Highland Games connect Mainers with Scottish roots

A choir of pipers rang out on Thomas Point Beach and Campground this weekend as thousands of people from New England and beyond gathered in Brunswick for the 43rd Maine Highland Games and Scottish Festival.

The celebration, organized by the St. Andrews Society of Maine, featured an unbroken series of traditional Scottish competitions in athletics, Highland dancing and bagpipes, as well as sheepdog displays, historical re-enactments and more.

“We try to offer something for everyone,” said George Newell, group president. “My motto is, ‘You are welcome, Scottish or not.'”

The celebration began Friday evening with a Ceilidh, a traditional Gaelic gathering featuring music and dancing.

The line of cars waiting to enter the campgrounds on Saturday morning for the opening ceremonies of the games stretched for more than half a mile. Delegations from dozens of clan organizations took turns shouting battle cries, before St. Andrews Society of Maine Vice President Jimmy Rodden discussed the history of the event.

Although modern highland games date back to the 19th century, they have deeper roots in the past. The Maine games, part of a tradition that has spread across the world, give those with ties to Scotland a chance to come together and celebrate their shared cultural background, according to Newell.

“We do it because we love our heritage,” he said. “We must remember our past.”

The Maine Ulster Scots Project, which had set up two tents at the festival on Saturday, is particularly dedicated to uncovering that past, said chair Rebecca Graham. The group researches and preserves the history of migrants to Northern Ireland, many of whom originate from Scotland.

Maine, which according to census data has the highest number of people claiming Scottish or Scots-Irish ancestry in the United States, continues to feel the presence of the Northern Irish settlers who have begun to arrive. in 1718, she said.

“(Being) stubborn, not prone to being impressed by big credentials, being impressed by character — those are things that are deep in Maine,” Graham said. “They are also deeply Northern Irish.”

Brenda Aldrich and Doris Barratt of Clan Macnachtan traveled from Walpole, New Hampshire in hopes of discovering more relatives. The couple have been attending similar events for over 40 years, including six this summer alone.

“As soon as the pipe bands start playing in the spring, we’ll be ready to pack up and go,” Barratt said. ” I do not know what it is. I guess it’s in your blood.

Newer to the fold were Brian and Karen Urquhart of North Andover, Massachusetts, who were attending their first Highland games. Brian Urquhart said he made the trip to learn more about his legacy and to enjoy musical acts like the Seán Heely Band.

“There’s a wide variety of food and entertainment and a nice shaded campground on a hot day,” Urquhart said. “It’s amazing.”

Athletes participating in traditional competitions like sheaf throwing, stone throwing and hammer throwing were far from their ancestral lands. But the sounds of the pipes were almost enough to transport Newell to the Highlands.

“One day I will go to Scotland,” he said. “But it’s a bit like Scotland in Maine.”

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Jennifer R. Strohm