Scottish History and the Highland Games

Through television and novels, the image of Scotland brings to mind the beautiful highlands with its pictorial, breathtaking views, and people of clans and tartans, great food and festive music. From the Piedmont Triad, traveling to Scottish culture isn’t as far as you think. Since the mid-18th century, the Highland Scots have been welcomed to North Carolina. Large populations are prevalent along the eastern shore between Brunswick and Wilmington, and in the mountains expanding out from Linville. If you find yourself with a percentage of Scottish blood in your lineage, or intrigued by the culture, there is one fascinating event taking place this month. The Grandfather Mountain Highland Games occurs every second week of July from Thursday night through Sunday. With four to five generation of families donned in their clan tartan, the Scottish Games brings to mind a feeling of traveling back through time and a deep appreciation to celebrate the traditions for today’s youth.

Extending Your Family

Through modern technology, discovering your lineage is quite simple today. For those whose family has lived in North Carolina for generations, it is possible that you may be part Scottish. Arriving at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games and the scenic beauty of MacRae Field, spectators will notice the colorful line of clan tents bordering the athletic field. With closer observation, each tent will provide the name of each clan with a list of branches (termed septs). Once a member of either the clan or “sept” enters a tent, he or she is welcomed as a part of the extended family. History buffs will be enticed by the historical pictures and maps, stories and information. Pull up a folding chair (and I hope you planned on staying through the weekend).

The Torchlight Ceremony

In honor of the ceremony from long ago, clans were called together in preparation for battle to announce themselves and light the torch. Today’s spectators will find a procession of bagpipers marching to the song of Amazing Grace, for instance, prior to dusk. One member from 120 clans will come forward to call out their clan name, tell who they are and provide a short speech. Some speakers will provide humorous tales while others may be more dramatic and passionate. On Thursday night, the Torchlight Ceremony will open the games, and leave the spectators appreciative and speechless at the end of the annual ritual.

A Competition for All Ages and Skills

As mere exercise, the Scottish Highland warriors would use everyday tools and resources to maintain fitness between battles; therefore, waging a competition made the effort of building strength a formidable excuse to see who could toss a tree trunk, throw a large stone or a blacksmith’s hammer the farthest. These amazing athletics of skill and strength are spectacular to watch first hand. Even young children will enjoy the games, especially the sheep dog trials, piping, fiddling, drumming, and Highland dancing competitions. Since the games combine skill from the professional to the amateur, all ages can participate.

Something for Everyone to Enjoy!

With a great pair of comfortable walking shoes, every member of your “clan” will find something interesting and fascinating at the games. Those interested in music may enjoy a harp workshop, a class to learn Scottish country dancing, or sitting on a rock or bench to enjoy traditional music. Young children can watch a sheep herding demonstration, listen to a storyteller, create a unique craft, and have their face painted. On top of a shaded hill, the “clan” can observe the view and the sounds emanating in various directions while eating traditional foods such as meat pasties, Scotch eggs, or fish and chips, to name just a few. When the question arrives of what to do next, the answer could be shopping! This is the perfect place to be fitted for a kilt!

Substantial crowds come to the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games year after year. From the elders to the bonny wee lads and lassies, the Games represent a need to remember and witness tradition. Even if you are interested in a day of learning, history, and sport, traveling to the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games is a worthwhile event!