Are these Highland gatherings, these Highland games (I have never been able to discover the difference, if any, between “gatherings” and “games”), ancient and traditional? If they are, then history is remarkably silent on the point. Was it ever the pastime of the Highlander to hurl the trunks of pine trees about the countryside? Somehow I doubt it. Indeed, I harbour a suspicion that Highland games are only about 100 years old….
To put it bluntly, I do not believe that the Highland Gathering is ancient nor that the Highland Games are traditional, although they have undoubtedly become a tradition. They are also one of Scotland’s very best advertising media.
Let me hasten to add that this does not mean that I dislike or disapprove of Highland Games. On the contrary, I love them. As a spectacle I do not think they can be bettered anywhere in the British Isles.
Watching the games, the observant onlooker cannot fail to notice a marked difference in interest between the Scots in the audience and the foreigners in the audience, especially among the women. The kilt, it is apparent, arouses emotion in the foreign female breast; the Scots female…. appears to be quite unmoved….the Scots, male and female, are much more interested in the pipe music and the dancing.
This, surely, is because both are, in fact, ancient and traditional, technical and very highly skilled. You have to be an initiate to understand the finer points of either. I like watching Highland dancing, which I find both graceful and energetic: but the technical points are a closed book to me. I love the barbaric music of the bagpipes, but I am quite unable to distinguish between the playing of one competing piper and another on the platform. They sound exactly alike to me. But they do not to the Scots.
Text edited from an article by Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald (1900-1981) published in the ‘Sphere’, September 21, 1957.
Images from the Royal Braemar Gathering 1984.