LAURINBURG — Bagpipers, kilts, caber tosses and traditional Scottish foods transported visitors to the United Kingdom’s northernmost country on Saturday — without ever leaving Scotland County.
The sound of bagpipes filled the grounds of the John Blue House as 20 pipe bands, 50 Scottish clans and thousands of visitors from near and far converged on Laurinburg to take part in the ninth annual Scotland County Highland Games. More than 9,000 people attended the three-day event.
The wet and humid weather on Saturday only added to the authentic Scotland experience, according to Bill Caudill, the games founder and the director of Scottish Heritage at St. Andrews University.
“If you’ve never traveled to Scotland this is the closest you’ll get without buying a plane ticket,” said Caudill. “The Highland Games allows visitors to be totally immersed in Scottish culture. The John Blue grounds were built and associated with second or third generation Scottish Americans. The Upper Cape Fear and Pee Dee region was the largest Scottish settlement in the United States.”
Learning the history and heritage of the Highland Scots that settled in the region in the 19th century kept the Council of Scottish Clans and Associations and the Scottish Genealogical Society tents busy as people lined up to see if they had any Scottish branches on their family tree.
“A lot of people in their 30s and 40s want to know where they come from and what connections they have and where their roots are. We always tell them, talk to your parents and grandparents — anybody. Because a lot of people that come it’s because their parents have passed away and they have no connection to their past. It’s must easier to get the information first hand than to try and dig it up later,” said Chris Heady of the Council of Scottish Clans and Associations.
Heady and her husband Matthew, dressed in their clan tartans, were surrounded by books filled with Scottish surnames, maps of the old Scotland territories labeled with the different clan names and thousands of tartan samples.
“We’ve had people come to the table and say ‘Grandma always said we were Irish’ and then they started doing their genealogy and found out they are Scottish. What it was when people learned a new language, like the Irish and Scots that came over years ago, they took the language literally,” said Heady. “Sort of like Amelia Bedelia, so when someone asked where they were from they would say Ireland because most of the Scots went to Ireland to get a boat to come to America. So they answered it literally, they came from Ireland and since things were so bad at home they didn’t talk about the old country.”
Technology and the internet according to Heady have also contributing to the resurgence of people taking interest in learning about their family history.
“More and more these days people want to know where they come from. Technology has helped spur that on with the DNA kits and Ancestry.com making genealogical research a great deal easier than it used to be,” Heady said.
Members of Clan Maclean — a very recognizable name in Scotland County with many variations of spelling — was one of 50 Scottish clans that participated in the Parade of Tartans on Saturday as part of the opening ceremonies.
Rev. Patrick Maclean said he took an interest in learning about his Scottish family history from a young age.
“I’ve been involved with Clan Maclean for 40 years, as of this month. I was addicted to it as a teenager and haven’t stopped,” said Rev. Maclean. “My family came over in 1770 into Cape Fear, I have blood in these parts. There has been a resurgence since the movie Braveheart came out (in 1995). It really hasn’t stopped since then, thousands of people in North Carolina want to learn about their heritage. These games are an ideal venue for that. I think it’s because it’s a part of themselves, even though it was in the past it effects the way they are now and who they are.”
Amber Hatten can be reached at 910-506-3170.