By Mike Wills
For a thousand years they have battled. From the days of the medieval Scottish kings, they have gathered to test their strength on the field of honor. Competing in one of the world's most ancient sports, they are at the same time world-class athletes…and links to the distant past. They are respected as husbands, fathers, brothers, sons, farmers, business people, soldiers, and world-class strength athletes. They have trained thousands of hours and competed all along the East Coast to earn their spot here today. But, by nightfall, only one can claim his place in history as the East Coast Amateur Champion.
Only one. But, that is only half the story.
The fact is this: Nearly 80% of the families that call the Appalachian Mountains their home can trace their heritage directly to Scotland and Ireland. When tens of thousands fled Scotland and Ireland during the 1700s - due to the Scottish Highland Clearances after the final collapse of the Jacobite cause, and the economic and religious pressures visited upon the Irish through the Ulster Plantation process - nearly all followed a similar emigration path to the colonies. First to the shores of Virginia, then westward, finally settling in and spreading throughout the mountains that dominate present-day western Virginia, West Virginia, western Pennsylvania, and northern Kentucky.
Why did they keep moving beyond the flat and fertile lands along the coast? The British came to the shores of Virginia too, and they had claimed much of the desired land. When they inevitably moved westward, the British could not farm the mountainsides. They needed flat land! So, the Highlanders found their new home in an area that seemed harsh and inhospitable to most. The mountains reminded them of the home they had left behind, and the Appalachians became the new Scotland in America.
Time marched onward, and quickly we forgot.
The athletes, pipers, musicians, singers, genealogists, and vendors gathering at Great Meadow are all living reminders. They remind us of those who fought, died, persevered, and started over to secure our right to live in freedom and dignity. More than that, they represent the link between common struggles faced by both the ancient Highlanders and today's proud Virginians. You see, the original Highland Games participants were commoners, preparing themselves for battle when they had been stripped of their weapons, but not their pride. They did not seek glory. Fighting without protest, they found death a more palatable choice than forced servitude.
Now, it is time for us to remember. This is who we are. We are the descendants of Scotland. We are proud and free. And today we celebrate our heritage…many for the first time. So on this day in history, the greatest amateur Highland Games athletes from around the country - each and every one a champion already – will descend upon Great Meadow. The prize is a place in the thousand-year lineage of warrior champions. You are invited to be a part of this opportunity to celebrate the rich Scots-Irish heritage of Virginia and the Appalachians, experience championship competition at a global level and enveloped in a Millennium of cultural heritage, and learn about your ancestry while enjoying traditional Scottish hospitality at its finest.
Neart agus urram. Strength and honor.