#MyrtleMondays: The Highland Games!

Scotland has made several notable contributions to the world of sports, including golf, curling, and the high jump. In our continuing series on All Things Scottish, preparing for next month’s release of Myrtle Hardcastle Mysteries Book 5, Myrtle, Means, and Opportunity, we’re taking a look back at one particular aspect of Scotland’s sporting history—the Highland Games!

Are ye feeling Scottish yet?

Most Scottish sports seem to involve tossing things.

Competitions celebrating Scottish athleticism have been held for more than a thousand years. Clan chiefs would pit their strongest members against their neighbors in (more or less) friendly matches, to prove which clan’s men were the most able and fearsome.

Braemar Games, John Mitchell, 1898

Read More: Sports for Victorian Girls

The Victorian Olympic Spirit

Victorian Winter Sports

A 19th century vision of those early days. These lads are doing the hammer throw, apparently without rules for safety or a referee (from Round-about Rambles in Lands of Fact and Fancy by Frank R. Stockton)

An enormously serious Scot prepares to toss the caber while a judge looks on in this 1890s engraving. (Generally you want your caber-tossing field to be quite a bit more open…)

Caber is an old Gaelic word meaning rafter, and the sport is believed to have evolved from the need to toss logs across streams as makeshift bridges, and/or to transport them downstream for the lumber industry.

In the 19th century, these age-old meets grew in size and organization, becoming the Highland Games we know today, and featuring the same quintessentially Scottish events: the caber toss, hammer throw, shotput, tug-o’-war, and more.

More throwing of heavy objects…

The Royal Family in the Highlands, Tug-o-War, Balmoral v Abergeldie 1881. You can see Queen Victoria and her grandchildren to the left, rooting for Balmoral

In her memoir Some Reminiscences of a Highland Chief, Louisa McDonnel, daughter of the Chief of Glengarry, wrote of the Highland Games held in honor of her father’s birthday during the mid-1800s, describing some splendidly picturesque events.

I tried to find an image of that tartan-leaping, to no avail. Alas!

You can read more about Glengarry’s Highland Games tradition here: Glengarry Gathering History. These days the festivities include demonstrations of traditional crafts like spinning and weaving, a dog show, and even a unicorn!

Sword dancing to the piper’s accompaniment at the Games (at least they weren’t throwing those.)

All over the world, Scottish Highland Games became an important way for Scottish people—whether in their homeland or abroad—to gather and celebrate their Caledonian identity.

Your Learned Author and her personal Scotsman at the Kansas City Highland Games earlier this century. Here he wears a great kilt and I wear the women’s version, the airisaidh.

In addition to the sporting events, Highland Games allow folks to connect with far-flung members of their clans and enjoy Scottish food, music, and dancing.

Young lads keep the tradition alive, performing to the music of Robbie Burns (circa 1900)

There are as many as 80 million Scots throughout the world, and Highland Games from Great Britain to North America, Indonesia, Brazil, the Czech Republic, and beyond continue to bring Scots together under the banner of friendly competition, pipe music, and feasting.

Scotch eggs? Yes, please.

Highland Dancers compete at the Cowal Gathering in 2008

While a pipe band plays on the other side of the world, at Jakarta’s Highland Gathering

So lift a wee glass (whisky, tea, or what hae ye) tae aw the folks who have kept these fantastic traditions alive—and find out where you can visit a Highland Games near you!

Royal Scottish Highland Games Association

North American Scottish Games Association

Scottish Australian Heritage Council

If you’re very lucky, your games may even have a Highland Coo.