Annual Scottish Festival at Costa Mesa

Just as everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, everyone is a wee bit of a Scot during the Annual Scottish Festival at Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa today and Sunday.

We can’t all have names that begin with Mac, but don’t let that stop you from attending. Robert A. Reoch, the organizer of this year’s event and “Chieftain of the Games” for the last seven years, has never let it stop him.

Officially called the Highland Gathering and Festival, this event has been held annually in Southern California for more than half a century. This is the seventh year at the Orange County site--and it’s expected, as usual, to attract Scots from all parts of the United States and Canada to compete in the traditional games, dances and music.


Highland games are a centuries-old tradition. Such events, with their tests of strength and skill such as tossing the caber (a heavy wooden pole), throwing the hammer or the shot put, were originally organized by Highland clan chieftains (the early Gaels were, and remain, highly tribal) to help them select and train warriors. The gatherings also functioned as political get-togethers for the purpose of conducting clan business--as well as being good excuses to party hearty.

Reoch, 53, a native of Glasgow, Scotland, and chairman of the board of the United Scottish Society Inc., said, “The (Southern California festival) started 56 years ago as a little picnic gathering. It gradually grew over the years until this year we’re expecting 10,000 people on both days. This is about the fourth largest festival (in the United States). . . . I believe the Santa Rosa Games are the largest over Memorial Day weekend.

Held Every Memorial Day

“We hold the games regularly every Memorial Day,” Reoch explained, “because it allows the athletes and musicians to schedule their time. A lot of them build their whole summer around the games.”

Indeed, the Highland festival attracts some pretty formidable talent--athletic and musical. Avid Scot gamesmen such as Dale Stewart of Huntington Beach, a class-B amateur champion, regularly compete in all the athletic events--no mean feat, considering the rigors involved. Winners of the games here compete in the national championships later this year in Arlington, Va.

And there are special games organized just for children, such as sack races and pillow fights. The winners of these events will receive trophies and/or medals.

There will also be public participation games, such as five-a-side soccer and rugby, darts, individual bagpipe contests and royal Scottish country dancing, including sword dances, the Highland Fling, hornpipes and reels.

In the entertainment department there is also an impressive lineup. Throughout the weekend there will be 17 pipe bands competing for trophies and prizes, all decked out in tartan splendor. At 1 p.m. today, just to get things going, the pipers will stage a mass performance of “Highland Laddie,” “Scotland the Brave” and other stirring pieces.

“That,” Reoch said, “is guaranteed to make your blood run cold!”

The festival will also feature some outstanding individual performers, including world champion fiddler Alasdair Fraser, champion Celtic harpist Dennis Doyle and folk singer Alex Beaton.

To reach the Orange County Fairgrounds, take the San Diego Freeway to the Fairview exit. That puts you right there. Ample parking. Maps of the fairgrounds and a list of events are available at the gate. Admission is $9.50 per day, or $14 for the weekend. Children ages 5-16, $2.50 per day, and senior citizens and students $8.50 per day or $12 for the weekend. All workers at the festival are volunteers. The proceeds will go to support United Scottish Society Inc. and charities of its choice. Information: (213) 202-8587 or (714) 998-7857.