The History of Highland Games in Scotland
Scotland in the early days was ever a warlike nation. It is said that, if the Scots were not fighting someone else, they were fighting amongst themselves. Indeed, some of the bloodiest parts of our history involved feuds between rival clans. Probably the most fabled among these is the tragic story of Glencoe, where the Campbells, acting for the Government, murdered their hosts, the MacDonalds.
Clan chiefs had to be ever alert to the threat from others and the need to keep their men sharp and battle practised. Competitions or ‘Games’ were organised to practice skills and allow warriors to test their strength and fitness against each other.
Highland Games, as we know them today, were largely a Victorian invention, designed to celebrate the great traditions of Highland culture in Scotland. Today’s Highland Games are much more civilised, of course, although the echoes of history remain, particularly in the heavyweight events. Other aspects of Highland tradition, including the Celtic version of a war dance, are recalled through the spectacle of Highland Dancing competitions.
The History of Bridge of Allan Highland Games
Bridge of Allan Highland Games – also known as the Strathallan Meeting – has held a central place in traditional Scottish sport for more than 160 years. Before that its origin can be found in the sports gatherings of ordinary country folk when the Lairds met to play ‘Tilting at the ring’, under a charter granted by James I in 1453.
A link to the old Wappenschaws -a kind of medieval ‘Home Guard’ – when every grown man had to show his weapons in good order, is tenuous but what is certain is that by the early 19th century competitive sports were taking place here on a regular basis. William Litt of Cumbria wrote in 1823 of: “The famous old school of wrestlers in Strathallan, Stirlingshire”.
There is no record of when The Country Archery and Rifle Club was founded but it was probably about 1825 and it also held sports competitions at its meetings. Their competitions became the Strathallan Highland Games and were organised by JA Henderson of Westerton, from at least 1848 until 1858, when he died. Major General Sir James Alexander, K.C.B. became Laird of Westerton in 1863 and reorganised the games, which have been held annually ever since then with the exception of the duration of the two World Wars.
Bridge of Allan’s committee has a unique claim to fame, being intimately connected with the birth of the modern cult of body-building. In 1888 it was responsible for organising the Highland Gathering at the Glasgow International Exhibition and at the 1889 Paris International Exhibition. When the Strathallan Committee and the highland games stars they had brought to Paris for the exhibition arrived, they found to their surprise that the world’s first body-building competition was about to be held. This was to be a team competition and had already attracted an entry of 300 strongmen. Nothing daunted the Scots, and led by the famous wrestler Jimmy Esson, of Aberdeen, they entered and won. Sadly Jimmy Esson died of wounds in a German prisoner of war camp in 1916
Until 1956 Bridge of Allan was a traditional games with money prizes, then from 1957 till 1998 it affiliated to the amateur sports organisations. A new era demanded a new start and in 1999, the year of the first Scottish Parliament for almost 300 years, we once again affiliated to the Scottish Highland Games Association to continue to promote, for the benefit of the coming generations, traditional Scottish sports, dances and music.