Gathering of the clans in Anne Arundel County Competition: Scottish Highland Games bring culture and spirit of "Braveheart" to area.

Up Front

October 09, 1997|By Jarrett Graver | Jarrett Graver,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

It's hard to believe that a pair of flinty blue eyes and two knobby knees under a tartan kilt could grant a whole nation of hale and hearty people instant international cachet, but that's just what happened a few years ago, when Mel Gibson's rabble-rousing blockbuster, "Braveheart," endeared Scotland, that rugged little chunk of real estate north of England, to millions worldwide.

This Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Sixth Annual Anne Arundel Scottish Highland Games at the county fairgrounds in Crownsville, you too can revel in the vibrant and richly textured culture that has flourished for a thousand years, long before any expensive Hollywood film crews could capture it on celluloid.

Play word-association with the notion of all things Scottish, and you are likely to come up with the usual suspects: kilts, bagpipes, haggis, etc. The old standards will all be represented heavily at this year's Highland Games, but the event's organizer, the Anne Arundel Scottish Festival Inc., is not interested in offering patrons a mere cataloging of all their expectations and stereotypes.

"It is very much an ethnic thing," says John Dodds, the president and founder of the Anne Arundel Scottish Festival Inc., in his charming Scottish burr, "but we also want it to be correct and authentic." To that end, the games will also offer eclectic diversions, such as the chance to get up close and personal with real Highland cattle, Clydesdale horses, sheep dogs and Scottish deerhounds. Young and old alike are invited to come and meet these majestic ambassadors of the old country, some of which are bred in Cockeysville and Mount Airy.

"It's great for the kids. These are animals that they might never get to experience otherwise," Dodds says with a laugh. "It's almost like a Scottish petting zoo."

Certainly, the most spirited part of the Anne Arundel Highland Games will be the games themselves, wherein nine professional athletes will take part in seven competitions to determine an overall winner. "These are some of the finest athletes of their kind in the entire world," says Dodds. "We have the Canadian champion, the American champion, and the overall world champion all competing at this year's festival. To give you an idea of the level of competition, the president of the Highland Games Athletic Association will be coming to the games because there is an excellent chance that several world records will be set."

In keeping with Scotland's brawny image, most of the seven events involve sturdy men attempting to carry or throw heavy objects long distances. "The Farmer's Walk," for example, will require the athletes, some of whom have participated in "World's Strongest Man" competitions, to carry 150-pound weights in each hand as far as possible. The caber toss involves the end-over-end throwing of a 120-pound, 15-foot pole, although the goal here is accuracy more than distance.

Dodds insists on a professionals-only rule "because we don't want anyone to get hurt. The athletes have to work their way up through different levels of competition, and there is an accreditation process."

The day is not all about sweat and toil. There also will be drumming, fiddling and dance competitions, as well as children's games and Scottish historic military groups.

Food and beverages will be available, with vendors offering a variety of traditional Scottish foods like meat pies and sausage rolls, as well as fish and chips -- and hamburgers.

Musical entertainment will be offered throughout the day. The HighlandAires, Bonnie Rideout, Carl Peterson and the Homespun Ceilidh Band will entertain festival-goers.

At 11: 30 a.m., the Parade of Clans will show the colors and crests of more than 35 Scottish clans.

A clan, of course, is sort of a Scottish version of an extended family -- make that very extended. "The clan McDonald is one of the biggest clans of all," says Dodds, "but your name doesn't need to be McDonald to be a part of the clan." Indeed, "seps," or families that at one point were taken in by another clan for protection, can swell the ranks of a clan considerably.

At noon, after the Parade of Clans, will be the opening ceremonies, which will feature the Escort to the Colors from the St. Andrews Society of Baltimore and the Massed Pipe Bands. "The 17 pipe bands will play together during the opening ceremonies," explains Dodds, "and then compete against each other later in the day." The band that wins the overall competition will be presented with an ornate glass bowl, as well as the Jim Gray Silver Bowl for piping.

Nary a caber would have been tossed nor a pipe piped in this area if eight years ago, Dodds and six others of distinct Scottish lineage had not decided that representation of their heritage and culture in Annapolis was severely lacking. The area has a strong Scottish pulse even today.

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