For one weekend each year, the quite lawn surrounding Government House in Fredericton is transformed into a piece of the Scottish Highlands and flooded with kilted people. Arguably the most determinedly Scottish place outside of the British Isles, the New Brunswick Highland Games Festival erects dozens of Celtically themed tents. Some clans have their own tents with familial memorabilia and history, while other tents house everything from genealogy booths, to bands, to a shop that specializes in plaid.
Over at the heavy events field a bunch of dudes in kilts gather around to practice the finer Celtic art of tossing heavy objects about: weights on chains, kegs, hammers, and cabers. Perhaps not the most imaginative of sports, but damn is it impressive. These aren’t the sort of athletes who fit societies guidelines for physical looks, rare specimens bred for celebrity as much as sport, all glossy and lean – these are the Hafþór Björnsson models. These are big burly men who will hurl more than fifty pounds of dead weight dozens of feet for the fun of it, or perhaps due to some barely hidden bloodlust seething just under the surface – centuries of repressed urges eager to be unleashed, ready to charge into battle at the sound of the bagpipes calling, while carrying whatever sufficiently weighty object can be found in the family tool shed. Makes me want to grow a killer beard and start a rock collection.
At the parade square you’ll find dozens of pipers and drummers being led by drum majors (who ironically, don’t use drums at all – bringing into question both their ability to drum and/or lead) marching with military precision. Each and every one of them will be battling heat stroke in their fusion of Scottish and band attire. Never mind the practicalities of this in a actual combat situation, something needs to get these burly Scots riled up. Even if you aren’t at the parade square, you can hear the beat of the drums and drone of the pipes from blocks away. I don’t care who you are, Bagpipes force you to feel some kind of emotion. Whether you’re like me and actually enjoy the sound, leaving you to figure out which of your great-great-grandparents must have been a Scot, or you hate them and their caterwauling drives you into a murderous rage.
Of course, you can’t go to the Highland Games and not try the haggis. Served on a bun, it looks like a less sloppy version of a sloppy joe. Contrary to my own belief, haggis isn’t actually a sheep stomach – it’s sheep heart, liver, and lungs… which is traditionally wrapped like a big sausage in sheep stomach. It’s a very fine line of distinction – one that I’m not certain makes it any of it more appealing or not, but because I’ve been trying to branch out, or maybe from some absurd genetically inherent Scottish pride, or the fact that I was told by my editor that I had to try it for this article, I ate it. The texture was similar to a really tender hamburger, and tasted not unlike a pork roast. It was surprisingly enjoyable, and if anything, it could have been more savory. Mystery solved. Would eat again.
For more information visit www.highlandgames.ca