The event, which is held at the 680-acre urban retreat Floyd Lamb Park at Tule Springs in northern Las Vegas, typically draws more than 10,000 attendees over two days. Combining fun, culture and sport, the educational Celtic gathering showcases Highland dance, bagpipe and drum bands, heavy athletics competitions, traditional foods and more.
“Once you come to the Highland Games, we know you’ll be back year after year,” said Josh MacEachern, executive director of the Las Vegas Celtic Society.
The Highland Games are held in numerous countries around the world — with many in areas of Scotland, of course — and typically take place between May and September. In Las Vegas, however, the games are most likely held earlier to avoid the faster onset of the desert’s high temperatures.
Although many differing thoughts and opinions have been debated throughout the years about the origin of the Highland Games, two seem to have endured and are most often repeated.
Many have passed along the story that, during the 11th century, Scotland’s King Malcolm III summoned competitors to partake in a foot race.
The object of the race was to determine the kingdom’s fastest runner, who would be deemed Malcolm’s royal messenger. The race, they say, entailed a rather steep descent from the summit of Creag Choinich, which overlooks Braemar.
However, with the discovery of a document dating back to 1703, an alternative version of events was born. The document apparently discusses a gathering of Clan Grant, recorded as first appearing in Scotland in the 13th century.
The clan was directed to show up in Highland coats, armed with gun, pistol, sword and dagger to take part in competitions of skill, strength and agility.
Whatever the truth, these competitions are thought to have been the manner of revealing the best candidates to serve the country’s king or clan chieftains, and are considered by many to be the possible beginnings of the Highland Games.
The Las Vegas Highlands Games will feature several throwing of weights and hammers, sheaf and caber tosses, plus a putting the stone event. Festivalgoers are sure to be fascinated and enthralled watching contestants test their limits of physical strength by throwing some serious weight around.
But heavy athletics isn’t the only competitions to enjoy at a Highland Games extravaganza. Bagpipe-and-drum bands and Celtic-style dancers challenge each other as well, in addition to providing performances throughout the weekend.
Other highlights of the event are live Celtic music by Killian’s Angels, Neil O’Neill, The Ploughboys and Seven Nations; traditional foods like meat pies; whisky tastings; and a VIP tent garden, where attendees are treated to one of the best spots for viewing the festival’s main stage events, plus receive inclusive food and drinks.
Funded in part by a grant from the Nevada Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts, the annual Las Vegas Highland Games help support SafeNest, Nevada’s largest, most comprehensive charity committed to ending domestic violence.
In partnership with the LVCS, SafeNest holds its biggest annual food drive during the event. Attendees are encouraged to bring a nonperishable food item to support the cause, and, in return, an admission discount will be applied.
“Community outreach is a huge part of the Las Vegas Celtic Society, and partnering with SafeNest to hold their biggest food drive of the year at our event is really a win-win for both organizations,” said MacEachern.
The LVCS Highland Games also helps support other Celtic events and organizations in Southern Nevada, including the Southern Nevada Sons and Daughters of Erin, St. Andrew’s Society of Southern Nevada and the Las Vegas Pipe Band, through donations, scholarships and volunteering.
For more information about the festival and its schedule, visit Las Vegas Celtic Society website.