Citizens Report American Irish Culture

Danahey On The Loose at Scottish Festival & Highland Games

Pipers performing at The Highland Games in Itasca last weekend.
Pipers performing at The Highland Games in Itasca last weekend.

Here’s what happens when I head out for my yearly journey to the Brigadoon at Hamilton Lakes in Itasca that is the Scottish Festival & Highland Games:

1. I kilt up.
For the benefit of all,  this involves talcum powder. That’s all you need to know.
With the rainy morning weather, Tom, my best buddy and partner in fest-going, decided not to wear his tartan. Instead, he donned a Renaissance Fair puffy shirt, jean shorts, and a cap – which made him look French baker or from some opera about Pinocchio ( I hope Disney doesn’t sue him.

Tom Mikulay looking French
Tom Mikulay looking French
2. We eat haggis.
Last year, it was haggis and chips, because nothing tastes better on a hot day than organ meat mixed with oats and pepper served with deep fried potatoes.
This Saturday, we happened upon something called a Haggis Pup (, which was very tasty.
As the above link explains. “in 1997, Scotsfare introduced a ‘Yankee Doodle’ version of the old traditional Scottish dish at the Kansas City Highland Games. They were an immediate hit. Without describing the unusual ingredients of the original, let’s just say the new version is much more acceptable to the sensibilities of both Scots and Americans.
The Haggis Pup is a lean, pure pork sausage with the seasoning and spices that lend authenticity to the flavor. It is made by a custom butcher into a link that can be served on a bun: a Scottish sausage that’s a great addition to Scottish events.”
And it pairs well with Belhaven beers.
Thus inspired, Tom also bought some bangers and back bacon from Spencer’s Jolly Posh Foods (,  an English shop from Chicago, who had a spot manned by a guy from Dublin.
3. We set up chairs.
A fest essential are chairs that fold into tote bags. When I eventually host a PBS pledge drive, I will make sure they are one of the giveaway items for making a $50 donation.
This year we put chairs to park our big Irish asses at a geometrically optimal point so that we could take short walks to the music stage, vendors area, heavy athletics, mass pipe and drum bands finale, and, most importantly, the Whiskey/Whisky Tent. I’m being politically correct because the former spelling typically means American and Irish labels, and the latter usually signifies Scottish and Canadian brands. This also points out what conniving language English is, a tongue tough enough to drive you to drink.
4. We find my buddy Marty Duffy.
Marty Duffy
Marty Duffy
These days, Marty is a brand rep for Benedictine, and he knows his spirits and those in the spirits world. No, he’s not on one of those stupid TV shows about real-life knucklehead ghostbusters.
At the fest, he helped out again with the entertainment stage, and in between introducing acts and hosting a knobby knees contest, he introduced us to folks working in the aforementioned tent, including David Sweet of Whisky Live ( and Whiskey Magazine ( and Gurnee (
Sweet oversees Whisky Live events across the country, with the biggest one in New York. The biggest Highland Games Whisky Live sets up at is in San Francisco Labor Day weekend (, which Sweet said draws about 25,000 people each year.
This being an Irish-based read, our first obligation was to seek libations from Ireland. So Marty led us to the table for Kilbeggan (
According to published reports, Illinois-based Beam Inc.  bought Cooley Distillery in early 2012 and sales of the Kilbeggan brand have been excellent.
Kilbeggan’s history traces back more than 250 years, and its location in Westmeath is one of those postcard-pretty places where you half expect to see the ghost of John Wayne fighting for Maureen O’Hara.
Kilbeggan puts out something called Two Gingers, which had Tom excited as he was hoping it would lead to his fantasy involving two shapely redheads.
Instead, Tom wound up being befriended by a ebullient hipster dandy who sported a bow tie and a waxed handlebar mustache – which the dude admitted interfered with sleeping as, if left unwaxed, the hairs at the end of his facial art would wind up in his mouth – which made me think that hipsters don’t get laid much.
Anyway, the tale I was told about Two Gingers involves a bar in Minneapolis called The Local (, which is local to the Target corporate headquarters.
That might help explain why The Local at one time was the biggest pourer of Jameson on the entire planet, going through an average of  22 cases a week, I was told.  Or maybe it was 22 bottles a day. It was hard to hear through all the peaty goodness.
The story goes that the bar owner got miffed one year when Jameson raised its prices, so he teamed with Kilbeggan to come up with a blend to use a ginger ale with Irish whiskey cocktail.
That was my favorite story of the day, but there was plenty more to sample, including high-end sipping beers from Sam Adams, exotic rums, and spirits produced locally by Koval (, Chicago’s first boutique distillery.

Koval Tent
Koval Tent
Speaking of boutiques,  all of the above led to what else we always do.
4. We shop.
I bet you thought I was going to say get into a caber toss war, or toss haggis or enter a haggis eating contest, or make frequent visits to a portable toilet.
Nay, we stimulated the economy with purchases of pewter and silly T-shirts – one with a picture of a drum that says, “Bang this!” and one with bagpipes that reads “Blow me!” and another with a Top 10 list about what is being worn underneath a kilt. Hey, they were all out of the boxer briefs with verses from Robbie Burns embroidered on the waistband.
Like Lane Bryant-sized women, we also both bought new kilts – black ones, but not matching black ones, as we are not getting married. We’re more like the Nick Frost and Simon Pegg ( of the northwest suburbs, and not Chuck and Larry, because on any given day we are way funnier than any number of Adam Sandler movies.

Mike Danahey
Mike Danahey
To that end, after leaving the games, we headed back to the Dundee area, where Tom changed into his new garment, I put on the kilt-themed T-shirt and we headed out to our local,  The Village Vintner Winery & Brewery ( to show off our outfits.
Tom’s daughter drove us, in case you were wondering.  And there was a refreshing breeze on the patio – though there might have been some minor complaints of it smelling like smoked pork sausage outside.
In other words, all in all, it was more than a wee bit of Celtic fun – pun intended.

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