A year ago, the Belfast Curling Club was still recovering from flooding damage that occurred when the building was empty during the early days of the pandemic. Now, the club is readying itself for something special: hosting an international match that’s never been played in Maine before.
The Ladies’ Branch of Scotland’s national Royal Caledonian Curling Club will play against United States Women’s Curling Association members in Belfast on Saturday, Nov. 5.
Known as the Scot Tour, the event brings together Scottish and American women curlers every five years. The countries alternate hosting.
The visiting team spends three weeks traveling across the hosting country playing in bonspiels — curling tournaments where competing teams slide stones over ice to reach the house, a target-like area, first. Curling teams are led by a captain known as the skip. Teammates sweep brooms over the ice to control the stone’s speed and sometimes direction — perhaps knocking out the competition’s stone along the way.
This is the first time in the event’s 64-year history that it has been held in Maine. It’s one of 14 stops on the tour.
It’s a momentous occasion for Belfast’s club — both exciting and daunting, Belfast United States Women’s Curling Association representative Ann Kirkpatrick said.
“There’s a lot of protocol and pomp and circumstance — you just want to get it right,” Kirkpatrick said.
The winning team is awarded the Marguerite Roberts Quaich, a traditional commemorative Scottish cup. But curling is about much more than winning.
“Curling has this competitive spirit, but it also exists to create friendships,” Belfast Curling Club member Tyrone Townsend said. “It’s really a friendship tour.”
Scots Tour Captain Shirley Jeans, who lives in Dundee, Scotland, says one of her favorite parts of curling is the social side — eating, drinking, making new connections and going on adventures.
That’s the sport’s origin, after all
Before curling was invented, Jeans said residents in the hills of Scotland would throw stones at each other from opposite sides of the rivers. Eventually, they decided to meet in the middle and play the first rousing game of curling, she said.
The game is so friendly, Kirkpatrick said, that oftentimes curlers are cheering their competitors on or holding their tongues when a competitor makes a violation.
“There’s just a lot of grace there,” Kirkpatrick said. “It’s like a sisterhood of curling.”
When the team arrives, members of the Belfast Curling Club plan to take its members on a voyage through Belfast, including a tour of the Belfast Historical Society and Museum and a stone-cutting demonstration by Douglas Coffin, a past club president. Coffin, a professional cartoonist, will also be presenting the Scots with a cartoon for them to remember their time in this side of the Atlantic Ocean’s Belfast.
“We are polishing up our club and making sure that everything is just all set so that they see the very best of the curling, the very best of Belfast and the very best of our whole state,” Kirkpatrick said. “We just hope we’re a standout for them.”