Clans and clan ties are a strong pull for a lot of our visitors from the US, Canada and Australia. Many of these visitors are coming to the Highlands to trace their ancestral roots. The local clans here are “Grant” and “Macpherson”. You’ll still find a high number of families with these surnames in the area.
Clans and Highland Games
The clan system in Scotland has a fascinating history and has been associated with many famous stories like the Outlander series and Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson. From ancient origins in the Celtic, Norse or Norman-French traditions, by the 13th century, the clans had grown firm roots in the Highlands of Scotland.
While the term ‘clan’ means family or children in Gaelic, not all the member of the same clan were related. The clans lived off the land, with cattle being their main source of wealth. Over time the clan system has been romanticised. Along with border disputes, the prime cause of inter-clan unrest was cattle “reiving”. Cattle were frequently raided if the opportunity presented itself. The most important clan chiefs at this time were part-time kings, protectorates and judges. They held real power over their controlled lands.
The system remained largely intact until the time of the bloody Battle of Culloden in 1746. The royal troops of King George II ruthlessly crushed the rebellion. However, the conflict should not be romanticised. The facts behind the scenes are much more murky than you might think.
How and why the clan system changed
By this point, improved trade and communication links between northern and southern clans were already leading to the dilution of the clan system and the infamous Highland Clearances effectively signalled the end as thousands of Scottish land workers sought the promise of a better life on distant shores.
Today, many clans can be traced back to a specific part of Scotland, for example the MacLeods of Skye, the MacNeils of Barra or the MacNabs of St Fillan on Loch Earn. Do you have ancestry in the Highlands? Most clans have a particular tartan associated with them instead of a coat of arms. At the Kilt exhibition in Inverness you can see a huge array of different tartan patterns which have evolved over the years.
Ultimately clans and troops liked to compete. A show of power and strength. In heavy contests, including the hammer throw and weight for height, see competitors putting their muscles to the test, while field events such as the hill race and cycling competition test speed and stamina. Over the centuries, the Heavy Events evolved from military exercises into festivals for the Scottish public. With the addition of dancing, music, food and drink, the Highland Games were born
Origins of some of the Highland Games competitions
Do you know where the idea of caber tossing orginated? It was part of the logging industry. The lumberjacks would fell the trees and then have to float them down the river to the sawmill. The toss was the most effective way of landing the tree in the river.
Did you know that Baron Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics, was so impressed by a Highland display he saw at the 1889 Paris Exhibition that he introduced the hammer throw, shot put and the tug o’ war to his competition? The former two are still included in the Olympics programme to this day however I think it’s time to start a campaign #bringtheolympictugowarback.
That’s what I think Scotland is most famous for… what do you think?
Best time to see a Highland Games
There are calendars online where you can see lists of dates for all the Highland Games and Gatherings throughout the year. Each one tends to take place on a set date. For example, our closest games (the Abernethy Highland Games), always take place on the 2nd Saturday in August. But if you’re not in the area then, you could always go to Tomintoul, Newtonmore, Braemar or Grantown Games.