Held March 24-25 at The Market Common, which is located about 6 miles south of The Caribbean Resort, the Myrtle Beach Highland Games and Heritage Festival features traditional ancient Gaelic sporting events that date back to the Feudal Age. In order to select the strongest and most skilled guards, and to settle old clan conflicts without the horrors of warfare, Scottish kings hosted these events as a form of unifying their kingdoms with the spirit of good-natured competition.
That tradition continues in modern-day Myrtle Beach, although under much happier circumstances than during the Dark Ages. Falling only one week after all the St. Patrick’s Day festivities on the Grand Strand, the Myrtle Beach Highland Games and Heritage Festival provides the perfect end to a weeks-long series of Celtic-themed celebrations in the area. In addition to the games, this festival features live Scotch-Irish music and dance performances, kids’ activities and lots of good food, drink and shopping.
Of course, the games are the main attraction, especially since most of the curious spectators are newcomers to the ancient arts of Highland sports. Designed as a true test of strength and skill for the serf farming class, the games involve such odd events as the caber toss, which — at least to the uninitiated — resembles grown men in kilts trying to throw a telephone pole as far as possible. Perhaps more than any other event, the caber toss requires the best combination of power and skill.
Other events include a series of weight throws, including pseudo-Olympic sports like the hammer throw and stone put. Another combines the weight throw with the vault as competitors toss a Braemer Stone directly overhead and try to clear the cross pole without having it land on their heads. The Highland Games might seem strange to Americans more accustomed to traditional stick-and-ball sports, but the sheer strength and raw power required to compete in these events is impressive to witness.
The Myrtle Beach Highland Games and Heritage Festival also allows the little ones to take part in the contests at the Kids Glen, where children ages 6-12 can try their hands at safe and miniature-sized versions of Highland sports, as well as team competitions like the three-legged race and tug-o-war. Kids ages 5 and under also get to play age-appropriate games, get creative at the arts and crafts table, and track down hidden clues and treasure with a scavenger hunt that rewards finishers with a special prize.
Other activities include a clan village where patrons can trace their Scotch-Irish ancestry, discover their family coat of arms and learn about Gaelic history. The Whisky Tasting tent allows guests to sample some of Ireland and Scotland’s best single-malts, and food and drink vendors will serve hot food and cold drinks, including the most popular beer exports. The Border Collie demonstration is the highlight for animal people who love to watch the dogs perform their herding duties.
The event opens Friday with a free concert and authentic Irish food and drinks at the Ceilidh Welcome Party from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. The games are held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday with a full day of family fun on the schedule. Advance tickets to Saturday’s event are $13 for adults, $5 for children ages 6-12, and free for ages 5 and under. Seniors and military members receive a $5 discount. For a full schedule of events or to purchase discounted tickets online, visit www.myrtlebeachhighlandgames.com.