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Crowd revels in Highland Games

54th edition of Scottish contests ends with Ceilidh
by: John Klicker, Maddie Lindquist, 11, gingerly negotiates the swords placed on the ground in the Highland Sword Dance competition. Soldiers would perform this dance over crossed swords prior to entering battle. If a soldier touched a sword, it was considered a bad omen.

Want to learn something interesting? Strike up a conversation at the Portland Highland Games.

Now in its 54th year, the celebration of Scottish Highland culture, held Saturday, July 15, at Mt. Hood Community College, is a fantasy world for trivia buffs.

For instance, did you know there's really no difference between Mc and Mac? Most Americans think all the Mcs (McGowan) came from Ireland while the Macs (MacGowan) came from Scotland.

Not true, says Louis Walsh, a jeweler from British Columbia who sells his wares at Highland Games throughout the Pacific Northwest. 'Oh no, Mc is just an abbreviation of Mac,' Walsh says. 'They both mean 'son of'.'

According to the Scottish Tartan Society - and literature posted on Walsh's jewelry booth - 'Mac' is Gaelic for 'son' and 'Mc' is nothing more than a printer's abbreviation that caught on.

You'll get some good trivia down on the main field, where the beer vendors have been selling out of MacTarnahan's famous ale all day, but the best place to meet true Highland Games lovers is inside the gymnasium, next to the weapons booth.

Here, men of all ages - dressed in kilts of course - stand around drooling over battle axes and swords, their eyes as wide as doughnut holes when they catch sight of a highly polished knife.

'I love the weapons,' says Gabriel Wallis. 'That's my favorite part.'

The 25-year-old Sandy native has come to the Portland Highland Games every year for the past 19 years. He likes the heavy athletics, the atmosphere and the costuming of it all, but, mostly, Wallis likes the battle gear.

'I have a claymore (a big, two-handed sword) and a battle axe at home,' he says.

This year, Wallis brought his wife, Stephanie Wallis, and her younger sister, Brianna Royston, 10, to the Games.

Stephanie dug the bagpipe bands. Brianna enjoyed the caber toss. The whole clan liked the genealogy booths.

You would, too, if you could trace your roots back to William Wallace, the 13th century Scottish hero who led a resistance against English occupation forces. (Remember Mel Gibson and his majestic mullet hairdo in the 1995 movie 'Braveheart'? That's William Wallace.)

'Our family name goes back to the 1120s,' Wallis says, beaming with pride. 'We're wearing the Wallace tartan, of course.'

Talking about ethnicity is perfectly acceptable at the Highland Games.

In fact, most people approach each other with a friendly, 'So, are you Scottish?'

Many are not - but most fake it. It's like being 'part Irish' on St. Patrick's Day.

'I just discovered that I'm 75 percent Scottish,' says Jennifer Gary, a jubilant visitor from southern California who experienced her first Highland Games Saturday. 'My maiden name is McAdams. I've already found our family crest and our tartan.'

Gary brought her two sons, Alex, 12 and Matt, 15, to the Highland Games. And where were these two while mom was shopping for Scottish goodies? Standing by the weapons booth of course, slobbering over the swords.

After battling the heat of the day to watch muscular men compete in the heavy athletics competitions and the professional bagpipe bands show off on the college track, visitors were treated to a mild evening of music and Scottish treats at the Ceilidh.

Pronounced 'kay-LEE,' the Ceilidh is a sort of Scottish after-hours party.

This year's Ceilidh featured the tunes of Amadán, a Celtic pub band; violinist Brongaene Griffin; the self-described 'fiery, red-headed Faerie Tale Minstrel' Heather Alexander; traditional Irish musicians Nancy Conescu and her band, the Stinging Nettles; and the headliners, the Ceilidh All Stars Band.

Marianna MacKenzie Day, president of the Portland Highland Games Association, said the 54th annual Portland Highland Games was a hit.

'We do not have the official attendance numbers in yet, but we do know that this year's Games was a success,' she said.

For competition results from the 2006 Portland Highland Games visit www.phga.org.