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  1. #1
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    History of the Highland Games - athletics

    OK, patience here... I'm putting this up on Thursday Jan 7th at 10:41 in the AM Pacific Time. It will take me a while to get a bunch of the information up here.

    I'm going to focus on athletics, eh? .... seeing as this is the Athletics Forum!

    However, as I've pointed out to a lot of athletes, it's worth our while to remember that the very first Highland Gathering after Proscription, was at Falkirk in 1781. The political climate had eased, the first Highland Societies and Caledonian Societies were forming, and to over-simplify....a bunch of lads who were shepherds and who played pipes, drove their sheep down to Falkirk, got together, and played pipes while a small crowd gathered. Thus, the first "modern" Highland Gathering began with the pipes, and to this day, pipes are....and rightfully should be, one of the centerpieces of the Games.

    However, it wasn't long before the Athletes appeared, and there you go.

  2. #2
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    King Malcolm III -

    http://www.rampantscotland.com/famous/blfamcanmore.htm

    Legend has it that Malcolm held athletic competitions, including a running race that ascended some nearby hills, to choose the swiftest and strongest in his army. Those men were chosen as messengers, to ferry messages around the country and among platoons in his army.

    There's a bit of information, as well in this wikipedia entry...

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fell_running

    Everything I've seen refers to this inaugural event as being a running race. ......

  3. #3
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    The Irish Games - Fire Festivals

    The Tailteann Games

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tailteann_Games

    In Pre-Christian Ireland, the Tailteann Games were associated with a ritual funerary event and one of the Celtic Fire Festivals... Lughnasadh. From the size of the archaelogical site, it appears that the Tailteann event was quite large, it may have involved several hundreds of athletes. It seems likely that the other fire festivals, like Beltane, also had some sort of athletics events.

    The Taileteann event is notable in that it's not just athletics, but rather involved things like dancing and storytelling, and handcrafts....sounds rather like the Scottish Games of today, eh?


    Now, the Fire Festivals did not just occur in Ireland. In fact, there is still a Beltane Festival in the Scottish Borders today, and it's well documented that in some parts of Scotland, there were simple Beltane customs observed into the 1950's.

    ^ "In many parts of the Highlands the young folks of the district used to meet on the moors on 1st May. They cut a table in the green sod, of a round figure, by cutting a trench in the ground of sufficient circumference to hold the whole company. They then kindled a fire and dressed a repast of eggs and milk of the consistency of custard. They kneaded a cake of oatmeal, which was toasted at the embers against a stone. After the custard was eaten, they divided the cake into as many portions as there were persons in the company, as much alike as possible in size and shape. They daubed one of the pieces with charcoal till it was black all over, and they were then all put into a bonnet together and each one, blindfolded, drew out a portion. The bonnet holder was entitled to the last bit, and whoever drew the black bit was the devoted person who was to be sacrificed to Baal, whose favour they meant to implore in rendering the year productive. The devoted person was compelled to leap three times over the flames." See Dwelly-d entry for "Bealltainn"

    As Christianity supplanted the old religion, the Fire Festivals were changed over to Saints Days.

    Read here about Samhain ...

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samhain

    and please note that in large part, "Samhain" became the Festival of All Saints...a very Christian festival, which has evolved into Halloween.

    Among the many practices done during these festivals...each was a bit different, horseback racing has been well documented. It seems pretty natural that the lads would pick up a rock and heave it and challenge their friends to beat their throw.

  4. #4
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    Wappinshaws...

    for literally hundreds of years, Scottish Chiefs would send word out to the men to gather at various times and bring their weapons. The events consisted of athletic competitions, swordfighting, archery, horsemanship and so on...basically, this was the Chief ensuring that his men were prepared for war.

    This tradition was carried on for a VERY long time...I refer you to this google books scan

    http://books.google.com/books?id=Wuv...otland&f=false

    from: A history of the Scottish Borderers Militia .. By Robert W. Weir .. which speaks of Wappinshaws being held on a particular grounds for a very long time, until the area changed hands and came into Government ownership in 1827.

