Maine Highland Games [Shari Rodden]
Maine Highland Games [Shari Rodden]

Maine Highland Games: A celebration of Scottish heritage and culture

Did you know that Maine has the highest concentration of people with Scottish ancestry in the United States?

Ahead of the 45th Maine Highland Games, Rosie Morton speaks with Shari Rodden, Events Director of the Games, to learn more about her ties with Old Alba. 

Where did your great love of Scotland begin?

It has to do with my grandparents. They lived in Scotland and then they migrated over here. I did have relatives there until about five years ago. And then my son ended up going to university there and I met a wonderful gentlemen that I happened to marry who is now the President of the Saint Andrew’s Society of Maine.

I have always had a deep connection because of my family roots. I am very fortunate that I live in Maine because Maine has the largest per capita of Scots in the United States. Over 14% of our population is Scottish which is pretty big. So, you have a lot of people looking into their Scottish heritage.

People in your country might think that these crazy Americans are running around in kilts pretending they are Scottish, but there’s actually a lot more to it. I’m sure a lot of people in your country are very proud of where they came from. We’re very proud where our ancestors came from. Their tenacity! They went through some horrible stuff but managed to survive and fight.

Shari Rodden, Events Director of Maine Highland Games. [Shari Rodden]

Why are the Maine Highland Games so important to you?

The reason why we do what we do with the Saint Andrew’s Society of Maine is to promote Scottish heritage and culture. It is a great way for people with ethnic ties to get together and celebrate. But in the process we are educating the public because there are so many Americans that are finding out that they have a Scottish connection.

We offer them the chance to come and learn about the culture and we also have a special tent that they can go to, to learn all about where they came from. Right next to it, they can see if they belong to a clan and see what their clan tartan looks like.

We offer scholarships. We’re 501(c)(3) – we are a non-profit organisation. We are strictly a voluntary organisation. So, the money that we raise by doing the Games goes towards scholarships. So, if we have a piper, or somebody who wants to learn piping, we help pay for their schooling and some of those schools are in your country. We have a load of dancers who go to Scotland as well. So, you guys benefit from the things that we do as well. It’s the best place to learn about your culture, being in Scotland.

As corny as it sounds, when we get to Scotland it’s so exciting because it’s like we’re finally home.

Do you belong to a clan?

I belong to Clan Fraser.

When was the first time you ever came to Scotland?

It was back in 2012. And my first trip through the Highlands? I actually cried because I was so overwhelmed. It’s not so much about the beauty, it’s about the power of all the things that took place there. You can’t help but feel it.

Maine Highland Games [Gary Brown Photography]

Where’s your favourite place in Scotland?

I’d be happy just about anywhere! There is this little housing area in Cellardyke that I really like. Sometimes the water goes running down the middle of the street – there’s kelp on the little walkways! I also like Falkland. Of course I love Ceres too because of the history – it’s where the first ever Highland Games were held. There are just too many locations for me to list! St Andrews is where my husband was born. I love it. I love the universities over there. I remember showing a picture of the Old Napier University to my sister and she said it looked like something out of Harry Potter! I just love the history.

You’re also building your own history! It is the 45th year of the Maine Highland Games this year. What can people expect to see?

Well, you can expect clans and heavy athletics. We have fantastic athletics. We have people who come from all over to participate. We do have people that come all the way from Scotland and have such a great time. We have an athletes village where the athletes can come and stay. It’s very cute and they have a big cook out.

For me, as silly as this sounds, our Games are more about family. It’s a day where we all become one big clan.

So, you’re going to get your Highland cows, you’re going to get your dancing. We have a wonderful lady who’s coming this year who does all these different types of Scottish dancing. It’s all going to be group participation so she can actually do demonstrations and teach people. I think that’s really important. If people get to learn and they like it, then they’ll get involved. And if they really want to get involved, guess what they can do? They can get a scholarship.

Of course, you’ve got to have your bands, your mass pipes and drums and all the competitions for that. We have Border collies and sheep herding demonstrations. We have great food vendors and people who specialise in Scottish food.

We also have a special VIP tent. There, we have a Scottish chef and you get wine and everything in there. It’s pretty fancy.

We have re-enactment actors who come and also armoured fighters. You can’t get the kids away from that one!

Maine Highland Games [Shari Rodden]

How many people attend the Maine Highland Games each year?

It started at 3,000, but we are close to 5,000 now. It’s growing every year and I’m very proud of that. We’ve grown so much in the last three years.

What is your favourite Scottish delicacy?

I like a lot of different things! But one thing I like, and I can’t get it here, is back bacon. We only get streaky bacon in America. If I can get my hands on back bacon, as simple as that sounds, I love it. I love Lorne sausage and black pudding. I do drink whisky. Stag’s Breath [a whisky liqueur] I got up in Callander and it was absolutely amazing. When I was in Glen Coe I had a venison stew and it was the best thing I ever ate.

What is your favourite event of the day at Maine Highland Games?

I’d say the Opening Ceremony because that is when the mass pipes and drums come out and it’s absolutely incredible because it gives you that feeling of Scotland.

We have another festival [The Festival at Fort Four & Highland Games]. My husband and I came across this fort in New Hampshire and my husband came up with the best idea. We looked at this land and this cool fort, and he just saw this opportunity for Highland Games there. So, we started a festival and that’s our founding Games. It’s on 29 June. We created an alliance with two other organisations called No Fame Games and the Festival at Fort 4. We are working together as an alliance to create this entire event. It not only brings our culture and heritage to that state, but it also helps their community.

A huge amount of work goes into the organisation of the Games. What keeps you motivated?

I think our next generation deserves the same opportunity to discover their heritage. We do it to make sure that our culture and our heritage survives because unfortunately a lot of people lose that.

Everybody has this deep connection with who they are and where they came from. No matter who you are, you have that – whether you are Scottish or otherwise. You want to know where you came from. I want to be sure that the next generation have the opportunity to explore that. That’s what gives me the joy – when people discover something.

The 45th Maine Highland Games is taking place on 17 August, Thomas Point Beach & Campground – Brunswick, Maine.

To find out more about the Maine Highland Games and the Saint Andrew’s Society of Maine, please visit their website.

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