Thousands flock to Sumner County for Mid-TN Highland Games and Celtic Festival


Thousands of local and foreign visitors flocked to Sumner County for the annual Tennessee Highland Games and Celtic Festival.

Families gathered at Sanders Ferry Park in Hendersonville for the two-day festival on September 10 and 11 to learn, preserve and celebrate Scottish and Celtic traditions.

Live Celtic bands, sporting events, Scottish artisans and food vendors, a tartan parade and more kept the estimated over 6,000 visitors on their toes each day. Last year’s games drew about 4,500 festival-goers to Middle Tennessee.

Kinship groups – a staple of the weekend festival – provide a sense of shared identity and ancestry for families, some of whom trace their lineage back hundreds of years and share similar names with towns and cities. neighboring counties such as Davidson, Henderson, Montgomery and Stewart.

“I would say over 50% of the people here are wearing some form of tartan and that’s just kind of recognition of family and families,” said Richard Trest, chairman of the Middle Tennessee Highland Games and Celtic Festival.

“I saw one that had been ‘since 1720’ or something, so some of these clans have been an official family clan for hundreds and hundreds of years.”

“And everyone knows each other so it’s a lot of great camaraderie,” said Debbie Trest, finance director for the Middle Tennessee Highland Games and Celtic Festival.

First held at the Hermitage in 2015, the event moved to local parks after a few years of continued spending increases, moving to Percy Warner Park last year after a brief hiatus due to the pandemic in 2020 .

When it comes to the 2022 games, the Events Planning Committee has begun its search for the right fit, as a lot of space is needed to accommodate the thousands of visitors and the potentially dangerous sporting competitions.

And Sanders Ferry Park fits that mould, offering expansive open fields suitable for caber, hammer and sheaf throwing competitions and expansive grounds for visitor parking and vendors.

Some festival-goers in attendance this year have come from as far away as Connecticut, with some traveling as far as Scotland in previous years.

New to the games this year and a favorite of the Trests were the pipe and drum competitions which saw local and foreign bands traveling to compete in solo pipe, drum and bagpipe competitions, including bands local Nashville Pipes & Drums and 17th Lancers, Knoxville Pipes & Drums and pipe bands from Chattanooga, Memphis, Louisville, Atlanta and St. Louis.

In addition to pipe and drum competitions, over a dozen traditional Celtic and Celtic rock bands and solo artists performed at the festival, including Flatfoot 56, Tuatha Dea, Barrenhart and many more.

Scottish and Irish dancers from Glengarry & Sinclair Highland Dancers, Nashville Irish Step Dancers and Nashville Irish Music School also performed for festival-goers.

The total cost of this year’s games came to around $150,000 and the hope is that the festival will only get bigger, noted Richard, as he hopes to one day add a Celtic music festival to the lineup.

“There are a lot of very good Celtic bands and some of them won’t come here because they play in these every year on the west coast etc. so it’s very difficult to attract the big guys Celtic groups,” Richard says Trest.

Caber toss – a favorite among festival-goers – the hammer throw, sheaf, open stone and barbell throw competitions entertained guests as they encouraged the athletes’ undeniable strength.

Amateur athletes competed in the men’s and women’s under-40 and over-40 categories in traditional and heavyweight Scottish sporting events. Rewards were given to the top three scores across all classes.

While the adults sipped scotch and cheered on the caber toss, the kids enjoyed a myriad of events and activities in the festival’s Kid Zone, including character visits, story time, quiz lessons, and more. athletics and dance, face painting and other fun activities and craft workshops.

Dozens of food vendors and artisans were on hand throughout the weekend to fulfill customers’ bag pie and lozenge needs. Ice cream, pancakes, and barbecue were just a few of the food options available, along with matching leather, jewelry, pottery, and other crafts.

Would you like to participate in the organization of the next Middle Tennessee Highland Games and Celtic Festival? Contact [email protected] for more information.

Katie Nixon can be reached at [email protected] or (615) 517-1285.


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