The Scots have been throwing heavy objects for sport since the Romans dubbed them the Scotti, but the well-loved Scottish games aren't rooted only in merriment. Early Celtic kings would commonly select the best men for their personal guard by assembling soldiers to compete for supremacy in games of strength, speed and agility. Sure, they had fun at it; song, dance and strong ale were usually afoot, and the bonding of the men was terrific for morale. In the year 843, Coinneach macAilpein, King of Scots, held three days of games to keep his troops sprightly while he bode the moment to seize control of western Dalriada from the Picts. When macAilpein received an omen, the Scots squarely blackened the Picts. Conqueror and conquered united as one people, and the nation of Scotland was born.
As the time of the auld kings waned and croft farming under the British became the standard occupation of Scotsmen, the celebration of "the games" began incorporating more elements of agricultural life, such as the heaving of hay bales over an ever-higher bar by way of pitchfork. When the Brits took to exiling unruly Scottish rebels to the new colonies, America began seeing Scottish games played in the farmlands by homesick Willies and Anguses. The sporting tradition took root here, and the descendants of the exiled have held competitions ever since.
The unbroken tradition continues with the St. Louis Scottish Games in Forest Park this weekend, when clansfolk from nigh and hyne converge to celebrate their lively heritage. The gates open at 5 p.m. Friday, October 8, the event begins with the ceremonial calling of the clans at 6:30 p.m., and the merriment of a traditional ceilidh dance commences at 8 p.m. to finish the evening. The clans reconvene at 9 a.m. on Saturday, October 9, for competitions in the "heavy events," plus Highland dancing, storytelling and visits from Nessie for the wee weans, livestock exhibitions and sheep herding, falcon demonstrations, world-class musicians, whiskey tasting and the gustie sheep-and-oats cuisine of the Scottish motherland. And, certies, ye kin wager yer hinnie arse thare'll be bagpipes aboot. Competitions between soloists and regional pipe-and-drum bands rage through Saturday, culminating in the amassment of all the bands for a singular, frightsome wind of drone, melody and snare rhythms at 4:45 p.m. to close the event.
"The thing that everyone looks forward to is the massed band," says veteran piper George Gerules, who coordinates this year's piping and drumming events and has attended Scottish festivals since he was youthie. "At the end of the day, all the bands that competed form a huge band and play some common tunes before, during and after the awards ceremony. It'll probably be well over a hundred players. It's definitely quite loud."
Admission at the gate is $10 on Friday and $15 on Saturday, with family passes available for $25 and $35 each day. Two-day passes can also be had at $20 for individuals and $50 for families. Pets are not allowed, but lawn chairs are. For a detailed schedule of events, visit www.stlouis-scottishgames.com, or call 314-821-1286 for more information. Fairly, ye'd raither dae this as dwyne hame on yer girthie arse, fer fook's sake.