Festival draws families,
friends to celebrate heritage
(May 2001) Carrollton, Ky The
Ewen family anxiously awaits the second weekend in May
all year long. It is this weekend when their family, or
clan, as the Scottish call it, will be among those who
gather at Gen. Butler State Resort Park in Carrollton,
Ky., for the 19th annual Kentucky Scottish Weekend.
& Percilla Ewen
The excitement of the festival was apparent
three weeks before the event. Crestwood architect Bing
Ewen and his wife, Percilla, discussed the event at their
home with friends Fred Maney and Meredith Houston of Lexington,
The Ewens have worked behind the scenes of the event since
its second year, particularly in helping organize the
athletic games. Well-built Fred contributes his physical
strength every year to the games themselves, handling
heavy objects in ways that make viewers mouths drop
to the green grass with astonishment. Meredith has just
relocated to Kentucky from Florida, where she enjoyed
many such Scottish Weekends, similar to one in Carrollton
on May 11-13.
It is a weekend filled with Scottish games, foods and
entertainment. But for families like the Ewens and their
friends, it is the social aspect that makes the weekend
as special as it is.
For a lot of folks, its a family reunion,
said Bing. The games are a reason to get together.
The real family aspect is what makes it so popular.
Many of the families will have their own tents or areas.
But it is an open, friendly environment.
You dont have to worry about your kids running
loose, said Percilla. Our children have been
raised doing this.
The Ewens grown children, Len, 27, and Stephanie,
23, have participated actively in the festival since they
were small. Stephanie has competed in the Scottish dancing
and Len in the games. They have also been a part of gathering
friends at Scottish festivals around the country that
have become known as the Ewens adopted children.
Besides your family, you bump into a wealth of folks
from around the world, said Bing. When you
go to the games, you find people who can speak at length
about Celtic topics or any other thing.
A lot of history, genealogy and family stories are
there, added Percilla.
Though the Ewens enjoy and value the gathering aspects
of the festival, they put many hours of concentration
into organizing the athletic events, a popular aspect
of the overall weekend.
Each year, its gotten bigger, said Bing.
The fun has been learning how to put this kind of
Overall, there are seven events that showcase the strength
and technique of individuals who endure strenuous feats
for the fun of it.
Demonstrating Scottish strength
Seeing the Highland Athletic Events is an experience that
will bring oohs and ahs to those witnessing
them. Some may cringe with painful apathy when watching
the competitors lift and throw these heavy objects around
like footballs. But for athletes such as Maney, it is
a pure thrill.
We do it just because its fun to do,
said Maney. Even though it is a competition, we
dont get uptight. We help each other out.
None of the competitors are compensated or awarded money
for their achievements. The weekends athletic events
are divided into a Saturday competition and Sunday demonstrations,
where the public is invited to try more modified versions
of the events.
The competition is a day-long event in a heptathlon form,
where competitors participate in all seven events. Many
of these athletes are taller than 6-foot-5 and weigh more
than 300 pounds. Just seeing what they have to do in each
event explains why.
The competitors get three tries in each event. Their best
effort is recorded. Each event requires a specific technique.
An example is the hammer throw, where a Scottish hammer
is thrown for distance.
This kind of hammer is not the kind used to hang pictures.
It is a 22-pound lead ball at the end of a rattan handle.
It is thrown by swinging the hammer around the athletes
head and then releasing it over the shoulder. All this
motion must be done against the laws of physics, since
the athletes feet must be planted firmly on the
ground. Maney noted that inexperienced individuals may
have the temptation to throw their own weight with that
of the hammer.
There is a lot more technique to it than strength,
he said. A lot of the first portion of the throw
is like the clean and jerk from power lifting.
Another strenuous event is the 56-pound weight toss, where
the athlete squats, holding the weight between his legs,
then throws it over his head and over a pole about 14
feet in the air. Heavy objects also fly the friendly skies
in the caber toss, where the athlete takes a tree trunk
weighing 175 pounds in his palms, then hoists it 17 feet
in the air, where it makes an 180-degree arc before landing
on the opposite end.
The next afternoon, the public is invited to try some
of these events. The weights arent as high as in
the competition, but Maney said that a lot of who now
compete got started by coming to watch the demonstrations,
then trying the tasks themselves.
There is a certain amount of fear and confusion
in their faces the first time they try it, said
Bing, laughing. But once they try it, its
exciting for them like a feeling of accomplishment.
We are an amateur competition and teaching site,
said Bing. This is not the type of sporting event
you see at schools. Over the years, weve made it
a point to teach anyone who wants to learn.
He added that physical ability is weighed heavily, due
to the strenuousness of the activity.
It is strenuous, but it is fun, said Jay Montgomery,
a past competitor from Carrollton. The guys are
real welcoming to new competitors in helping you along
and giving you tips. Montgomery said he will not
be competing this year because he is using his strength
to travel with the Power Team Ministry. He has enjoyed
the experience of competing in the games the two years
he has done so.
It has been a great experience, culturally. I found
a lot about my heritage and researched the history of
a lot of the events.
The sporting events are just one of avenues of learning
about the Scottish culture that the weekend offers.
Dance and music
Scottish country dancing takes place throughout the day,
both Saturday and Sunday.
Country dancing is the social aspect of Scottish
dance, said Joyce Deddens, the Kentucky Scottish
Weekend Inc. vice president who helps coordinate the country
dancing. It is the kind done on social occasions
and consists of participation.
The public will be invited to participate and learn these
dances. Many are similar to some that have been done in
America for years.
The Virginia Reel grew out of Scottish dances,
said Deddens. It is very similar to a dance called
the Haymakers Jig. The tempo of the music is jig
and reel time. The strong point of learning these dances
is that you can go anywhere in the world and do these
dances. Some of them are as old as the 1700s.
Dance will also be in a competitive format, with the Highland
Dance Competition taking place throughout the day Saturday.
The competition will include Irish dances such as the
Scottish Lilt, Irish Jig, Highland Fling and numerous
The big evening event of the Scottish weekend will be
the Ceilidh (pronounced kay-lee) on Saturday, beginning
at 7:30. Ceilidh is a Gaelic word that means sing-a-long.
This years event will be hosted by Scottish entertainer
Alex Beaton and include a variety of dancing as well as
a pipe band.
If you havent heard a pipe band, it is one
of the most incredible sounds youll ever hear,
A family thing
The Kentucky Scottish Weekends presence over the
last 18 years has been felt by many.
Gen. Butler officials say they have been pleased with
the impact of the event.
It brings a lot of people from several different
states to our community, said the parks maintenance
superintendent Don Thomas, who has worked with the committee
from its beginnings. It is a family-oriented event
that has grown every year. Theres a little bit for
The festival has also served as way for those of Scottish
ancestry to become more in touch with their heritage.
Id always known that I had Scottish ancestry,
said Rupert Furgerson II, a real estate appraiser from
Prospect, Ky. What I didnt realize is that
I had as much Scottish in me as I do.
Going to the Kentucky Scottish Weekend over the years
had prompted Furgerson to thoroughly research Scottish
history to the extent that he has written a book on his
The most significant factor for those who organize the
weekend, though, is the camaraderie among those who attend.
Its a good weekend to get away, enjoy the
outside and watch a bunch of knobby-kneed guys walk around
in skirts, said Jeffrey Lockhart, a Pewee Valley,
Ky., CAD designer who is the state commissioner for the
2,000-member Ross clan. We meet up there every year
and have a grand old time.
Its about entertainment, its about family
and about people having fun not just at the event, but
organizing it, said Bing. It is way of preserving