Highland Games celebrates all things Scottish with fest
By Annie Alleman For Sun-Times Media June 14, 2012 10:48AM
The Scottish Festival and Highland Games takes place June 14 and 15 in Itasca.
Scottish Festival and Highland Games
♦ June 15-16
♦ Hamilton Lakes, at I-290 and Thorndale Avenue, Itasca
♦ Tickets, $20-$5
♦ (708) 447-5092
Updated: June 14, 2012 10:48AM
Imagine the spine-tingling awesomeness of more than 1,000 pipers and drummers performing “Amazing Grace” in unison.
That’s how the 26th annual Scottish Festival and Highland Games at Hamilton Lakes in Itasca will close on Saturday.
“Every time I talk about it, I get goose bumps,” said Julia Witty, director of programming with the Chicago Scots.
In the meantime, the biggest Scottish festival in the Midwest runs from 4 to 10 p.m. today and from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday. The Chicago Scots invite everyone to be a little Scottish this weekend.
Fest-goers will experience Celtic music, Scottish food, soccer and rugby tournaments, whimsical contests and a caber toss or two.
“We have traditional and contemporary Scottish music with pipe bands and also some contemporary Celtic rock,” Witty said. “We have an entire children’s area with different activities including a mini Heavy Athletics, so the kids can try some of the different sports they’re seeing on the Heavy Athletics field. We have a Celtic market place with different vendors from around the country selling everything from iron brew and short bread to kilts and other apparel.”
There’s also a British car show, pipe band competitions and Highland dance competitions, and the Heavy Athletics.
“There’s definitely a little bit of something for everyone,” she said.
The most popular events are the Heavy Athletics, featuring traditional Scottish contests like the Caber Toss (flipping a 20-foot, 140-pound tree trunk), the 22-pound Hammer Throw, the Sheaf Toss (flipping a bale of hay over a high bar) and the Clachnert (throwing a 16-pound river stone).
You can see demonstrations of Heavy Athletics starting at 4 p.m. today, she said, before Saturday’s day-long competitions.
“We have competitors from all over the country,” she said. “We have some that actually compete nationally and do the different tours nationally and internationally. We have some … local people, but a lot of these guys do compete around the country every weekend during the gaming season.”
The competitors wear traditional Scottish kilts to compete.
“People are definitely decked out full-on for the entire day,” she said. “It’s definitely a fun event. It’s definitely unique. And it’s family-oriented, which is nice. And there’s so much going on at all times.”
In addition to the kids’ version of the heavy Athletics — where little ones can try a mini caber toss — there is face painting, train and pony rides, a large kids’ crafts area and inflatables.
When you get hungry, head to the food court for traditional Scottish fare or American classics.
“A lot of people also come out to get their traditional Scottish food fix for the year,” she said. “We have a lot ex-Patriots and this is one of the times they can actually pick some of the more traditional food. We have traditional Scottish food, as well as standard festival fare for people who aren’t necessarily inclined to try the other stuff.”
When you’re done eating, you can head over to the whiskey tastings and seminars.
An area on the north side of the field is devoted to the Dogs of Scotland — breeds synonymous to the country, she said. People can learn the history of dogs in Scotland and the canines will give herding demonstrations.
“This year we also have a falconry demonstration,” she said. “The International Heritage Conservancy comes out and does falcon demonstrations as well.”
In the Celtic Marketplace, fest-goers can find local artisans with the crafts and handiwork, as well as vendors selling wares such as clothes and jewelry.
Some of the more whimsical competitions include a haggis hurling contest for women. Lassies will stand on half a whiskey barrel and attempt to throw a frozen pound of haggis the furthest, she said. Anyone can register at the Scottish Cultural Tent.
“We also have a haggis eating contest, which continues to grow in popularity,” she said.
Finally, kilted gentlemen can enter the Knobbly Knees contest, she said.
People can expect a friendly mass of humanity, she said.
“We welcome everybody who is Scottish by birth, heritage or inclination,” she said. “It’s definitely a very welcoming community. We love to see new people come out and have a chance to go to Scotland for a day and not even leave the Chicago area. There’s something for everyone, and it’s perfect for the family and a great activity for Father’s Day weekend.”
The festivities culminate with the Closing Ceremonies and Massed Bands Show, when the 1,000 bagpipers and drummers join in performing several traditional songs, including “Amazing Grace.”
Parking costs $5 per vehicle.