Scots and Slots

by Stephen Riggs

From what I was told by the organizers, Clan Hay has not made it presence known at the Las Vegas Celtic Gathering and Highland Games in the seven years of its existence, so it was with a bit of pride that in April of this year I was able to make the cry “A Hay, A Hay, A Hay” heard for the very first time at their games.

I first got the idea to participate in the Las Vegas games a year ago when, after being urged by other clan representatives and by Clan Hay Society members Terry and Leah Masterson of Las Vegas, we decided to go and check it out. My wife, Melissa, had never visited Las Vegas before, and I had only been once, so we went on a mini-vacation to see the sights and to attend the games as spectators. We were both enchanted by the games and noted a superb opportunity for Clan Hay. We determined then that we would come back the following year with tartans and tent.

Las Vegas is about a four-and-a-half hour drive from our home town of Flagstaff, not too formidable a distance for the Western states. The drive is actually a bit shorter now that the new bridge across the Colorado River canyon, bypassing Hoover Dam, has been completed. (It is several hundred feet above the river, so keep the steering wheel straight and don’t look down.)

Convener Stephen Riggs and Clan Hay Society members Leah and Terry Masterson

Although Las Vegas is in a very arid part of the world, the games are held in Floyd Lamb State Park on the northern edge of the city, the site of naturally occurring artesian springs. It is, literally, an oasis in the desert with ponds, trees, and wildlife. The trees, especially, were welcome. After representing the clan in Arizona’s hot communities, the ability to escape the direct sun was a pleasant relief. The attendees must have thought so, too. There were approximately 12,000 people who came to the two-day games.

Las Vegas is a relaxed destination city that actively seeks visitors, and when Las Vegas wants you to feel welcomed, they go all out.  As a new clan participant at their games, the organizers of the games certainly rolled out the red carpet for the Hays, frequently checking to see if all was in order or if we needed anything. It was also appreciated that the Mastersons, who volunteer with the games, acquired special passes for us giving access to the VIP area, one of the nicest in the country. When Vegas wants you to feel like a VIP, they really go all out for that, too.

Forty clans were represented at the games. Instead of segregating them into a special area of the field, they alternate the clans with vendors, thus assuring a good traffic flow around the clan tents.  While we did not have a large number of visitors with Hay connections at the tent, we did have a representation of Hays, Giffords, and Peebles sign the guest register and give contact information for future activity notification. Most were unaware of their clan affiliation. One of the pleasures of being a convener is talking about the clan and its origins to others and seeing the excitement grow as they realize they, too, are a part of it.

Melissa and Stephen Riggs at the Las Vegas Highland Games

One of the things of great interest to most visitors were our photographs of Hay castles and landmarks take during a recent trip to Scotland, a trip partially dedicated to Hay history. Visitors found photos of Delgatie castle, Old and New Slains, Kinnoull Tower, and the Falcon Stone particularly attractive.  As you might imagine, many conversations about the clan were initiated because of the pictures.

All in all, I believe participation in the games was a worthwhile endeavor and that there is great potential for Clan Hay in Las Vegas. With persistence and clan society members like the Mastersons, I feel that we will see a growth in membership in the southern Nevada region.

This year, the city of Las Vegas, in conjunction with the festival, held a rather impressive tattoo on Friday and Saturday evening. Pipe bands from the western United States, the United States military, Scotland, and Canada performed in a tribute to the U.S. armed forces.  Most of them, including two grade 1 pipe bands, also performed at the closing ceremony each day of the games. In all, there were upwards of two hundred pipers and drummers on the field, more than I have seen at games outside of Scotland in a while. All bands had a chance to perform individually as they marched in, and all were quite good.  But when they played as a massed band, they were truly impressive.

Eventually all fun things come to a close and we packed up at the games’ end on Sunday afternoon to rest and enjoy some of what Las Vegas had to offer before heading home. The drive home always seems longer than the drive to a gathering. This was no exception. But the games were both enjoyable and productive. We will be back. And, in case you are wondering, we did not lose any money in the casinos. The secret? We were too busy to drop even one coin in a slot machine.

Stephen Riggs

Convener for Arizona and Nevada