With kilts and bagpipes, Ligonier Highland Games returns to Idlewild Park
The Ligonier Highland Games, a regional celebration of all things Scottish, returns to Idlewild Park and SoakZone with colorful kilts, bleating bagpipes, haggis and more.
The 61st annual opportunity to “get your plaid on” will take place Sept. 14 and 15.
Last year, the popular event expanded from one day to two.
The event boasts popular athletic games — caber toss, sheaf toss and hammer throw, executive director Richard Wonderly says.
Some staff members born and raised in the Scottish Highlands say the Allegheny Mountains remind them of home, Wonderly adds.
“It’s a fun event for the whole family. You can bring your own food and drink, and parking is free. There are so many activities for kids and adults. You don’t have to be Scottish to enjoy it. It’s just a great time,” he says.
Sounds of Scotland
Dominic St. Charles, a local native, is among the new entertainers this year, performing at the games for the first time on Sunday.
The Melbourne, Fla., resident grew up in the Pittsburgh area and spent many of his younger years at a family cottage in Laughlintown. “I haven’t been to the Highland Games in 30-plus years. I remember it being fun,” St. Charles says.
He fronts two bands, URN and O’Hichidhe, but will perform solo during his Ligonier appearance.
“My dad’s side of the family came over from Waterford, Ireland. That music was always something that I heard. We heard all those fun Irish songs. I took it a step further. I was always researching songs that tend to be more indicative of Irish pride,” St. Charles says.
Those attending the festival can look forward to songs including “The Foggy Dew” and “Caledonia” (a Scottish folk ballad), he says. He tries to stay away from the most well-known songs, but may throw in a traditional tune like “The Wind That Shakes the Barley.”
Listeners will likely hear music they recognize from The Chieftains and The Dubliners, along with some of his compositions, St. Charles says.
Returning from last year are acts including The Rogues, County Mayo Irish Band, Scottish fiddler Sue Tillotson, accompanied by Jim Cunningham, Abbotts Cross, Red McWilliams and Terry Griffith.
Those looking to kick up their heels can try the Highland Fling, the sword dance and other foot stompers during the Scottish Highland Dancing Competition.
At its conclusion, a free beginners-level workshop will be held at Pavilion D2, open to anyone age 8 and up.
Throughout the two days, performers on four stages will include regional Celtic performers, Pittsburgh’s Scottish Country Dancers and a master Scottish fiddler.
More than 30 clans will host tents, sharing history and legends of each family group.
A traditional storyteller, Barra the Bard has been telling tales at the festival from the heart and from memory, not from a book, for 29 years. Her stories feature myths, legends, ghosts and fairy tales, according to the festival website.
The Celtic Caterer, Eric McBride, returns and will give cooking demonstrations both days and have cookbooks for sale.
Visitors can get into the culinary spirit of the festival by enjoying some sweet or savory treats from Gaelic Imports of Parma, Ohio, operated by mother and daughter Barbara Benkowski and Lauren Maye.
“We sell traditional Scottish meat pies, and other traditional foods of Scotland — sausage rolls, shepherd’s pie, bangers and mash. We also do hot haggis for those brave souls out there, with mashed potatoes and beans,” Maye says.
For the unfamiliar, haggis includes various organs of a sheep or other animal, mixed with ground beef, oats and barley and “proprietary seasonings” and encased in sheep stomach, Maye says.
“Surprisingly enough, we sell a lot of it there (Highlands Games),” she says.
If your inclination upon hearing the term “haggis” is to hurl, you’re in luck.
The festival will again offer a ladies’ haggis hurling competition, apparently modeled after wives who used to toss their husbands their lunches on the other side of the River Dromach.
Gaelic Imports also will sell favorite Scottish bakery items, including fern cake, tarts, scones, empire biscuits and shortbread, Maye adds.
Speaking of shortbread, if you think yours is the best homemade around, enter it in the Highland Games shortbread contest, either traditional or specialty.
For those more (American) traditional in their food choices, Jamison Farm will be grilling lamb burgers and other savories, and Idlewild Park food booths will be open.
A Catholic Mass, sanctioned by the Diocese of Greensburg, which provides a priest, will be celebrated at noon on Sept. 16 in Pavilion E1 at the park.
“Last year was the first year we tried it. It’s open to anyone. We had requests from staff and those attending (to hold a Mass) when they found out we were going to be there on Sunday,” Wonderly says.
The Ligonier Highland Games is an all-volunteer organization and the main fundraiser for the Clan Donald Educational and Charitable Trust, which each year grants a $5,000 scholarship for graduate study at a Scottish university of the applicant’s choice.
“We try to find someone who will learn something in Scotland and bring it back here and apply it,” Wonderly says.
Mary Pickels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary at 724-836-5401, [email protected] or via Twitter .