Following the 1715 Rebellion, it became an offence to wear a kilt or any highland garb (clothes).
In 1725, the Highlanders were very partial to all kinds of manly exercises and games. Whole districts turned out at stated periods to compete at the different feats, which were contested with great spirit. Sunday was frequently the great day for these fetes. The whole male population of a parish would gather in a field adjoining the kirkyard and engage in exercises hardly of a devotional character. The minister had frequently to join in the games on week days, in order to coax the people to go to the church on Sunday.
It is related of the Rev. Lachlan Mackenzie of Lochcarron, that he had on one occasion to join in the games on the Sabbath, in order to lure the people with him and having beaten the champion, he ever afterwards got a large congregation of eager and attentive listeners.
In 1727, the first Presbyterian minister to settle in Moy, Inverness-shire, found his parishioners amusing themselves near the church putting the heavy stone. He tried his hand at it with them, ere they would accompany him to church.
These were the days of "muscular Christianity." It was quite common for the minister to go to the pulpit armed with a good stout cudgel, in order to punish any refractory worshipper. In those times, the games popular among the Highlanders were: Putting the stone, lifting a heavy weight known as "Clach neart" (Manhood or Stone of Strength), tossing the caber, wrestling, running, leaping, swimming, shooting, shinty and football etc.
Following the 1745-1746 Rebellion, the government issued the Act of Proscription, which included The Dress Act, which banned men in Scotland, from wearing kilts and tartan. The law also banned five or more people from assembling together.
In 1769, Thomas Pennant, in his book, ‘A Tour of Scotland’, whilst in Inverness, wrote, “Most of the ancient sports of the Highlanders, such as archery, hunting, fowling and fishing, are now disused : those retained are, throwing the putting-stone, or stone of strength, as they call it, which occasions an emulation who can throw a weighty one the farthest. Throwing the pennystone, which answers to our coits. The shinty, or the striking a ball of wood or of hair : this game is played between two parties in a large plain, and furnished with clubs-, which-ever fide strikes it first to their own goal wins the match.
In 1778, the Highland Society of London was formed, by 25 Highland Gentlemen. Its aim was to support the traditions and culture of the Highlands of Scotland.
In 1781, the Highland Society of London, held a bagpipe competition at the Falkirk Cattle Tryst. Thirteen competitors each played four tunes, which were judged by the Society. Cash prizes were awarded and the competitors were also given expenses. One of the competing pipers, was John Macgregor (72), who had been Prince Charles Edward Stuart’s piper during the rebellion. He was third in the bagpipe competition, which was won by his son, Patrick Macgregor.
In 1782, the Highland Society of London were influential in the repeal of The Act of Proscription, which had criminalised the wearing of Highland clothes. By way of celebration, the highland dance, Seann Truibhas (Old trouser/old breeks), was created. Dancers show their displeasure in wearing trousers, by the kicking and shaking movements captured in the dance. Their final triumphant kick is a celebration of once again being able to wear the beloved kilt.
In 1788, the Northern Meeting in Inverness started. Its purpose was to promote an annual week of Social Intercourse. It initially focused on formal dining and dancing, at its formal balls. Through the day, hunting with hounds took place and at night, card playing took place. Musical entertainment, singing and poetry reading also took place.
In 1809, to celebrate King George III’s Golden Jubilee, ‘Glengarry’, Colonel Alexander Ranaldson MacDonell, the Chief of the MacDonell clan, held a clan gathering at his home in Glengarry, Inverness-shire. At the event, old highland sports took place, including foot races.
In 1815, ‘The Society of True Highlanders’ was formed by ‘Glengarry’. Its object was to revive and keep up the old manly sports and customs of the Highlanders and to support their true dress, language, music and characteristics.
The Braemar Wright Society was also formed. It was a friendly society, at which they held ‘jollifications’, including competitions of strength and skill.
In 1816, ‘Glengarry’ on behalf of The Society of True Highlanders, held the first of the Society’s annual Highland Games, at his home in Glengarry. The following is an abridged transcript of results, of the Society’s first Games.
And first, the Prize for ball shooting was contended for, in which Glengarry, Allangrange, Colonel Macdonell of the Guards, C.B. K. M. T. and St Wr. Captain Falconer of the 78th Highlanders, and Captain Morgan, distinguished themselves by breaking the Target, at about a hundred and twenty yards.
The foot race was then started (to run a distance of nearly five miles, the road in many parts rough and unmade), by John Kennedy, “Mac Ian More,” from Glengarry, Angus McEobhon, Rhuagha Kennedy, from Laggan, Archibald Macdonell, from Glenmorriston, and Ewen Kennedy, mac Ian mhic Eobhan, in which the two first were victorious, though the others did not want merit in the contest.
The lifting of the stone was next resorted to, and was practised by the strong, (in part) during the interval of the runners’ absence ; in this, Serjeant Ranald Macdonell, “Na Craig,” from Glengarry, maintained his original superiority with great ease ; next Allan Macdonell, from Glenlee carried 42 yards, Donald Macdonell, from Lundy, 30 yards, John Macmaster, from Dochinassy, 28 ½ yards, John Chisholm, from Glenmorriston, 26 yards, Donald Cameron, from Dochinassy, 20 yards. – several others tried, in vain, or declined having their names inserted, from the little hand they made of it.
Putting the stone therefore succeeded, when Ranald Macdonell, “do Shliochd Allan Mac Raonuill,” from Leek of Glengarry, evinced his wonted superiority ; among the others were observed, Mr George Macdonell, “an cend na” Alex. Smith, Gardener to Glengarry, and Alex. Grant, Ploughman to Captain Morgan, the two last as standing putters.
The standing and running leap was denied us, from the shortness of the day ; and heaving the sledge hammer was introduced in their room, in which few, if any, of those manly games, the former pastime of Caledonians shew more the combined strength and activity of its performer ; it calls forth every nerve in the human frame to its fullest pitch, and this and putting the stone, were at all times, favourites among our Highland ancestors, here Serjeant Ranald Macdonell again maintained the superiority he had evinced for years back, as the Rae Highlanders and his own Regiment witnessed, in a contest (during the Irish rebellion) with their companion.
Wrestling, pulling the stick, tossing the bar of iron, pitching the cabber, and several others, were among the Highland amusements of old, but the shortness of a most joyous and harmonious day, forbade the entering upon either of them now.
The Glengarry Highland Games (Invergarry, Scotland), continue to this day and have applied to join the SHGA. They are not to be confused with the Glengarry Highland Games (Maxville, Ontario, Canada).
Published: 2020-09-29 13:20:15