Highland games are events held in spring and summer in Scotland and other countries with a large Scottish diaspora, as a way of celebrating Scottish and Celtic culture, especially that of the Scottish Highlands Games. Certain aspects of the games are so well known as to have become emblematic of Scotland, such as the bagpipes, the kilt, and the heavy events, especially the caber toss. While centred on competitions in piping and drumming, dancing, and Scottish heavy athletics, the games also include entertainment and exhibits related to other aspects of Scottish and Gaelic cultures.
The Cowal Highland Gathering, better known as the Cowal Games, is held in Dunoon, Scotland, every August. It is the largest Highland games in the world,[note 1] attracting around 3,500 competitors and somewhere in the region of 23,000 spectators from around the globe. Worldwide, however, it is exceeded in terms of spectators by two gatherings in the United States: the estimated 30,000 that attend Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina and the even larger gathering--the largest in the Northern Hemisphere--that has taken place every year since 1866. This event is currently held on Labor Day weekend in Pleasanton, California, and their Sesquicentennial Games held on 5-6 September 2015, attracted record crowds close to 50,000.
The games are claimed to have influenced Baron Pierre de Coubertin when he was planning the revival of the Olympic Games. De Coubertin saw a display of Highland games at the Paris Exhibition of 1889.[note 2]
The origin of human games and sports predates recorded history. An example of a possible early games venue is at Fetteresso, although that location is technically a few miles south of the Scotland Highlands.
The first historical reference to the type of events held at Highland Games in Scotland was made during the time of King Malcolm III (Scottish Gaelic: Máel Coluim; c. 1031 - 13 November 1093) when he summoned men to race up Craig Choinnich overlooking Braemar with the aim of finding the fastest runner in Scotland to be his royal messenger. They were also thought to have originally been events where the strongest and bravest soldiers in Scotland would be tested. These gatherings were not only about trials of strength. Musicians and dancers were encouraged to reveal their skill and talents and so be a great credit to the clan that they represented.
There is a document from 1703 summoning the clan of the Laird of Grant, Clan Grant. They were to arrive wearing Highland coats and "also with gun, sword, pistol and dirk".[note 3] From this letter, it is believed that the competitions would have included feats of arms.
However, the modern Highland games are largely a Victorian invention, developed after the Highland Clearances.
In their original form many centuries ago, Highland games revolved around athletic and sports competitions. Though other activities were always a part of the festivities, many today still consider Highland athletics to be what the games are all about--in short, that the athletics are the Games, and all the other activities are just entertainment. Regardless, it remains true today that the athletic competitions are at least an integral part of the events and one--the caber toss--has come to almost symbolise the Highland games.
Although quite a range of events can be a part of the Highland athletics competition, a few have become standard.
Many of the Heavy Events competitors in Scottish highland athletics are former high school and college track and field athletes who find the Scottish games are a good way to continue their competitive careers.
Increasingly in the USA, the Heavy Events are attracting women and master class athletes which has led to a proliferation of additional classes in Heavy Events competitions. Lighter implements are used in the classes.
For many Highland games festival attendees, the most memorable of all the events at the games is the massing of the pipe bands. Normally held in conjunction with the opening and closing ceremonies of the games, as many as 20 or more pipe bands will march and play together. The result is a thunderous rendition of Scotland the Brave or Amazing Grace, and other crowd-pleasing favourites.
It is, in fact, the music of the bagpipe which has come to symbolise music at the Games and, indeed, in Scotland itself. In addition to the massed bands, nearly all Highland games gatherings feature a wide range of piping and drumming competition, including solo piping and drumming, small group ensembles and, of course, the pipe bands themselves.
The Cowal Highland Gathering hosts the annual World Highland Dancing Championship. This event gathers the best competitive dancers from around the world who compete for the SOBHD sanctioned World Championship title.
At modern-day Highland Games events, a wide variety of other activities and events are generally available. Foremost among these are the clan tents and vendors of Scottish related goods. The various clan societies make the Highland games one of the main focus of their seasonal activities, usually making an appearance at as many such events as possible. Visitors can find out information about the Scottish roots and can become active in their own clan society if they wish.
At modern games, armouries will display their collections of swords and armour, and often perform mock battles. Various vendors selling Scottish memorabilia are also present selling everything from Irn-Bru to the stuffed likeness of the Loch Ness Monster.
Various traditional and modern Celtic arts are often showcased. These could include harpers' circles, Scottish country dancing, and one or more entertainment stages. In addition, most events usually feature a pre-event ceilidh (a type of social event with traditional music, dancing, song, and other forms of entertainment).
