Scottish clans, Celtic fans and festival lovers worldwide are gearing up for the 64th Annual Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, a four-day event celebrating Gaelic culture, heritage, music, athletics and dance. Some claim it’s one of the largest gathering of clans in the world and it begins in western North Carolina, Thursday, July 11 at 4:30pm.
The games are held each July, in Linville, NC on Grandfather Mountain at MacRae Meadow. Grandfather Mountain, a famous scenic travel destination, is home to the Mile High Swinging Bridge, environmental habitats, a nature museum and alpine hiking trails. The attraction was developed in 1952 by its owner, North Carolina Photographer and conservationist, Hugh MacRae Morton. It was Morton’s mother, Agnes MacRae Morton, who co-founded the Games in 1956 with Donald F. McDonald, a writer from Charlotte News and a descendent of the Cape Fear, NC Highland Scots. Catherine Morton, daughter of Hugh Morton and granddaughter of Agnes Morton, said one of the reasons her grandmother wanted to create the event was she believed it was important keep Scottish traditions alive in western North Carolina.
“My grandmother started the Games because she was discouraged that younger generations were not learning about their Scottish heritage,” said Morton. “My dad helped, not only because his mother asked him to, but because anything that raised the name recognition of Grandfather Mountain was good for his business. Plus, there were all sorts of colorful things for him to photograph!”
It’s not unusual for Avery County, NC to welcome 35,000 people to the area during the Games – and with that many folks coming to town, it’s inevitable the event has a wide reaching, positive impact on tourism and the economy. Part of the mission of Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, Inc., the nonprofit which operates the festival, is to establish scholarship funds to assist students from Avery County High School to study at American colleges and universities. And, there’s more - the proceeds also help provide all sorts of revenue opportunities for local people.
“The Games help the entire community,” said Morton. “It is nice that the proceeds can help several Avery students with college scholarships, but the real impact is from the dollars that go back into the community. Area clubs and nonprofits earn a significant portion of their annual budgets by furnishing the many services needed to pull the event off such as setting up tents, collecting tickets, driving shuttle buses, providing security, not to mention the number of summer jobs the event creates. The economic impact on this little county is huge and ends up touching every person in the county.”
WNCW Volunteer Penn Dameron and former Executive Director of the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation reminisced about his time spent participating and enjoying the Games while working at the mountain. He said when folks are at the event, there’s a strong feeling of connection and a deep association with Celtic heritage.
“The Grandfather Mountain Highland Games are like sitting by the fireside at a place you’ve never been before, and yet you know you’ve never left,” said Dameron. “They’re like coming home, no matter where you thought home was before. They help a lot of people understand that deep down, they’re Scottish.”
And, along with the emotional interconnection, there’s also lots of fun to be had at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games.
“I like the idea that folks can experience a time and place that is totally unlike anything they’d see in their own back yards,” said Morton. “You can’t help but be energized by the color, the sounds and the celebration. It is good for every human being to get away, now and then, to do something different... and these highland games are certainly different!"
Agnes MacRae Morton… mission accomplished.
The GMHG will be held Thursday July 11, through Sunday July 14, 2019. Slàinte or cheers to your health!