By Mallory Leonard
Maryville College played host to the 34th annual Smoky Mountain Scottish Festival and Games, May 16-17. The home of the fighting Scots seems an appropriate venue for this event, although many of the attendants would say that pairing the words “fighting” and “Scots” is entirely redundant.
The festivities commenced on Friday night at the opening gala. People traveled from various states to be present, many having done so for as long as 20 years, and wear the tartans of their clans. This event celebrated the history and culture of the Scots who came through Wilmington, North Carolina, and settled in this area. Their descendants remained intimately connected with their heritage, and for many these games served as a family reunion.
The gala set the tone for the weekend, combining levity and gravity. Robert Valentine, this year’s compére or Master of Ceremonies, invited laughter with jokes about Scottish temperaments, as well as reverence with reminders of Scottish courage and innovation. Later the haggis was marched in, led by the piper and followed by the armed guard, and blessed by a recitation of Robert Burns’ “Address to a Haggis.” And of course the evening would not be complete without a whiskey toast.
A theme of the night, and the whole weekend, was the importance of cultural heritage. A person may belong to many histories and cultures, and there is joy and strength in celebrating them (in this case particularly if one of them is Scottish). With the ease of connectivity nowadays, actively pursuing one’s roots or engaging with other cultures has never been more readily possible or desirable.
As he spoke, the Chief of Clan Skene, the honored clan of this year’s Smoky Mountain games, expressed his hope that Scottish Americans would not limit their political interests to their country of residence; he wanted very much for the Scots across the pond to take an active interest in contemporary Scotland. And the invitation to connection and possibility was not restricted by genealogy. As Robert Valentine said in his address, “If you’re at the Scottish games this weekend, you’re Scots. Welcome home.”
On Saturday, the games opened to the public. Most people showed up in their kilts, but those that didn’t have one need not worry—there are plenty for sale. Food was even more plentiful. For those who’ve never tasted Scottish treats like haggis or deep-fried Snickers, this was the chance to do so. The bakery tent was especially busy, as was the beer tent. Clans had set up stands where visitors could come and learn about their families, and some have even been known to “adopt.”
At noon, massed bands of pipes and drums officially opened the Scottish games. This was truly a sight and sound to behold. Dozens of bagpipes accompanied by snares and basses: there’s just nothing else like it. As they played and marched with the Smokies in the background, these musicians brought the Highlands to the foothills.
Other exceptional exhibits included sheepdog demonstrations and, of course, the sports. Both were displays of incredible dedication. Everything at the Scottish games was remarkable, but one event that was especially outstanding was the caber toss. Athletes lifted an enormous tapered pole and launched it into the air. The goal was to have the top of the caber rotate to land on the ground, and it was clearly extremely difficult.
For good Scottish measure, the last day of the games was a drizzly one. Anyone who didn’t make it this year should definitely plan to attend in 2016. The Smoky Mountain Scottish Festival and Games do not disappoint.
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