Local man planning Celtic get-together in Sweet Home

The Highland games that Greg Downes of Sweet Home would like to bring to town recall the days when the Celtic peoples lived their lives surrounding their clans.

Descendants of those clans continue clan celebrations today in various Highland games events, many of them throughout the Northwest, especially in Washington.

Downes, a member of the Irish Clan Cian, moved to Sweet Home about 12 years ago, where his in-laws reside.

“I like it here,” Downes said. “I like this area. It’s got potential, and I would like to see things happen here.”

He became involved in Highland games about a year and a half ago after his wife researched his family’s history. His family had believed it was English. Through the research, he learned he was Irish. Before getting involved in Celtic events, he would see event signs and always wanted to attend one.

The events are open to all, and many persons travel constantly to them. Athletics are open to amateurs, novices and professionals. Clan tents provide genealogical information and books about families and clans. Vendors sell family trees, swords and antique clothing.

“People come to see the clans,” Downes said. “People come to join the clans.”

The games that Downes is planning will be Celtic, open to all of the Celtic clans, including those of Normandy, Spain and Germany as well as those of the English Isles. Some events are aimed at one specific type of clan, such as the Scots or the Irish.

“It’s more for fun than anything else,” Downes said. Music and dancing are a huge part of the event, and he is working with four different bands to perform at the event. Among those are the Oregon National Defense Force Band and the Marine Corps Security Force Ceremonial Drill Platoon of Bangor, Wash.

The events are family oriented with campouts, and visitors don’t even really need to worry about locking their vehicles, Downes said. After all, the gathered clans are nothing more than extended family either.

“It’s family,” Downes said. “Kids walk around. You don’t have to worry about the kids being taken.”

At night, there’s European-style drinking in a pub, with singing and dancing. Downes is working with two possibilities, the Portland Brewing Company, which does the Portland Games, and McTarnahan’s, an Irish Brew Pub that does the games in Prineville.

There is an opportunity for visitors to get involved in the games. They sign a waiver and can compete at the novice level. Downes would like to get the event professionally sanctioned, but that may not happen this year.

The games include events like the caber toss, the hammer throw and stone throwing. The stone’s used in throwing become fixtures in the games. Prineville’s stone weighs 120 pounds, and Downes came in second throwing it 12 and a half feet. He would like to have a “Sweet Home stone” someday.

“I just enjoy the getting together where there’s family oriented things,” Downes said of the games. “It’s just great to see a bunch of people get together and have fun. The whole purpose for people to come together is first of all to have fun and explore their heritage.”

Downes is married to Kathi. They have three sons, who also participate in Highland games. They include Steve, Keith and Jonathan. They have five grandchildren.