Weapons played role in Scottish history, culture

Hidden knives were considered as traditional as kilts and bagpipes.



Duncan Anderson, 68, of Kent, Wash., wields a handmade battle axe he made and likes to call his peaceful axe because the handle is made of olive wood, which does not grow in Scotland.



Maise Bensel, 3, gets a big hand from Erik Lynde's big hand to help keep her stay steady as she prepares to launch in the kid's version of the Scottish Cabor toss. Although her toss was under 3 feet, her form and focus were excellent Saturday morning during Athena's annual Scottish games.


Bridging the lines between song and dance, Nikki Hessner of Spokane is framed by the Athena Park Gazebo fence as she practices for piping while dressed in her Highland Fling outfit. Hessner competes as a beginning dancer in this year's Caledonian Games and also as a Grade 4 piper.

ATHENA - Scotsmen, with their kilts, bagpipes, drums, cabers and numerous patterns of family tartans, were a big part of the local Caledonian Games on Saturday.

The Athena Caledonian Games usually draws thousands of local and regional visitors, who come to hear the shrill but enticing bagpipes, watch dancers' knees flip their kilts and skirts about, and be amazed by the feats of strength as tree trunks are thrown great distances in the caber toss and other Highland games.

But there is another edge to Scottish culture and history that was almost as ubiquitous as the colorful plaid socks worn by most of the participants.

Look closer at those thick wool socks with the tops neatly folded over and you might see a small knife tucked away between the wool and the muscular calf muscle for which Scottish men are know.

It's called a sgian-dubh, which Duncan Anderson explained as meaning knife-hidden.

Then the 68-year-old took the small knife out of his sock and put in under his vest to show how a Scotsman might hide it.

"Then before you would walk through the door, you would take the hidden knife and display it," Anderson said. Then he tucked his sgian-dubh back in his sock.

Anderson is a bit of a Scottish weapons buff.

Actually, many of the kilt-wearing Scotsmen were well versed in their ancestral weaponry and could easily explain the difference between a claymore and a long sword, or a dirk and dudgeon.

It seems weaponry is a big part of Scottish history that has survived, though not quite as well known as bagpipes and kilts.

"It's a tradition. It is actually considered proper dress. I can wear my blade if I am in a kilt, without it they would not be accepted (in general public)," Anderson said.

Not only is Anderson a collector of numerous Scottish weapons, including dozens of museum-quality pieces, he also made all the weapons he displayed on Saturday.

"This mace is my son's favorite. I made that for him about 30 years ago," Anderson said.

Along with the mace were several swords that only a Scotsman would have common knowledge of their name, as well as a half dozen spears.

Anderson, of course, was more than apt to tell of their names and their uses, like the lochaber axe.

It looked like a six-foot-long, single-bladed, executioner's axe with a hook on the end.

The hook, Anderson said, was most like a variation derived from a pruning hook, which was later found to be useful for pulling horsemen off their steeds.

"That was typical of the weapons of Scotland, whatever the local blacksmith could turn out," he said.

Next to Anderson's booth was Bill Trimble's booth was next to Anderson's. Trimble displayed his Turn Bull clan septs (the origin of his last name), and he also wore his kilt, sgian-dubh and a short sword tucked at his waist.

"It's part of the tradition ... this is the dirk. This is what the average Scotsman had," Trimble said.

Then he pulled out his dirk and with it mimed how a person might use it to dig or cut peat.

Next to Trimble was Dale Marykay Hilding, who also had a large display of weaponry, including swords, a mace and some armor.

"It was because they liked to fight; it was their way of life," Hilding said, trying to explain why weapons are still a big part of Scottish festivals.

Even though their warring ways ended when the Scots immigrated to this country, their weaponry seemed to survive.

"The thing I find interesting is that all these people (Scottish immigrants) became pillars of the community. They became merchants. They built churches," Hilding said.

There seemed to be no Scotsman who objected to the fact that in their ancestral homeland the Scots fought a lot.

"Back in Scotland they didn't just fight the English, they fought each other," said David Garman, who is the Scottish American Athletic Association national chief.

Like Anderson, Garman also makes his own weapons, but he uses the old-world technique, forging and pounding metal by hand and hammer.

"I got a house full of battle axes, swords, medieval weaponry," Garman said.

On Saturday the national chief was not there to show off his weaponry - though he did have his sgian-dubh tucked in his sock - he was there to judge the Highland games.

Of course, many of those games also had an association with war.

Sheafs could be set fire and tossed over stone walls, much like they tossed them in the games. Hammers and cabers could also be tossed, though Garman doubted there was a war application for tossing a tree trunk, other than being able to make a quick bridge.

Perhaps Wade Foersterling had the best explanation as to why dirks and sgian-dubhs have survived along with kilts and cabers.

"Because when your weapons get taken away from you and you finally get them back, it's an important thing," Foersterling said.

If you go

The final day of the Athena Caledonian Games takes place today. The event is free to the public.

8 a.m.-12 p.m. Sheep dog trials, Athletic field

9 a.m. Vendors open

9:30 a.m. Kirkin' o the Tartan Community Church service at City Park. Bring your own chair; Janet Naylor, Celtic harpist.

10:30 a.m. Coffee Hour, Shelter House in the Park; Janet Naylor, Celtic harp

11 a.m. Eugene Highlanders Pipe Band

11:30 a.m. Joe Root, accordionist and Elizabeth Nicholson, Celtic harp

1 a.m. Weston-McEwen Pipes, Drum and Military Band

1:30 a.m. Blue Mountain Wildlife with live birds demonstrations; registration for horseshoe doubles tournament

2 p.m. Horseshoe tournament

2:30 p.m. Front Porch Band


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