Schenectady County

For many, Scottish Games all about clans (with video, photo gallery)

There’s a lot more to the Capital District Scottish Games than the beer tent.

There’s a lot more to the Capital District Scottish Games than the beer tent.

When Barbara Sutherland spots a tartan with two white lines and three red, she’ll chase its owner down if she has to and let them know they’re wearing Clan Sutherland plaids.

A father-son re-enactor team shows up to the Scottish Games at the Altamont Fairgrounds each year to smoke pipes, sip Guinness from mugs, and chat about life in the Scottish Highlands during 1745.

The Smith family had their reasons for showing up, too. Four-year-old Reagan was there to see the bagpipes. Two-year-old Deacon came to ride a pony while his grandma snapped pictures. The boys’ parents, Kristyn and Dave, hauled them there from Clifton Park so they could join in a family reunion of the Murray clan.

“My dad got his brother up from Louisville, Kentucky, and his sister out from Massachusetts,” said Kristyn Smith. “And this is the first time they’ve all been together in about 15 years.”

The blond brothers grew weary of the merciless sun, though, as hordes of Scottish families, friends and others enjoying a weekend festival traversed the fairgrounds speckled with tents. There were clan tents, band tents, vendor tents and the hallowed beer tent, where Celtic-folk band Hair of the Dog performed to a hops-infused crowd Saturday afternoon.

Nearby, bearded men in full costume stood regally as their lesser-dressed Scottish brethren passed by in makeshift kilts.

The father and son from Maine are re-enactors who portray Clan Grant from 1600 up to World War II. At the Capital District Scottish Games, Kenneth and Jeremy Grant portrayed their ancestors, Scottish Highlanders from 1745.

“In the 1970s, I ran into a man who was in a Massachusetts militia company getting ready for the Bicentennial,” recalled Kenneth, as he tucked his pipe into a belt hole. “So that’s how I got into re-enacting, but then my son sort of got into it, too.”

“I had nothing better to do,” interjects Jeremy, whose beard has more color, but not nearly as much character as his dad’s.

History lesson

During the 1700s, clans kept their weaponry on display. It was a period of uprisings throughout Scotland, and Clan Grant was busy avoiding displacement during the Highland Clearances by building its own town, schools and factories at Grantown-on-Spey.

Farther north, Clan Sutherland was subsisting on sparse agricultural land to raise cattle.

Robert Sutherland points to a map near his clan tent.

“Here,” he says, running a finger across a swath of Scottish land by the North Sea, “it was mostly up in this area we did cattle farming, which we would then bring down south to sell. That was basically their economy then.”

The 76-year-old man from Marlborough, Mass., likes to show off interesting tidbits of the 1600s map to passersby. His wife, Barbara, likes to point out a red banner at the back of the tent where a line of ribbons show off the different Scottish games that Clan Sutherland has participated in over the years — Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode island, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Maine.

As New England commissioner for the Clan Sutherland Society of North America, Sutherland sets up a booth at five or six games a year.

He particularly enjoys the Capital District games for their size and two-day schedule of events, which vary from Celtic musical offerings like the Brigadoons or massed band performances, or the largest pipe band competition on the entire Scottish Games circuit.

There’s caber tossing, where plaid-clad men resembling the Brawny Man toss giant logs that could topple a house across a field. There are children’s races and cows and ponies and Clydesdale horses, a dog show featuring Scottish deerhounds, bagpipes, and then more bagpipes.

Within the row of clan tents, a few more members of Clan Sutherland show up to the family booth, their skin glistening with sweat on the humid day.

“We’re primarily hoping that we’ll find a couple of Sutherlands or people that have a Sutherland ancestry who aren’t members and we try to recruit them,” said Robert Sutherland. “Somebody walks by and you say hello and ask them about their clans. Or they may just be lost on their way to the beer tent.”

The 2012 Capital District Scottish Games continue today at the Altamont Fairgrounds from 8 a.m. when gates open, to 6 p.m. for awards and a closing performance of massed bands.

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