    Another reference....to a "bloodless wappinshaw" may be seen here...

    http://books.google.com/books?id=uDZ...otland&f=false

    in History of the rebellion in Scotland in 1745, 1746, Volume 1 ... By Robert Chambers

    I could easily pass on a dozen more but you get the point, I expect. OK, here....one more...

    http://www.electricscotland.com/hist...c/vol1ch9i.htm

    That is a transcript of Domestic annals of Scotland .. by ... Chambers, Robert, 1802-1871 - which is a HUGE collection of works covering almost a thousand years of Scottish History. At any rate, if you follow that link and search down for "wappinshaw" you will find the reference, and a description of what it is. The event dates to 1625.

    May 25
    The wappinshaw was a periodical muster of the irregular armed force of the country; it got its name from the more immediate purpose of the assembly—namely, an exhibition of weapons. At Dunfermline, on this day, while a wappinshaw was going on, ‘William Anderson, son till John Anderson, bailiff of the said town, and Charles Richeson, his servant, being shooting a shot with some of their friends in a certain place of the town, [a little piece of the lunt flieth upon a thack-house, which easily kindled. The fire increased with the violency of the wind], and did the from house to house, and sometimes wald the over ane house without doing it any harm, but wald burn the next house, till the great admiration of all men; so that this fire burnt so meikle of the town, that, excepted the abbey and the kirk thereof, the tenth part were not free of it. This, by the judgment of all the beholders, was thought till have been some divinity, or some witchcraft, rather nor this foresaid accidental fire.’—Jo. H.

    ‘The fire began at twelve hours, and bunt the whole town, some few sclate houses excepted, before four afternoon; goods and geir within houses, malt and victual in kilns and bans, were consumed.’—Cal.

    The town of Dunfermline consisted at this time of 120 houses, containing 287 families.—Bal.

    There was a collection in the parish churches for ‘the support of the town of Dunfermline, burnt with fire’ (R. P. L.); and, in June 1625, King Charles I. ordered £500 sterling to be added to the fund for the relief of the poorer class of sufferers.—P. C. R.


    A scholarly discussion of Scottish military in the early 16th century may be seen here:

    http://www.euppublishing.com/doi/abs....1998.77.2.162

    in which the role of the wappinshaw is discussed and further references listed.


    Wappinshaws were not just military events, but also athletic events. It's pretty simple...bring together a lot of braw lads out to prove their readiness for battle, throw in some beer or whisky and it's pretty natural that athletic contests would be held.
    Last edited by Alan H; 7th February 13 at 12:14 PM.

  5. #5
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    Tossing ye barre...

    It is hypothesized that the caber toss is descended from an event known as "pitching ye barre".. or "tossing ye barre".

    Again, another google books scan... http://books.google.com/books?id=QPA...0barre&f=false

    From a rather large collection of notes, etc. by By Sir Egerton Brydges...

    That text is describing an event called the "Cotswolds Olympiks" which dates back at least 400 years, to 1612...

    http://www.olimpickgames.co.uk/contentok.php?id=853

    a great event which includes the amazing "kicking of the shins" event. Seriously!

    It's only natural to figure that if this little village in the Cotswolds held such a contest, that there were similar contests around the country in other places. Thus, the notion of getting together for athletic contests which INCLUDE throwing "stuff"....a barre, a pike and so on, goes back to at least the early 1600's.

    Practically every website that purports to explain the History of the Highland Games refers to "one historical reference" which says that at a wappinshaw in 1574, "tossing of ye barr" was reported. Yeah, I think that these people are all copying each others reference.

    If you look here... http://books.google.com/books?id=GkI...0Henry&f=false -- Encyclopædia metropolitana; or, Universal dictionary of knowledge ...By Samuel Taylor Coleridge

    you will find this poem referenced...

    Cladon the lad
    who whilhome had
    the garland given for throwing best the barre...
    etc.

    ascribed to one W. Brown, The Shepherds Pipe. A bit of searching reveals that The Shepherds Pipe was originally published in 1614. So in other words, from multiple sources, the event "tossing the barre" can be pretty certainly sourced to at least 1600. It's surmised that "tossing the bar"...or "pitching ye barre" is the precursor to the caber throw, and that this event did not just take place in what is now Scotland, but in fact was practiced in numerous places in the British Isles.

