A year without the Games…

Inveraray Highland Games, pre-war.

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This week we would normally be looking forward in the coming days to Inveraray Games, Mull Games and Taynuilt Games, all important annual events for their local communities.

Next month should be held the Argyllshire Gathering, one year short of its 150th anniversary.

Sadly, all Highland Games in Scotland have been cancelled in 2020 because of coronavirus and competitors will have to await another day to show fitness and strength, piping skills and intricate dance steps to the public. It is, therefore, a good moment to reflect on past times and the future of these events.

Seton Gordon

In September 1944 the celebrated Highland naturalist and piping judge Seton Gordon wrote an article for the Scottish Field in which he speculated if all the games, cancelled during the war, would return after the end of the conflict. The vast majority did, but it took Inveraray Games till 1958 to return and grow into one of the biggest and most successful in Scotland. As Seton Gordon wrote, ‘there is one thing Hitler cannot do and that is silence the pipes’.

Once more, as in the two World Wars, the organisers of the games have had to make the difficult decision to cancel, with the corresponding impact on local economies and the social benefits of their great annual celebration. As my father Angus wrote in his poem The Games, such gatherings allow for:

Suspension of your labours,

A time of fun and laughs

The place to greet your neighbours,

In heartfelt Slainte –Mhaths.

Tobermory Games

He was the treasurer of Mull Highland Games when the tempest of 1962 wreaked havoc and put the future of the event in doubt. Happily they survived and are successful to this day.

The games are also vital to an area’s economy, with tourists paying an entrance fee or purchasing the range of local wares on offer at the event.

Although there will no gatherings this summer, Highland Games have used online and social media platforms to try to keep them in the public eye in these strange times.

Piping competitions have been staged and parents shown how to make a fun caber for children. The Argyllshire Gathering still plans to stage its world-renowned piping competitions with the necessary restrictions in place. All of our local games have hard-working committees, a sterling band of local volunteers and a sound financial base, so should be able to survive till the hoped-for return in 2021.

Prince Charles, Duke of Rothesay, is patron of the Scottish Highland Games Association and he has spoken of how important Highland Games are to him and his family. He feels that ‘the loyalty, strength and determination that lie at the very heart of our Games will, I am sure, see us through to better times ahead’.

Echoing Seton Gordon’s 1944 speculations, the Duke goes on to say: ‘Let us look forward to happier times when, once again the pipes can be tuned, the cabers rolled out, the kilts strapped on and we can head out once more to enjoy all that we love and share at our uniquely special Highland Games.’

All Highlanders will raise a glass to that for 2021.