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Trego County set to celebrate Celtic roots





WaKEENEY -- Athletes, spectators and people who are just looking for a good time will converge in WaKeeney this weekend for Th' Gatherin' Ancient Festival O' Beltane, simply known as Th' Gatherin'.

The event is a celebration of the area's Celtic roots and is reminiscent of an ancient festival to welcome the beginning of spring, said organizer Randy Gibbs of WaKeeney.

"They would be scattered around up in the hill country ... and in the spring, they'd come celebrate the new part of the year, see family and friends they hadn't seen through the winter," Gibbs said. "It was kind of a time for the coming together of a group of people to celebrate, so I think that's just kind of that ancient flavor to it."

Events will begin at 9 a.m. Saturday at the Trego County Fairgrounds. The festivities are centered around the Highland Games, which also are inspired by the ancient tradition. Athletes travel from throughout the country to join local competitors in the games, which boast events such as a hammer throw and caber toss. Games will continue throughout the day.

There will be food and craft vendors, many in keeping with the Celtic theme. There will be live music and performances from local bagpipe players and line dancers. Attendees are encouraged to dress in period costumes.

Opening ceremonies will begin at noon and include a time of prayer and a memorial for community members who have died since the last event.

An old-fashioned community feast will be at 6 p.m., followed by a sword competition. A replica of the sword William Wallace wielded is available, and the challenge is to hold the sword at arm's length for a minute, Gibbs said. Wallace was a Scottish warrior; the 1995 "Braveheart" film is inspired by his story.

"I think there's only been five or six people over 15 years that ever made it to the minute," Gibbs said.

The events will conclude with a small bonfire known as the beltane fire, which in ancient days was symbolic of burning off the old and starting new, he said.

The event has been an annual celebration for 15 years, but organizers took a hiatus last year. Th' Gatherin' is starting back up this year due to popular demand.

"We missed last year and it probably would have stayed gone if a number of people hadn't said 'We have to get it back,' " Gibbs said. "The biggest group of people who really wanted it and worked kind of hard to get it were the athletes.

"They wanted to come together and compete. They have a lot of fun."

Organizers took the year off to regroup and decided to try a new location for this year's games. The event had been at Cedar Bluff State Park for the past several years.

The family-oriented event also has become an anticipated tradition for many area residents, Gibbs said.

"There's a lot of local kids who have grown up with it and gone to it, and they come back every year to attend it," he said. "Especially some of the high school boys who used to compete. They still come back to be part of a team."