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Some fine dry weather, and a desire to get back to enjoying one of Lochaber’s most popular gatherings after a three-year break due to the Covid pandemic, saw near record crowds flock to Arisaig Highland Games last week.
Held, as is custom, on the last Wednesday in July, Traigh Farm once again provided the familiar spectacular setting overlooking the sea to the Small Isles.
There was a full programme of piping, Highland dancing, heavy events and various other track and field competitions, with the day kicking off with the 16th hosting of the Clanranald Gathering.
The big crowd of young and old that encircled the games field included many overseas visitors.
Games chieftain again was Andrew Macdonald of Boisdale, who is the younger son of the present captain and chief of Clanranald, Ranald Alexander Macdonald.
Games treasurer and spokesperson Fraser MacDougall told the Lochaber Times that organisers were delighted with the level of turn out for the event.
But he said games week had started with a potential disaster after a storm came out of nowhere on the previous Sunday and ripped apart tents already erected on the games field.
‘It looked for all the world as if a tornado had trashed the site. Luckily, a phone call on Monday to our tent suppliers, Gala Tent Ltd in Yorkshire, saw them drive up right away with replacements which was fantastic.’
Other than that, the games had been a huge success, said Mr MacDougall: ‘We are absolutely delighted with the way everything went on the day.
‘It’s a lot of hard work by the committee and about 35 helpers, many of whom take a week off work to get everything ready.
‘It’s a real community event and we were delighted to see the games and gathering back again after the last couple of years.’
Mr Macdonald had read out a message from his father at the start of proceedings. The current clan chief is now in his 65th year in the role and first opened the games more than 20 years ago.
Mr Macdonald agreed this year’s games seemed to have an extra special buzz about them.
‘They seem to be very successful this year for sure and I am amazed by the crowd, which seems thoroughly engaged.
‘I don’t think I have ever seen a crowd so engaged with what is going on on the field. I think it is probably partly due to not having many outdoor events for so long.
‘So, yes, I am impressed by the crowd and I reckon the showground is as full as I have ever seen it.’
On the importance of the link with Clanranald and the games, Mr Macdonald added: ‘ I think the connection through having the clan gathering adds a little bit of gravitas to the event and people seem to enjoy it also.’
As well as a message from his father, Mr Macdonald also read out a tribute to the late Elizabeth MacDonald, wife of current games chairman, Allan, who passed away earlier this year.
Mrs MacDonald was a games stalwart and for many years its clans co-ordinator and the person who really drove forward the event’s development and growth as a clan gathering, attracting even more people from around the world to Arisaig each year at the end of July.
Another returning familiar face for the games and Clanranald Gathering was Rodney Allen and his wife, Dianne, from North Carolina.
North Carolina has strong links to Scotland, with it being the most popular destination for the Highland Scots who emigrated to the colonies in the 18th century.
They included Flora MacDonald, the Highland heroine who helped the fleeing Bonnie Prince Charlie after the defeat at Culloden, and who lived in North Carolina for around five years with her husband.
Mr Allen, who holds the position of lieutenant in Clanranald, meaning he can represent the chief if need be, has traced his family history and is descended from Highland Scots on both his parents’ sides – from Knoydart and South Uist.
Mr Allen told us he and his wife had greatly missed returning to Lochaber and the games over the last two years.
‘We’ve had a lot of interest and people stopping by,’ said Mr Allen, who was helping man the Heritage Tent.
Asked how much the couple had missed coming to the games in 2020 and 2021, he added: ‘Very much, very much. We’ve been coming for almost two decades and to miss it for a couple of years running was painful.
‘You never know when you might have something like the pandemic, so you better enjoy outings like this whilst you can.’
Mr Allen said the hunt to trace family roots was still a big draw for many visitors, including those from the United States.
‘A lot of folk are looking for their roots. They come because we have a lot of materials on some of the ships which left and lists of those onboard and all of that. Everybody is searching for who they are.
‘People don’t want to feel they are just floating out there in the world by themselves, they want to feel they are connected to something.’
Asked how important his Clanranald links still were him, Mr Allen said: ‘Probably more so than ever. I think as you get older you start to realise this is more important than the level of importance you attached to it earlier. You move closer to it.
‘And that’s why events such as this games and this gathering are so important to continue.’
Arisaig Challenge cup for Piobaireachd: Brian Lamond
Canon Iain Gillies memorial trophy: Angus MacColl
Neil Smart trophy for light music: Angus MacColl
Cameron-Head cup for junior piping: Hector Finlayson
HIGHLAND DANCING (OPEN)
Robert Cuthbertson shield: Hamish McInnes
HIGHLAND DANCING (OPEN)
JUNIOR (UP TO 16YRS)
Marjorie MacDonald Cup: Lily Kelman
HIGHLAND DANCING (OPEN)
JUNIOR (UP TO 12YRS)
David McDermott memorial shield: Eilidh Smith
HEAVY EVENTS (OPEN)
Arisaig Games Trophy: Vlad Tulacek
Allan MacDonald Trophy: Vlad Tulacek
Creag Mhor Caber Trophy: Vlad Tulacek
HEAVY EVENTS (LOCAL)
Whitehead Trophy: David Hart
TRACK AND FIELD (OPEN)
Donald MacKenzie Trophy: Liam Hutson
Norman Milne Trophy: Matt Waterston
TRACK AND FIELD (LOCAL)
Robert Dempster Trophy: Matt Waterston
Astley Nicolson Trophy: Matt Waterston