The Smoky Mountain Scottish Festival & Games weren’t always known as such. The word “Highland” was dropped and the words “Scottish” and “Festival” were added along the way as organizers worked at acquiring a broader brand identity.
They wanted people to be aware there are a wide variety of events and activities going on this special weekend in May at Maryville College.
Little wonder. Consider the happenings scheduled for the Smoky Mountain Scottish Festival & Games in its sixth year on campus in the heart of Blount County. Two days of offerings ranging from Kid Haggis Hurl to Battle Axe to Bonniest Knees.
It opens at 8 a.m. Saturday on the MC intramural field with band competition, sheep (and where there are sheep, there are dogs to keep them in line, or at least in a flock), highland coos (cows to you flat-landers), food aplenty, bands playing pipes and drums to provide genuine Celtic entertainment. Vendors will tempt you to satisfy your needs, or at least your wants. Clan tents will woo, educate, too, if you’re into family history. You can be a Scot, at least for a day or two.
Then there are the games part. There are all sorts of competitions when musicians, dancers and even the sheep dogs match their skills against all who dare to take the challenge. But at the core, it’s still the primitive athletic contests that amaze. Imagine the hard work required before the dawn of the industrial age — a time when muscles provided the energy to get things done. The best hands on their own lands challenged the best across the hills, and it was game on in the highlands. Caber toss. Stone put. Hammer throw. Sheaf toss. It’s easy to imagine how those developed skills were essential to life on isolated farms.
All very well for a bonny show of physical prowess. But if organizers want to give an even fuller insight into what visitors can expect to find at the Smoky Mountain Scottish Festival & Games, a simple suggestion is offered. Make sure people know about the real deal ceilidh.
You’re already familiar, even if you don’t realize it. Western movies probably made the square dance — the prototypical American barn dance — the world’s best known country dance. But it wasn’t the first folk dance, not by centuries. The Appalachian version of square dancing might be more familiar to what’ll be happening this weekend on the MC campus.
Ceilidh (pronounced kay-lee) is the term for the type of Scottish and Irish dances country people enjoyed when they got together to vent steam and do some socializing. The dance names are intriguing: The Dashing White Sergeant. The Strip the Willow. The Eightsome Reel. The Flying Scotsman. The Cumberland Jig. The list goes on.
But let’s go further back to the roots of ceilidh. The name is derived from the Gaelic word for a gathering. We’re calling it what it is — a party.
The organizers aren’t making ceilidh a brand-worthy connection by using it as part of the official name, the Smoky Mountain Scottish Festival & Games & Ceilidh. Too many words, too obscure. But the ceilidh isn’t exactly forgotten, either.
Check out the website, smokymountaingames.org, and you’ll find it on the schedule of events. Kinda slipped in at the end of Saturday’s listings (right after the Scotch Tasting, appropriately enough) is the day-one finale: the Evening Ceilidh.
Break out the kilts and the dancing shoes. The Smoky Mountain Ceilidh is at hand.