Annual Scottish Invasion of Greenville and Furman University - TribPapers
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Annual Scottish Invasion of Greenville and Furman University

Class B caber tossers waiting for their turn.

Asheville – Western North Carolina and the Upstate have one of the highest concentrations of Scots and Scots Irish decent. These mountains and foothills reminded them of a home they loved but had to leave. Their ancestors have been here for generations. 

Every year, Gallabrae, on Memorial Day weekend, people gather from all over, including honored guests from Scotland, to celebrate this common heritage and to give military honor to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Drum majors in full regalia lead the drum and pipe bands to close the games.
Drum majors in full regalia lead the drum and pipe bands to close the games.

It’s a weekend filled with bagpipes and drums, braw men, bonnie women, and wee lads and lassies, border collie demonstrations, Celtic music, and men and women competing in the heavy traditional athletics. You never know if you are standing next to a Lord, a Baron, or just your average Scot. And yes, these are real titles bestowed, sometimes centuries ago, by the crown. 

This years event started on Friday, May 27th, with the Great Scots! parade, led by The Royal Highland Fusiliers (Princess Margaret’s Own Glasgow and Ayrshire Regiment). This Scottish infantry regiment was formed in 1959. This is the 10th year that they have acted as honor guard for the games.

Saturday morning started with the Parade of Tartans and Special Guest, Dr Joseph J Morrow, The Lord Lyon, King of Arms, followed by full military honors for Memorial Day. This military tribute included paratroopers parachuting onto the field with large flags, a four plane flyover finishing with the missing man formation, massed bands (drum and bagpipe), recognition of veterans, taps, and a gun salute followed by the playing of Amazing Grace.

Kevin Miller in the Over 50 Master class "Light Weight for Distance" throw, ready to release the 28 lb metal weight. Photo submitted.
Kevin Miller in the Over 50 Master class “Light Weight for Distance” throw, ready to release the 28 lb metal weight. Photo submitted.

Then “Let the games begin!” But what are these games exactly? 

According to the website scottishheavyathletics.com, “The Highland games are festivals held throughout the year…as a way of celebrating Scottish and Celtic culture and heritage. In their original form many centuries ago, Highland games revolved around athletic and sports competitions. Through these competitions the king would select the finest athletes to be his personal guard and entourage. The games were also a way for the clans to demonstrate their relative strength to each other without actually having to go to war. Some of the implements used in the games were created as alternatives to traditional weapons when England forbid any Scotsman from bearing arms.”

Forty-three clans or societies were represented this year. When asked why the Scottish Highland games are important to her, Karen Kennedy of Clan Kennedy said, “I always wanted to learn about my Scottish heritage and genealogy, and the games were a great way to do that. But what I found was a group of people that are like an extended family to me. I love dressing up, visiting with friends, watching the athletes, and the music. It’s like a big family reunion.”

It takes amazing strength and coordination, and both men and women participate. Some of these athletes are professionals who compete in games across the country. 

The Sheaf Toss is where a bundle of straw (the sheaf) weighing 20 pounds (9 kg) for the men and 10 pounds (4.5 kg) for the women, and wrapped in a burlap bag, is tossed vertically with a pitchfork over a raised bar much like that used in pole vaulting. 

The Hammer Throw uses a round metal ball (weighing 16 or 22 lb. for men or 12 or 16 lb. for women) attached to the end of a shaft about 4 feet in length. With the feet in a fixed position, the hammer is whirled about one’s head and thrown for distance over the shoulder. 

The Stone Throw is similar to the modern-day shot put as seen in the Olympic games. Instead of a steel shot, a large stone of variable weight is often used.

Weight for Distance has two separate events, one using a light (28 lb. for men and 14 lb. for women) and the other a heavy (56 lb for men, 42 lb. for masters men, and 28 lb for women) weight. The weights are made of metal and have a handle attached by means of a chain. The implement is thrown with one hand using any technique, usually a spinning technique. The longest throw wins.

The Caber Toss is perhaps the best known. It’s basically like throwing a telephone pole. The Caber is a tree that has been cut and trimmed down so one end is slightly wider than the other. It can vary length from 16 to 22 feet and between 100 and 180 pounds. The idea is to flip the caber so that the large end hits the ground and the small end flips over and faces away from the thrower.

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