Murray gets a taste of Scotland with annual Highland Festival

Participants perform a Scottish dance for the Highland Festival on Saturday. || Kristen Allen/The News

Participants perform a Scottish dance for the Highland Festival on Saturday. || Kristen Allen/The News

Murray State students may not be aware the name “Murray” has a Scottish heritage and has been home to the Highland Festival since 2006.

The Highland Festival took place Saturday Oct. 27 at Central Park. Vendors sold Scottish merchandise including kilts, jewelry, stained glass and other related items. There was a game of Tug-of-War, a sheep herding demonstration, games such as Caber Toss, Hammer Throw, Wee Bairn Games and Sheaf toss. The Scottish rock band Highland Reign also performed. Participants had the oppurtunity to take part in the Parade of Tartans, which began at noon.

The festival began 13 years ago in Paducah, Ky., but was moved to Murray because the city is affiliated with Scottish heritage.

Debbie McConnachie, President of the Highland Festival, has worked hard for the past year to make this year’s festival possible.

“(The festival is) just all of us getting together and really enjoying each other’s company and learning more things about Scotland and finding out where we came from,” McConnachie said.

Eight hundred people attended the festival this year, up by 200 from last year’s 600 guests. Children ages 5-12 were able to compete in the Wee Bairn games, ancient athletic games changed to age-appropriate for children. Awards were given to the 1st, 2nd and 3rd place winners and all other participants were given participation medals.

The game of Tug-of-War was new to the festival this year and there were only four entries. McConnachie was hoping to get more Murray State participation particularly with the fraternities because the festival gives five hundred dollars to the winner to give to their charity.

“This year the Murray Fire Department came in first so they will be getting a five hundred dollar check from us for their charity of choice,” McConnachie said.

Western Kentucky has many residents with a Scottish background. McConnachie’s grandparents had a Scottish background and her husband is originally from Scotland. However, the festival had vendors and guests from Indiana, Illinois, Tennessee and Missouri.

“I hope they take a lot of information away as far as their heritage goes – back to different families that they may be kin to,” McConnachie said. “There’s just a lot of interesting history, food, clothing, anything that you may want to know about Scotland, you can find out the information here.”

Robert Valentine, Murray State advertising senior lecturer, emceed the weekend festival. He has emceed several Scottish Highl­and Games in various locations including Louisiana and Tennessee. He has been going to the festival since it moved to Murray and enjoys it every year.

“It’s always been very fun,” Valentine said. “You meet a lot of nice people, very talented musicians, gifted dancers and a lot of people really enjoy coming to a festival like this just to have a good time and learn a little bit about another culture.”

Throughout his years attending the festival, Valentine has noticed many international students attending the festival. He said they seemed to have thoroughly enjoyed learning about the Scottish heritage.

“Since I’ve been in Murray, I noticed a number of foreign students – Arabic students, Chinese students – come to the festival and perhaps learn a little bit more about the Scottish heritage in the United States,” Valentine said.

Valentine said he thinks it doesn’t matter where your grandparents are from; if someone attends the festival, they are welcomed with open arms.

“Highland Games is like a big family reunion,” Valentine said. “People who have connections to Scotland, Ireland, Celtic people – for them it’s like a family reunion, but they approach it in such a way that they want to include as many people, to educate as many people.”

Once the festival ended, guests were invited to attend the Ceilidh, the Scottish word for party, at 7 p.m. at the Big Apple Cafe.

For more information about the festival, visit wkyhighlandfestival.com.

Story by Dominique Duarte, Staff writer.