The Savannah Scottish Games will return at historic Bethesda Academy on Saturday, May 6th, 2023. Savannah and the surrounding area are home to a sizeable Celtic population and each year they look forward to the annual event. This year they will welcome back athletes, pipe bands, highland dancers, border collies, historic reenactors, Scottish vendors, Celtic musicians and more to the annual gathering. The Savannah Scottish Games are a grand celebration of Highland heritage right here in the Southeast. With more than 3,000 people participating in the event each year, Savannah’s Scottish Games is both one of the largest and is the fourth oldest Games in the area as well.
“My family and I have been a part of the Savannah Scottish Games since my grown sons were little,” said Murray Marshall, Chair of this year’s Games. “To see how much this particular event has grown and is now considered a tradition for so many others in the area is something we are all really proud of. We also have a large attendance from people outside of the area that come to spend this one day every year. And to top it off and be on the historic grounds of Bethesda, you can’t get any better than that.” Murray adds, “Outside of the dancing, athletics, and comradery, people get the chance to learn more about the different Highland clans, their own heritage, and possibly find their own roots.” The Games include something for the entire family to enjoy!
Highland dancing was originally an all-male event until the late 19th century when women started competing in Highland Dance. Savannah is proud to host the ScotDance Southeast Regional Championships, one of six regional competitions held throughout the United States each spring. Ambitious new dancers called Pre-Premiers, develop self-discipline and confidence as they learn to tackle the physical demands of the dance. The tremendous strength, stamina, and technical precision accomplished dancers exhibit on stage are fascinating. The highest level, the Premier dancers, dances earlier in the morning, so come early to see these impressive dancers compete for a spot at the national competition at the 2023 ScotDance National Championships in Portland, Oregon.
Pipes and Drums
Whether this is your first time at the Games or you’re a seasoned Scotsman, the glorious sounds of the pipes and drums are an inspiration to behold. Stewart Marshall, Murray’s son, has been involved with the Games since childhood. He remembers many years of participating in the Games with his family and has been involved on the committee in some aspect for over ten years. Stewart is tasked with organizing Pipe and Drums at this year’s event. He states, “I encourage everyone to come and listen to the sounds of Scotland — the thrill in the bourdon of the bagpipes and the cadence of the drums from the talented pipers and drummers is something that sticks with you. Music has a way of taking you somewhere new and on this day it will take us to the highlands.”
Some historians believed that bagpipes (often, just “the pipes”) were played in Scotland as early as 100 AD. By the year 1000, bagpipes were popular throughout Scotland. By 1500 AD, every clan chieftain worthy of the name had a piper in his retinue, the group of noblemen that typically accompanied a leader or King. The great modern pipes were developed in the Scottish Highlands. In addition to the Pipes and Drums, there will be live Celtic music on the entertainment stage from Lachlann and North of Argyll. The full schedule can be found on the Savannah Scottish Games website.
The Scottish Games is historically a worldwide celebration of the legendary strength and endurance of the Highlander. Scottish heavy athletics owe their roots to the Highland warriors who would keep in shape between battles by competing using everyday implements. A stone, a blacksmith’s hammer, and a tree trunk, known as a caber, all became tools for building strength for battle. Athletic events are hosted throughout the day and provide visitors with close access to witness these kilted athletes compete in events such as the caber toss, sheaf toss, open stone put, Scottish hammer throw, and more. Fancy yourself a Highlander? Take your turn at the competition while you’re there. They encourage all beginners (novices) who want to learn “to throw” to be on the field at 7:30 a.m. on game day for a one-hour clinic. Don’t worry, no kilts are required.
There are dozens of athletic activities for children to enjoy throughout the day, including tug-of-war, sheaf toss, caber toss, haggis hurl, stone throw, welly toss, and sack race. Grab a seat, hear the greatest of Scotland’s stories from Celtic storyteller Linda Bandilier, and dance and play games with the mythical fairy, Zephyr. Face painting, coloring crafts, and other arts activities will also be available.
Medieval European Activities
The Savannah branch of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) is a practical history society, recreating the arts and skills of pre-17th century Europe. They dressed in the Middle Ages and Renaissance clothing and allowed visitors to witness tournaments, royal courts, feasts, and dancing. There’ll also be opportunities to learn and practice ancient arts and skills — calligraphy, cooking, armoring, metalworking, carpentry, and needlework. The SCA will host interactive demonstrations and displays of various medieval European activities throughout the day, including armored combat, dance, juggling, and other arts activities.
Clans and Genealogy
One of the most exciting aspects of this event is the opportunity to gather clues along the day of your Scottish ancestors and then search for their records. Marshall points out, “The key to your family history is knowing how to find information about your name, immigrant ancestor, Scotland geography and history, available records, and where to find more information. We have plenty of maps and reading materials about researching Scottish, Irish, and more Celtic ancestors if you want to come into the genealogy tent.” They will also be joined this year by various local genealogical and historical organizations familiar with researching family trees of ancestors born in America.
Border Collie Sheep Herding
The sheep herding is often hailed as one of the Games most beloved events. Windy Knolls Farm is home to Bill Coburn, his Border Collies, and a herd of Katahdin-Dorper sheep, and they will all be on-site to demonstrate their impressive sheep, geese, and duck herding skills. If you’ve yet to witness the talented canines, the Savannah Scottish Games is a perfect time.
The Marketplace of the Savannah Scottish Games is centralized within the festival and provides the opportunity to purchase Scottish goods, cuisine and refreshments, and baked goods. “This year is expected to be our largest yet, even though it will be hard to beat last year,” adds Marshall. “The music, comradery, and commemoration of our Scottish heritage is celebrated through this historic event, and it’s something my family and so many others look forward to year after year.”
For additional information about the Savannah Scottish Games or to purchase your tickets, go to: www.savannahscottishgames.com