You must have heard? Everyone there did! Duries went to Grandfather Mountain Highland Games. And they received a Magnificent Welcome!
For anyone of Scottish descent – and there are more in North Carolina alone than there are in Scotland – or with an interest in Scottish Clans, Families and traditions these games are among the most important ones to attend. They are the biggest in the United States with circa. 100,000 visitors, this was the 61st edition, (7th-10th July 2016) and held under the stern gaze of the mountain itself.
All are welcomed and for the Duries the welcome proved especially warm. It was our first ever venture to attend a Highland Games with a profile of our own and while as a family we were virtually unknown to everyone, by the end of the Games’ four days the name was at least recognised by many and even commented on by some!
Donald MacLaren of MacLaren, Chief of Clan Laurin, was the invited ‘Honoured Guest’, effectively Chief of the Games and Andrew Durie of Durie, our Chief, was a ‘Distinguished Guest’. They both took part in a panel discussion at the Council of Scottish Clans and Associations (COSCA) ‘Clan and Family Caucus’ at Lees MacRae College on the first day of the Games. COSCA’s remit is the preservation of Scottish heritage in the USA – a rather more widely supported activity than in Scotland itself.
The two chiefs did a double act: ‘Clans and Families in Scotland’, with an explanation of the differences and with emphasis on the similarities; they encouraged dialogue with the audience by inviting questions. The use of ‘clan’ is much looser in the States than in Scotland, tending to cover families too and since the 19th Century it has had a touch of romance about it. In essence the main factor was agreed that it is all about pride in kinship with three main tenets: History of a Name, Genealogy and the Social aspect. There were also questions about another Gathering, like the one held in Edinburgh in 2009, Andrew replied that it was under discussion and there was an active idea that the next one should be outside of Scotland, maybe in the USA, so as to foster closer links across the world.
Dr Bruce Durie, Shennachie to our Chief and to COSCA, gave two presentations one on the Lord Lyon’s new policies on eligibility of Scottish-Americans to petition for grants of Scottish arms and the other, followed Keith MacGregor’s on DNA, was about setting up a Shennachie Network for the USA and abroad – to establish proper recognition. The key-note speaker was Congressman Mike McIntyre, who had represented North Carolina for 18 years and who had been very active in helping launch Tartan Days in the States. The day’s programme was moderated by John King Bellassi - President of COSCA, Steve Quillin - Vice President, Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, and John Cherry – COSCA At-Large Board Member.
Then to the Games themselves! Held on MacCrae Meadow, under the imposing 6,000 foot Grandfather Mountain’s thickly forested blue peaks. Everything was more than you could expect, bigger, noisier, more colourful and with more flags! But then this was America! Acres of hillside and mountainside were covered with brightly coloured tents, the arena ring central for many competitions and activities and with parking and camping spread all around.
The proceedings opened with a Torchlight Ceremony on Thursday evening ‘To raise the Clans’ in which the Chief and his Shennachie took part. We were all nearly blown away as the weather also made us feel much at home by being exceedingly Scottish – and the next night a considerable storm inflicted quite a lot of damage to the stands. And it was not only the tents on the hillside: the Patron’s Reception and Dinner, with everyone decked out in their finery, was in candle-light only as the hotel generator failed as the torrents came down. Luckily the kitchen generator held firm!
Each day there were Opening Ceremonies and Donald MacLaren and Andrew spoke to the crowds over the tannoy at each one. The Durie tent signage banner encouraged all spellings of the name to take an interest, stop by or help us make contact with any Durie, Durrie, Durry, Dowrie, Dourie, Dury, Duryea, Duryee, Du Ry, Dearie, Deary and Duree.
Our stand position was ring-side so we were able to watch the amazing Games – competitions, learning ‘clinics’ and experiences for all ages: athletics, the Kilted Mile or the finale of the extreme endurance of the Grandfather Mountain Marathon.There was Highland dancing, wrestling, Clan Tugs o’War, sheep-herding demonstrations and, of course, traditional ‘heavy’ challenges: sheaf- and caber-tossing, shot-putting, hammer-throwing – the lady caber-tossers are quite a sight! And we listened to many, many piping and drumming competitions! In the evening Celtic Rock concerts added to the day’s entertainment.
Around the stands in glades and glens were small groups for a variety of music, Scottish, Scottish/Appalachian, Celtic harp and fiddling, or shops and skilled craftsmanship displays, Gaelic learning, Scottish and American food bars and tents for scheduled cultural events and talks.
Bruce’s talks on ‘Scottish Ancestry’ were full to capacity each day and led to a steady stream of people to the Durie tent to bend his ear further. And all the while – in the foreground or in the background – flags flying and marching pipe bands!
Grandfather Mountain Highland Games are not just about hordes of Scottish descendants and others competing, socialising, making and having fun but also have a serious purpose. It is to foster and restore interest in traditional Scottish dancing, piping, athletic achievement and Gaelic culture, and to create and establish scholarship funds to assist students from Avery County High School to study at American colleges and universities. Also from the funds raised goes a contribution to support the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation which ensures the conservation of the mountain and meadow and provides environmental educational programmes.
The last day, Sunday, started with a Service of Worship and a brilliant array of clashing hues for ‘Kirkin’ of the Tartans’ when tartan flags were paraded and blessed, masterminded by Sam R.Johnson. The service was taken by The Rev. Douglas F. Kelly with Flora Macdonald Gammon as Director of Music..
This was followed by the ‘Parade of Tartans’ around the main field. Led by Donald MacLaren, Officers of the Games and Distinguished Guests, marched round the circuit supported by the pipe bands and then were joined for a second lap by each of the 80 Clans and Families each following their distinctive banners. Last but not least was the Closing Ceremony with a massed pipe band parading round the arena and past the Review Stand, then several National and other Anthems played and sung - lustily.
Lots of colour, lots of marching, lots of music, lots of talking, much singing, many links found and forged with other Clans and Families, many new friends made. To end where we began: The Welcome from everyone was Magnificent! We did our bit of hospitality by having some Durie Drams on offer to entice new friends to the tent. Having a presence at the Games helped the previously hardly known Durie Family gain some recognition far afield and the Association looks forward to building on that identification and the knowledge we gained from attending such an amazing event. We thank everyone for their incredible hospitality and happily broadcast the great pleasure the whole exercise has given us.
For more pictures see News & the DFA Newsletter and Facebook: Duries World-wide. END