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Highland Games bring Scotland to Long Island
Scott Mathieson, of Newry, Maine, can send a 150-pound wooden rod the size of a small telephone pole skyward using only brute strength and his bare hands.
And he does it for fun.
The sport is called caber tossing, and it’s one of the most popular sports in the Highland Games, a medieval Scottish tradition similar to the Olympics. On Aug. 23, an exhibition of some Highland events was featured during the 54th Long Island Scottish Festival at Old Westbury Gardens.
The games not only included the caber toss, but also stone putting, and tossing the sheaf, an event that traditionally involves flinging a burlap sack of hay over an elevated bar using a pitchfork. Anyone who wanted to participate was welcome to sign up, and winners were rewarded with bragging rights.
Mathieson, a Locust Valley native, first discovered his interest in Highland games while attending the Long Island Scottish Festival more than 20 years ago. Now, he travels back home every year just to participate.
“I came as a kid, the bigger guys showed me how to do it, Mathieson said. “Pretty soon you find yourself in your neighbor’s yard, cutting down trees, trying to practice the caber toss, searching through rivers and meadows looking for good stones to throw.”
The Long Island Scottish Festival, sponsored by the Hicksville-based Scottish MacDuff Clan, also hosted a variety of Scottish vendors, musicians, singers, dancers and fellow clans from across the country. Hungry visitors could pick up haggis, a traditional Scottish meat pudding, and more adventurous patrons could go hand to hand with a trained Highland swordsman.
For Pastor Dennis Carter, president of the Long Island Scottish American Society, the festival is all about keeping tradition alive.
“As children are Americanized, they’re raised in this country, they forget about the old culture, the old ways,” Carter said. “This is a celebration for the older folks to enjoy and for the younger folks to be reminded of where they came from.”