Tartan Day South

storyCelts of all sizes and sorts will gather in South Carolina this weekend for the 6th annual Tartan Day South Highland Games & Celtic Festival. Recently we spoke with founder and co-organizer John Banks about what attendees can expect to experience.

What are your own roots?
I actually have an English background, with some deeper Scottish roots. My latest known relative lived in London until 1605. But my family name appears in Scottish folklore before that.

When and why did you get involved with the Festival?
That is an interesting question. I actually started the festival. I work with an old speedway here in Columbia. The property sat dormant for almost 30 years. We have created a festival grounds space in the old infield. It is 9 acres of wonderful grass surrounded by the old asphalt track. When speaking about the speedway to a local business group, I mentioned that it would be a great place to host a Highland Games festival. A lady at the meeting gave me a contact of my now-coordinating partner Donovan Murray – a veteran who has worked with many games, including Grandfather Mountain. Donovan and I spoke many times and decided to pull the trigger on the first event on April 1, 2011. We drew 3,500 that first year, and we are proud to say we drew over 10,000 in 2015.

What are your roles and responsibilities there?
We have a team of three who runs everything from A-Z. I take care of fund raising, all marketing, field planning, all media contacts and appearances, and just about everything else including mowing the grass. We do not believe in a large committee. We have three decision makers, and I have the ultimate final say. We make decisions quickly and never look back.

Why is it an important event for the community?
The games in 2015 had a 1.35 million dollar impact on the area economy. We had visitor from 24 states and almost every corner of South Carolina. Because we are still a young games, the community is just sort of figuring it out. They have been incredibly supportive. Many of our local residence have Celtic backgrounds and it is great to see their eyes light up when they find out that they have a Clan. We raise money for a local charity that builds our Riverwalks and parks. Their involvement has allowed us to obtain key grants that have helped tremendously in Marketing. Our two municipalities have jumped in with both feet and helped in any way they could.

Who traditionally attends the Festival?
We have something for everyone from ages 2 to 92. We have tons of families and groups, from college students to senior citizens. We advertise to everyone, we do not want to anyone to feel they would not have a good time. We often say “Celtic or not, much fun for everyone!”

What can they expect this year?
Most of the things that are seen at most games, including athletics, great Celtic music from 4 bands, pipe-bands, falconry, traditional dance, a big classic British Car Show that displayed over 130 cars in 2015. We have a wide variety of food and drink and a fun renaissance group that puts together a whole encampment. We have a new heritage tent that will offer two Genealogy presentations, a Robert Burns poetry presentation, and a magician. The other feature production new for 2016 is a Celtic fashion show “The Power of Plaid.”  We will also have a Harry Potter-inspired quidditch exhibition.

How has the event evolved through the years?
We always keep trying to expand with main focus on our key goal “Festival.” It is a celebration of Celtic heritage, but it has to be presented in a fun and exciting manner for the casual attendee. We also have to be aware that some patrons are just coming out to have fun. We try to add attractions that would be fun and interesting to any festival goer.

Will you remain involved with the event in the years ahead?
Absolutely – I am having the time of my life! It’s an incredible feeling to walk around the grounds and see thousands of smiling and laughing people, who you have never met, enjoying something that you helped put together. I plan to work it until I am unable and hopefully pass it on one day. There are only a few moments in life where you have an opportunity to create something great. We hope to bring 50,000 people to our area for a week unique activities to celebrate National Tartan Day.

How else are you involved with the Celtic/Scottish community there?
We try to attend as many of the other Celtic events in our area. Many of those groups support us and we try in turn want to support them. It is a fraternity of really great people.

Is enough being done to preserve and promote Celtic culture generally?
I think so. The key is education and recognition. I think a lot of folks do not know their own links to these cultures without tracing their roots. And let’s face it; with many of the new DNA technologies, there will be more searches than ever. This will lead many of the folks in our area to their Celtic ancestry.

What can we be doing better?
Keep sharing the uniqueness and the pride. We all have our own story to study and our own background to search. Each heritage is very unique. Dwell on what makes us different and share the beauty that comes from those items that are unique. If you had asked me 10 years ago if I love wearing a kilt, I would have answered “I don’t know.” Now I can proudly tell you that I wear them every chance I get. I even wear them to our college football games. I am very proud to have some Celtic background!