Highlanders Festival returns to Radford University on Saturday to honor Scots-Irish heritage

New River Valley News

RADFORD, Va. (WFXR) — Thousands of community members are gearing up to celebrate the New River Valley’s Scots-Irish heritage on Saturday with food, games, and live entertainment at Radford University as part of the annual Highlanders Festival.

This free festival — which kicks off, rain or shine, with the Heavyweight Games on Moffett Lawn at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 9 — is organized through a partnership between Radford University and the City of Radford.

University officials say the festival began with about 3,000 attendees in the mid-1990s, but over the past 25 years, the festival has more than tripled in size, attracting an estimated crowd of 10,000 people each year.

According to organizers, SYR — a Celtic folk-rock band from South Carolina — and the folk music duo Kinnfolk will take the festival stage on the quad as this year’s musical acts. SYR is set to play at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3 p.m., while Kinnfolk will play at noon and 2 p.m.

PanJammers, an award-winning steel drum orchestra based in Blacksburg, will also play at Clocks Plaza at 11:30 a.m.

Besides the live music, festival-goers can enjoy sheepherding demonstrations, children’s games, and pipe and drum bands. In addition, there will be several unique craft and food vendors offering authentic Scottish fare; traditional festival food; and American classics, such as barbecue and funnel cakes. 

According to the university, a massed band performance and Scottish clans march will take place again at this year’s festival.

“Clans, a concept dating back to the 12th century, were extended networks of families who had loyalties to a particular chief. The word clan is derived from the Gaelic ‘clann,’ meaning children,” Radford University officials said in a recent statement about the festival. “Today, the Radford Highlanders Festival provides descendants of area clans and society’s an opportunity to register and proudly showcase their family’s heritage.”

Another major draw for the event is the popular Tom Raisbeck Memorial Games, which will feature the traditional “heavy games.” These events and competitions — associated with rural and military life — include weights for distance and height; the stones, similar to modern-day shotput; the sheaf toss; and the crowd-pleasing caber toss.

“I’m so excited for the games to be happening again and as always very proud to be a part of it,” said heavy-games athlete Chad Clark, the athletic director. “Radford is very special to me because many years ago, it was the first games I ever attended, and I immediately became hooked. I love the sport more than words can convey, and to me it’s important to keep the sport alive, going and growing to continue the tradition of Scottish heritage and culture.”

To learn more about the Radford Highlanders Festival, follow this link.

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