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Arkansas Scottish Festival

The Arkansas Scottish Festival is held every April on the campus of Lyon College in Batesville (Independence County). It began as the Ozark Scottish Festival in 1981 at what was then known as Arkansas College. The festival has grown significantly and evolved over the years but remains emblematic of the college and its Presbyterian roots. The Arkansas Scottish Festival is now known as one of the premier Scottish festivals in the southern United States.

Established by Dr. Ralph Graham during his tenure as vice president of institutional advancement, the festival was initially held on the athletic field in conjunction with homecoming but was later moved to April. Over time, it attracted more and more participants from all over the country. As it grew, the festival moved onto a larger area surrounding the intramural field on the southeast corner of the campus for a number of years, but it moved again in 2004, this time to incorporate the main area of the Lyon College campus. It has gone from being a small Scottish fair to one of the top competition venues in the south-central United States for pipers, bands, dancers, and athletes. It also attracts numerous clan representatives and vendors of Scottish and Celtic goods.

The festival begins on Friday afternoon with professional bagpipers competing in a qualifying contest for the United States Piping Foundation championships, which are held in June in Delaware. Also held on Friday are a kilted golf tournament, the college president’s reception for patrons of the festival, and a student talent show.

The gates open to the public early on Saturday morning, and events include amateur and professional solo piping competitions, solo drumming contests, highland dance competitions, and highland heavy athletic events. Vendors sell Scottish and other Celtic goods and services, including traditional Scottish cuisine such as meat pies, bridies, Scotch eggs, and fish and chips. Performers play Celtic music in the entertainment tent throughout the festival. Events specifically designed for children, as well as the Community Olympics—in which teams from local businesses compete in such events as egg-toss and three-legged race—make the festival particularly family friendly.

On Saturday, the official opening ceremony is held, featuring a clan and band march-past and the massed pipes and drums. The afternoon is punctuated by the pipe band competitions and highland dance events. Award ceremonies include the presentations of trophies for bands, athletes, dancers, piper of the day, drummer of the day, best clan, and other awards such as scholarships. A feast and ceilidh (a party with music and dancing) are held that evening.

Sunday morning’s events begin with a traditional Iona outdoor worship service. Pipe band demonstrations, Celtic music, and the Bonniest Knees Contest (which features blindfolded women hand-testing the knees of kilted men) are highlights of the day.

The Arkansas Scottish Festival generally attracts 5,000 to 10,000 visitors, thus significantly increasing the population of Batesville for the weekend and providing a boon to local businesses.

For additional information:
Arkansas Scottish Festival. http://www.lyon.edu/scotfest.htm (accessed December 9, 2011).

Fox, Sarah. “4,000 Have Bonny Time at Scottish Festival.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, April 25, 2004, pp.1B, 8B.

Jimmy Bell
Lyon College

Last Updated 12/9/2011

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