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Originally published: 2012-07-26 13:53:26
Last modified: 2012-07-26 13:53:51

Highland games in the clouds

Justin Grimes / (averyjournalist@gmail.com)

Rain didn’t dampen the spirits of thousands of visitors to this year’s Grandfather Mountain Highland Games – the largest gathering of Scottish clans in the world – but it did hurt the box office.

Normally, the Games attract around 30,000 people over the four-day event. The downpours on Thursday, July 12, and heavy rain on Friday, July 13, apparently kept people away. Attendance was down 66 percent on Thursday and 50 percent for Friday’s day events.

“Overall, the Games went flawlessly,” said Games General Manager Frank Vance. “All our patrons, sponsors and even the campers ignored or made do during the heavy rains and carried on. We had a great day Saturday and Saturday night’s attendance was up 20 percent.

“I had the fewest complaints in memory – only two. As usual, most everyone praised the events and we were pleased that an Associated Press photo of the opening ceremonies made the London papers.”

The Avery Journal-Times along with plethora local volunteers and organizations provided information, food and transportation for the guests. 

When the weather cleared, a cacophony of children’s laughter mixed with the rising sounds of harps, fiddles, bagpipes, drums, flutes, storytellers, modern amplifiers, dog whistles, clapping hands, cheers and Gaelic interpreters. The combination of sounds and a gentle breeze that cleared the peaks of Grandfather lifted the spirits of everyone. 

The AJT staff enjoyed seeing children of all ages — many dressed in tartans, with some accompanied by their great-grandparents — romping and frolicking all over the meadow and in the groves; happily consuming traditions, music and games passed down and preserved by generations of Scots.

Where else in the world could one look across a majestic meadow filled with athletic events, sheep and musical entertainment and see a man in a kilt teaching another man how to cast a fly rod? It was an impromptu moment.

The sight of the kilted, local and long-time fly-fishing professional Ollie Smith teaching a Scottish musician who was performing at the Games got the staff’s attention and a staff member said, “Look, that’s what these Games are all about, bonding, making friendships and sharing knowledge.” 

Behind the scenes, the Games’ staff did have a few challenges. A portion of the electric grid went out and generators had to be bought in. According to Vance, when the staff electrician uncovered the problem he was flabbergasted. “You can’t bury electric and water lines together,” he exclaimed.

“I reminded him that those lines are 65 years old and codes didn’t matter back then. But it is an example of the ongoing work we have to do,” Vance said. “We haven’t raised our prices in 25 years, but we are going to have to address some things. We don’t want our scholarship program to suffer financially.”

Since 1986, more than 100 Avery County High School students have received four-year college scholarships from GMHG.

Vance went on to say that they are already planning for next year. “I am hoping for a reunion of the first Celtic performers, Seven Nations and Brother from Australia.” 

In the words of the Games co-founder, Donald Francis MacDonald, 86, “The GMHG is now in its 57th year and it doesn’t take a wizard to predict that the Games will carry on for another 57 and on thereafter.”