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Families Unite To Celebrate Heritage
at Kentucky Scottish Weekend

Scottish Festival draws families,
friends to celebrate heritage

Ben Fronczek
Staff Writer

(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.

Bing & Percilla Ewen

Bing & 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, Ky.
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, it’s 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 don’t have to worry about your kids running loose,” said Percilla. “Our children have been raised doing this.”
The Ewen’s 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 Ewen’s “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 Ewen’s 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, it’s gotten bigger,” said Bing. “The fun has been learning how to put this kind of event on.”
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 it’s fun to do,” said Maney. “Even though it is a competition, we don’t get uptight. We help each other out.”
None of the competitors are compensated or awarded money for their achievements. The weekend’s 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 athlete’s head and then releasing it over the shoulder. All this motion must be done against the laws of physics, since the athlete’s 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 aren’t 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, it’s 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, we’ve 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 others.
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 year’s event will be hosted by Scottish entertainer Alex Beaton and include a variety of dancing as well as a pipe band.
“If you haven’t heard a pipe band, it is one of the most incredible sounds you’ll ever hear,” said Houston.
A family thing
The Kentucky Scottish Weekend’s 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 park’s maintenance superintendent Don Thomas, who has worked with the committee from its beginnings. “It is a family-oriented event that has grown every year. There’s a little bit for everybody.”
The festival has also served as way for those of Scottish ancestry to become more in touch with their heritage.
“I’d always known that I had Scottish ancestry,” said Rupert Furgerson II, a real estate appraiser from Prospect, Ky. “What I didn’t 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 ancestry.
The most significant factor for those who organize the weekend, though, is the camaraderie among those who attend.
“It’s 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.”
“It’s about entertainment, it’s about family and about people having fun not just at the event, but organizing it,” said Bing. “It is way of preserving culture.”

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