Oklahoma’s Iron Thistle Scottish Games to continue Highland Games despite coronavirus pandemic

A version of this story appears in Friday’s Weekend Life section of The Oklahoman.

Still in the game

Scottish Iron Thistle festival continues with pandemic changes

YUKON – Traditional feats of strength – from throwing a long log called a caber butt to throwing a sheaf of straw with a pitchfork – will be on display this weekend at the Iron Thistle Scottish Festival.

As impressive as the Highland Games athletes undoubtedly are, festival organizers will attempt the equally powerful feat of hosting this long-running event despite the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s been tedious, but we’re really, really trying to get there because we know we have a lot of loyal fans. It’s the Celtic State Fair,” said Jonathan Irvin, athletic director of the Iron Thistle Scottish Festival.

For more than a decade, the United Scottish Clans of Oklahoma have honored traditions of Scotland and other Celtic nations at the annual Iron Thistle Scottish Festival at Mollie Spencer Farm in the Yukon, formerly known as Kirkpatrick Family Farm . Usually a springtime event, this year’s festival has been moved to this Saturday and Sunday and has undergone several changes due to the pandemic.

“When the weather is nice, it’s a very busy festival … and it’s run entirely by volunteers,” said Terri Folks, president of public relations. “This year it will be free, it’s outside and there will be social distancing.”

Kara Bonham of Fort Collins, Colo., Throws a Scottish hammer during the Iron Thistle Scottish Festival in Yukon, Oklahoma on Saturday, April 27, 2019. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman Archives]

Event stripped

Up to 8,000 people typically attend the festival, weather permitting. Both men and women are encouraged to wear kilts if they have them, although it is not mandatory.

While many Oklahoma festivals have been canceled in light of the pandemic, Folks said Iron Thistle organizers have instead chosen to scale the event down in a bid to continue while making it as safe as possible. under the circumstances.

“There are so many people that they’re so excited to have something to talk to,” she said.

Due to the current COVID-19 crisis, this year’s festival will skip the traditional Friday night start, which typically includes a clan torch calling ceremony and ceilidh, or an informal social gathering with folk music. , songs and stories.

The Iron Thistle Festival usually includes a full lineup of live music, Celtic dancing, and activities for the kids. But this year the event will be limited to the Highland Games, food vendors and trucks, Viking Village recreation, and a few other attractions.

New to this year’s festival will be the Wallace Sword Hold, named after the real Scottish hero played by Mel Gibson in the Oscar-winning film “Braveheart” in 1995.

“It’s a replica of William Wallace’s sword, and it’s like a grip test.… You must hold the sword away from you at shoulder level for X time, and if you are able to do so. , you It’s an honorary title, ”Irvin said. “The guess is that there were about 14,000 people who tried to keep it, and there were only six who actually could.”

Since the event has been downsized, organizers have waived the usual entrance fees, Irvin said, although attendees must sign a COVID-19 liability waiver to enter.

Festival-goers are encouraged to wear face masks, which vendors, volunteers and clan representatives will be required to wear. Social distancing will be encouraged and hand washing stations will be set up around the pitch.

“We’re hoping we can just give the city something to do because not much has happened,” Irvin said. “Just pick a champion in the field and back him up all day, eat your funnel cake or whatever and maybe have a beer.”

Marcelo Derousseau, from Kerrville, Texas, runs forward to throw the caber during the Iron Thistle Scottish Festival in Yukon, Oklahoma on Saturday, April 29, 2017. [The Oklahoman Archives]

Iconic attraction

Despite the changes, the festival will still sport its flagship attraction: the Highland Games.

In the minds of the ancient Scots, heavy athletes come together to compete in displays of strength and skill. Categories include Hammer Throw, Sheaf Throw, Stone Throw, and Caber Throw. The latter is always a crowd favorite, as athletes are called upon to throw a long log end to end, and ambitious competitors can also try to throw the very big “caber challenge”.

“It should humiliate a lot of people… but there’s money in it,” Irvin said. “People always want to see cabers (throwing), but challenge cabers are cool because they’re usually either ridiculously heavy or ridiculously long.”

About 70 athletes are expected to compete in this year’s Iron Thistle Highland Games, including a small but significant number of contenders in the elite female category.

“These women are top athletes,” Irvin said. “They’re going to be pretty amazing to watch.”

Between the fall period and free entry, Folks said she hopes this year’s festival will attract new attendees who will be interested in returning once the event returns to its usual size and scope.

“These are things you wouldn’t normally see.… You just don’t see people throwing those huge objects and stones from telephone poles. It’s totally unlike any other type of sporting event they’ve attended,” Folks said. “People are really looking for fun and family activities.”

Dean Ross of Tulsa competes in the wreath throwing during the Scottish Iron Thistle Festival in Yukon, Oklahoma on Saturday, April 27, 2019. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman Archives]


Scottish Iron Thistle Festival

When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Where: Mollie Spencer Farm (formerly known as Kirkpatrick Family Farm), 1001 Garth Brooks Blvd. in the Yukon.

Admission fee.

Coronavirus protocols: Masks and social distancing are encouraged, handwashing stations will be available, and participants are required to sign a COVID-19 liability waiver.

Information: www.unitedscotsok.com Where www.facebook.com/IronThistle.


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Jennifer R. Strohm