the Celtic nations and their strength, while the flame represents those who keep the Celtic heritage alive.

This year’s flame recognized the late Donovan Murray, one of the festival’s founders.

Banks became emotional when talking about his close friend and business partner, who passed away in 2022 from cancer.

But people don’t have to be able to trace their ancestry to the United Kingdom to enjoy Tartan Day South, Banks said.

“When you don’t have a family, you can always be part of the Tartan Day South family,” he said.

Syr, a Celtic folk band, takes the stage at this year’s festival. Lead singer, Kyle MacCallum sings invigorating music that has the crowd on its feet.

During the sheep herding show, children stand in a circle as the sheep are herded by border collies. The sheep had other plans, too, and stopped for a snack.

The late Donovan Murray, co-founder of Tartan Day South, was honored during a midday ceremony.

This athlete holds a chain weight before seeing how far she can throw it.

Pete, a working border collie, is “duck obsessed,” his owner says. Pete works hard herding his feathered friends.

These ingredients were used to create all-natural makeup in medieval times. 

Festival-goers were given the chance to research their lineage and name. Matt Heady is a family tartan historian who has been working Tartan Day South since its beginning.

Education & fun on Tartan Day