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McRae Meadows during Grandfather Mountain Highland Days
McRae Meadows during Grandfather Mountain Highland Games. Photo: Hugh Morton

Grandfather Mountain Highland Games

Held every year, the second full weekend in July, near Linville, North Carolina amidst spectacular mountain scenery, the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games is the largest assembly of clan society members in the world. Scottish-Americans, Scotch-Irish Americans, Scots and would-be Scots converge each year on two rock-strewn pastures, known as MacRae Meadows, in the shadow of Grandfather Mountain, at 5,964 ft., one of the highest peaks in the Blue Ridge mountains. Attendance figures have soared to between 30,000 and 40,000 from a start of approximately 1,500 in 1956. The Games were started as a one-day event, but have since been extended to three days of traditional entertainment and competitions.

The Games open with a Hill Race on Thursday afternoon and an impressive Torchlight Ceremony on that evening to "summon the clans." On Friday, in the Highland Games, "heavies," beefy athletes clad in kilts, throw weights for distance or height; twirl the Scottish hammer, a cannon-ball attached to a wooden shaft; toss tree trunks end-over-end (the "caber toss"); or "toss the sheaf" (pitch-fork a 20-pound sack of hay over a crossbar). In track events which have been a major feature of the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games from the beginning, athletes in more conventional athletic garb, i.e. running shorts, compete in track competitions such as one- and two-mile foot races, sprints and dashes, high jumps, triple jumps and pole vaulting. For a time, archery, fencing, and a sailboat regatta on Loch Dornie at the Grandfather Golf and Country Club were featured, but later abandoned.

Other events include the Tug o' War, the Kilted Mile (for adults) and the Kilted Quarter Mile (for children), and a Kilted Clan Mile, where a representative of each clan races for their "kith 'n' kin." A Grandfather Mountain Marathon extends from Appalachian State University's stadium in Boone for 26.22 miles over up-hill terrain. The "Bear," a Hill-Race to the summit of the peak of Grandfather Mountain, is an example of another traditional Highland game which can't be replicated at another location.

Athletic competitions are only a part of the festivities. One of the crowd pleasers each year is a demonstration of sheep herding by border collies. In the wooded glades beyond the athletic track and fields, there are simultaneous competitions in piping, drumming, Highland dancing, Scots fiddling, playing the Celtic harp, and Jews harp. There is also contra (country) dancing in which costumed couples weave intricate patterns. On Friday night, a "Celtic Jam," live entertainment of Celtic and mountain music, takes place, followed on Saturday by an outdoor Celtic Rock concert. In the "Celtic Groves," three tree-shaded areas, running continuously during the three days of the Games are performances by instrumentalists and vocalists offering a variety of music, from folk songs in the Lowland Scottish dialect to bluegrass. A Gaelic Sing-a-long offers phonetic helps to allow visitors to sing folk songs in the mother tongue. Children's activities include face-painting, sack races and tug 'o war. Genealogists are on hand to trace visitors' Scottish ancestry. And, of course, there are meetings of clan societies. More clan societies -- now totaling 175 -- congregate here than in any other part of the world.

The most popular event is the célilidh, a Friday evening of entertainment: singing, piping, dancing, fiddling, harping. But a great part of the appeal of the Games is the location itself, in an area reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands, where those Scottish by birth or by interest gather to celebrate their heritage.

Project documentation comprises an extensive 29-page written report entitled "America's Braemar," by Donald F. McDonald, co-founder of the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games; eight 8 x 9 black-and-white photos, sixteen mounted color photos of various sizes, and a color panoramic photo of MacRae Meadows; a booklet , A Guide to the Highland Games; a complete set of programs for each year of the games (1956-1999); four posters from past Games; multiple copies of a promotional brochure for the July 2000 Games; and 4 videotapes showing excerpts of the 1981, 1985, 1994, and 1996 Games.

Originally submitted by: Jesse Helms, Senator.

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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