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The Gathering of the Clans

Upon arriving at Grandfather Mountain, the first order of events was to "check into" our cabin, at a place called "Anvil Rock."  This is because ( you already guessed it) there is a big rock there shaped like an anvil.  The cabin was built by Catherine's uncle as a summer residence, and one entire wall of the cabin is the boulder itself.  The front of the cabin is almost entirely glass, and the view is spectacular.  Catherine, Chris and I sat on the large rocks outside of the cabin and had a picnic dinner while listening to the Celtic Jam down below.  It was a perfect beginning to the weekend. 

(Note:  Charles Kuralt lived in "our" cabin for a couple of weeks and there is an entire chapter on Grandfather Mountain in his book Charles Kuralt's America.)

The Celtic Jam was arranged chronologically, starting with the earliest and most traditional music and moving forward through the ages, ending with what Chris accurately described as "a couple of rock bands who throw in a bagpipe and call themselves Scottish."  We listened to most of the early stuff from our perch on the mountain, and arrived in time for a couple of groups that we really liked.  One was called Full Moon Ensemble. They hail from Alabama and their fiddle player was unbelievable.  The other, my very favorite, was a group called Clandestine.  They are from Houston, Texas.  The band features the talents of E.J. Jones on Highland bagpipes, Jennifer Hamel on guitar and vocals, Gregory McQueen on fiddle, and Emily Dugas on percussion and vocals.  (Click to read their biographies.)  If you like Scottish jigs and beautiful Celtic ballads, I enthusiastically recommend all of their CDs.  You can go to their site and download samples.  If you do that, please listen to a song called Cannonball.  It is gorgeous and haunting and -- for anyone besides me who cares -- very Ignatian.

In addition to the music of the Friday night Celtic Jam, the Gathering of the Clans also featured several "groves" where music played continuously throughout the weekend.  Our cabin was located directly above one of the groves, which meant we heard everything very clearly.  We could also hear the bagpipe contest in the not-so-distant distance.  The musical chaos only added to the wonderful atmosphere.  As Chris pointed out, where else could you hear two different sets of bagpipes playing "Amazing Grace" and "Pour Me Another Tequila, Sheila" at the same time?  (All I know is, that's my kind of religion.)

Saturday was "Roots" day.  The field where the games are played is circular and surrounded by tents from every clan that has shown up.  There was a "Hall" tent, and I met those clan members and saw our crest and tartan right away.  But the "Hardie" clan is the one I identify as being Scottish, so I had to search for them.  At the beginning of the circle there is a tent where nice guys in kilts will help you find your clan if it isn't readily obvious.  With their help and a couple of books, I was able to figure out that the Hardie clan is a sept of either Clan MacIntosh or Clan Farquarson.  A sept is a clan under the umbrella of another clan by marriage or some other joint venture, and protected by the larger and more powerful clan.  I will have to do some research to find out which clan is really my clan's clan, but for the time being I chose Clan  MacIntosh for a very substantive reason: I liked their tartan better. (The above right is a picture of my clan at their tent.) 

After identifying my clan, I visited the Scottish vendors' tents, where one can find just about anything in one's family's tartan.  (I certainly hope I picked the right clan, otherwise there will soon be a very nice MacIntosh packet for sale on Ebay:  a scarf, a pin, a window ornament, a coffee mug and a computer mouse pad.)  I donned my scarf and family crest pin and went off in search of the Clan MacIntosh tent.  There I introduced myself to the very friendly folks in "my" plaid.  It's absolutely amazing to me, the instant kinship I felt to these people I'd never met and knew nothing about, just because we were wearing the same plaid.  I got an application from them: for ten bucks a year I can be an official clan member.  This entitles me to attend clan meetings (having grown up in the rural south, that doesn't sound like an appealing concept) and to receive their newsletter.  They didn't ask for any proof that I actually am a Hardie/MacIntosh, a fact which I'm told is tremendously upsetting to authentic Scottish folk who attend what they think of as what we "call" Highland Games.

The afternoon was filled with grown men in skirts throwing heavy bags over high poles, grown men in skirts throwing telephone polls, grown men in skirts playing tug-of-war with a large rope,  grown men in skirts wrestling, and cute little girls in skirts trying to out dance each other.  The conclusion at which I arrived:  grown men look great in skirts.  (I was completely unsuccessful in my attempt to get my husband to wear one, and I don't think it was because he couldn't find his tartan.)  The air was constantly filled with the sound of bagpipes -- a sound I never grew tired of, even though Catherine swore that I would.  (On Friday night I asked her if we could have the cabin again for next year's games, and she told me I had to ask on Sunday.  Apparently her nephew stayed at Anvil Rock one year and by Sunday he never wanted to hear another bagpipe as long as he lived.)

On Sunday morning there was a huge outdoor church service, which I listened to as I shopped.  Apparently Protestant Scots greatly outnumber Catholic Scots, so we had to go "off campus" to go to  Mass.  After Mass and brunch I returned to the vendor tents, where I found several obscure books on Clan Sinclair, the clan of my fictional characters. Then Chris and I went to the Clandestine tent and did some research on what it would take to turn our eleven year-old violinist into a fiddle player.  (She'd look so cute on stage in in a plaid skirt with that red hair.)  Then, sadly, it was time to pack up and head back to real life.  We bode farewell to Catherine, her family and the mountain.  Until the next gathering.





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