Where can you eat haggis, watch competitive rock throwers and witness a sea of kilts all in one place without traveling to Scotland?

The Maine Highland Games, of course. The 34th annual celebration of all things Scottish takes over the Topsham Fairgrounds on Saturday and features a robust line-up of music, dance and athletic competitions. It typically attracts about 6,000 spectators.

“In addition to the competitions, it’s a Scottish cultural festival,” said Bill McKeen, this year’s games chairman. “One of the things people hear about Scotland is the clans. We usually have 50 different clan organizations, each of whom have a tent set up to educate people in clan history and how to gain membership.”

Once you’ve traced your family genealogy back to Scotland and claimed membership in a particular clan, you’ll be entitled to wear that clan’s tartan — as a kilt, sash, skirt, scarf, tie, cap or whatever creative garment you come up with.

“Actually, Maine has the highest percentage of Scottish decedents per capita in the country,” McKeen said. “It has to do with the early settling of Maine by the Scots-Irish and Scots. All the Scottish people were Irish first. It’s really Celtic.”

But even if your family lineage doesn’t wind its way to the upper reaches of Great Britain, you can still sport a tartan with pride. Many regions have their own official tartans, including Maine. The state’s attractive plaid features blues, greens and a dash of red.

“At the games, you don’t have to encourage Scottish attire,” McKeen said. “Everybody wears it. It’s a very colorful event.”

The centerpiece of the Maine Highland Games is the traditional feats of strength. Throughout the day, spectators will be able to watch professional Highland games athletes (both men and women) who travel the country competing in events such as the open stone throw, caber toss, sheaf toss and weight over bar contest.

“You need strength and, like most athletics, coordination,” McKeen said. “These pro guys are all big and strong. It’s quite a sight to see.”

Which makes sense, since the caber toss involves flipping a 20-foot wooden pole, and the weight over bar contest means hurling a 56-pound metal weight. In the sheaf toss, men hurl a 22-pound burlap bag filled with hay, and women toss a 16-pound bag. Both must do so with the aid of a pitchfork.

For the stone throw, competitors follow in the footsteps of ancient clan chiefs and chuck rocks weighing roughly 16 pounds as far as they can.

You might think an event called the “haggis hurl” is something you do after sampling haggis (a traditional Scottish mixture of sheep organs, onions and oatmeal encased in the lining of a sheep’s stomach) for the first time. But it’s actually a special competition for women, where they throw a weight shaped like a haggis. Another women-only event is the rolling pin toss.

In addition to the athletic contests, the Highland Games feature competitive dancers, bagpipers, drummers and pipe bands. Throughout the day there will be dance demonstrations, sheep dog trials, harp performances, musical acts and a parade. Booths will sell Scottish merchandise, and a tent will be devoted to beer.

Don’t worry, haggis won’t be the only food available. Attendees can also purchase Scottish favorites such as fish and chips and meat pies or opt for standard American fare like hot dogs and hamburgers.

But being a true Scot, McKeen said, “I love haggis, myself.”

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:

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Twitter: AveryYaleKamila

 

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