Visitors can have twice as much fun at this year’s Ligonier Highland Games.
Celebrating its 60th anniversary, the Games is now a two-day event, being held Sept. 22 and 23 at Idlewild Park.
Executive Director Richard Wonderly of Altoona says the event outgrew its one-day format.
Its reputation in the Scottish Games community has led to increased participation from competitors all over the country, he said, in addition to some from Canada this year.
“By moving to a two-day schedule, it allows us to focus on our traditional Scottish Highland Games on Saturday and to have a more Celtic festival of athletics and contemporary Celtic/Scottish/Irish music on Sunday,” he says.
New activities on Sunday will include expanded Masters and Womens heavy athletics, a team Tug of War competition and an Adult Light athletics competition, where newcomers can try their hand at some of the heavy events.
There will be a continuous schedule of entertainers, seminars and workshops on Scottish history and music, and presentations and cooking demos by the Scottish Chef.
Also new this year is a Catholic Mass to be celebrated at 9 a.m. Sunday in Pavilion E1 at the park.
“The Catholic Mass was in response to the requests of many of our entertainers and staff that wouldn’t be able to attend church if they were working on Sunday,” Wonderley says.
Susan Borowski of Munhall is entertainment coordinator for the Games and said this year’s lineup of performers is impressive.
The headliner band for both days is The Rogues in their first appearance at the Ligonier event.
Borowski adds they caught her attention last summer when she learned they added Sean Patrick Regan of Pittsburgh, a world-champion piper, to their band.
Regan is a third-generation piper who earned a music education degree with the bagpipe as the primary instrument from Edinboro University. His band experience began with the Steel Thistle Pipes Drums of Pittsburgh, where he played as a piper and snare drummer. He also performed with the Carnegie Mellon University Grade III Pipe Band, and was a member of the Carrick High School Pipes Drums.
The main stage acts on Saturday also include County Mayo Irish Band, Scottish fiddler Melinda Crawford and Step in Time, Celtic music performers from Ohio.
Sunday’s entertainment also will feature County Mayo Irish Band, Road to the Isles, Corned Beef and Curry and Scottish fiddler Sue Tillotson, accompanied by Jim Cunningham on harp, guitar and bouzouki.
“The side stages will be booming with excitement, too,” Borowski says. “We are thrilled to have world renowned Scottish entertainer Red McWilliams with us, Pittsburgh’s beloved Celtic musician, Terry Griffith, Abbots Cross, Rich Patrick and Celtic Shores, not to mention the Pittsburgh Scottish Country Dancers.”
Scottish culture, heritage
Wonderly, in his 10th year as executive director, said the Ligonier Highland Games is a great way to learn about the culture and heritage not only of Scotland, but its influence on the region for centuries.
Families also can learn about their heritage, find out about which Scottish clan they might belong to and their Scottish tartans, hear traditional music, learn about the Gaelic language, see the Scottish breed dogs and sample traditional Scottish food.
“It’s the only place you’ll be able to see over 300 pipers on the field together for the massed band performance,” he said. “It’s a great way for a family to spend a day together, bring a picnic lunch if they want, relax and enjoy so much entertainment. They’ll take away an appreciation of the richness of the Scottish heritage and an understanding of how much they share with all the people in the region.”
The Ligonier Highland Games is an all-volunteer organization and the main fundraiser for the Clan Donald Educational and Charitable Trust, which has granted more than $200,000 in scholarships in the past 60 years, according to organizers.
The Games started in 1959 as a Scottish picnic at Kennywood Park and moved to Idlewild Park in 1968.
Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.