The sounds of bagpipes and Gaelic song tickled the Scottish ear this weekend. The smells of Shepherd’s pie wafted in the air, and Scottish kilts were the dress of the day.
The city celebrated the 20th annual McPherson Scottish Festival Saturday and Sunday at Lakeside Park.
The Scottish Festival began as a homage to the city’s name. McPherson was named for Gen. James McPherson, who was killed while serving the Union in the Civil War.
John Ferrell, a founder and chairman of the McPherson Scottish Society for 17 years, said the festival sprang from local leaders’ desire to create a fall destination festival in the city.
Scottish festivals and Highland games go back centuries in Scotland. The tradition was eventually transplanted to the U.S.
After a McPherson group visited a festival in Arkansas, city leaders decided to create a Scottish festival in McPherson. The McPherson Scottish Festival became the first Scottish festival in Kansas.
The first festival was much like the festival today. Participants enjoyed Celtic music, highland games, food and craft vendors, dance, clan tents, and bagpipe demonstrations.
The festival has grown and now attracts about 5,000 people annually.
Representatives of the McPherson clan have attended every year since the festival began.
McPherson means son of the parson. The Scottish clan traces its lineage back to the 600s in Highlands of Scotland at Iverness Shire near Loch Laggan.
John Bierens, the clan’s regional commissioner, and his son and wife, Norma, attended the event this weekend to represent the clan. John is a McPherson on his mother’s side.
The family wears the traditional tartans of their ancient ancestors and tries to assist others of Scottish heritage learn more about their clans’ and histories.
John also displays his collection of Scottish-inspired weapons.
“I like the music and a chance to tell people about their heritage,” he said. “I like the games and watching the dancing. I love everything about it. We have been coming here a lot of years. We have to come to this (festival). We’re expected. We have to come to this festival if nothing else.”
Visitors from across the region and nation attend the festival annually.
Dan Bunch was in town form Omaha, Neb., to compete in the master’s division of the Highland games. This was his second year attending the festival. He said the McPherson games is a highly competitive field. Field and world records are regularly broken at the event.
The Highland games include such events as the sheaf toss, weight over bar and caber toss. The caber is a tall stripped log that is thrown end over end.
Page 2 of 2 - “When I decided to do Highland games, this was one of the first meets my friends told me to do,” he said. “I love it.”
Ferrell said the festival was never meant to make money, but was created to give participants a taste of the McPherson community.
“We hoped we would have people going away saying this is a fabulous community,” he said.
Ferrell said the festival always has room for improvement, but he thinks the festival’s leadership, many of whom have been with the project since the beginning, have successfully used the festival to promote the city.
“I think it is amazing,” Ferrrell said. “The tents show up in the park with scores of artists. There are 300 volunteers working and 5,000 people caring and going on. Then, on Sunday night, it quickly disappears. I think it is a form of artistic expression.”