Although officially founded in 1926, the Kate Kennedy Club traces its origins to a time when our university was no more than a fledgling institution. Since the 1400s, Kate Kennedy has been a quasi-legendary figure. The niece of Bishop James Kennedy, she was commemorated by a bell bearing her name that has hung in the United College tower since 1560. Inspired by the medieval springtime tradition of a parade celebrating Cath Cinneachaidh, students took to the streets in the 1840s to honour the life of Lady Katherine Kennedy. For over six hundred years, she has continued to inspire our town.
The procession of the nineteenth century has little in common with today’s intricate parade of characters. What began as a way to honour Kate Kennedy has evolved into a drunken dance through the streets, featuring students imitating their teachers and dressing as Kate herself. In 1881, the parade caused enough destruction to warrant a ban on any further iterations from Principal John Shairp. This ban carried on through the end of the century.
The rectorial address of 1922, given by Rector J. M. Barrie, took the first of many steps needed to resurrect the Kate Kennedy tradition. Titled “On Courage,” the address explored the history of St Andrews and the value of memory. It was executed with such strength that it captured the attention of Donald Kennedy, a descendent of the famed archbishop. Aided by fellow student James Doak and University Principal Sir James Irvine, Kennedy arranged for the first procession in nearly a century to be held on April 1926. Marking the occasion was the formation of the Kate Kennedy Club (KKC), a carefully curated coterie of students whose primary purpose would be to plan the annual procession, which has continued uninterrupted since the club’s creation.
Now in April 2016, the KKC has reached its 90th year. The anniversary will celebrate not only nine decades of the procession as we know it, but also the hundreds of years of history preceding its inception. Tommy Vermeir, head of publicity for the Club, says: “The organisation of the 90th anniversary has been aimed at increasing the involvement of local, regional and nationwide audiences by providing a full weekend of activities for all to enjoy.” Beginning on Thursday, 7 April, club alumni are encouraged to return to town with their families in preparation for a weekend centred on Saturday’s procession. Included in the festivities will be a marquee on Lower College Lawn, a history trail-meets-scavenger hunt around St Andrews and an assortment of fun activities for current and returning students alike.
A larger affair than in previous years, the procession is also the start of a new tradition. The ultimate charitable goal of the weekend will be to establish a Kate Kennedy scholarship, which will provide local Fife students the opportunity to study at St Andrews.
With the procession as their raison d’être, the club dedicates many of its resources to the organisation of this single weekend. Gus Giddins played Kate Kennedy in last year’s procession and serves as this year’s procession marshall. He says that the procession is “a vital event in the St Andrews calendar that brings together town and gown relations.”
Mr Giddins also shared that the club “[has] a number of new costumes or renovated costumes on show this year, most noticeably Mary Queen of Scots.” Boasting over 140 characters played by both students and locals, the procession is known for its authenticity: Costumes and carriages have been preserved and renovated over the years, a process overlooked by the official-sounding keeper of the costumes and shields (a position held this year by Alasdair Todd).
Per tradition, many members of the club will regularly appear in costume throughout the day, entertaining children and their families. The marquee will also host performances from a cappella groups such as the Accidentals and the Other Guys, in addition to offering literary talks from local authors and music provided by a medieval band. Opening at 10am on Saturday, the venue will be open to anyone who wishes to attend before the procession begins in the afternoon.
Nintieth anniversary convenor Julian Urruela said that the Club is “aiming to make this the most inclusive event in the recent history of St Andrews” as it will “[bring] townsfolk, University staff and students together to celebrate the amazing things that have contributed to making the University and town as great as they are.” In addition to costumed procession characters, local artists, musicians and writers will participate in the Family Fun Day by presenting their work to the public. This includes Gillian Gamble, author of the (local) classic picture book I Love St Andrews. Mr Urruela added: “On a personal note, I am thrilled to see the Shire of Caledon Society perform battle reenactments twice during the Fun Day.”
Another centrepiece of the day will be the great procession tapestry. Presenting a depiction of every procession character, the tapestry is composed of sketches done by local schoolchildren. The sketches will then be displayed to the public in the form of a massive banner, a testament to the efforts of the community in “making St Andrews as unique as it is,” said Mr Urruela.
The tapestry exemplifies the goals of the club and of the procession, as it combines local and student efforts while promoting the history of the town and University. Mr Vermeir confirmed that “between the coach house reception earlier in the week, the Family Fun Day ahead of the procession on [Saturday] and the great procession tapestry, enthusiasts of St Andrews history and tradition will be spoilt for things to see and do.”
“Furthermore,” Mr Urruela continued, “during the day children will be encouraged to participate in a historical trail, a treasure hunt type of activity in which [they] will receive hints on the locations of certain characters.” The club has created life-sized cutouts of relevant characters, which will be hidden around town. Included with each cutout is information on what that particular character did to become relevant to the town, an interactive method of promoting the past that the procession seeks to bring to life. Although predominately aimed towards children, students of all ages will likely be entertained by the sight of the elaborately dressed characters strewn throughout our streets.
Held on 9 April, this year’s procession is perhaps the only St Andrean event that truly unites the town and the gown under one metaphorical roof (and one literal roof, thanks to the marquee). On the heels of our University’s 600th anniversary, the 90th anniversary of the Kate Kennedy Club continues the celebration of our town’s history as an ancient seat of learning. Featuring colourful characters that range from queens to monks to Americans, the procession represents both the decades of dedication on the part of the KKC as well as the constantly changing nature of St Andrews.
The entire town is free to partake in what is sure to be an iconic Saturday.
For more information about this event, visit the Kate Kennedy Procession’s Facebook page.
Photo: Gus Giddins as Kate Kennedy in last year’s procession.