Kilts, clans and caber tosses

I have never worn a kilt.

My brother Mark handles the traditional duties of our Scots-American clan with more fervor, wearing the colors well, whereas my familial role revolves around one-liners delivered in a bastardized brogue and my attempts to create musical form from our ever-growing troop of players. Most of my six siblings play an instrument of some kind, with the next generation adding violin, pennywhistle and group vocals reminiscent of a corner pub in Edinburgh. We even claim an emerging piper in Mark’s middle daughter, Erin.

Like most large families we are scattered by distance and the obligations of daily life and relish the rare chance to gather, especially with instruments and voices ready to join in a circle around the campfire. The most eagerly anticipated setting for such reunions is the annual Grandfather Mountain Highland Games in Linville, North Carolina — the ultimate event of its kind in America and a pilgrimage of sorts for many Scots-Americans. This year’s Gathering of the Clans will be held July 11-14, and every stateside member of the McKillop sept of the McDonalds of Keppoch — my family — will proudly attend.

The Scots have long been a people deeply rooted in extended family — the clan. Scottish Games foster this ancient trait by creating a place for our heritage to thrive and a setting for competition. Anyone can test their mettle in contests ranging from music and dance to traditional crafts and athletics, including the famous caber toss (That’s a caber, lad, not a telephone pole — though Alexander Graham Bell was, of course, a Scot.) Spectator and competitor alike tap into the collective soul of Scotland: This is no exercise in historical reenactment.

Alba, the name of Scotland in her native Gaelic tongue, has never had an easy go of it, possessing a past laden with occupation, subjugation and tyranny. Her music often reflects a spirit of melancholy, while the traditional sports and crafts are firmly based in the game of survival that all agricultural societies share. My mother just returned from her native Scotland, her hometown now a depressed former industrial center where most either leave or join the legions “on the dole” (welfare UK-style). On the other hand, she discovered the existence of the high-tech “Celtic Tiger.”

Centered in Glasgow and in Dublin, Ireland, these boom areas have become contenders in the new global economy. She brought back the usual presents, including one very special gift for our two-year old son, McKillop: a kilt. He will wear it at the Games this year and when the pipes and drums call us from our campfire in the highlands of North Carolina, we will joyfully answer as we celebrate family and heritage. Let the Games begin!

James Fisher is Mountain Xpress’ senior marketing representative. He lives in Asheville with his wife, Kate, and 2-year-old son McKillop (pictured on our cover).

Highland Games

The 47th annual Grandfather Mountain Highland Games takes place July 11-14 at MacRae Meadows on the slopes of Grandfather Mountain. On Saturday and Sunday, hundreds of outdoor events will occur in various venues, including Highland dancing, piping, drumming, tug-o-wars, wrestling, a marathon, a caber-toss, and of course, music, including The National Scottish Harp Championship of America and the following traditional (and not-so-traditional) acts: Alex Beaton, Colin Grant Adams, Ed Miller, George Hamilton IV, Full Moon Ensemble, Bragh Adair, Glengarry Bhoys, Celtic Soul, Neil Anderson & Friends, Clandestine, and Carl Peterson. A full schedule of events can be viewed at, or call (800) 468-7325 for ticket information (various ticket packages are available, from day passes to full-weekend packages, some including camping).

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