Hints of Shippensburg's early Scots-Irish roots are sometimes evident during town parades with a bagpipe or two, but residents got the full show this weekend with a complete bagpiping competition.
Shippensburg Station along East Fort Street was home to the first-ever bagpiping competition, Battle of the Bagpipes, Saturday. Thirty-six bagpipers from along the East Coast gave solo performances for judges throughout the morning and afternoon, while spectators enjoyed the distinct tunes.
Castlerigg Wine Shop of Carlisle and Appalachian Brewing Co. of Shippensburg served drinks, and Uncle Eddie's BBQ was busy serving up meals for hungry attendees.
The Shippensburg Parks & Recreation Authority (SCPRA) hosted the event, and are already planning a sequel, Cumberland Valley Scottish Games, for 2020, which will include even more of the Irish-Scot heritage.
Saturday was the prelude to draw early interest, according to lead organizer Zane Walls, and he is hoping to bring in dances, as well as some Scottish Highland Games for next year.
“Shippensburg was founded by our Scottish settlers back in the early 1700s,” Walls said. “It made sense having the university here, and you have a tremendous Scottish following. You don't see it that much until you go to something like this.”
Walls is a descendent of the Lockhart Clan, and became interested in starting the event because of the stories his late grandmother often told of his ancestors.
Spectators enjoyed the exposure to the different culture, often sitting on the grass, or blanket to listen to the music, some underneath umbrellas to block the sun’s rays.
Thompson McConnell, piping director of Piobaireachd Society of Central Pennsylvania, who organized the competition, has been playing for 36 years, and said pipers are split into grades 1 through 5, with 1 being the most advanced. Pipers also had the chance to compete in several different genre competitions, like Piobaireachd, which is a classical genre from the 1400s or 1500s.
“It's not on how they look at all, or how they march,” McConnell said about the judging “It's all about the music that comes out of the bagpipes.”
He added the judging is based upon tuning, execution (how well the fingers move) and expressions (whether they emphasize the right notes).
Bagpipers came from all over Pennsylvania, from areas like Allentown, Lebanon and Hershey, and from several other states like West Virginia, Virginia and Massachusetts. People as young as 11 and as old as in their 60s competed. McConnell estimated 80 percent of those in the competition come from Irish-Scot descent.
Kevin “Herb” Glynn of Dorchester, Massachusetts, plays in a pipe band called Stuart Highlanders New England, and tries to get into 8-10 competitions a year.
“It's rewarding to see the hard work that you put in preparing for it, but if you do well or even when you get the judges' comments, it shows that you've either made improvements, or it gives you a sense of what to actually work on specifically,” he said.
Jeff Eiker of Chambersburg was one of the spectators who shared an enjoyment of bagpipes with the people competing. His wife, Jodi, tagged along for an afternoon of fun.
“I've always enjoyed it,” Jeff said. “I remember being with my grandparents, and going to the July 4 parade in Gettysburg.”
Jeff specifically enjoys the “drone” sound, and will play a chanter (the pipe of the bagpipe with finger holes) on occasion.
While the music of a different culture brought them out, the pair also came for the food, like the jalapeno poppers at Uncle Eddie’s with cheese and bacon. They went to a yard sale before stopping at Shippensburg Station, and planned to stop at a nearby car show afterwards. The Bloom Festival was another one of the big attractions happening in Shippensburg Saturday.
“Shippensburg is a busy place today,” Jodi said. “It will be a good day for Shippensburg. It will help the economy.”
Beyond the bagpiping competition and the food, Heritage Village was also set up to give those in attendance the opportunity to learn more about Scottish history and tradition.
There was representation from four clans -- Clan Lockhart, Clan Little, Clan Donnachaidh and Clan Fergusson -- along with the Scottish Society of Central Pennsylvania. Clan Donnachaidh was voted the favorite setup out of all the clans Saturday. The different clans educated the general public about different tartans (the plaid textile designs with stripes of varying width and color on the kilts), and provided information about the genealogy of their specific clan.
Adam and Jesica Kuhn live right around the corner, and since they planned to stop by the Bloom Festival, they decided to come out to support what was happening around the restored railroad boxcar.
“I personally didn't know a whole lot about bagpipes,” Jesica said. “I got curious, and I wanted something to eat.”
They noted always wanting to support anything in Shippensburg that drives more foot traffic into town.
“It's great that they offer events like this,” Adam said. “It's an opportunity to learn about something you don't see everyday.”
The pair also took advantage of Uncle Eddie’s eats, ordering a pulled pork sandwich and brisket nachos, as well as some Jolly Scot Scottish Ale and Mountain Lager from Appalachian Brewing Co.
“We are excited to see people in the community come out and take advantage of what's offered,” Jesica said.
Kim Yohe came with her husband, Paul, and noted how some of the competitors were wearing kilts they weren't used to seeing. They also enjoyed some food from Uncle Eddie’s, like the turkey drumsticks.
The pair have visited other events at Shippensburg Station, like First Friday and the former Food Truck Fridays, a monthly gathering of food truck and drink vendors on the first Friday of every month.
“It's a good thing to have. It helps the smaller community come together,” Kim said. “They had a perfect day, and then combined with the First Fridays, it makes for a perfect weekend.”
Allen Dieterich-Ward, SU history professor and board member of SCPRA, said, “What's been really, really exciting about this all is that here we have an event that is bringing in folks from outside of our community into the community. It's providing a really positive sense of what Shippensburg is all about. Remember Shippensburg was settled by Scots-Irish people. Shippensburg is one of the oldest settlements west of the Susquehanna River, and it was established by Scots-Irish people, so you can't find a more appropriate place to have this Scottish festival.”
An information booth was set up for Shippensburg Station, which featured details about its First Friday events. Future dates include July 5, Aug. 2, Sept. 6, Oct. 4 and Nov. 1.
The afternoon Sword Dueling demonstration, which was originally on the schedule, was canceled. Bagpiping also lasted an extra hour because 15 more competitors showed up than originally anticipated.
Anyone with ideas for next year’s event or who would like to help with the planning can email: email@example.com.
For more Scottish and Irish fun, the 25th Annual McLain Celtic Festival is scheduled for Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, at the Two Mile House in Carlisle, and the 6th annual Covenanter Scottish Festival is scheduled for Sept. 7, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the Middle Octorara Church and the Octorara Covenanter Church in Lancaster County.