According to oral tradition, some version of the Celtic/Gaelic Highland Games predates Christianity. These gatherings were basically war games held with the intent to select the best warriors in each family tribe or clan.
The first Games in Scotland were organized in the 11th Century and specifically designated as a sporting event. During the reign of King Malcom III (1058-1093), the Brae O'Mar, a fairly flat meadowland along the river Dee, was used for a royal contest to find the swiftest and strongest in the kingdom. The winners needed to be fast and have the necessary stamina to carry King Malcom's messages across the land.
Games were held throughout Scotland until the Battle of Culloden in 1746. After Bonnie Prince Charlie's defeat by the English, the Act of Proscription banned playing of the bagpipe, wearing of the kilt, gathering together of the people, and the carrying of arms under the penalty of deportation or death. That effectively squelched a good part of the Highland culture, and literally destroyed the old clan structure.
After the repeal of the Proscription in the latter part of the 18th Century, Highland Societies began forming, and in 1781 the first society Gathering was held at Falkirk. The success of this event led to the Gathering of the Clans and the Highland Games as we know them today. By the end of the 1820’s Games were once again being held throughout Scotland. In the United States the first Highland Games were organized by the Highland Society of New York in the mid 1800’s. The first games on the West Coast were held in San Francisco in 1865.
Today, Scottish Festivals and Highland Games are increasing in popularity especially in the United States and Canada. This has lead to the introduction of additional classes including Lightweight, Masters and Women's classes.
This event is similar to the modern-day shot put seen in the Olympic Games. Instead of a steel shot, a large stone of variable weight is often used. There are two variations of the stone toss events:
The "Braemar Stone" uses a 20 to 26 pound stone for men and a 13 to 18 pound stone for women and does not allow any run up to the toe board, or "trig" to deliver the stone - in other words, it is a standing put.
The "Open Stone" uses a 16 to 22 pound stone for men and a 8 to 12 pound stone for women and the thrower is allowed to use any throwing style so long as the stone is put with one hand with the stone resting cradled in the neck until the moment of release. Most athletes in the open stone event use either the "glide" or the "spin" techniques.
A long tapered pine pole is stood upright and hoisted by the competitor who balances it vertically holding the smaller end in their hands. The competitor runs forward attempting to toss it in such a way that it turns end-over-end with the upper (larger) end striking the ground first The smaller end that was originally held by the athlete then hits the ground in the 12 o'clock position. If successful, the athlete is said to have "turned" the caber. Cabers vary greatly in length, weight, taper, and balance, all of which effect the degree of difficulty in making a successful toss. Competitors are judged on how closely their throws approximate the ideal 12 o'clock toss on an imaginary clock.
This event is similar to the hammer throw seen in modern-day track and field competitions, though with some differences. In the Scottish event, a round metal ball is attached to the end of a shaft about 4 feet in length and made out of wood, bamboo, rattan, or plastic. With the feet in a fixed position, the hammer is whirled about one's head and thrown for distance over the shoulder. Hammer throwers sometimes employ specially designed footwear with flat blades to dig into the ground to help maintain their balance and resist the centrifugal forces of the implement, which can increase the distance attainable in the throw. The longest distance wins. There are two hammer throw events based on the weight of the "ball" with the same throwing technique used for both events:
The "Heavy Hammer" includes a ball that weighs 22 pounds for men and 16 pounds for women.
The "Light Hammer" features a lighter ball with a weight of 16 pounds for men and 12 pounds for women.
The weights are made of metal and have a handle attached either directly or by means of a chain. The implement is thrown using one hand only, but otherwise using any technique. The longest throw wins. There are actually two separate events, based upon weight:
The "Heavy Weight" is 56 pounds for men and 28 pounds for women.
The "Light Weight" is 28 pounds for men and 14 pounds for women.
WEIGHT OVER BAR
Athletes attempt to toss either a 56 pound weight for men or a 28 pound weight for women, with an attached handle over a horizontal bar using only one hand. Each athlete is allowed three attempts at each height. Successful clearance of the height allows the athlete to advance to next round at a greater height. The competition is determined by the highest successful toss with fewest misses used to break tie scores.
A burlap sack, or sheaf, filled with hay or twine, weighing 16 or 20 pounds for the men and 10 or 12 pounds for the women is tossed vertically with a modified pitchfork over a raised bar.
The progression and scoring of this event is similar to the weight over the bar.