Highland Games in Linville celebrates Scottish heritage

The Grandfather Mountain Highlanders Pipe Band performs on Thursday, July 10, 2014 at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games in Linville, N.C. (Andrew Dye/Journal)

The Grandfather Mountain Highlanders Pipe Band performs on Thursday, July 10, 2014 at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games in Linville, N.C. (Andrew Dye/Journal)

LINVILLE, N.C. — After Mike Hunley connected with his Scottish clan on Friday there was one thing he had to do, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

And while he passed that test he also decided that once was enough.

At least that’s what Hunley said after trying haggis – a Scottish specialty that might be delicately described as made of sheep parts.

“You could probably eat it with chips,” he said, after taking his first couple bites. “It is a different flavor. I didn’t come here to eat my food. I came here to eat their food.”

Folks were savoring – or discovering – their Scottish heritage all over MacRae Meadows during the 59th annual Grandfather Mountain Highland Games.

Dozens of booths bearing banners with the names of Scottish clans ringed the meadows, and for anyone whose last name wasn’t the same as one of the clans there were usually many allied family names to cement a connection.

Alvin Tyndall and his wife Sylvia were there from Winston-Salem with their son Allen.

“About 25 years ago we came up with a friend,” Alvin Tyndall said, dressed in the hunting green tartan of Clan Ross. “We met different people in different clan groups, looking for family connections.”

Alvin Tyndall found out that his great-grandmother, who was a Corbett, belonged to one of the families allied with Clan Ross.

“So they said come on and join us because you’re part of the group.”

The music and the dancing were lively where young people took the stage to perform highland dances, but the competition was serious.

Maggie McGill, 16 years old and visiting from Land O’ Lakes, Fla., said highland dancing is a great way to keep fit.

“In my first competition I got a first, second and third, so I’ve been doing it ever since,” she said. She said she was learning a lot by watching the other dancers.

“You have to have posture,” she said. “A lot of people think it is just the legs but it is the whole body.”

Larry Satchwell, doing the announcing for the 22-pound hammer throw, said he had given up the sport.

“After 30 years your body takes a lot of abuse,” he said. “It is a lot of fun. I had the chief record up here for a number of years.”

The hammer is a metal ball at the end of a shaft that the contestant whirls around his head before letting it loose – hopefully in the right direction and at a good distance.

Later, guys tried to best each other in tossing the caber, which is basically a tree trunk shorn of its branches. The thing stands about 18 feet tall and can weigh 100 pounds.

Kids engaged in wrestling competitions, and dogs listened to their master’s whistle to herd sheep. The sound of bagpipes was ever-present, and folks who got the urge could even buy a set.

In a grove of trees, a Celtic rock band called Seven Nations included Will MacMorran on bagpipes, as an addition to the more typical rock lineup.

“I grew up playing traditional music and I’ve been playing the bagpipes for 10 years,” said MacMorran, who is 26. “This has been my living for the past eight years. We do rock clubs. We do more bagpipes at the highland festivals.”

David Sutherland of Alabama, visiting the festival with his family, said he has some Scottish ancestry but that “we are mostly mutts.”

“My wife is Italian,” he said. “On the way over I saw the fish and chips, then noticed they had Italian ice so we celebrated both cultures.”

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