CONCORD, N.H. — New Hampshire is celebrating all things Scottish at its annual three-day Highland Games and Festival in Lincoln, one of the largest events of its kind in the country.
More than 60 clans are being represented and can trace their roots in a “clan village” set up at Loon Mountain.
Executive Director Terri Wiltse says the setting in New Hampshire’s highlands is a big draw; many feel like they’re in Scotland. She says another well-known gathering is near San Francisco, but it has palm trees.
“It’s just not the same,” she said.
About 30,000 people are expected to gather at the 41st annual event, which runs Friday through Sunday.
In addition to sheep dog trials, competitive athletics and piping contests, there’s a new event on Sunday called “The Scottish Diaspora — A Whisky Debate and Tasting.” Three orators will talk about which is better: Scottish malt, American bourbon, or American malt. Attendees will sample them and vote for the tastiest one.
Randall Bird, one of the debaters, says the idea is to educate as well as entertain. The title is a reference to the Highland Clearances, which started in the late 1700s after the last Scottish rebellion against English rule and continued for more than a century. Overpopulation, a potato famine and the collapse of the kelp industry made it easy for landlords to force or trick tenants out of their land. Waves of Scots emigrated to North America. Bird said he’s trying to show “how a lot of the Scottish influence as it moved around the world had a profound effect on whisky and culture.”
Bird, who has worked at distilleries in Scotland, said he hopes the debate will address misconceptions people have about whisky: “A lot of people think that bourbon has to be made only in Kentucky, which is not true, or that Scottish single malts have superior flavor because of the way that they’re made.”
Athletes from the United States, Canada, Iceland, Scotland and Europe are participating in competitive heavy athletics such as a caber toss (a large, tapered pole), hammer throw, and stone carrying. The games also sponsor the New England Disabled Heavy Athletics competition.
One topic that isn’t scheduled for discussion, but could still come up, is Britain’s decision to leave the European Union. Scottish voters have rejected independence, but there’s renewed talk about a new referendum.
“I can tell you as an organization it’s something we have talked about and it is on our minds,” Wiltse said. She said the British consulates from Canada and New York are expected to attend the games, so it may be up for discussion