The sound of bagpipes can be heard year-round in Savannah, but this weekend those notes indicate a special event.
In its 37th year, the Savannah Scottish Games kick off May 10 with their second annual "Night Before the Games" Piping and Drumming Block Party that starts in City Market and meanders to Molly MacPherson's. And whisky enthusiasts can pre-party at Molly's, too, at a single malt whisky tasting and discussion from 5-6 p.m.
"In addition, there will be a Kirkin 'O the Tartans at Independent Presbyterian Church on Sunday, May 12, at 11 a.m. After which there will be a Laying of a Wreath at the Scottish Monument at the intersection of Bull Street and Oglethorpe Avenue," says Saint Andrews' Society President and Savannah lawyer Morton Forbes.
Yet, May 11 is the main event with a full day of Scottish competitions, music, crafts and food at Bethesda Academy.
Games President Neill McDonald shares a glimpse of what to expect: "These games are a multi-event occurrence. They are a combination of a six-ring circus and, to some, a family homecoming. There is a continued public interest in things Scottish. Men love to wear the kilt, and the ladies love to watch the men! We have extraordinary, dedicated volunteers and sponsors who work for months and months so this day can occur."
His favorite part? "Standing at the gate at the end of the day and hearing attendees say what a wonderful time they, and their children, had. That makes it all worthwhile."
The Scottish influence in Savannah can be traced to the founding of our city when General James Oglethorpe - who will be at the games (wink) - included Scotsmen among the original settlers.
Sally Little, the games' convener, says: "These Scots were interested in improving their lot in life, providing security for their families, and establishing a place for themselves in a society that welcomed strong and determined settlers. After a couple of years of the settlement of Savannah, Oglethorpe recognized the need for a strong military presence and called for the MacIntoshes, known for their strong defensive abilities. So early Savannah included native Scots both in their day-to-day business community as well as in the first responders of the times, and that continues to the present day."
IF YOU GO
What: Savannah Scottish Games
When: May 11 from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Where: Bethesda Academy, 9520 Ferguson Ave., Savannah
Cost: Adults $10 in advance, $12 day of; Children 11-17 $5, Children under 10 free, Military ID $8.
Celebrating not only Celtic heritage but also how it directly ties to Savannah's history is what the Scottish Games are all about.
This pride in strength and skill weaves its way through these games through a healthy dose of competitiveness, a tradition carried on from a, "Scotsman finding relaxation in the competition among his fellow workers in games designed to reflect the need for strength in his daily life. Climate and geography in Scotland are harsh, and require much strength and determination to survive and prosper. These traits became part of the national personality and character of the Scotsman," Little explains.
Highland Dancing winners from Savannah's games qualify for the National event with an event that pays homage to this Scots' pre-battle warm-up. Other competitions include Heavy Athletics and Piping and Drumming, and wee ones can also try their hand at the Scottish Athletics.
Since the festivities fall on Mother's Day, they "are featuring mothers that travel with their daughters to compete, the dedication that it requires, and the bond that is created, (like) Heather and Ashley Haskell, who compete regionally several times a year. Ashley is a competitive dancer and her mother, Heather, is a competitive piper," says Mary Dugas, the games' publicity chair.
Scottish history comes to life at the Clan Am Cu encampment where reenactors portray the Scottish Highlanders of the 1730s and 1740s. You can also "stop by the genealogical tent for assistance in tracing your families, from wherever they originated," McDonald encourages, and "listen to a story-teller telling stories of Olde Scotland, some with song, and grab a seat under the music tent to experience The Wyndbreakers, and the mother-and-son duo, Moira and Mickey Nelligan."
And don't miss the Border Collies demonstration, a favorite part of many attendees' day.
"Marvel at the intelligence of the border collies as they respond to Master Trainer Bill Coburn's quiet and kind direction. At times, Bill's grandson Daniel Blackshire, a 14-year-old eighth-grader, will direct the collies while his grandfather narrates. Some attendees spend hours all day watching these herding demonstrations," McDonald says.
Of course, a variety of traditional crafts and food will be on hand to sustain guests. Games committee member Les Wilkes says, "I always start my day with a bowl of haggis (a traditional savory pudding) and grits!"
Wilkes is also the official photographer and relishes capturing special moments from the Games.
"A very unusual event took place last year," he says. "A young man (one of the athletes) proposed to his girlfriend right on the field! Several images will be in the 2013 program along with their story."
This year's Savannah Scottish Games is sure to hold its own delightful moments - perhaps watching Adriane Blewitt-Wilson, four-time Highland Athletics Women's World Champion, rumored to compete at this year's Games.
"We have two scholar-athletes, C.J. Harper (a junior at Savannah Christian) and Andrew Adams (a junior at St. Andrews School) who will compete for the first time as novices. Athletes must wear a kilt to participate. Amateur athletes from near and far are encouraged to participate," McDonald shares.
Dugas adds, "We have also just had an athlete register to compete as a novice who is the current Master's Champion in Olympic Weightlifting and a former alternate to the Olympic Team in Olympic Weightlifting. Her name is Suzanne Leathers, and she is also the co-owner of Crossfit Savannah. Amazing athlete."
Ultimately, Little says: "The Scottish Games are an important event in Savannah because Savannah has a strong Scottish community of long standing, and the games are our celebration of our heritage. We find it exciting to note every year the difference we Scots have made in Savannah's history and look to continue this contribution to our home."