Various food vendors will also offer assorted types of traditional Scottish refreshment and sustenance.
|Location||Name of Event||Details|
|Alva, Clackmannanshire||First Alva Highland Games were held in summer 1856.||Johnstone park Alva at the foot of the Ochil Hills.|
|Blair Atholl, Perthshire||Atholl Gathering||Europe's only private army, the Atholl Highlanders, open the games in the grounds of Blair Castle|
|Braemar, Aberdeenshire||Braemar Gathering||Attended by the British Royal Family.|
|Burntisland, Fife||Burntisland Highland Games||Second oldest in the world|
|Carloway, Isle of Lewis||Carloway Show and Highland Games||Home to the oldest 'Maide Leisg' competition in the world|
|Ceres, Fife||Ceres Highland Games||Oldest free games in Scotland|
|Crieff, Perthshire||Crieff Highland Games||Home of the Scottish Heavyweight Championships and has the Earl of Strathearn (Prince William) as the Royal Chieftain|
|Cupar, Fife||Cupar Highland Games||Started in 1979|
|Dunoon, Argyllshire||Cowal Highland Gathering||Biggest games in Scotland|
|Glenisla, Angus||Glenisla Highland Games||Started in 1869|
|Gourock, Inverclyde||Gourock Highland Games||The first Highland games of the Scottish season - held on the second Sunday in May|
|Halkirk, Caithness||Halkirk Highland Games||Started in 1886|
|Inverkeithing, Fife||Inverkeithing Highland Games|
|Lochearnhead, Perthshire||Balquhidder, Lochearnhead and Strathyre Highland Games||Cameron, MacLaren and MacGregor clans linked to the games|
|Luss, Dunbartonshire||Luss Highland Gathering||Clan Colquhoun linked to the games. Held regularly since 1875.|
|Strathdon, Aberdeenshire||Lonach Highland Gathering & Games||Held by The Lonach Highland & Friendly Society Est. 1823, features the march of the Lonach Highlanders consisting of Forbes, Wallace and Gordons|
|Perth, Perthshire||Perth Highland Games||Held on the second Sunday in August|
|Pitlochry, Perthshire||Pitlochry Highland Games|
|Portree, Skye||Isle of Skye Highland Games|
|St. Andrews, Fife||St. Andrews Highland Games|
|Stirling||Stirling Highland Games||First Stirling Highland Games were held in July 1870|
|Inverness||Inverness Highland Games||Staged in the world's oldest highland games stadium, Northern Meeting Park|
|Estância Velha, Rio Grande do Sul||Scout Highland Games - GEJL46RS|
|Sapucaia do Sul, Rio Grande do Sul||Scottish Highland Games Brazil|
On 1 August 1997 Canada Post issued 'Highland Games' designed by Fraser Ross, based on photographs by Andrew Balfour. The 45¢ stamps are perforated 12.5 x 13 and were printed by Canadian Bank Note Company, Limited.
|Calgary, Alberta||Calgary Highland Games||September|
|Canmore, Alberta||Canmore Highland Games||August|
|Edmonton, Alberta||Edmonton Scottish Society Highland Gathering||May|
|Grande Prairie, Alberta||Grande Prairie Highland Games||June|
|High River, Alberta||Foothills Highland Games||August|
|Red Deer, Alberta||Red Deer Highland Games||June|
|Coquitlam, British Columbia||BC Highland Games||June|
|Kamloops, British Columbia||Kamloops Highland Games||July|
|Penticton, British Columbia||Penticton Scottish Festival||July|
|Victoria, British Columbia||Victoria Highland Games||May|
|East Selkirk, Manitoba||Manitoba Highland Gathering||June|
|Winnipeg, Manitoba||Pavilion of Scotland, Folklorama||August|
|Winnipeg, Manitoba||Transcona Highland Gathering||September|
|Fredericton, New Brunswick||New Brunswick Highland Games||July|
|Moncton, New Brunswick||Moncton Highland Games||June|
|Perth-Andover, New Brunswick||Gathering of the Scots Festival||May|
|Antigonish, Nova Scotia||Antigonish Highland Games||July|
|New Glasgow, Nova Scotia||Festival of the Tartans & Highland Games||July|
|Almonte, Ontario||North Lanark Highland Games||August|
|Cambridge, Ontario||Cambridge Highland Games||July|
|Cobourg, Ontario||Cobourg Highland Games||June|
|Embro, Ontario||Embro Highland Games||July|
|Fergus, Ontario||Fergus Scottish Festival and Highland Games||August|
|Georgetown, Ontario||Georgetown Highland Games||June|
|Kincardine, Ontario||Kincardine Scottish Festival & Highland Games||July|
|Kingston, Ontario||Kingston Scottish Festival||May|
|Maxville, Ontario||Glengarry Highland Games||August|
|Sutton, Ontario||The Georgina Gathering||June|
|Uxbridge, Ontario||The Highlands of Durham Games||July|
|Montreal, Quebec||Montreal Highland Games||August|
|Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan||Saskatchewan Highland Gathering & Festival (not to be held in 2015)||May|
|Regina, Saskatchewan||Saskatchewan Highland Gathering & Festival||May|
|Csesznek, Veszprém||Scottish Highland Games (Skót Felföldi Játékok)|
|Zichyújfalu, Fejér||Highland Games Cup (Felföldi Játékok Kupa)|
|Hororata||Hororata Highland Games (2011)|
|Fairlie, New Zealand||Mackenzie Easter Show & Highland Games (1898)|
|Paeroa||Paeroa Highland Games & Tattoo (1993)|
|Turakina||Turakina Highland Games (1864)|
|Waipu||Waipu Highland Games (1871)|
|Abtwil, St. Gallen||Appowila Highland Games|
|Fehraltdorf, Zurich||Highland-Games Fehraltdorf|
|Prescott, Arizona||Prescott Highland Games & Celtic Faire|
|Phoenix, Arizona||Scottish Highland Games|
|Tucson, Arizona||Tucson Celtic Festival & Scottish Highland Games|
|Santa Cruz County, California||Scottish Renaissance Festival featuring the Loch Lomond Highland Games & Celtic Gathering|
|Pleasanton, California||Scottish Highland Gathering and Games|
|San Diego, California||San Diego Scottish Highland Games & Gathering of the Clans|
|Ventura, California||Seaside Highland Games|
|Woodland, California||Sacramento Valley Scottish Games & Festival|
|Elizabeth, Colorado||Elizabeth Celtic Festival|
|Estes Park, Colorado||Longs Peak Scottish-Irish Highland Festival|
|Hartford, Connecticut||Pipes in the Valley|
|Dunedin, Florida||Dunedin Highland Games and Festivals|
|Green Cove Springs, Florida||Northeast Florida Scottish Highland Games|
|Marianna, Florida||The Big Bend Highland Games & Scottish Festival|
|Sarasota, Florida||Sarasota Highland Games|
|Blairsville, Georgia||Blairsville Scottish Festival & Highland Games|
|Stone Mountain, Georgia||Stone Mountain Highland Games and Scottish Festival|
|Honolulu, Hawaii||Hawaiian Scottish Festival and Highland Games|
|Indianapolis, Indiana||Indianapolis Scottish Highland Games and Festival|
|Columbus, Indiana||Columbus Scottish Festival and Highland Games|
|South Bend, Indiana||Celtic Festival and Bryan Verkler Invitational Highland Games|
|Davenport, Iowa||Celtic Festival and Highland Games of the Quad-Cities|
|Eminence, Kentucky||Highland Renaissance Festival|
|Glasgow, Kentucky||Glasgow Highland Games|
|Baton Rouge, Louisiana||The Highland Games of Louisiana|
|Mount Airy, Maryland||Frederick Celtic Festival|
|St. Leonard, Maryland||Southern Maryland Celtic Festival and Highland Gathering|
|Alma, Michigan||Alma Highland Festival and Games|
|Livonia, Michigan||St. Andrew's Society of Detroit Highland Games|
|Sparta, Michigan||Sparta Celtic Festival|
|St. Charles, Missouri||Missouri Tartan Day Festivities|
|St. Louis, Missouri||St. Louis Scottish Games and Cultural Festival|
|Lincoln, New Hampshire||New Hampshire Highland Games|
|Las Vegas, Nevada||Las Vegas Celtic Society Highland Games|
|Old Westbury, New York||Scottish Festival and Games|
|Olcott, New York||Niagara Celtic Heritage Festival & Highland Games|
|Huntersville, North Carolina||Loch Norman Highland Games|
|Laurinburg, North Carolina||Scotland County Highland Games|
|Linville, North Carolina||Grandfather Mountain Highland Games|
|Winston-Salem, North Carolina||Bethabara Highland Games|
|Portland, Oregon||Portland Highland Games|
|Bethlehem, Pennsylvania||Celtic Classic Highland Games & Festival|
|Ligonier, Pennsylvania||Ligonier Highland Games|
|Charleston, South Carolina||Charleston Scottish Games and Highland Gathering|
|Greenville, South Carolina||Gallabrae Greenville Scottish Games|
|Elizabethton, Tennessee||Scottish Heavy Athletics Clinic and Competition / East Tennessee Celtic Festival|
|Gatlinburg, Tennessee||Gatlinburg Scottish Highland Games|
|Maryville, Tennessee||Smoky Mountain Highland Games at Maryville College|
|Arlington, Texas||Texas Scottish Festival and Highland Games|
|Austin, Texas||Austin Celtic Festival|
|Houston, Texas||Houston Celtic Festival and Highland Games|
|Sherman, Texas||Sherman Celtic Festival and Highland Games|
|Lehi, Utah||Utah Scots Festival|
|Delaplane, Virginia||Virginia Scottish Games and Festival|
|Kelso, Washington||Kelso Highlander Festival|
|Bridgeport, West Virginia||North Central West Virginia Scottish Festival and Celtic Gathering|
|Milwaukee, Wisconsin||Milwaukee Highland Games|
|Waukesha, Wisconsin||Wisconsin Highland Games|
|Radford, Virginia||Radford Highlander's Festival|