Scottish Fair brought culture, competition to new Eagan location

  • Article by: ERIN ADLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 15, 2014 - 3:00 PM

The day featured a variety of events for Scottish Minnesotans and those interested in the culture.

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Bands competed in the bagpipe competition at a previous year’s Scottish Fair and Highland Games.

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Now that her granddaughter Isla is big enough, Liz Michaelson couldn’t wait for the 2-year-old to hear the bagpipes for the first time at this year’s Minnesota Scottish Fair and Highland Games event, held last Saturday in Eagan.

For Michaelson, the event’s marketing coordinator, the annual event is a chance to celebrate her Scottish heritage, even though as a “Minnesota kid” she’s actually more Scandinavian and German than anything else.

At the fair, no one cares how much Scots blood you have. It’s simply a low-key, fun way to connect with the country for a day.

But for many Minnesotans of Scottish ancestry, it is the main cultural event of the year, said Andy McCracken, a vice president of the organizing board.

Attendees come to watch athletes throw heavy things in the Highland Games, see the Scottish Highland Dance competition, observe a sheepdog’s herding skills, or drink a brown ale at McCracken’s Pub.

The event was held at Macalester College (team nickname: The Scots) for three decades.

But because of the expense and difficulty getting volunteers, the college bowed out 12 years ago, said Don Cogswell, president of the board.

The fair has a Dakota County location not because the area is teeming with Scots but because there was space available, organizers say.

This year, the event moved from the Dakota County Fairgrounds in Farmington to Faithful Shepherd Catholic School in Eagan.

Organizers say the closer-in location, along with moving it from May to July, contributed to this year’s higher attendance: at least 3,500 people.

After Macalester, some of the original organizers formed a nonprofit, which has run the fair for 11 consecutive years. “We thought, ‘Maybe we should take this on,’ ” said Cogswell. “It could benefit the Scottish community.”

The fair is modeled after fairs held in Scotland, like county fairs. One of the best compliments organizers hear from native Scots is: “Yours is the most like the fairs at home,” Michaelson said.

Minnesota has never been a particularly Scottish place, and the number of people claiming Scottish ancestry is dwindling as demographics change, said Michaelson.

In the south metro, percentages claiming Scotch-Irish or Scottish ancestry on the most recent census range from just 2 to 3 percent, with the highest concentration in Farmington.

“We’re not like the Norwegians in Minnesota,” said McCracken, whose parents are Scottish immigrants. “There’s not as many of us.”

There have been several waves of Scottish immigrants here, said Michaelson. Some came in the 1800s, another set came after World War II and a few more have arrived in just the past two decades.

The latter emigrated because of job transfers or married Minnesotans, Michaelson said, and you “can hear their voices” at the fair.

Two clubs formed by Scottish immigrants to preserve their culture still exist here, though their numbers are stagnant or decreasing, said Cogswell.

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