Gathering of the Clans
The Glasgow Highland Games is a celebration of all things Scottish with entertainment for the entire family
A muscular man clad in a tartan kilt bends over an 18-foot-long wooden pole, carefully picks up one end in his cupped hands, lifts and balances it on his shoulder, and, crouching, lumbers forward several feet and heaves the huge object. The pole strikes the ground and flips over once. A cheer rises from the fascinated onlookers.
Welcome to the caber toss, one of the colorful athletic events that will be staged at the annual Glasgow Highland Games, held May 31-June 3 at Barren River Lake State Resort Park near Glasgow.
And if the phrase “don’t try this at home” ever applied, it surely does to an event in which a hardy soul seeks to pick up and toss a 130-pound pole so that it lands just right. Only professionals need apply.
Half a dozen burly professional caber tossers, as well as 10-20 amateurs, are expected to be on hand for the festival.
This celebration of all that is Scottish dates from 1986. It was then that four Glasgow civic leaders saw the success of similar festivals in the South and decided that a city named after Scotland’s largest city would be a natural venue for such an event.
The Glasgow Highland Games has mushroomed over the years. Bob Harrison is the event’s president and a founder.
“We’ve grown from having originally 13 family groups to 90 to 95,” Harrison notes. “And our attendance went from about 1,000 that first year to up to 20,000 now. Our goal is to be the number-one Celtic festival in the United States,” Harrison says.
Harold Maxwell, a Bowling Green businessman, has been a regular attendee. He proudly wears the tartan of the Maxwell clan to each Highland Games. Tartan is a material woven in Scotland, with a specific pattern made of colored threads woven at right angles to each other. In America, we call it plaid. Each family, or clan, has a distinctive pattern and color scheme that distinguishes it from another.
Maxwell likes to sleep on the spacious grounds of the resort park. Several groups—the High Cross Society, Project Noah, and the Society of Creative Anachronism among them—set up a primitive camp during the games. Members dress in centuries-old costumes and re-create community life of various periods, some re-enacting battle scenes dating back to the Roman occupation of Scotland.
Maxwell participates in the ax-throwing competition and says he also enjoys observing athletic competitions, ranging from wrestling to stone and hammer throwing. Also on tap each year are pipe and band competitions, in which the mournful cry of the bagpipe echoes throughout the hills of the park.
“I love it all,” Maxwell says. “I go early and I’m the last one to leave.”
For Maureen Hendrick, the Highland Games’ executive secretary, an important part of the event is the opportunity for a visitor to learn more about his or her Scottish roots by visiting a clan’s tent.
“The people in the clan tents are incredibly knowledgeable about their individual history,” Hendrick says.
Also on tap are a parade and concert on Friday night in downtown Glasgow, dances on Saturday night at the park, and musical entertainment throughout the weekend. Both country dancing and the more formal Highland dance will be performed during the festival as well.
Musical entertainment by leading Celtic groups is scheduled throughout the weekend.
Monica Conrad, park manager at Barren River Lake State Resort Park, says the Glasgow Games are a welcome draw for the park.
This year, guests will enjoy 18 newly renovated guest rooms, electrical improvements at park shelters, and a new children’s playground.
GOING TO THE GLASGOW HIGHLAND GAMES?
The Glasgow Highland Games will be held May 31-June 3 at Barren River Lake State Resort Park near Glasgow. From Glasgow, take U.S. 31E south about 12 miles to the park entrance. Two-day advance tickets covering Saturday and Sunday general admission are $20. Children’s two-day admission is $5. For more information, visit the event Web site at www.glasgowhighlandgames.com or call (270) 651-3141.