Each year, the athletic component of the Dunedin Highland Games features a number of events
DUNEDIN – The 46th annual Dunedin Highland Games and Spring Clan Gathering is Saturday, April 21, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., at Highlander Park, 1920 Pinehurst Road.
Admission is $10 a person for adults. Children age 12 and younger admitted free with a paying adult. Pets are not permitted.
An annual tradition, the city’s signature event draws Scottish bagpipers and drummers and clans as well as amateur heavy athletes who compete in a variety of contests designed to measure each contender’s brute force and fortitude. Pipe bands, drummers and Scottish dancers also will compete. Demonstrations by sheep-herding dogs also will be presented on the main field throughout the day.
Musical entertainment will once again be provided by festival favorites Seven Nations, a Celtic rock band.
Muscle and might
Of course, it all comes down to brawn.
Each year, the athletic component of the Dunedin Highland Games showcases a number of events, including:
• The caber toss, with the average caber being 19 feet in length and weighing 120 pounds
• The sheaf toss, a 16-pound bail of hay thrown for height
• Weight throws, including a 28-pound throw for distance, a 56-pound throw for distance and a 56-pound throw for height
• The Scottish hammer, a 22-pound throw for distance
• Clachneart, or “stone of strength,” a 17-pound stone throw for distance
For many, the mention of highland games immediately summons up images of the caber toss. In this event, competitors toss a caber – a large wooden pole similar in size to a telephone pole – end over end so that it lands with the bottom end pointing directly away from the contestant. It’s not distance the athletes are going for, though, so much as for accuracy. The athlete with the straightest toss is the winner.
If the caber toss, weight throws and Scottish hammer events don’t satisfy a participant’s thirst for exhibiting brute force, there is one other optional event: the Dunedin 100-Pound Stone challenge.
Piping and Drumming
Scottish pipers and drummers will showcase their virtuosity in competitions throughout the day.
Saturday’s contests will include pipe band competitions, individual piping (light music), Piobaireachd and individual drumming. Piobaireachd is an art music genre associated primarily with the Scottish Highlands that is characterized by extended compositions with a melodic theme and elaborate formal variations, played primarily on the Great Highland Bagpipe. The word comes from the Gaelic “pìobaire,” which means piper. In Gaelic, pìobaireachd literally refers to any pipe music.
This year’s piping and drumming judges include John Recknagel of Atlanta, Ga.; Jim Dillahey of The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina; Jeff Anderson of Dunedin and Charley Street of Dunedin.
According to his website, Recknagel began studying piping in 1962 with George Killen in Toledo, Ohio. After a four-year stint as pipe major with Capital City Pipes & Drums in Columbus, he went on to play with Erskine Pipe Band in Hamilton, Ontario, from 1972 to 1980. The late Sandy Keith was pipe major of the Erskine Pipe Band at that time.
According to his Citadel biography, Dillahey began playing the bagpipes in 1988 at age 10 under the direction of Sandy Keith through the public school system in Dunedin.
The same year, he started competing in solo contests on the Southern United States Pipe Band Association’s Highland Games circuit where he rapidly rose through the ranks winning numerous prizes and aggregate awards. He played with the Dunedin Middle School Grade 5 and 4
pipe bands and then later with the Dunedin High School Grade 4 pipe band.
In 2003, Dillahey replaced Maj. Sandy Jones as pipe band director of the Citadel Pipe Band. He also served as pipe major of the city of Charleston’s Police Department Pipe Band and as a member of the city of Washington Pipe Band. He has competed at the North American Pipe Band Championships in Ontario, Canada, and at the World Pipe Band Championships in Glasgow, Scotland.
There will be no piping or drumming workshops this year.
Clans and tartans
Each year, a Clan of the Day is selected at the Dunedin Highland Games and Spring Clan Gathering.
On the day of the event, the clan chairperson asks volunteers to visit the clan village. Volunteers meet with festival participants, ask questions and observe how the various clan tents are decorated. They take into account the interaction between the clan and attendees.
The volunteers eventually report back to the clan chairperson in the afternoon, naming their favorite clan. The clan that receives the most favorable report is presented with an award at the closing ceremony. They also will have the best space for the games the following year.
More than 40 clans participated in last year’s games. The 2011 Clan of the Day was the New World Celts.
Timing and technique
Once again, entrants will take to the stage to show off their Scottish Highland dancing skills.
The competition will adhere to standards set forth by the Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing. Dancers are judged on timing, technique and general deportment.
Registration for premier and intermediate Highland dancers will be at 8:30 a.m. The competition will begin at 9 a.m. at the pavilion.
Registration for beginners, novice and primary dancing will kick off at 12:30 p.m. Competitions will begin at 1 p.m.
Dancers will demonstrate three basic forms of Highland dancing, including the Highland Fling, the Seann Trubhas and the Gillie Calum – the Sword Dance.
The adjudicator for 2012 will be Cathie Gibbs. Josh Adams will be this year’s piper for the dancers.
Seven Nations is known for a passionate, tender and rollicking style that encompasses everything from roots and traditional folk to dance and fusion-rock. The band is also famous for a relentless touring schedule, sometimes spending more than 300 days a year on the road.
Touring full-time since 1994, Seven Nations has performed in Europe, Canada, Puerto Rico, and virtually every state in the United States. They performed an entire show with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra at the Dublin Irish Festival as well as performing at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, a New Year’s Eve concert at Scotland’s Royal Mile and at the New York City Marathon.
The name Seven Nations refers to the seven nations of the Celtic world, now known as Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Brittany, Cornwall, the Isle of Man and Gallaecia.
Over the years, Dunedin has boasted a distinctive Caledonian flavor. In its schools and shopping centers, along its streets and on building facades throughout the city are pleasant reminders of Scotland.
The city celebrates its proud heritage in three annual Scottish celebrations, including the Highland Games and Spring Clan Gathering, the Dunedin Celtic Festival in November and the Dunedin Military Tattoo, set for Saturday, April 14, 7 p.m., at the Dunedin High School Memorial Stadium.
The centerpiece of the Dunedin Scottish Events Week, the Dunedin Highland Games was established in 1965 as a way to raise funds to support the Scottish bands of Dunedin, including the City of Dunedin Pipe Band, the Dunedin High School Scottish Highlanders Band and the Dunedin Highland Middle School Band.
This year, longtime festival goers will be celebrating the life of one of the city’s most beloved proponents of the city’s Scottish bands. Sandy Keith, past president of the Dunedin Highland Games Committee and pipe bandleader, died unexpectedly Feb. 2, 2012.
Keith arrived in Dunedin in 1982 and took over the city’s piping and drumming program. Thousands of students benefitted from his instruction. He led the Dunedin pipe band to a second place win in the world piping championship in Scotland in 1998. Keith also played a principal role in organizing the annual games and other city events.
At last year’s games, Dunedin Mayor David Eggers singled Keith out when giving thanks to the Dunedin Highland Games Committee.
“There is one who stands alone as an organizer, a teacher, a friend and sometimes a wee bit of a pain,” Eggers said in April 2011, speaking with clear admiration. “Keith is indeed a wonderful person, and he is retiring this year from teaching in our community, but will be around for years to come to participate in the games in so many ways.”
Sadly, Eggers’ prediction did not come to pass. Keith’s tireless devotion to Dunedin and his enthusiasm for preserving the heritage of the community, however, will long be remembered by his peers, by his students and by the community that benefitted from his generous contributions.
“He is true Scottish spirit here and has done wonderful things for us,” Eggers said.