Sunday, September 12, 2010

News from the front: Irish look on as Scots march on Estes Park

I have all sorts of feelings when I go to the Long's Peak Scottish-Irish Festival in Estes Park.

Questions, too. For instance, why do the Scots get top billing?

My wife Chris has a great insight into this: Who better to organize something than Scots?

Talk about your stereotypes. Scots are a no-nonsense, business-minded, well-organized race who can plan the heck out of any event.

The Irish, on the other hand, are Guinness-swilling layabouts who attend the Scottish-Irish Festival to swill Guinness and lay about watching Celtic fusion bands, most of whom are Scottish.

As a disorganized Irishman, I can't disagree. I would much rather have a Scotswoman such as Chris organizing a festival, a checkbook, a life. Of course, she is Scots-Irish by birth and German-Irish by upbringing (she was adopted). If you take all those pedigrees and put them into one person, you should have a well-organized beer-drinking lass who, when offended, will either cut off your head with a William Wallace-style sword or invade your country. Or both.

But she knows her birth mother’s name and that was Cummings and now she’s an officially enrolled member of the Cumming clan. Its crest has a lion and the motto “Courage.

I took photos as she marched in Saturday’s presentation of the clans. A strong military theme infuses the festival. Cannons sound in the distance. True, those cannons are shooting bowling balls into the reservoir, and one errant bowling ball even sank the green inflatable Loch Ness Monster that is a festival tradition (R.I.P. Nessie). A Colorado pilot did a flyover in a British jet trainer. The Canadian general who now runs NORAD in Colorado Springs was the keynoter at Saturday’s opening ceremonies. World War II vets of Iwo Jima were introduced in a celebration of the 75th anniversary of that World War II battle. Some young marines even recreated the flag-raising ceremony on Mount Suribachi. It wasn’t quite as impressive as the fake flag-raising that opens “Flags of Our Fathers,” but it was pretty good.

And the day included many references to the Sept. 11 anniversary, and the wars that followed.

As a lifelong civilian and peacenik, I look at these military traditions as part of the whole. This is much like the Boy Scouts, which drips with military-influenced traditions but is – at its core – a worthwhile organization for your sons. Unless they are openly gay. Which brings us back to the U.S. military and its don’t ask, don’t tell policy.

Pipe and drum bands have origins in war. I spotted one large bearded gentleman wearing a black T-shirt that had the “Black Watch World Tour” stops printed on the back. Quite a list, including gigs in Guadaloupe and then North America in the late 1700s (we know how that turned out), France in 1916, all the way to Iraq in 2003-2005.

The Black Watch is a famous British military unit and a famous pipe and drum band. My father played Black Watch records real loud on his home-built stereo, and he took my brother and me to see them perform. When they launched into “Scotland the Brave,” you could feel it in your gut.

At Saturday’s Estes Park ceremonies, the music opened with a performance by the Marine Band from Twenty-Nine Palms, California. That’s the desert training base that launches the Marines who fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many casualties over the past nine years. More to come, alas.

The Marine Band was comprised of men and women with lots of different ethnic groups represented. Like all marines, they are trained in combat weaponry. Unlike most marines, they play a mean tuba. The few, the proud, the tuba players. Trombone, too, and drums. Flute, even. Or “pipe,” as in pipe and drums.

The Marines were followed by the police pipe and drum band from Ottawa, Canada. Then came the massed pipe and drum corps from a bunch of different places, including Wyoming. When they marched into view, I got a glimpse of the amazing sight and sound that once confronted African and Indian tribesmen as they lined up to fight the British invaders.

There looked to be hundreds of pipers and drummers. They made that kind of sound.

After her clan march, Chris joined me in the stands. We watched the proceedings together. When it concluded, we were torn. Head over to the clan tents for a wee dram of single-malt Scotch? Or find the Guinness stand for a cold brew? We opted for the latter, and some food. No cultural differences here.

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