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Highland Games on Camp Foster Rekindle Ancient Irish Traditions

By: Jena Maddalino

Date Posted: 2000-03-25

Camp Foster was full of Gaelic festivities last weekend, as host of the first ever Okinawa Highland Games. Thanks to MCCS Semper Fit, Ken Wetherill and the Morrigan’s staff, military members and local nationals alike enjoyed a taste of Irish tradition and song, along with true Irish beer and food.

Highland Games, as practiced today, are believed to have originated with the clans of Northern Scotland. But by some estimates, they actually began far earlier among the Celts of Ireland. Many historical accounts cite an 11th century Scottish king, Malcolm Canmore, with having started the first Highland Games with a single hill-race up a mountain. Others credit the multitude of athletics which the Celts of Ireland participated in, for many generations.

Running foot races, leaping, vaulting, wrestling, lifting heavy weights and putting stones were the main events at the games. Both Ireland and the modern day Northern Ireland were host to the ancient games that are now celebrated in festivities from Maryland to France.

The competition was fierce, as game participants competed in several strength-testing events. The open stone throw and the farmers’ walk were two of the events held Saturday and Sunday. First place went to Ben Honor of Camp Hansen, who won a roundtrip ticket to the US, courtesy of H.I.S travel service.

The weekend festivities also included the Irish tunes of Mickey Mulligan and the Travelers. This lively bunch of musicians performed on stage several times throughout the weekend, inviting audience participation to many of the songs with claps and cheers.

Those who attended the event were also exposed to an interesting array of Irish food - from Guinness stew to fish‘n chips, as the Morrigan’s was the only source of food for the weekend games.

Many dressed up for the occasion in traditional costume for the event, including Staff Sergeant Patrick Heston of Kadena Air Base. Heston, wearing a traditional military outfit of the Henderson Clan, was thrilled at the chance to “dress up” for the occasion.

“It is important to introduce a new culture to the Japanese,” Heston said, as several people walked by and asked to take a picture. Heston, who also plays the bagpipes, is representative of a large group of Americans who take great pride in keeping their ancestral heritage alive.

Although Okinawa is rarely exposed to such cultural events, especially on a military installation, many local residents could be seen partaking in the day's events thanks to the cooperation of the base command - 300 base passes were allowed to be given out for the weekend games.

For those who missed them at the games, Mickey Mulligan and the Travelers play at the Morrigan’s in Okinawa City every Thursday evening. They also have a web site detailing the band: www.mickeymulligan.com

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