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More than 1,000 spectators flocked through the gate for the Glenfinnan Highland Gathering on Saturday, enjoying a mostly dry day for one of the most prestigious games events on the calendar.
The honour of chieftain for the day had gone to legendary Moidart accordion player, Fergie MacDonald – the ‘Ceilidh King’ himself.
There was fierce competition for the prizes in the piping, heavy events, athletic and Highland dancing competitions.
Alasdair Davidson won the Lang Trophy for heavy events, while Sandy Cameron took the top slot in the open adult piobaireachd event, with Laura Robertson collecting the Cameron-Head Scholarship for junior pipers.
Laura Smith was the top competitor in the adult open Highland Dancing, winning the MacKellaig Cup.
The hill race was won by Keir Robinson, with the first lady home being Ailsa Sheldon.
Show field manager Alistair Gibson told the Lochaber Times organisers were happy with the way this year’s event went.
He said: ‘I think I’d have to say everything ran smoothly. There were a few showers of rain, but everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and there was a good number of people through the gate.
‘The team who put it all together puts in a tremendous amount of hard work and it was great to see so many people volunteering to help out.’
The Gathering started at 11am with the traditional clan gathering elements to the proceedings, when the famous clan banners were paraded.
These have their own special historical significance. Just after the Second World War, a film company descended on Glenfinnan to make the 1948 movie Bonnie Prince Charlie, starring David Niven.
Some locals starred in the film and landowners assisted the film company during the making. Six colourful banners were specially made depicting the clan crests of MacDonald of the Isles, MacPherson, MacDonald of Clanranald, Cameron and Cameron of Locheil, probably meant to represent the main followers of the Young Pretender.
After filming was finished, the landowners turned down the offer of financial remuneration for their assistance, instead only asking for the banners which have been carried every year since.
And it is the historical significance of the gathering that still matters to Mr MacDonald.
‘Being chieftain is a big thing as far as I am concerned – I am highly honoured to have been asked,’ he told the Lochaber Times.
A proud descendant of the MacDonalds of Clanranald who rallied to the young prince’s standard when he raised it on the shores of Loch Shiel in 1745, Mr MacDonald said today’s family-friendly, enjoyable gathering is probably a far cry from that first gathering of clansmen.
‘I am very proud that my forefathers were there when the prince raised the standard…it wasn’t about games that day, they were getting ready for war,’ he said.
After leaving the army in 1958, Mr MacDonald spent the following five years competing on the Highland games circuit, including the long jump event at the Glenfinnan meeting that first year.
‘And as a wee boy I was at the games in 1946, coming up the loch on the boat, the Clanranald, with my mum and dad,’ he explained.
‘It is absolutely very important to keep this event going. It is an integral part of the history of this area and who we are.’
It was in 1969 that Gathering co-founder, the late, Archie MacKellaig, presented a young dancer, Mairi Monaghan, then aged 13, with his dancing sword on the promise she would always bring it to each year’s gathering and it is a promise she has now kept for almost half a century.
Now Mairi Illsley – her uncle John Monaghan was station master at Glenfinnan for many years – she was once again the dancing steward for the games.
A former teacher at Lochaber High School who now lives in Yorkshire, she told us: ‘There was not a huge number of dancers this year, but the quality of dancers in all the age categories has been exceptional. It has been a display of fantastic dancing and I think it’s been real spectacle for the crowd.
‘There has been mainly dry conditions, which is fantastic – the new roof [installed over the dancing platform last year] changes everything for us as it means the platform is always dry.’
Moira Robertson, Pipe Major of Lochaber Pipe Band, which was playing during the day for the entertainment of the crowd, said she had been impressed by the standard of musicianship in the junior piping classes.
‘We have heard some excellent performances today. It’s been an excellent competition,’ she told us.
On a footnote, none of the winning pipers were able to receive trophies as these are all still missing. Organisers have asked if those in possession of the E Kennedy Cup, A MacDonald Cup, Oban Times Quaich and Carmichael Cup could return them in time for next year’s 75th anniversary games. Also still missing is the Trower Trophy for the hill race.
MacKellaig Cup (adult open) – Laura Smith
Mairi Rae Quaich (adult swords) – Darra Wood
Glenfinnan House (junior open) – Innes MacKenzie
MacGuire Cup (open 8-11) – Eilidh Smith
Field and Heavy Events
Peto Trophy (caber) – Alasdair Davidson
MacLeod Cup (22lb hammer) – Angus MacPhail
MacMillan Cup (long/high jump etc) -Matt Waterson
Conaglen Trophy (tug-o-war) -Glenfinnan
Lang Trophy (heavy events) – Alasdair Davidson
Piobaireachd (open adult) – Sandy Cameron
Marches (open adult) – Jason Craig
Strathspey and Reel – Dan Lyden
Marches (open under 17) – Laura Robertson
Strathspey and Reel – Ronnie MacIntosh
Piobaireachd ( open under 17) – Archie Park
Cameron-Head Scholarship -Laura Robertson