LAURINBURG — The Scotland County Highland Games has grown each year in its short history, and organizers say the event’s fifth incarnation this weekend will be no exception.
Piping, drumming, and athletic competitions begin at 9 a.m. on Saturday on the grounds of the John Blue House on X-Way Road. Gates open at 8 a.m. Last year’s games attracted over 4,000 spectators in addition to hundreds of competitors, and organizers expect nearly 5,000 spectators this weekend.
“We’re really excited because everything is up this year,” said Highland Games Chairman Bill Caudill.
This year’s games will showcase the talents of 16 pipe bands from North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and Virginia, 100 individual competitors in piping and drumming, 40 highland dancers, and 30 athletes. Athletic competitions include the Scottish hammer throw, turning of the caber, and sheaf toss over a raised bar.
“Most all of the serious pipe bands in the southeast will be here,” said Caudill “There will be more pipers and drummers here on our field than there are at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo.”
Of the 51 Scottish clans represented at the games, Clan Donald, clan of notable guest David MacDonald, will be the clan of honor. Macdonald is a direct descendant of Flora MacDonald, the 18th-century Jacobite Scottish legend who played a role in the American Revolution during her time in North Carolina.
The Highland Games are also a family event, with miniaturized versions of the Scottish athletics for children to try, as well as sheep dog demonstrations. Celtic groups The Jamie Laval band and Rathkeltair will take the stage from 12-4 p.m. Vendors of traditional fair food as well as Scottish food will be on the grounds, and this year there will be a beer tent among the vendors.
If appetites for Scottish culture are not satisfied before the 4:30 p.m. closing ceremony, Jerry’s Deli on U.S. 401 will host a ceilidh, or Scottish folk dance, from 7:30-10 p.m. Admission to the ceilidh is free.
On Friday, several activities will preface the games, with the Scottish Heritage Center at St. Andrews University open from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., a whisky tasting at Hampton Inn during the afternoon, and a concert with champion bagpiper Bruce Gandy at 8 p.m. at St. Andrews’ Avinger Auditorium. Tickets for the concert are $10 at the door.
A Kirkin’ of the Tartans worship service at Old Laurel Hill Presbyterian Church on Sunday morning will cap the weekend.
Caudill attributed the Highland Games’ success to its organization — a yearlong endeavor — and positive publicity from past competitors and attendees.
“We’re relatively new and we’re doing everything correctly,” he said. “People enjoy the way that the contests have been run — athletes love it. Everybody that’s come in the past has given us rave reviews on the hospitality.”