LINVILLE — “From witnessing it, Friday and Saturday could’ve been record-setting days in regard to attendance.”
Those were the words of Thomas Taylor, Assistant General Manager of the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games on Monday, July 15, following the recently completed 64th edition of the annual Gathering of the Clans.
For more than 60 years, thousands upon thousands of attendants have gathered upon MacRae Meadows in mid-July for the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, a massive celebration of Celtic and Scottish culture.
The Games themselves are a series of athletic competitions steeped in Celtic culture, but The Highland Games goes far and beyond just athletics.
From Scottish music to the gathering of more than 100 Scottish clans, the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games plays host to one of the largest celebrations of Scottish heritage in America.
The setting of Grandfather Mountain is so effective, in part, because it is extremely reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands. The blue peaks of Grandfather loom over the MacRae Meadows, which were surrounded by hundreds of multicolored tents on July 11 to 14 for the 2019 edition of the GMHG.
“The interest in the Games is unbelievable,” Taylor noted. “It was a killer year. The Meadows were more crowded than I’ve ever seen them.”
The Games began on Thursday, July 11, with opening ceremonies and the running of “The Bear” a grueling five-mile race beginning in the town of Linville and ending atop 6,000-foot Grandfather Mountain.
Friday, Saturday, and Sunday were filled with competitions in heavyweight Scottish athletic events, Highland dancing competitions, bagpipe band parades, along with piping, drumming and harp competitions, sheep herding demonstrations by Scottish border collies and concerts featuring a wide variety of Celtic music.
At the center of all the activities, top Scottish athletes clashed in ancient heavyweight events such as the caber toss and tossing the sheaf. The first required an athlete to flip a telephone pole-sized tree trunk end-over-end, the second challenges athletes to dig a pitchfork into a sack of hay and toss it over a bar more than 20 feet above the ground.
Other archaic tests of strength that awaited the professionals were Highland wrestling, the hammer throw and various other weight throws.
On Friday, July 12, the Celtic Jam hosted traditional and contemporary Celtic music, while on Saturday, July 13, the Celtic Rock Concert held encore performances from some of the higher-energy bands.
In addition to the plethora of activities and events, an open market was set up just outside the entrance to the Games. There, attendees could purchase Gaelic and Celtic gift items while vendors sold Scottish meat pies and haggis, offering visitors an authentic taste of The Highlands.
“Each year seems to get bigger and bigger,” Taylor explained. “The public seemed happy and we got hardly any complaints, so if the crowd was happy then I consider it a successful year.”
According to Taylor, plans for next year’s 65th edition of the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games have already begun.
“It never stops,” Taylor said.