The Highland games have traditionally been a representation of Scottish and Celtic traditions and therefore originated in Scotland. The dates of the Highland games originate back to the 11th century and have been credited to the Scottish king, Malcolm Canmore. King Malcolm invited contestants to compete in a foot race with the aim of finding the fastest runner to become his royal messenger. Many people believe that this foot race became the origins of Scotland’s modern Highland games.
Where did the Highland games begin?
The first ever games took place is Fetteresso. This location is slightly south of the Scottish Highlands, and the town is famous for the Fetteresso Castle. This castle was first built during the 14th century as a towerhouse and then was rebuilt in 1762 as a Palladia manor in a Scottish gothic style. It is fitting that games began in Scotland as sport is central to Scottish culture. Other sources have suggested that the games actually began before the dawn of Christianity. These sources state that the games acted as “war games” and were a way of preparing men for battle. The competitions allowed the clan chief to choose his strongest men based on their performances. It tested strength, endurance and skill, all characteristics of a good fighter.
Another origin of the games is linked to the Teltown “Funeral games” in Eire. The “Funeral games” were in honor of Lugh, the Celtic God of Light. Lugh was the dead foster mother of a half deity and a half-mortal. Other sources suggest that Baron Pierre de Coubertin influenced the games. Baron Pierre de Courbertin was a French pedagogue and the founder of the International Olympic Committee. He is considered the father of the modern Olympic Games. Coubertin impacted the Highland games while he was attempting to revive the Olympic Games. He revolutionized the games after viewing a display of the rules at the Paris Exhibition of 1889.
The games are a celebration of Celtic and Scottish culture and heritage and are focused around athleticism and sporting competitions. The caber toss has come to symbolize the games. This caber toss is when a competitor vertically holds a long tapered pine log or pole in the smaller end of their hands. While running forward, the contestants need to toss the log so that the larger end strikes the ground first. The main aim is to ensure the smaller end hits the ground in the 12 o’clock position which is relative the direction of the run. Stone put is another popular game and is very similar to modern day shot put. The main difference between the two sports is that the modern day version uses a steel ball while the Scottish version uses a large stone of variant weights. Other prominent sports at the games include Scottish hammer throw, weight throw, weight over the bar, and sheaf toss. These historical games were collectively considered the ‘heavy events’. The light events are the athletics, track and field games. Traditional Scottish music, including pipe bands is essential and usually the memorable part of the games. Crowd favorite tunes include ‘Scotland the Brave’ and ‘Amazing Grace.’ Another crowd pleaser is the traditional dancing, including the Scottish country dancing.
The modern day games take place annually from Cowal to Tormintoul. Competition days are a mix of sports, culture and social events. Both traditional sports and modern games are played. There is a spectacle of Highland pipers, dancers and musicians. The games run throughout the summer month of June to September. Highland games are not restricted to the Scottish region and games are played worldwide. Every year there are competitions in North America, namely Canada and the United States. The games began in the states in the mid-1800s in New York.