A chorus of bagpipes rang through Thomas Point Beach and Campground this weekend, as thousands of people from New England and beyond gathered in Brunswick for the 43rd annual Maine Highland Games and Scottish Festival.

The celebration, organized by the St. Andrews Society of Maine, featured a nonstop string of traditional Scottish athletics, highland dance and piping competitions, plus sheepdog demonstrations, historical reenactors and more.

“We try to offer something for everybody,” said George Newell, the group’s president. “My motto is, ‘You’re welcome, Scot or not.’”

The celebration began Friday evening with a Ceilidh, a traditional Gaelic gathering featuring music and dance.

The line of cars waiting to enter the campgrounds Saturday morning for the games’ opening ceremony stretched well over half a mile. Delegations from dozens of clan organizations took turns shouting celebratory battle cries, before St. Andrews Society of Maine Vice President Jimmy Rodden discussed the history behind the event.

Though modern highland games date back to the 19th century, they have roots centuries deeper in the past. The Maine games, part of a tradition that has spread across the globe, gives those with connections to Scotland a chance to gather and celebrate their common cultural background, according to Newell.


“We do this because we love our heritage,” he said. “We have to remember our past.”

The Maine Ulster Scots Project, which had two tents set up at the festival on Saturday, is particularly devoted to uncovering that past, said President Rebecca Graham. The group researches and preserves the history of migrants from Northern Ireland, many of whom originally came from Scotland.

Maine, which according to census data has the most residents per capita who claim Scottish or Scottish-Irish ancestry in the United States, continues to feel the presence of the Northern Irish settlers who began to arrive in 1718, she said.

“(Being) stubborn, not prone to being impressed by big credentials, being impressed by character – those are things that are deeply Maine,” Graham said. “They’re also deeply Northern Irish.”

Brenda Aldrich and Doris Barratt of Clan Macnachtan traveled from Walpole, New Hampshire, in hopes of discovering more kinsmen. The pair have been attending similar events for over 40 years, including six this summer alone.

“As soon as the pipes start playing in the spring, we’re ready to pack up and go,” Barratt said. “I don’t know what it is. I guess it’s in your blood.”


Newer to the fold were Brian and Karen Urquhart from North Andover, Massachusetts, who were attending their first highland games. Brian Urquhart said he made the trip to learn more about his heritage and to enjoy musical acts like the Seán Heely Band.

“There’s a great variety of foods and entertainment and a nice shady campground on a hot day,” Urquhart said. “It’s terrific.”

The athletes participating in traditional competitions like the sheaf toss, stone put, and hammer throw were a long way from their ancestral lands. But the sounds of the pipes were almost enough to transport Newell to the Highlands.

“Someday I will get to Scotland,” he said. “But this is a little bit of Scotland in Maine.”

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