Dr. Ralph Graham established the Highland Games (now Arkansas Scottish Festival) in 1981 on the Arkansas College campus as a way to pay homage to the Scottish heritage of the College’s Presbyterian founders. With the support of President Dan West and college administrators, including Dennis Wright, the festival began as a small Scottish fair on the campus’ intramural field as a part of homecoming celebrations. As it grew, the festival moved onto a larger area surrounding the field, and then moved again in 2004 to incorporate the central area of the college campus.
Now held annually in April, the Arkansas Scottish Festival has gone from being an obscure fair in the foothills of the Ozarks to one of the best-known Scottish festivals in the South. Pipe bands, solo pipers, drummers, dancers, athletes, Celtic performers, clan representatives, and vendors have traveled from all corners of the country to attend and participate in the event.
The festival kicks off on Friday evening with a Celtic concert in the historic Brown Chapel. Admission to this event is $10. Children under the age of 18 are not required to pay this admission fee.
Gates open at 8 a.m. on Saturday. Saturday’s events begin with a Scottish breakfast at the College’s dining hall followed by piping competitions, a book sale at the Mabee-Simpson Library, sheepdog demonstrations, Highland dancing demonstrations, children’s games, and a British car show.
Opening ceremonies begin at 1 p.m. with a parade of massed bands and clans. Afternoon activities include a pipe band competition, dancing demonstrations, and an awards ceremony. The awards ceremony includes trophies for bands, the Celtic poetry contest, piper of the day, drummer of the day, and best clan as well as scholarship awards. A feast and ceilidh (a party with music and dancing) finishes off the day.
Sunday morning's events begin with a traditional Iona outdoor worship service. Highlights of the day include pipe band demonstrations, Celtic music, and the Bonniest Knees Contest (which features blindfolded women hand-testing the knees of kilted men).
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