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Affinities #20: The Scottish Legion

Leave your dirks at the door.

Timothy Blackburn

(1 of 10)

Jek Cunningham

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Kozo Kimura

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Keith Everett 

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Kent Walker

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John McAllister

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Iain A. Macdonald

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Jaeame I. Koyil

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John Biggar

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Fred Macondray

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“Back in the day, they’d carry a tin of snuff in there, maybe a photo of their beloved,” says David Campbell of the Scottish sporran, the elaborate, codpiece-like pouch that covers one’s “critical bits,” as he puts it. “Now, it’s more like your wallet and keys—maybe a flask for a wee nip.”

Campbell is a vice president of the Saint Andrew’s Society of San Francisco, a 150-year-old club that meets once a month to celebrate the history and culture of Scotland. Each of the society’s 250 members, who range in age from 50 to 75, had to demonstrate an ancestral tie to the homeland; some, like official society piper Jek Cunningham, are direct transplants. All are encouraged to wear Highland attire, which entails a kilt and sporran, a traditional Scottish tie, a vest, and a Prince Charlie jacket. Then there’s the dirk—a 10- to 12-inch dagger—and the sgian-dubh (“black blade” in Gaelic), a small knife that tucks into one’s kneesock.

At formal events, dirks were traditionally checked at the door—but today Saint Andrew’s members keep them to cut open the haggis, a Scottish delicacy made from sheep’s heart, liver, and lungs.


Originally published in the March issue of San Francisco

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