Alba Gu Bragh (Scotland Forever)

The Highland Games in Rhode Island

Once upon a time in the midst of warring battles between the clans, a mighty figure emerged for all to see. He stood 6 feet tall with dark, with wavy hair, massive muscular arms, a beard as long as a horse’s tail, and wearing a … skirt?

Ok, I was taken by the description of a mighty warrior, right up to the part where it states that he was wearing a skirt. Well, here we call it a kilt. But, that is what the mighty warriors of Scotland wore years ago while waging battle between the different clans, and that is exactly what the clans wore at the Highland festival in RI this year.

The Highland Games are events held throughout the year in Scotland as as a way of celebrating Scottish and Celtic culture and heritage. Certain aspects of
the games are so well known that they have become a symbol of Scotland, such as the bagpipes and drums, wearing of the kilts, and the heavy events, especially
the caber toss. While the games mainly centered on competitions in piping and drumming, dancing, and Scottish heavy athletics, the games also included
entertainment and exhibits related to other aspects of Celtic culture.

My dad, who grew up in a little town called Inchinnan, which is right outside of Glasgow, Scotland, remembers attending the games with his mom, dad and three sisters. Even though he was a “wee bit small” at the time, he still recalls most of the events that took place. Every clan that you could imagine would come to them still holding grudges from clan feuds of long ago. They would argue over who stole whose property, women, money or just plain didn’t like each other. In other words, these games allowed the clans to compete, hoping to “seal the deal” of finally laying to rest their family feuds.

With a medieval theme surrounding the games, some were clad in armor with massive swords at their sides and the ladies would dance to the Celtic tunes. Many would participate in the caber toss, hammer throw, Wellington boot toss, or anything else, which would require the men to display their muscular strength. My dad whose nickname was Scottie as a wee lad, wore his sporran, (a pouch worn around the waist), socks and kilt bearing the Campbell of Argyle tartan to the events.

He wished that someday he might be one of those muscular men participating in the caber toss or the hammer throw. Ah, to his woe, his strength was in playing soccer and unfortunately that wasn’t one of the events that were held at the Highland games.

During the Highland games at the Washington County Fair, it was common to see bagpipers sounding out the Celtic melodies, as people would dance the Highland jigs.

Massive muscles peeking out from under their T-shirts, while kilts twisted around them as they whirled the hammer as far as they could, these athletes showed me what brute strength was all about.
And just as common was the tasting of the foods from Scotland; some not so delectable as many who thought they would be. Haggis was in big demand at the Highland games, as everyone just had to taste the dreaded substance so they could tell their friends. Shortbread was abundant, yet is wasn’t the home baked kind; packages that you could find in your local grocery store made my taste buds yearn for the real thing, like my Aunt Jessie’s shortbread; the kind that literally melts in your mouth. Hmmmm.

Starting with the sheep herding, Celtic harp, Rathkeltair, Scottish country dance and followed by the opening ceremonies, the event made everyone feel welcomed, even those that weren’t Scottish. The Master of Ceremonies was very impressive in his black velvet, regaled hat and a red plaid kilt, leading the clans through a series of synchronized steps and tunes. A beautiful parade of vivid reds, blues, greens, yellows, blacks and whites that were interwoven into their treasured kilts, assembled with bagpipes and drums sounding out their Scottish ballads.

After the opening ceremonies, people were allowed to visit the different tents of the clans, gathering knowledge of their ancestors and listing to tales as tall as the Empire State building. My clan, the Campbells of Argyle, was not, say the least, one of the favorites. Maybe because they stole land, sheep, women and sided with the British? That’s the tale that I was told anyways. Even though some clans still backed away from me when I told them about my heritage, I made it perfectly clear that I was proud to be a Campbell, and hey, it wasn’t me that did all of that bad stuff anyway. Right?

Anyways, I have to say that the events of strength had to be the highlight of the games. At least for me they were. Massive muscles peeking out from under their T-shirts, while kilts twisted around them as they whirled the hammer as far as they could, these athletes showed me what brute strength was all about Or, when they threw a 12-foot pole into the air, balancing it just right so it would land on the perfect spot. To me, that was beyond remarkable to witness the awesome power of these athletes, competing with dignity and respect for their fellow athletes. And no feuding, except with the judges. Now, that’s a Highland Game.

The rest of the day was spent watching Border Collies do their job by herding show, listening to the soothing sounds of the pipes and watching young people kick up their heels to the Scottish jigs. Sounds from harps, flutes, guitars and drums could be heard everywhere, somehow bringing me back to my father’s childhood in Scotland. Listening to him tell the stories of mighty athletes competing, haggis and rolling pin hurls or the making of kilts, I never could feel the emotions of being at such an event, until I visited these games. Now, I can actually say that by being at these games, I know what it’s like to feel being Scottish. And, I am proud to say, that when someone asks me what my heritage is, I say that I am a Scottish Lassie.

“Le Mor Gradh,” Linda.

For more information on the Highland Games, please visit the Rhode Island Scottish Highland Festival’s web page: www.riscot.org and be Scottish for a day!

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