Written by Colleen Maidhof Thursday, 05 September 2013 00:00
Hundreds of Long Islanders were dressed to the kilt in traditional Scottish clothing at the annual Long Island Scottish Festival and Highland Games at the scenic Old Westbury Gardens on Aug. 24.
Crowds of Scottish enthusiasts gathered to celebrate the 53rd annual festival that honored the commitment to sustaining Scottish heritage and traditions. The event, run by Scottish Clan McDuff, the last Scottish Clan on Long Island, featured exciting activities such as dazzling dancing displays by Celtic dancers, traditional delicacies, and the highlight of the festival, the Highland Games.
The Highland Games, which include the caber toss and sheaf toss, attracted hundreds of viewers, who picnicked around the players. Those who wanted to try the unusual sports received instruction from professionals.
The caber — a huge, heavy pole — is one of the most recognizable features of the Scottish Highland games. The tossing of the 18-foot, 120-pound caber had competitors testing their strength and endurance. Some believe the caber toss originated with foresters who threw tree trunks into rivers for transport; however, the origin is unknown.
The sheaf toss was born at Scottish agricultural fairs, and requires contestants to use a pitchfork to hurl a 20 pound burlap bag stuffed with hay over a horizontal bar that gets raised gradually above the competitor’s head.
“It is referred to as ‘heavy games’ for a reason,” said Dan Dillon, a coach at Chaminade High School who has hosted the games for six years and been a professional competitor since 2000. He was especially happy for the great weather and turnout. “Today’s event is not a full highland game, it is more of an exhibition,” he explained. “It is a fun test of strength with a great group of guys. I love doing it every year.”
At the end of the games, Justin Miller ranked champion of the day, placing first in the caber toss and sheaf toss, followed by Scott Mathieson and Jeremy Vazquez, the 2012 champion. Miller, who has been involved in throwing sports since 2005, discovered the Highland games three years ago.
“It is always a pleasure coming to these games every year. I feel it is great exposure for Scottish culture and games,” he said. “As a non-Scotsman it is a great event to go to be one for the day. Dan, who is an elite highlander, runs the event flawlessly. It is serious enough that there is real competition, but relaxed enough that we can all learn as we go and have a lot of fun.”
In addition to the feats of physical strength, there was a competition for shortbread bakers, in both plain and fancy categories. Jennifer Clinton took the “plain” title, while Spyder Lawson triumphed in the “fancy” category.
The 42nd Royal Highland Regiment of Foote the Black Watch was also among the main attractions of the day. The troupe re-created General Murray’s company of the gallant 42nd as they appeared at their 1776 arrival in New York City. They practiced drills, marched, and shot off rifles to demonstrate common soldiers during the American War for Independence.
Also amongst the celebration were performances by the Clan Gorden Highlanders, based upon the Regiment founded in 1794. The spirited performers truly showed their Scottish pride by marching with their bagpipes and drums throughout the Gardens from the opening ceremony to the closing of the festival.