DUBLIN — While being billed as “A Reunion 275 Years in the Making,” the Carolina Caledonian Fest, a celebration of Highland Scots, will be more than just a potluck dinner for rugged redheads sporting kilts — much more. AKA Entertainment, out of Greensboro, is tasked with organizing the festival, and it is selling 10,000 tickets for the three-day event.
“I want to clarify that this festival is different from most Scottish festivals in that yes, we will have games, and yes, we will have kilts, but the festival, first and foremost, is to celebrate and let people know where they came from,” said Allen McDavid of AKA Entertainment, who traces his own roots to Scottish Highlanders.
Here a Scot, there a Scot
In 1739 in Brunswick Town, N.C., four years after stepping off a ship, 350 Scots began a trek along the Cape Fear River to establish the first Scottish settlement in America, the Argyll Colony. While many people subscribe to the romantic notion that the highlanders of Scotland settled in the mountains of North Carolina, festival organizers believe highlanders settled in the Cape Fear Region of what is now Bladen and Cumberland counties and claim there are more people with Highland Scot ancestry living in North Carolina than in Scotland — more than a million strong.
Surnames of descendants of the Argyll Colony include Cameron, Black, McDonald, Campbell, McNeill, McLean, Buie and McLeod, just to name a few.
In the 1800s, the social system of Scotland involved the clan — a group of people brought together by political or geographical necessity. Sometimes recognized by a tartan, a clan could be so diverse that some modern-day Cherokee, African-American, and Lumbee families can trace their roots to Scot Highlanders.
“There are so many highlander descendants around here, and many of them probably don’t know it,” said McDavid.
Clan Row at the Carolina Caledonian Festival will be set up for clans who have pre-registered. Tents will be provided, and clans are welcome to sell clan-specific apparel. To register a clan or to see a more inclusive list of surnames, visit http://www.caledonianfest.com/clans-.
For McDavid, the family celebration is the heart of the festival, and he hopes it will be a venue for descendants of Scots to hold family reunions in the future.
“We want people to find out who they are and celebrate their heritage,” he said.
What do to …
At various times throughout the weekend, exhibits and talks will take place at the Heritage/Cultural Expo on topics such as the Battle of Moore’s Creek, ancient origins of the Scots, genealogy and lineage, life in 18th century Scotland, the Gaelic language, Scots and slavery, Scots and the natives, Catholicism, how religion divided the Scots, the Argyll Colony legacy, life in 18th century North Carolina and the Revolutionary War.
Coordinated with Southeastern Highland Athletics Group, in the Sir Scott Games, trained judges will oversee the kind of games most people associate with Scotland, such as a stone put and other throwing competitions, light and heavy hammer throws, the sheaf (a heavy bag of twine or hay tossed over a bar), a weight for height (a heavier stone tossed over a bar), and the one most synonymous with highland games — the caber (a wooden log lifted and tossed.) Competitions begin at 9 a.m.
The Scottish Fiddle Competition is open to anyone who wishes to compete, and prizes and trophies will be awarded for all skill categories and ages under the auspices of F.I.R.E. (Scottish Fiddling Revival, Ltd.) The organizers have enlisted David Gardner, a professional fiddler from Williamsburg, Va. to judge the competitions.
Professional storytellers will be entertaining guests throughout the weekend, or guests can watch history come alive with the 71st Regiment of Foot, Fraser’s Highlanders or through the eyes of a group that presents life as a settler. Several dance troupes will be demonstrating highland dancing, and Sword Circle will demonstrate use of 18th century weapons. All the while, street performers will be delighting guests with their antics.
Also entertaining guests will be a fiddle workshop and Tartan Parades (two each day) featuring various pipe and drum bands. Those opting for a mental or physical workout can take part in 18th-century cricket, which will take place as a walk-up event Saturday and Sunday.
Since the event takes place on Halloween weekend, kids are welcome to come dressed up and trick-or-treat or carve pumpkins. Spooky storytelling — not too scary — will be conducted by a professional storyteller.
An original show, “Caledonia to Carolina,” has been written and will be performed Saturday night. The show celebrates the Celtic New Year and Samhainn, a time when Gaels honored their ancestors. Shortly following the setting of the sun, a collection of fire dancers backed by the pipes and drums of the band Albannach will perform a fire dance to ignite Celtic pride.
That’ll be a sgillin (new penny)
The Market at the festival will be part of the 18th century village of Campbellton and will feature items from Scottish culture and 18th century living.
Campbellton will also be the site of food vendors, some offering authentic Scottish fair and others having traditional American festival food, as well as beer, wine, and spirits.
“We really want people to get into the spirit of things and come dressed up,” said McDavid. “It doesn’t even have to be highlander attire — it could be 18th century Native American, colonial attire, anything from that time period. We want it to be like a Renaissance fair with a fun, Scottish atmosphere.”
Examples of attire can be found on the event website.
McDavid said he hopes the event will become an annual one that will draw tens of thousands of dollars into Bladen County’s economy. He would also like to see the event give rise to the construction of a permanent, year-round Scottish Highlander heritage museum at Lu Mil Vineyard.
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.