Kilt-wearing warriors demonstrating feats of strength, armored sword fighting, bagpipes and drums — no, we are not talking about medieval Scotland. We are talking about the 42nd annual Savannah Scottish Games.
When the English forbid any Scotsman to bear arms, then stones, blacksmith hammers and tree trunks became weapons of war. The Scottish heavy athletics gave Highland warriors a way to keep in shape by using everyday objects.
The St. Andrew's Society of the City of Savannah started the games 42 years ago to honor Scottish culture and heritage in Savannah and surrounding areas, including Darien and St. Simons Island. This year's games take place May 5 at the campus of historic Bethesda Academy.
Gordon Varnedoe, who was one of St. Andrew's original members, brought the games to Savannah. As a former games athlete, Varnedoe competed in the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, the oldest Scottish Games in the nation.
Varnedoe wanted to recreate the games in Savannah, demonstrating how the Scots historically used the event as a warrior training ground for battle.
Scottish Highlanders have a longstanding history with Savannah. Aiding Gen. James Oglethorpe, they helped defeat the Spanish in St. Simons in 1736. The next year, they formed the St. Andrew's Society.
In addition to the popular Heavy Athletics Competition, the USIR Highland Dancing Southern Regional Championships will feature traditional Scottish dancing. Guests can also hear traditional music by LIFT Irish Band, performing at 11 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3:15 p.m., as well as various pipes and drums band throughout the day, including Mercer University, Coastal Florida Police & Fire, Charleston Police and our own Savannah Pipes & Drums.
Children’s activities feature pint-sized tug-of-war, sheaf toss, caber toss, haggis hurl, stone throw, welly toss, sack race and kilted run. Artisan crafts and refreshments will be available at the Scottish marketplace, including a new specialty craft ale from Savannah's Moon River Brewing Co.
Look for the clan booths and other exhibits, as well as a genealogy tent with clan information on Highland Scots, Lowland Scots, Ulster Scots (Scots-Irish), Irish, English, Manx, Welsh, and Orkney. There is also a Scottish border collie herding demonstration.
Attendees can meet Gen. Oglethorpe as performed by Scott Hodges, who has developed a series of historical programs he offers at schools and civic organizations throughout the Southeast.
It is all fun and games until the kilts come out. Then it is time to get serious as competitors battle fiercely for the top awards throughout the day. Find a full schedule and site map here.