Sunday, September 20, 2009

Hooligans' Weekend, AKA The Highland Games

Sunday morning dawned with crisp air, frost on the fields and a clear blue sky. We set out early for Sugar Hill, north of Franconia, bound for Polly's Pancake Parlor. A real treat, if you're ever up that way.

As we drove through Franconia Notch, the fog had settled thickly in the valleys overnight, making the mountains look as though they were islands floating on an inland sea. Some of the maples were beginning to turn red and orange creating a vivid distraction as the sun struck the swamps.

It was a perfect ending to a terrific weekend at the Highland Games at Loon Mountain.

We hopped the shuttle bus early Friday morning and arrived at the clan tent before nine. It was cloudy and cold, with predictions of periodic showers during the afternoon. It felt as though it could have spit snow, but luckily, it didn't.

The crowds were non-existent, so it gave us a chance to actually see the goings-ons, and of course, buy trinkets and eat without waiting in lines that can stretch for 50 or 60 feet. We searched for tea and coffee then set out to explore the festivities.

After awhile, I settled into the clan tent and got down to the business of selling my books, as well as the factual historicals about the clan,  talking to people about the Donnachaidh history, and generally heckling those looking for a bit of…well, heckling. You can always tell those folks. They'll walk over with a mischievous look in their eye, then ask if this is the tent where they can get a wee dram of Scottish elixir. This usually means they're already well into the drink by then and are out looking to see what kind of trouble they can get into. Mind you, they can be men or women up for this task! The men wear Laphroaig hats; the fine single malt Scotch they've enjoyed at the Scotch Tastings. The women wear the "Official Kilt Inspector" t-shirts in search of…I don't know, shortest kilt, perhaps?

But mostly, it's people who want to talk about where they come from. We give them as much information as we can, sell them a book or two, a decal, a bit of Robertson ribbon, etc., and send them on their way.

Then there are those with stories they want to share.

Two sisters came up to me asking about their heritage. "We've got some of this clan, some of that clan, and oh, yeah, and some Campbell blood."

"Sssh!" I said, making them flinch. "You never want to say that in this tent, or many of the other tents, for that matter!"

"We've heard the stories," they assured me in a whisper. "Our mum's a true Campbell. Stubborn and nasty to the bone."

I couldn't help but laugh at their candor and say, "The Campbells stick together because no one else'll have them. You should stop in at their tent and introduce yourselves."

They looked at each other and shook their heads. "No, we're a little scared of what might happen," they said, still whispering.

Meanwhile, my husband was busy in his "Kept Man" t-shirt, advertising for my books and getting a lot of laughs, and even some promises to visit the tent to see what my books were all about. I was with him on one such occasion when a woman said she'd stop in. He said thank you and I stood there smiling. Then it dawned on me that I should have been the one to thank her and said as much. She just laughed.

At about 4:00 pm, we buttoned up the tent and secured it as well as we could. The wind had really started to pick up, so we all knew what that meant for unwary booth attendants. Overnight would be interesting.

Saturday morning, the wind was still gusty and we wondered what we'd find when we got to the tent. We had done a fine job of anchoring it, as it was still in place, but the tent masters, Doug and Sue Newton, and Herb and Mary Ann Dobbins said there was tent carnage all over the place when they arrived, nearly an hour before us. Some tents were ripped from their stakes in the tar and strewn all over the fairground. Flags, tartans, pamphlets—including raffle tickets to the Caribbean—tartan dog collars, and other interesting items flew around the clan village. It's a hard way to learn about the wind.

Saturday is the day where all the clans—63 all totaled—were to parade onto the field holding their standards high and shouting out their war cry as they're called. I was asked to participate this year! A real honor, as I'm not even Scottish. So four of us marched around clan village then onto the field. It's a brilliant display of tartans and costumes. Very fun.

Our clan's war cry is Fierce When Roused. It's been misprinted to read Fierce when Aroused, much to the delight of many. I had convinced Herb, Doug and Diane to say it the Gàidhlig, which is Garg 'n uair dhuisgear! This is pronounced GARG-en OOR GHOOSH-kar. They had been saying Garden Weasel. Sad, very sad.

So when Clan Donnachaidh was called we shouted it out, well, Herb said it in English, but we all shouted it proudly.

When the Campbells were called, a small group in the audience whoohoo'd, and the Historic Highlanders, the roughest of the bunch—barefooted and long-haired and carrying targes and broadswords—turned, as though practiced, drew their swords and held up their targes against the rebel clan. Even after hundreds of years, some Scots hold a grudge against them! I couldn't help but grin wondering how many others had seen the display.

Then, we marched back to our tent and I proceeded to sell my little heart out.

People of all ages are in the pipe bands. Here's an example of a young man getting a "tuneup."

Drummers practicing.

And the Royal Scots Guard was there with their beautiful uniforms and wonderfully decorated drums.

The "Heavies", the Highland athletes, toss the sheaf which weighs about 20 pounds, over the bar being held up by the lift.

And, they carry the stones. If two or more competitors carry the stones the entire length of the field, heavier stones are then used. In 2004 at the New Hampshire Highland Games, the record carry is a pair of stones weighing 508 pounds carried just under 100 feet.

Here are some other links to YouTube to experience at least a little of what goes on at the Games, such as the traditional pipers of the Massed Bands, the very non-traditional pipers of the Red Hot Chilli Pipers doing their rendition of Coldplay's, Clocks, and of course, Albannach just doing what they do.


VP said...

Hi Mary,

Great account of the games! Not only was your day selling books successful, your being there dovetails nicely with Clan Donnachaidh's goals also. The clan welcomed 18 new members during the 3-day weekend. That is the highest number I have experienced since becoming involved in staffing the clan tent. Thanks to you and Dan for being there and sharing the time with all of us.

I love the picture of you standing at the corner of the clan tent. It was clearly taken before the great winds as the Clan Donnachaidh name is still spelled out boldly on the red table cloth. Those letters were flopping in the gusty wind and blowing all over the clan village by mid-day Saturday.

'Til next time.

Mary Duncan said...


I'm grateful to the clan for allowing me into the tent to peddle my books. It's great to talk with all the people who are interested in their heritage, and I'm happy to "guide" people into signing up for a membership.

As for the big winds, we know the Games are thrilling in more ways than one! And we always have a great time with you and Sue, then add in Herb and Mary Ann, well, the laughs never stop.

Thanks again for having us. Until next year...