Stephen Quillin, President of Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, tells the story and importance of the event | mountain time


LINVILLE — The North Carolina History Museum hosted an online information session titled “History and Highballs” with Grandfather Mountain Highland Games President Stephen Quillin on April 14.

Until the 19th century, North Carolina was the most important settlement area for Highland Scots. Many Scottish immigrants settled in the colony of North Carolina, cultivating cultural traditions that endure today.

According to historian William S. Powell, today’s Highland Games and cultural events “are the result of ancient Celtic tests of strength and fitness, as well as competitive activities that later took place during cattle fairs, or “rendezvous”, in Scotland. Games include throwing large objects, dancing, bagpipes and other events.

The Grandfather Mountain Highland Games began in 1956 and was organized by Agnes Morton and Donald F. MacDonald. The games are played in a natural field on the side of Grandfather Mountain, MacRae Meadow, approximately 4,400 feet above sea level.

Quillin said the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games are the “largest gathering of Scottish clans and family societies on the planet, anywhere in the world”, and this year around 115 societies will take to the field. He said these games, while not the biggest or oldest, are some of the most traditional.

“The events we have are very much focused on the Highland Games that you would have seen in Scotland 75, 100, 150 years ago in traditional Highland sporting events,” Quillin said. “We can’t have a monstrous field of athletes, but we can have very high quality athletics.”

Quillin said dancers come from all over the world to compete in the Highland Dance Competition and the piping is done by soloists due to lack of space for groups. The Scottish Cultural Village usually hosts around 200 people and presents a series of information sessions.

Camping is considered a unique aspect of games at Grandfather Mountain.

“These campers enjoy the games and they also enjoy the camaraderie they can have in the campground,” Quillin said. “Campgrounds have these little villages that they’ve created… They’re choice families, maybe not blood families, but choice families and they refer to each other as their ‘family. of Mountain “.”

The tartan parade takes place on Sundays and a representative from each clan and family society parades. Calling of Clans is a Thursday evening torch lighting ceremony where each family is recognized. The Grandfather Mountain Highland Games then take place from Friday to Sunday. Concerts are held on Friday and Saturday nights, one being Celtic rock and the other traditional music with various jam sessions.

Scholarships are awarded annually by the organizers of the nonprofit organization to graduating students from Avery County High School who wish to further their education. All scholarships are for four years financial support for higher education.

“We try to put as much goodwill as possible into Avery County and we try to put our money where our goodwill is,” Quillin said. “The North Carolina Department of Tourism says our economic footprint is between three and four million dollars annually now…A large portion of the revenue goes to Avery County and our support of the school system.”

The Grandfather Mountain Highland Games also supports the Scottish arts by providing financial aid and awarding scholarships to Scottish dancing schools, bagpipe and drum lessons and other educational endeavours.

Quillin said that for him and many others, the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games has become a family tradition.

“People who were at Grandfather Mountain as children are still at Grandfather Mountain Highland Games as adults, grandparents and great-grandparents,” Quillin said. “But more importantly, maybe their children and their children’s children will come to the games and it’s a very important part of their life, their family, their story and the story that their family will have to tell. to those who will come after.”

For more information on the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, visit

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Jennifer R. Strohm