Dunedin’s annual Highland Games celebrate the community’s Scottish heritage

DUNEDIN, FL – Dig your tartans and kilts. It’s time for the biggest ceilidhs in Florida.

The Scottish Gaelic word meaning “gathering” or “party”, ceilidhs have been an integral part of the Scottish American city of Dunedin since the 19th century.

But it wasn’t until 1965 that Tampa Bay’s biggest Scottish festival, the Dunedin Highland Games and Festivalorganized by the Scottish American Society of Dunedinhas become the city’s flagship celebration.

This year around 10,000 people will attend the event, according to Eric MacNeill of the Dunedin Scottish Arts Foundation.

The event, always held on the first Saturday in April (although it was canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic) is organized by the foundation. Its mission is to bring an authentic touch of homeland to Florida’s Gulf Coast with traditional Scottish Highland games like caber toss and shot put, pipe bands, foods such as haggis, cranachan and stovies, as well as highland dancing and ghillies.

Donaldson and his wife, Moira, are proud of their Scottish heritage. Together they own and operate Lothian kilt hire and bagpipe supplies1570 Main St. in Dunedin, a family business founded in 1965.

Much like the nearby town of Tarpon Springs, which developed its rich Greek culture and traditions after it was founded by Greek sponge divers, Dunedin’s Scottish heritage is the legacy of its settlers.

Richard L. Garrison acquired the land grant in 1852 for the settlement which was originally called Jonesboro in honor of George Jones, the owner of the trading area.

But the picturesque Florida town’s Scottish roots can be traced to two Scotsmen, JO Douglas and James Somerville, who called for the opening of the first post office in northern Pinellas County. The app referred to the city as Dunedin, a word taken from the Scottish Gaelic word for Edinburgh, “Dùn Èideann”.

With a quay built to accommodate larger sailboats along Dunedin’s 4 mile coastline, Dunedin became a major trading center and at one time had the largest fleet of sailboats in the state.

A major feature and launch event for the 54th edition of the Dunedin Highland Games and Festival will take place on Friday at 6.30pm with the annual Pipe Band Park through historic Dunedin city center from Louden Avenue heading north on Main Street, heading west to Broadway, then south to Scotland Street where the parade will continue to Douglas Avenue and across Main Street to Pioneer Park.

Led by the Dunedin Fire Service Honor Guard, the parade will feature the foundation’s honorary chief and other dignitaries, the good girl and the boy, pipe bands from across the country and from as far away as Scotland, and at least 10 Scottish clans or kinship groups of people descended from old Scottish families who have their own coats of arms, heraldry and tartan designs used for Balmoral kilts, sashes and caps.

After the parade, there will be a block party on Broadway.

The fun continues on Saturday at Highlander Park in Dunedin starting with the Highland Trail 5K Run.

In Scotland, it is traditional to wear your clan’s kilt when racing, and many runners have adopted this tradition in Dunedin.

While the Highland Trail 5K Run lacks the rigors of traditional Scottish races that take runners through the Scottish highlands, it offers panoramic views of Dunedin Hammock Park with its mixed deciduous forest with over 300 native species trees, shrubs, ferns and wildflowers. .

The race, for all levels of runners, starts and ends at Highlander Park.

From 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. at Highlander Park, 1920 Pinehurst Road, visitors can attend Highland Games, pipe and drum competitions, the Florida Open Highland Dance Championship, see sheep, browse vendors selling Scottish produce and crafts, visit the food court and beer tent and control booths sponsored by various clans and societies.

The opening ceremonies are scheduled for noon.

It will also include activities for children, including traditional sack racing, arts and crafts, face and ball artists, and age-appropriate sporting events.

Festival tickets are $20 at the door with children 12 and under admitted free with a paying adult.

For the latest information, visit Dunedin Highland Games and Festival Facebook page.


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Jennifer R. Strohm