“Making Them Laugh and Making Them Dream.” 157th Highland Games and Gathering Returns to Bay Area


Miri Robinson, sword in hand, approached her opponent. As her adversary, clad in a long green tunic, brandished his wooden blade, 9-year-old Miri pinned the weapon to the ground, disarming her enemy before lunging forward with her saber, completing the final move from her sword fighting lesson Saturday at the Highland Gathering and Games in Pleasanton. Asked if she felt like a warrior during her lesson, Miri, who lives in Contra Costa County, confidently replied: “Yeah, well, I already felt like a warrior.”

This year’s 157th Annual Highland Gathering and Games, which continues Sunday at the Alameda County Fairgrounds, celebrates Scottish traditions and sports over the Labor Day weekend and is the longest-standing event of its kind outside of Scotland in North America. This year’s festival features games and exhibitions, including Scottish heavy athletics, highland dancing, sheepdog trials, birds of prey demonstrations, whiskey tasting and vendors selling traditional wares.

During a procession of the clans, those of Scottish heritage, swathed in tartan kilts and other highland dress, marched under flags emblazoned with their clan names as the sound of bagpipes echoed across the fairgrounds. Edwin Joseph Carroll II, also known as the Celtic Dragonslayer at Renaissance fairs and heritage events throughout California, belongs to the Cian Clan, which, unlike Scottish clans, traces its heritage back to Ireland.

“We’re all mutts. We’ll take everybody,” Carroll said. “As long as you want to have fun. Our clan is like other clans, except ours is more relaxed. You can come in here, kick your shoes off, have a drink, put your stuff down, eat, talk, relax and be merry.” At the games on Saturday, Carroll, dressed as a Celtic warrior underneath his green dragon hat, told children stories of his heroic deeds and handed out “treasure,” including rings and necklaces gifted from members of his church in Modesto.

“I like making them smile and making them laugh and making them dream, for a little bit, that such things as dragons exist, and there’s hope, and there’s fun in the world,” he said. James Johnston, a drummer with the Glasgow pipes and drums band Albannach, performed Saturday to a lively crowd dancing jigs and reels. Each year, the group looks forward to returning to the fairgrounds at the end of its U.S. tour. “I can stand on that stage, and I can recognize all the faces from all these years gone by,” Johnston said. “It must be close to 15 years. I come to these things here, and people are saying, ‘You know, I’ve been seeing you since I was young, and now I’ve got kids.’”