In our North Fork travels we have had the good fortune to meet Kevin and Kenna Halsey. Kevin recently participated in the local Celtic Festival and Highlight Games and generously agreed to write a story about the event for MudGuide. This is good information about an interesting local event. Thanks, Kevin!
On September 19th Herron Park in Kalispell was the site for the first annual Flathead Valley Celtic Festival and Highland Games. The Flathead Valley Festival is just the latest in a growing number of Celtic gatherings to be held in Montana. Over the past decade Hamilton, Libby and Billings have also launched events that have become quite popular. These events come from a tradition in the Scottish Highlands of all the small towns and villages holding annual community gatherings which would include games and competitions of all sorts, including dancing and piping competitions as well as athletic events ranging from hill running to strength competitions. As the Scots immigrated to North America they brought this tradition with them. Some of these North American events have been going for over 150 years (e.g., Victoria, Pleasanton). While the events include a celebration of Celtic heritage and history, they are at their heart a continuation of what they have always been – a community gathering where all are welcome (regardless of heritage) and everyone enjoys a day of competition and entertainment.
The Flathead Valley Celtic Festival certainly hit that target. There were musicians and performers providing entertainment throughout the day, vendors selling craft items, food and beer, activities for the kids, and clan tents sharing information about Scottish history and culture, and of course the Highland Games competition. The North Fork was well represented at the Flathead Valley festival and in the Highland Game competition. Many North Forkers attended the festival, including: Shawn and Angie Agnew; Kevin and Kenna Halsey; Duke and Naomi Hoiland; Will and Karen McDonough; Chris and Monica Graff; Rich Clark, and likely others we did not see. Shawn and I competed in the Highland Games, and for Shawn it was his very first competition.
Over time the Highland Games have become standardized into 9 specific events that are contested throughout the course of the day. Competitors are required to compete in all 9 events with competitors being scored based on their place in each event (i.e., 1 point for first, 2 points for second, etc.) with the lowest total score winning the competition. The 9 events include feats of strength and skill such as:
- Caber toss (trying to flip a large pole),
- Throwing a weight over a bar (56#, 42# masters, 28# women),
- 2 Hammer tosses (men – 16#, and 22#; women 12#, and 16#),
- 2 Stone tosses (men 22# and 16#; women 12#, and 16#, ),
- 2 weights for distance (Men 56# (42# for masters), and 28#; women 28#, and 14#), and
- Sheaf (throwing a 20# bale for height over a bar).
Highland Games competitors in the Northwest will often travel throughout the region competing in dozens of community events throughout Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana over the course of the season.
The games are typically broken into several classes of competitors ranging from the novice class (first time throwing) to the C class (only a year or two of experience), the B class (intermediate throwers), A class (expert throwers), and Masters (over 40). Shawn and I threw in the Masters class, which included some very experienced throwers from all around Washington, Idaho and Montana. Shawn’s goal going into the games was to not finish last. He easily achieved that goal. In fact, if he had thrown in the novice class (which he was eligible for) he would have won handily. As it was Shawn was competitive in every event, placing as high as third in a couple events and missing third place in several others by as little as a couple inches. In the end, only a couple points (and a few inches) separated Shawn from placing in the top three for the day. Nicely done Shawn! I think I can safely say that both Shawn and I had a great day competing, and we are eager to do it again next year.
For those that are interested in attending the event next year, the event web site is located at: https://flatheadcelticfestival.com/. For those interested in competing next year, the Scottish American Athletic Association (SAAA) is responsible for running the athletic competitions for all the western Montana games. Their registration page is located at: https://saaa-national.org/ . . . or, talk to Shawn or myself. The games include classes for both men and women, and many games also have a kid’s class. We will be doing some practice sessions before next year’s event for those that are interested.
Note from the Editor: What Kevin didn’t say in his post is that he won the overall Masters class. Well done Kevin! And thanks again for the excellent post.