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More than 1,500 people gathered for Oban’s successful fifth Lorne Highland Games on sunny Saturday, bringing in big ticket sales – but ageing organisers ‘desperately’ need younger volunteers to hold a sixth next year.
An estimated 150 competitors amassed at Mossfield Park to test their skills and vie for £5,000 of prizes in the heavy events, such as throwing the sledgehammer, 26lb stone, caber, or a four-stone weight over a bar, and in the track and hill events such as jumping and racing 90m to 1600m.
Highland dancers flocked from as far as Campbeltown for the pas-de-Basque, sean truibhas (Gaelic for ‘old trousers’, pronounced ‘shawn trewes’), hullachan, flora, lilt, and the fling, once danced by clansmen on a studded, deerskin targe to celebrate victory in battle – carefully avoiding the six inch spike in the middle by nimble footwork.
Highland dancing official Claire Purdie said entries had doubled from last year in the children’s competitions, but there were only two dancers in the adult section.
She explained: ‘They have got too many competitions. This is too small for them. These games are great for the early competitions.’
Judge Rebecca Fairbairn, a former professional dancer, praised ‘good quality’ performances, and was delighted to see so many new dancers.
The sword dance was once performed by warriors the night before battle: if the dancer touched the sword, he would be wounded the next day, but if he kicked it, he would be killed. But the closest Saturday got to a battle was a tightly fought girls’ tug-of-war between Scotland High School, on exchange from Laurinburg, North Carolina, and Oban High School, who eventually emerged as victors.
The games’ chieftain David ‘Jocky’ Martin, a shinty fan and star traffic warden from BBC’s The Council, led Mull and Iona Pipe Band onto the field, welcoming all, and thanking those who made it possible.
Commentator Angus Mackay from Inveraray, a veteran of agricultural shows, hosted his first Highland games for five hours without a break.
‘I have never done a Highland games before,’ he said. ‘I am loving this. It is the same concept as an agricultural show: it is about entertainment. I just hope people love it.’
The oldest recorded field games in Scotland are held in Ceres, Fife, which was granted by Robert the Bruce in thanks for the victory at Bannockburn, but the ‘people’s games’ in Oban only started in 2013.
Treasurer David McGregor clocked 1,350 tickets sold at this year’s games, which attracted twice as many visitors as locals.
He said: ‘We are delighted with the turnout. It is partly the weather, and the message of the family games. We are pushing through on a day when people are likely to have free time. The takings are up, but the costs are up. We are facing a bill of £1 per person for using Mossfield.’
Oban High School pupils helped set up, and police youth volunteers and girl guides also assisted on the day.
Mr McGregor said: ‘These games only go ahead because of the help of volunteers. We are desperately in need of more. We will need to take a decision in the next few months whether there is a Lorne Highland Games 2019. It would be a dreadful shame if we cannot continue.
‘Please, we are all getting old,’ he appealed: ‘The committee needs to be bolstered. We want to capture more people to put on the show. We would be delighted to see them.’
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