HIGHLAND: Culture and Kilts

After the boiling heat of Pirate Weekend, Highland offered a blessed respite with magnificent weather coming in over the grounds. If you made it out last weekend you were in for a real treat with sunny skies, a beautiful cross-breeze, and the smell of fall in the air. This is when faire is at its zenith, at least for me. You can wear all the fancy layers of garb, people start breaking out the furs and cloak, and all the chilly weather beverages like cider and hot chocolate make their appearance. With October right around the corner, I was happy to bask in the post equinox glow along with everyone who came out to kick it on Highland Weekend.

Bagpipes and drums lead a wedding on Highland Weekend.

The Highlands

The Highlands refers to an area of northern Scotland which were rather sparsely populated due to the rugged and magnificently wild terrain. While Americans tend to think of the highlands as being a generalized expression for Scotland as a whole, there is an interesting cultural history to consider when learning more about this particular area. This entire area, more than ten thousand square miles, was once dominated by clan chieftains and their kin, creating a complex social hierarchy. The region was constantly in flux due to the rivalries and infighting which could create bad blood lasting for generations.


The Clans

Ohio Valley clans show up to help guests learn their heritage.

While the term clan refers to the Gaelic word clann (kindred or offspring) of a common ancestor, it is far too limiting a term in the larger scope of society. Clan more often meant everyone who lives within the region of a chieftain, regardless of their blood relationship. Oftentimes those within the territory would take on the surname, and it was not at all uncommon for a chief to adopt families into their clan to expand their numbers. Clan namesakes can be traced through patrilineal or matrilineal lines, largely dependent upon which surname the child claims kinship to. Today many of the clans have a list of septs, which are surnames closely associated with the clan on a historical level. This can be quite a task to navigate, as it is entirely possible for a surname to be associated with multiple clans at the same time.


The Tartan

In the modern-day, Scottish heritage is often intermingled with Irish ancestry. They share much of the same history to the point that many who look back at their family tree will find names familiar to both. These two, along with the Welsh and the Britons, are often referred to as Celtic, resulting in many festivals offering the pageantry and backdrop of the shared culture unanimously. So it should come as no surprise to find so many of us wearing the tartan. There are literally thousands of tartans in the registry, though the use of them is largely symbolic, it remains an important aspect in the modern sense of cultural recognition. Not every family has its own individual pattern, and some exist to honor branches of the military or nationalities. There are even official LGBT and Islamic tartans which show the changing landscape of an ever-growing heritage. If all else fails, go with the Pride of Scotland, easily recognized by the lovely purple, blue and white pattern.


Miami Valley Pipes & Drums always draws a crowd.

The second you hear the bagpipes you know it’s time for the day to begin! The Miami Valley Pipes & Drums greet the patrons as soon as the gate opens, offering up a taste of Scotland for all to partake. I know some folks who have a tradition of going straight from the front to the Aleing Knight to get a piping hot Scotch egg and a pint of Guinness for breakfast specifically on this weekend. They swear by it, so much so that in 2020 they posted videos of themselves having a homemade Scotch egg breakfast on what would have been Highland weekend because it felt wrong to go without.

The sweet shaggy beasts of Cu & Craic!

The Ohio Renaissance Festival had plenty of special guests in attendance, and one of the first stops on my weekend was the Cu & Craic Irish Wolfhounds! These hounds are popularized through legends, but as far as we know the earliest justifiable mention of a wolfhound was in 1210 when the hound Gelert was gifted to King John of England. I can’t go a season without getting to pet on these shaggy pups. They are such a welcoming breed, with an easygoing and friendly personality. Chances are you saw them walking around during the festival, eager to sniff around at the comings and goings of the day and get plenty of pets.

The hill behind the Arena of Champions is littered with tents for representatives of the local Ohio clans, giving folks an opportunity to explore their heritage. Each clan had its own vivid history worth exploring, and you might be surprised to find out who you are related to. The clan’s reps are wells of information, and they are usually quite thrilled to find a family member (however distantly related) show up for a hello! My wife is from the Stewart clan herself through her grandfather’s side of the family and always enjoys seeing the heraldry when we go up to the booth.

First-time competitor gets tips on how to toss a caber.

Highland weekend’s biggest draw is the Highland Games, giving the audience the opportunity to participate in traditional pastimes. It’s harder than it looks, but thankfully there are professionals on hand to help direct the competitors on tactics and strategy. After being divided up into women’s and men’s categories, The caber toss is one of the more intimidating events, requiring folks to not only balance this massive log but run and toss it without losing their balance or getting smacked in the head! The stone put is all about distance, requiring a good strong arm and weight distribution to really give it a go. The sheaf toss requires one to get a bale of hay (or in this case an overstuffed pillow), over a high bar. This means success all comes down to trajectory and flinging power! It was such fun to watch and the players look to be having a great time every year. Not to mention the prizes for the lucky winners are donated from booths around ORF!

Everyone takes the stage to open Pub Sing with the Mingulay Boat Song!

And what would the weekend be without music coming from every corner of the festival grounds! The 3 Fools Pub sported Lads on the Lash, the Rogues of Rafferty, and Celtic Mayhem keeping Highland pride alive all day long as folks crowded in. Father, Son, & Friends turned the Aleing Knight into a stomping good time with every mug full to the brim and the crowd belting along to some of their favorites.

As the sunset over the hill and the weekend came to a close, there was a sense of joy permeating the air that hung around for a good long while as the parking lot emptied out. We’re only halfway through the season with five more weeks to go, and I can’t wait to see what the faire will offer!


Next Weekend is Time Travelers Weekend! PLUS the return of Albannach!