Fort Lauderdale

Thousands celebrate Scottish tradition at annual S. Fla festival

 

jsimmons@MiamiHerald.com

Throngs of tartan and kilt-clad lads and lasses crowded the field at Synder Park in Fort Lauderdale Saturday afternoon for the 30th annual Scottish Festival and Highland Games.

More than 5,000 people bought tickets for the event, organizers said.

Lisa Gourlay, 26, was visible from the far side of the athletic field where groups of bagpipers gathered to perform.

Her neon yellow T-shirt said: “Warning: I throw telephone poles.”

And she did, in a highland game called the caber toss.

“The objective is to flip it end over end and have it land on a perfect 12, as on a clock face,” she said.

For the women’s competition, Gourlay said, the poles weigh anywhere from 40 to 100 pounds.

It’s one of nine traditional Scottish feats of strength she competes in, said Gourlay, but her favorite is the one called the sheaf toss, where contestants use pitchforks to toss a 16-pound sack of hay over a bar, which is raised until only one athlete is left.

She gashed her right knee with her pitchfork last May.

“Took five stitches,” she said, showing off the scar beneath the bottom hem of her kilt, “But I love the game.”

The Scottish Festival started in Crandon Park under the supervision of the Scottish American Society of South Florida.

Plantation resident Nigel MacDonald, 64, is one of the festival’s founders.

“I wanted to show the local population some of their heritage,” he said. “Over 4,000 came the first year. They all came out of the woodwork.”

MacDonald came to the U.S. from Scotland in 1976, but even as a boy growing up in Scotland, he said, his ancestry was important to him.

He started playing the bagpipes at 13 and was the only one in his class to wear his kilt for graduation.

Through the Scottish American Society of South Florida, MacDonald said, he helps local people learn about Scottish culture.

At the booths selling tartan clothes and T-shirts with clan crests, 15-year-old Tristan Briller checked out the kilts.

The one he wore was Royal Stuart tartan and the uniform of the Dunedin Highland Middle School Pipe Band.

Briller started playing the bagpipes about a year ago, and said learning gave him confidence.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Briller said. “Once I played the pipes, I felt I could do a lot of other things too.”

People weren’t the only ones taking part in the festival’s events.

Crocket is an 8-year-old border collie.

He’s a farm dog, said handler Lucia Skipwith-Lilien, and he knows how to handle a wayward sheep.

Crocket took care of five of them in a herding demonstration on the grass at the park’s athletic field. On command, he slunk up behind the wooly knot of Scottish Blackface sheep, his belly low to the grass. They saw him and turned. He stared them down.

Border collies are the champions of herding dogs, Skipwith-Lilien said. They’ve been used in Scotland and England for generations.

“They’ll do anything to save a sheep. They’re devoted companions to the farmer, and they’re very intelligent,” she said after the demonstration.

Children gathered around Crocket, who basked in the attention as two little girls in pink sweaters patted him on the head.

“There are a lot of herding dogs,” Skipwith-Lilien said, “but there’s only one border collie.”

James McNeil, 31, was attending the festival with his wife, Lara, for the first time.

They wore matching scarves made of the tartan of the MacNeil clan, but didn’t expect to join the march of the clans, where each carries their standard out onto the field.

“We got flagged down,” McNeil said, “and they said, ‘I know those colors! You need to march with us’.”

They did.

Lara McNeil, 34 and a music teacher, said she enjoyed the festival, and it gave her a new idea.

She turned to her husband: “Maybe we should get a set of bagpipes.”

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