Enquirer Herald

At Clover’s Scottish festival, real men wear kilts - and nobody called them skirts

Nobody in Clover Saturday had the guts to say that the dozens of burly, massive guys throwing poles and steel balls and stones called “clachnearts” were wearing skirts.

First, because what these behemoths were wearing at Clover’s annual Feis Chlobhair Scots-Irish festival celebrating Scottish culture and games were kilts – traditional Scottish and Scots-Irish wraps that men in Scotland have worn for at least a thousand years. And secondly, and most importantly, is that the smallest of these guys is as large as a Carolina Panthers linebacker. The largest is, well, the size of a Scotland.

Dan MacWhorter, who is over 6 feet tall and a “slimmed down and stealthy 335 pounds,” had no problem wearing a kilt that represented the clan he comes from some generations back in Scotland. He handled the sheaf toss of a 20-pound sack, and the caber toss – the pole that looks like a telephone pole – and throwing all these weights and balls and more with his kilt just a-flapping.

“I did have one guy one time say I was wearing a skirt,” MacWhorter said. “One time was enough for him.”

The annual festival in Clover, a town with deep connections to Scotland and Northern Ireland, features Scottish heritage and genealogy and food – and a set of rock music featuring bagpipes of all things.

But the hit of the festival is always the heavy athletics competition. The “heavy” does not mean the guys – although many are more than heavy.

Ted Leger of Clover, one of the contestants and an organizer, said all these guys compete in each event and all wear kilts. The kilt can be traced to that person’s heritage and show a particular tartan design, or just be plain. Even those who are not Scottish wear kilts in competition.

“It’s a kilt and not a skirt,” said Leger. “I’m half French and half Scots-Irish.”

Leger is the size of a front-end loader. He apparently got his size and choice of wardrobe from the Scottish side of his family tree, which clearly must have been a Sequoia tree. Nobody argued when he said it was a kilt and not a skirt.

A kid in the third grade named Bo Norred wore his MacLeod tartan kilt, a smashing yellow and black plaid. He was asked if any kids at school ever made fun of him.

“Not much,” said Bo Norred, who is clearly tough. “I tell them it is a kilt, not a skirt.”

Scottish men wore kilts for generations because the kilt could be used as clothing, to dry yourself after a bath, and as a blanket at night, said Tom Gardenhire, who wore his House of Gordon tartan Saturday. The phrase “the whole nine yards” comes from the traditional kilt length of nine yards of fabric – the extra was thrown over the shoulder.

“For people of our heritage, the clan is important and the kilt, the pattern, shows the clan that you are a part of,” Gardenhire said.

But in today’s world there are tartan scarves and tartan shirts. Why, after all these years, still wear kilts?

A giant named Joe Wilson threw the 20-pound sheaf with a pitchfork after throwing the hammer and clachneart and steel weights. He threw the caber – the telephone pole – like a toothpick.

Wilson, whose shoulders seemed to be as wide as the Scottish highlands, was asked why he wore a kilt for these games of superhuman strength.

“Because I do,” said Wilson, smiling.

That was the last question about kilts toward Joe Wilson.

A smaller kilt-wearer was approached. His name was Joe Owens, who just happened to be the 2010 world champion for his age group of older than 50. Owens still looked like a professional wrestler, though.

“I am a professional wrestler,” said Owens. “Thirty-five years.”

Owens admitted that when he started doing the Scottish games decades ago, he was “a bit embarrassed” by the kilt.

“I was ashamed at first until I learned that it was the heritage of the people, not a skirt,” said Owens.

Owens, whose arms are all muscle, and whose legs under that kilt are all muscle, can wear anything he pleases, that much is clear.

Jack Mobley of the Scottish-American Military Society. Mobley has worn a kilt for events for decades and the kilt has become respected and understood by many. The Scots-Irish were among the original white settlers of much of the southern United States.

“I don’t think many people would wear it to stop and pump 50 cents worth of gas as people watched them, though,” Mobley admitted, “but it has become far more common.”

It is also common, all these sporting guys said, to wear shorts or athletic support gear, something, underneath the kilt. Gardenhire, of House of Gordon, said that, um, going natural under a kilt is called “regimental.”

Last year one new competitor fell while throwing a weight and, for lack of a better way to say it, the crowd could see all the way to Edinburgh. It remained unclear if any athletes were regimental Saturday – but then again, nobody was asking anybody over 300 pounds about their underwear, either.

The sight of a 300-pound guy throwing a telephone pole is not common. When the guy is wearing a kilt it is probably even less common. But friendly, generous and gracious athletes, all huge, can wear anything they want while throwing around a 56-pound weight. Nobody in Clover Saturday, certainly not me, was going to tell anybody the size of a locomotive , in a kilt, to put on some pants.

Andrew Dys •  803-329-4065 •  adys@heraldonline.com