Charleston Scottish Games & Highland Gathering

storyCelts from all across the American eastern seaboard will gather in South Carolina today for the Charleston Scottish Games and Highland Gathering. Jeff Castle, Vice President of the Scottish Society of Charleston, fills us in on today’s events.

What is your own ethnicity / heritage?
I’m primarily Scots-Irish on my Mother’s side.  Her maiden name was Gillespie and our immigrant ancestors arrived at the port of Charleston in December of 1772 where they received land grants in present day Chester County, South Carolina.  My Father’s side is a mix of Scottish, Irish, German and Shawnee Indian.  I knew little to nothing of my Scottish heritage until I began researching my family history about 15 years ago but I have become immersed and fascinated by Scottish and Celtic culture since that discovery.

When and why did you get involved with this event?  
I’ve been a member of the Scottish Society of Charleston for a number of years and have gradually become more involved with the Charleston Scottish Games and Highland Gathering every year.  We have a great organization full of colorful characters who are very passionate about our shared Scottish heritage.  This is my first year as Games Chairman and it has been a challenging and fulfilling task.

Why is it an important event for the community there?  
Charleston is a vibrant and rapidly growing community.  As the city has become a premier travel destination we have seen a large influx of new residents who bring their own traits and influences with them.  It is very important that we work to preserve the strong Scottish and Celtic history that helped build our beautiful historic city.

Who attends the event?  

Our event is truly multi-generational.  We are one of the few festivals that everyone in the family can enjoy.  Our attendees are about half locals and half visitors.  As our event is the second oldest Scottish Games in the Southeast, our established reputation draws people from all over the United States and Canada.

What can they expect this year?  
This year, for the first time, our honored Clan is the United States Military.  Any military in uniform will be admitted free of charge.  Major General James E. Livingston, a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient will be our guest of honor.  Of course we will also feature Scottish Heavy Athletic, Pipe and Drum, and Highland Dancing competitions.  There will be lots of entertainment including three Celtic rock and folk bands, a border collie demonstration and a Children’s Games section.  We will have plenty of Scottish and American food vendors plus a craft beer garden.

How has the festival evolved through the years?  
Since our humble beginnings in 1971, our attendance has grown exponentially each year. What began as a simple competition and festival has become one of the premier events in our community.  We have an average attendance above 8,000 and as we have experienced this growth we have addressed the needs of a larger crowd with more vendors, more entertainment and better facilities.  We have rebuilt our website to reflect our progressive goals while still holding true to the traditions that built our organization.

Will you remain involved with the event in the years ahead?  
I hope to do so.  I have learned a great deal this year and have been fortunate to meet and work with some amazing individuals. Our Charleston Scottish Games and Highland Gathering has a permanent place on my calendar.

How else are you involved with the Celtic community there?  
I also am a professional musician and a member of Castle Crossing.  We play a mix of traditional and modern Celtic and Americana music.  Castle Crossing plays local bars and restaurants and will also play two sets at this years’ Charleston Scottish Games.

Is enough being done to preserve and promote Celtic culture generally?  
We can always do more but it seems Celtic culture is very much alive and well in the world today.  With magazines such as Celtic Life, television shows, books, music and movies all promoting our heritage, we are standing on strong ground these days.

What can we be doing better?  
I would like to see more of a Celtic presence in our school system.  Celtic history is fascinating and the immigration of Scots and Irish to North America is essential to our history.  The culture, music and language of our ancestors needs to be taught and appreciated at an early age so that our youth will grow up understanding where they came from and gain a better knowledge of themselves.