  6. #6
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    So there you have it. There's a tradition of athletic events in Ireland and Scotland that goes back to hundreds of years of the Pre-Christian era...probably the Bronze age. There are documented athletic events that were associated with the Saints Days that replaced the Celtic Fire Festivals when Christianity took hold in Scotland. There's a tradition of "wappinshaws"' that existed in Scotland from at least the 1500's, which certainly included athletic events. There's a documented "Games"...the Cotswold event, and another, un-named event which is compared to the Cotswolds event that date from the early 1600's. There are literary references for the "tossing ye barre" event which most likely evolved into the caber throw from at least the early 1600's.

    In other words, this stuff has been around for a while, eh?

  7. #7
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    There's an article on wikipedia about the Games which contains this quote..

    "Hammer throwers were banned from practicing their sport in the early 1300s[11] by King Edward II.[2] However, this rule was soon avoided and forgotten as athletes began practicing it again. It became popular throughout the Highlands as a test of an athlete’s strength and skill.[2]"

    Here's the article link...

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Highland_games_competitors

    It appears to cite Webster, David. Scottish Highland Games. Great Britain: William Collins Sons and Company Ltd., 1959. Now, I know David Webster, though not well, and I would really like to know his source for that bit of information. I have my doubts, though I certainly don't think that David is lying!!! However, if it were true, then that would pretty surely push the origins of the Athletic events back a good 200+ more years.
    Last edited by Alan H; 7th February 13 at 02:04 PM.

  8. #8
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    It's slow at work, so I'm having fun with this....most of the modern hammer throwing websites claim that there's a 16th century drawing of King Henry VIII having a go at throwing a blacksmiths sledgehammer. In fact, they all contain exactly the same text, but none of them show the picture.

    Hmmm...

    Hammer.org claims that hammer throwing goes back to the Taliteann Games, where competitiors threw a weight attached to a rope, but again, no documentation.

    However, the online version of the Encyclopedia Britannica, probably not a source of gross misinformation, says this:

    The sport developed centuries ago in the British Isles. Legends trace it to the Tailteann Games held in Ireland about 2000 bce, when the Celtic hero Cú Chulainn gripped a chariot wheel by its axle, whirled it around his head, and threw it farther than did any other individual. Wheel hurling was later replaced by throwing a boulder attached to the end of a wooden handle. Forms of hammer throwing were practiced among the ancient Teutonic tribes at religious festivals honouring the god Thor, and sledgehammer throwing was practiced in 15th- and 16th-century Scotland and England.

    So in fact it may be that David Webster is correct, and that some form of hammer throwing has been around for a *very* long time.

    The widipedia article on hammer throwing....http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hammer_throw

    States that ...

    "It is believed that, like many of the Highland Games events, origination of the hammer throw is tied to a prohibition by King Edward I of England against Scotsmen possessing weapons during the Wars of Scottish Independance in the late 13th and early 14th Centuries. In the absence of weapons of war, the Scot's turned to alternative methods for military training."

    So David Webster may be right.

    ...this is an ancient sport.

  9. #9
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    Alan, they still hold an annual "woolsack race" in the Cotswolds at a place called Tetbury in Gloucestershire. I am not sure how heavy a woolsack is, but it is large and ungainly, perhaps this is something like the sort of thing you have in mind. Perhaps "Google" would help?
    " Rules are for the guidance of wise men and the adherence of idle minds and minor tyrants". Field Marshal Lord Slim.

  10. #10
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    Info from "The World History of Highland Games" by David Webster Luath Press 2011

    The Tailteann Games (Honoring Queen Tailt) were played from 1829 BC to 1180 AD (They stopped after the Norman Invasions). The Author even shares a picture of a Taeteann Medal that he has in his own collection.

    He mentions King Malcom's famous Hill Race in the 11th Century and also credits him with the origin of the Sword Dance.

    He mentions the Inverary Games that were reportedly held from the time the Scots came from Ireland in around 500 Ad and that Queen Mary visited the castle there after attending these games 1000 years later.

    He reports that the Ceres games were first held to celebrate The Bruce's victory at the Battle of Bannockburn.

    There is also an account of the Fraser Clan's Lord Lovat winning the Stone Put and Hammer throw in the 1500's

    In 1538, England's King Henry VIII sent an athletic contingent to Scotland to compete in Stone Put, shooting, wrestling and leaping who were soundly defeated by the Scots twice!

    This is a very informative book and follows the history of the games up to this very day!
    Last edited by RogerWS76; 8th February 13 at 01:00 AM.

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