by Larry McCloskey
The 13th Bitterroot Celtic Games & Gathering (BCGG) returns to the Bitterroot on Saturday and Sunday, August 20 & 21. The annual event presented by the Bitterroot Celtic Society will be held on the beautiful grounds of the Daly Mansion just outside of Hamilton.
“We’re looking forward to bringing the community a weekend of music and dance, athletics, sports, sheepherding dogs, jousting knights, Celtic culture and family fun,” said Bitterroot Celtic Society president Cheryl Tenold. “In addition to all the favorites like athletic and pipe and drum competitions, food and drink, and Celtic merchandise, we have added even more entertainment to the mix. This year we will have more music and dance than ever before.”
The Bitterroot Games hosts the largest sanctioned Highland Athletic Competition in the state of Montana. Kilted athletes travel from all over the region to compete in contests such as the Caber Toss, Sheaf Toss, Weight over Bar and Weight for Distance, Hammer Toss, and Stone Put. The adult competitions are all held on Saturday (pre-registration is required; rules and registration are at bcgg.org), and juniors and kids are on Sunday (sign up onsite). Competitions are scattered throughout the grounds, so spectators can see it all and cheer on the athletes in their favorite events. In additional to the sanctioned competitions, there will be demonstrations of the popular Irish team sport of hurling on Saturday.
Music and dance are an important part of every Celtic festival, and the Bitterroot Celtic Games and Gathering is no exception. Live music will be presented throughout both days on two stages. On the Music Tent stage, five bands will provide nonstop entertainment. “We are very proud of our music lineup this year,” said Tenold. “We’re bringing in some authentic, world-renowned Celtic bands and performers, such as our headliner Téada from Ireland.” Additional groups such as The Byrne Brothers also from Ireland, the Gothard Sisters, Teton Skye, and the Celtic rock band Blaggards will bring a range of Celtic music to the main stage. The Gazebo Stage will feature performances by, Colin Grant-Adams, Hunter Koss, Teton Skye, and others throughout both days as well.
The dance tent will present an array of Scottish Highland and Irish dance performances, demonstrations, and workshops throughout the weekend, including introductory classes that anyone is welcome to participate in. Along with other group and individual dancers, local favorites the Missoula Highland Dancers and the Missoula Irish Dancers will be performing.
This year the Order of Epona brings its knights, ladies, and noble steeds back to the BCGG to present medieval tournaments packed full of jousting, live steel sword fighting, equine stunts, medieval games, music and more. Tournaments will take place on both Saturday and Sunday, with meet and greet opportunities after each show.
Highland Games would not be complete without bagpipes and drums, and there will be an abundance of them at the BCGG. There will be competitions for pipe and drum bands, and for individual pipers and drummers. Outside of the competitions, they are sure to be found at every corner of the grounds throughout the weekend.
Merchandise vendors will be offering a wide array of Celtic-oriented items such as jewelry, clothing, gifts, and decor. The Bitterroot Celtic Society will also have souvenirs and gifts tent featuring commemorative items such as BCGG clothing, glassware, and other souvenirs.
Food and drink will be available from vendors offering a wide variety of choices, along with beer and mead from local breweries. Those interested in sampling several types of mead or comparing Scotch vs. Irish whiskeys can partake in one of the several guided tasting sessions scheduled throughout the weekend. Tickets for the tasting sessions can be purchased at the Celtic Society’s merchandise tent at the event.
The Bitterroot Celtic Games & Gathering hosts a large “gathering” of many Scottish and Irish clans. At least 31 clans will be pitching tents in the clan village this year, sharing their family histories, and welcoming visitors and perhaps some long-lost relatives.
A free Saturday night cèilidh is open to the public from 7-10 p.m. A cèilidh (or céilí in Irish) – pronounced “kay-lee” – is an informal, festive party with music, dancing, singing, and storytelling. Everyone is welcome to attend the cèilidh and learn some cèilidh dancing. Admission to the grounds is free to all starting at 7 p.m. on Saturday.
Sunday morning opens with a non-denominational “Kirkin’ o’ the Tartan” church service at 9 a.m. All are welcome to attend this traditional Scottish-American service.
During each day’s Grand Parade and Opening Ceremony, a moving memorial to those who have passed away in the past year is presented. All the pipers join in playing the reverential tune “Flowers of the Forest” while the names of lost loved ones are read. Names to be read at the Flowers of the Forest ceremony can be submitted at bcgg.org, or at the information tent at the Games.
Volunteers are always needed to keep the Bitterroot Celtic Games & Gathering and other events of the Bitterroot Celtic Society running (such as operating the gyro booth at the Ravalli County Fair), says Tenold. “This is an all-volunteer organization, and new members and volunteers are much-needed and always welcome, year-round. There are jobs to fit everybody, from setup on Friday to teardown on Sunday and everything in between. We’d love to have you join our group of dedicated members. Besides free admission to the event, you’ll get the satisfaction of working with a great group of people and knowing you helped make it happen.” Information about the Bitterroot Celtic Society and volunteer opportunities can be found on the society’s website, bcgg.org.
The Bitterroot Celtic Games & Gathering is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday, followed by the free cèilidh from 7 to 10 p.m. Sunday hours are from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. General admission for ages 12 and up is $12 ($9 with military ID) on Saturday, and $9 ($6 with military ID) on Sunday. A weekend pass for both days is $18. Kids 11 and under are free.
Parking on the Daly Mansion grounds is very limited, and guests are encouraged to park for free at Hamilton High School or the north parking lot at the Ravalli Fairgrounds. Free shuttles will run continuously from 8:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. on Saturday and 8:30 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. on Sunday. This year, a new designated drop-off area has been added where families with strollers and others needing assistance can be dropped off near the gate before the driver parks at the offsite parking. If available, parking onsite at the Daly Mansion grounds is $10 per day (handicap parking is free with permit).
Note that dogs are not permitted on the Daly Mansion grounds.
See bcgg.org for more information about the Bitterroot Celtic Games & Gathering.