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Joyce Endee

Lincoln's Highland Games return with low numbers and high enthusiasm

The American Rogues performed on the Governor's Lodge Stage during the Scottish Highland Games at Loon Mountain in Lincoln last weekend. (Photo by Angel Larcom) (click for larger version)
September 23, 2021
LINCOLN — After a one-year hiatus, the NH Gathering of the Scottish Clans returned to Loon Mountain last weekend. NH Department of Health mandates capped attendance at no more than 4,000 people per day at the three-day event, but clans, competitors and volunteers were thrilled about its return nonetheless.

According to 25-year veteran volunteer Nancy Lee Badger of North Carolina, less than half the typical number of clans attended this year, with only 31 present. Before the pandemic, the Highland Games drew international attendance and well over 70 different Scottish clans.

Likewise, attendance rates reached well beyond 54,000 people in 2018. Badger said many of the more than 300 volunteers consider the 2021 Highland Games a practice run before returning to their previous event size.

Notable among the competitors that year was Hafþór Júl'us "Thor" Björnsson, a six-foot, nine inch tall Icelandic strongman best known for his role as Gregor "The Mountain That Rides" Clegane in the popular television series, "Game of Thrones." Both Badger and Chieftain Society member Steve Brown recalled the sheer volume of fans waiting patiently for Björnsson's autograph that year.

In 2018, NHSCOT also formed its first Pipes and Drums group. Membership quickly blossomed, and the group provides free weekly lessons to newcomers interested in bagpipes, snare bass or tenor drums.

Two years later, NHSCOT developed an official New Hampshire Tartan to celebrate the event's 20th anniversary. The unique plaid pattern was designed by Ralf L. Hartwell and featured purple to represent the state bird and flower (purple finch and lilac), green for the forests, black for the granite mountains, white for the snow and red for the state heroes.

Ongoing border restrictions prevented several participants from traveling to the festival from Scotland, as well as countless competitors and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Band, noted Badger.

"We're hoping we can go wide open next year. There's a lot of us [volunteers] and this festival is our passion. There are only five paid staff members in this organization and all of this is done by the volunteers," noted Brown.

According to Brown, Lincoln's Highland Games is the second-largest Scottish gathering in the United States, falling closely behind the Scottish Highland Gathering and Games in Pleasanton, Calif. It began as a simple clan picnic in 1975 that quickly blossomed one year later to a formal nonprofit organization and an annual event.

In addition to the Highland Games, NHSCOT also hosts an annual Beltane music event in May, a family-friendly Scottish New Year celebration called Hogmanay and an annual Heritage Lecture Series.

Martin Lord & Osman
Salmon Press
Varney Smith
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