Athletes, performers to come together for Celtic festival, Highland games in Ringgold

Athletes, performers to come together for Celtic festival, Highland games in Ringgold

August 28th, 2012 by Susan Pierce in Life Entertainment

Richard Ball poses in traditional Scottish attire and holds a Claymore sword at the site of the Highland Games, an event celebrating Scottish culture, in Ringgold, Ga. Ball is on the committee responsible for bringing the games to Ringgold.

Photo by Allison Love/Times Free Press.

RICHARD L. BALL

Age: 69.

Hometown: Sylva, N.C.

Occupation: Substitute teacher in history and English at Dalton High School in Dalton, Ga. "I can usually work something about Celtic history into the classroom, especially if we're talking about early U.S. history."

Scottish roots: "Ancestry on my maternal grandmother's line has been traced back to the Isle of Skye in Scotland to the year 1460."

Favorite movie: "Braveheart."

IF YOU GO

What: Appalachian Celtic Festival and Ringgold Highland Games.

When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Ringgold Municipal Recreation Facility, 288 Emberson Drive, Ringgold, Ga.

Admission: $5 adults, $3 children ages 6-12 daily.

Website: www.appalachiancelticconnection.org.

Fifty athletes from eight states will gather in Ringgold, Ga., Saturday to compete in impressive feats of strength, accuracy and endurance.

They'll pitch 56-pound Braemar stones vying for the longest distance. They'll attempt to lift and flip a 21-foot, 130-pound tree with their bare hands in the caber toss. They'll jab three-prong pitchforks into burlap bags packed with rope in their efforts to toss the bags higher into the air than the sheaf toss's record 341/2 feet.

And all the athletes will wear kilts.

Scottish, Irish and Appalachian clans will converge on Ringgold Municipal Recreation Facility on Saturday and Sunday for the Appalachian Celtic Festival and Ringgold Highland Games.

The festival is open to the public to enjoy pipe bands, children's games, Scottish food and Celtic crafts. Spectators may set up folding chairs to watch the games.

"We had approximately 1,500 attendees last year, and we expect 2,000 or more this year," said Richard Ball, one of four board officers of the Appalachian Celtic Connection, which plans the festival. The others are Michael Whitfield, president; Christina Siefert, vice president; and Christina Ball, secretary.

Unlike the Olympics, Highland Game winners don't medal in their sports. First-place winners are presented a claymore (two-edged broadsword). Second place earns the athlete a battleax, and a third-place finish is worth a new dagger.

"We have awesome man caves," joked Robert Hatch, athletic director of the Highland Games.

Ball has been involved with this gathering of clans since it was known as the Heritage Conservancy Alliance Festival. Now the Appalachian Celtic Connection, the festival outgrew its original site in Tunnel Hill, Ga., and moved to Ringgold three years ago to preserve the heritage celebration.

Q: How did you research your Scottish heritage?

A: My wife, Christina, is the researcher in the family. She asked what my grandmother's maiden name was. When I told her it was MacQueen, she said that could be Scottish. She followed up on that, and it finally led her to the Isle of Skye.

Being a history buff, it's interesting to find out about your ancestry, and sometimes you will even learn what their profession was. I'm not sure yet, but it is beginning to appear that the MacQueens were fishermen in the early 15th century and later.

Q: How did you become involved in the Ringgold Highland Games and the Appalachian Celtic Connection?

A: I became involved after attending a Scottish festival at Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina in the early 1980s.

Q: What is your favorite among the weekend's events?

A: My favorite is listening to the live music. The Scottish group Highland Reign will headline again this year. This will be the fifth year they have been with us.

The BallyBeg Band (Irish) from Athens, Ga., will be with us for the second time. Picking to Beat the Devil, a local bluegrass band, will also perform. In keeping with the Appalachian tradition, the Ringgold Dulcimer Club will perform Sunday afternoon.