Kilts and kindness Scottish Festival and Highland Games connect Scots to their roots

After living in the United States for 26 years, Gus Noble just became an American citizen.

But this weekend, the president of the Illinois St. Andrew Society will celebrate his roots at the Scottish Festival and Highland Games in Itasca.

Sponsored by the Chicago Scots, the two-day festival opens Friday, June 15, at Hamilton Lakes, Park Boulevard and Pierce Road.

The Chicago Scots, also known as the Illinois St. Andrew Society, is an organization that celebrates Scottish culture and raises money for Caledonia Senior Living, a nursing home in North Riverside.

Established in 1845, the group is the oldest 501(c)3 charity in Illinois. This weekend's festival is one of the group's main fundraisers.

"The wonderful thing is, of course, it puts smiles on faces.It's kind of impossible not to have a good time at the event," Noble said. "But it also puts warmth in your heart because you're helping people with this charity."

A signature part of the festival is the Scottish Heavyweight Athletics, in which athletes compete in sporting events that were part of the original Highland Games hundreds of years ago. That means it's not unusual to see big men in kilts participating in the caber toss, sheaf toss, stone put and more.

Experienced athletes can try their hand at those events on Friday, but Saturday's competition is by invitation only.

The fest also will feature a rugby tournament for adults and high schoolers.

In addition to the games, there will be musical performances by the Chelsea House Orchestra, a group of students from Michigan playing Scottish folk music; Scottish singer/songwriter David Leask; and Glengarry Bhoys, a band playing traditional Scottish music with a rock twist.

Because it's a Scottish festival, there also will be a whiskey and spirits tent, where visitors can taste a variety of brands - or the "water of life" as Noble likes to call it.

For the first time, there will be a beer garden featuring four breweries that all will offer a Scottish-themed beer.

For kids, there is face-painting, mini-golf, sports and even a petting zoo with traditional Scottish animals such as Highland cows, sheep and Scottish dogs.

For those wanting to know about their family history and Scottish roots, there will be an area with about 30 different clans where visitors can learn about the clan's history and how their family may fit in.

"People walk out having connected with their family and having a renewal in the sense of their identity," Noble said.

And, of course, the fest features the largest bagpiper and drummer championship in America, Noble said. All those bagpipers will march in unison for the closing ceremony.

"It helps generations come together and truly enjoy what goes on for hundreds of years before them and will go on for hundreds of years after them," Noble said.

"Even those who are not Scottish, we consider to be Scottish," Noble said. "If you're Scottish by inclination or choice or interest, we welcome you into our community. … I like to think that someone who has little involvement or engagement in Scottish culture will leave feeling enriched personally by their experience of the event."

Noble said holding the festival in Itasca provides many advantages, including the chance to call the town "Aye-tasca."

"It's a chance to experience what a trip to Scotland feels like without having to pay for a transatlantic airline ticket," he said. "It helps families understand their culture, their history, their heritage."

For fest details, visit

The Scottish Festival and Highland Games brings Scottish culture to Itasca on Friday and Saturday featuring sports contests, traditional food and the chance to trace your heritage. Daily Herald File Photo
  The Scottish Heavyweight Athletics competitions at the Scottish Festival and Highland Games will see strong men wearing kilts throwing a variety of heavy, awkwardly shaped objects. Bev Horne/, JUNE 2017

If you go

What: Scottish Festival and Highland Games

When: 1 to 10 p.m. Friday, June 15; 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, June 16

Where: Hamilton Lakes, Park Boulevard and Pierce Road, Itasca

Cost: $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and free for kids on Friday; $20 for adults, $15 for seniors and $8 for kids on Saturday