The Highland Games: May the clans be ever in your favor

By Da’Sha Tuck, Staff writer

Beginning as a secret way to train young Scottish men as warriors, the Highland Games still holds true to tradition through a three-day festival: Murray Highland Festival.

    This event is planned and funded by the West Kentucky Highland Society.

  “It is a form of, what is in Scotland, a summer and early fall entertainment,” said Robert Valentine, Master of Ceremonies and senior lecturer of advertising. “It’s like a county fair in a way.”

The Murray Highland Festival began on Friday, Oct., 21, with a free concert held at the Murray city park’s amphitheater.

     Highland Reign, a Scottish band, took the stage and played Celtic tunes as a kickoff for the festival.

West Kentucky Highland Society President Molly Canter said this event was not as well attended as Saturday’s events.

Athletic Competitions

Saturday events began at 9 a.m. with the athletic games.

Sports that were included were: sheaf toss, the hammer throw, the stone throw, weight toss for distance and for height and cabre toss.

The stone throw, Valentine said, is comparable to the shot put, a steel ball that is thrown for distance in track and field competitions. The only difference being that the stone used weighs around 56 pounds, which is significantly more than a shot put.

“I just bought 50 pounds of dog food the other night,” Valentine said. “I couldn’t throw it very far. These athletes throw it as far as 40 feet.”

Valentine said there is an interesting spirit of competition and cooperation involved with the athletic events.

He said the athletes watch out for each other by letting everyone know of holes in the ground or slippery spots. They also coach each other.

The caber (log) toss, Valentine said, is the must see event. A small pine tree is stood upright with the smallest end on the ground. The athlete puts his hands under the tree and attempts to flip it The “perfect turn of the caber” is when the smallest end is as far away from the athlete as possible. 

The sheaf toss, which Valentine said, imitated an old agricultural training was another sport. Athletes, using a pitchfork, toss a burlap bag full of rope, to simulate the weight of a bail of wheat, and see how high they can throw it. Valentine said this is how wheat was put into barns.

Valentine said he always gets excited to see the hammer throw. A 12 pound ball of steel mounted on a 32 inch rod is considered a “wee hammer” in the Scottish games. For this sport, the contestant takes the hammer and swings it around his head, to gain momentum, and then he/she releases it. The winner is judged by whose hammer goes the farthest.

The other event is the weight toss for height and the weight toss for distance. Both events use a steel weight, that weighs anywhere from 25 to 56 pounds.

Honoring The Clans

Families in the Scottish culture are referred to as clans. Each clan has its own, very distinct, tartan which common people would call plaid.

Valentine said these clans are very organized. He said they send representatives to highland festivals all over the country.

The clans are there to represent their family name, he said.

“In this part of the country 70 percent of the people who live here can trace their ancestry back to Scotland and Ireland,” Valentine said.  “The Scots don’t care; heritage can pass through the woman’s side of the family as well as the man’s.”

Some of the clans that were present this year were: Donald, McKintosh, MacGregor, Napier, Shaw, McLaren, Davidson, McKinnon, Pollock, Cochran and McTavish.

Food Fun and Crafts

Various vendors were selling food, clothing, jewelry and other trinkets during the festival.

Those who were present included: Got Kilt, The Keg, Keeney Scottish Tinkerer, Tokens of Antiquity, Peace, Love and Barnwood, Aire Castle Stained Glass and West Kentucky Highland Society.

Canter said the West Kentucky Highland Society begins planning for the next year’s festival as soon as the current one is over.

She said this year participants and vendors are saying this was the best Murray Highland Festival yet. She believes that was because over 2,000 people came. That, she said, was directly related to the free admission they were able to offer because of the donation from Independence bank.

The Kirkin’ O’ The Tartans

To end the weekend, a special Kirk (church) service was held at The First Presbyterian Church in Murray.

Pastor Renee Meyer said she and the congregation were proud to celebrate the blessing of the tartans.

“The service not only honored our Scottish Presbyterian heritage but families of Scottish descent as well as our Christian family of faith here and across the globe,” Meyer said.

Meyer said, when the Scots were defeated by the English there was a ban on wearing tartans but the Scots would wear them anyway in secret. During church the minister would have a special blessing of each family tartan.

Valentine led the church service using the 23rd Psalm.  He preached on the importance of family and how in Christ, everyone has a similar dependence.

“We join with Christ in the family business of hope, love and faith.” Valentine said.

Planning for next year’s festival has already begun. Canter said, for more information and to volunteer visit