Scotch-Irish Eyes Smiling for Myrtle Beach Highland Games & Heritage Festival

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The Celtic-themed festivities don't come to an end after St. Patrick's Day in Myrtle Beach. In fact, with the possible exception of the St. Paddy's Day parades and parties earlier in March, the weekend after the March 17-19 holiday weekend features the greenest gathering of the year on the Grand Strand with the Second Annual Myrtle Beach Highland Games & Heritage Festival.

This event provides the perfect bookend to an Irish-themed week, and the ideal reason for a getaway stay at The Strand. Held March 24-25 at Grand Park in The Market Common, this young festival pays tribute to the ancient traditions of Gaelic culture. Featuring the historic sports rituals of Ireland, Scotland, Wales and other regions of the British Isles, the Myrtle Beach Highland Games & Heritage Festival also celebrates other aspects of Celtic culture, including food, drink, music and fun.

The inaugural Myrtle Beach Highland Games & Heritage Festival made its debut appearance on the Grand Strand last year to rave reviews, and word has quickly spread about the exciting games and interesting activities for visitors of all ages and backgrounds. You don't have to be Scotch-Irish to appreciate the cultural contributions of the Celtic people to the settlement of America.

The Highland Games, which date back to well before the mass migration to the U.S., feature contests of strength and skill that might seem strange to fans accustomed to the American tradition of stick-and-ball sports. Highland Games athletes compete in activities like the caber toss, which involves hurling a telephone-pole sized and shaped object end over end for distance.

Other popular events include the Braemar stone put (similar to the modern shot put), where athletes hurl a 20-pound rock for distance, and the weight for height competition, which is as dangerous as it is difficult since the competitors are throwing 28-pound and 56-pound weights directly overhead. The hammer throw and sheaf toss are among the many other unique games.

Originally used as a way for the kings of Scotland to select the strongest guards and soldiers, the Highland Games were also a way for Gaelic tribes to show their relative strength without resorting to war. In keeping with tradition, kilt-clad athletes put on a display of power to the delight of the crowds that gather to witness what a sporting event was like centuries ago.

The next generations can also get in on the action at the Kids Glen play area, where the little ones can test their talents in safer, miniature-sized versions of the grown-ups' games. Children ages 6-12 can compete for prizes in activities like archery and dueling, as well as team-oriented events like tug-of-war and the three-legged race. Kids under 6 can take part in arts and crafts projects, face-painting, a scavenger hunt and more. The kids will also love the sheep-herding border collie demonstration.

The Myrtle Beach Highland Games & Heritage Festival also features live music to fit the occasion, like pipe and drum bands and amazing bagpipe players. The vendor village in the Celtic Market represents ancient clans and allows patrons to learn more about their Gaelic heritage. Other tents serve Irish, Scottish and American food favorites, and a whisky tasting of Ireland and Scotland's proudest exports is also on tap. Scottish dancing, a British car display, giveaways and raffles are all part of the festivities.

The event opens Friday with the Ceilidh Welcome Party from 6 to 10 p.m. with a free concert and authentic Gaelic food and drinks available. The main event takes place Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with a full day of fun, games and festivities. 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 receive a $5 discount. For a full schedule of events, visit http://www.myrtlebeachhighlandgames.com.

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