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Scottish Highland Games

Visitors to Scotland can enjoy the unique combination of culture, sport and social entertainment from mid-May to late September at various locations hosting traditional heavy athletics and field and track events, wrestling, piping and Highland dance competitions, as well. The competitions originated from Celtic war games and travelled with Scottish immigrants to the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

It is thought that originally the Scottish clans competed against each other in medieval times, with the strongest and bravest soldiers winning the games. This was a great opportunity for the chieftains to pick the best fighters, the fastest messengers and the best entertainers for their court: musicians and dancers. However, when the Scots fought for Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Stuart pretender to the throne and lost in 1746, bagpipes, kilts, and possession of arms were banned by the English. The games, however, resumed in a few decades and by the 1820s they were held throughout Scotland. In the United States the first Highland games were organised in New York and San Francisco boasts the oldest continuously running games since 1865. Today all competitors wear kilts for Highland games events.

Heavy events

Caber toss – a long tapered pine pole – caber comes from the Gaelic word for pole – is stood upright and held vertically by the competitor by the narrow end. The athlete then runs to gather momentum. The caber is supposed to be tossed in such a way that it turns over and lands with the thicker end striking the ground first. Then the narrow end should come down parallel to the direction of the run. Cabers have no set measurements and vary in length, weight, taper, and balance. Competitors are judged on how straight their caber lands, relative to the direction of the run.

Stone put – although this event is similar to the modern shot put, don’t think it’s easy. A large stone is used instead of a steel shot, and its weight depends on the event: the heavier “Braemar Stone” (men: 9-11.7 kg, women: 5.8-7.2 kg) should be tossed from a standing position. The “Open Stone” (men: 7.2-10 kg, women: 3.6-5.4 kg) is thrown with one hand, with the stone resting cradled in the neck until the moment of release.

Scottish hammer throw – a round metal ball (men: 7.25 kg or10 kg, women: 5.4 or 7.25 kg) is attached to the end of a shaft about 120 cm long. The hammer is whirled about one’s head in a standing position, then thrown over the shoulder. The shaft is made out of wood, bamboo, rattan or plastic.

Weight throw or weight for distance – there are two events, one using a light (men: 12.7 kg, women: 6.3 kg) and the other a heavy (men: 25.4 kg or 19 kg, women: 12.7 kg) weight. The metal weight, which has a handle attached directly or by means of a chain, is thrown using one hand only, with any technique. The spinning technique is the most common one.

Weight over the bar or weight for height – the aim is to toss a weight of 25.4 kilos over a horizontal bar. The weight has a handle and is held with one hand only. Competitors have three attempts at each height. If one height is successfully cleared, the athlete can go to the next height. If there is a tie at the end, the competitor with the fewer misses wins.

The Scottish clans

The Clan is a concept dating back 900 years and was originally an extended network of families, led by a chief. The word comes from the Gaelic word for children: “clann.” The chief acted as a leader in battle and a judge as well.  The clan system was the main political system in Scotland until 1746, when the English crushed the Jacobite rebellion for attempting to put the exiled Stuarts back on the throne. The King not only banned the Scots from possessing weapons but also from wearing kilts: the punishment was prison sentence and deportation.

Many Highlanders were forced to leave their small farms because landowners wanted to raise sheep, and a mass emigration to the Lowlands, America and Australia began. Unfortunately, these events destroyed the Gaelic culture and clan society. Now there are about 50 million people worldwide who consider themselves descendants of 18th and 19th century immigrants.

The bagpipes have become a symbol of Scotland and records show that they have been played since the 13th century and in the 16th century they also got an important part in warfare. The clans used bagpipes as a battle instrument to rouse their armies and spread terror to the enemy. Piping schools appeared and over 300 tunes, surviving from the 17th century, are still performed. Later pipers started serving in the British army as well, with over one thousand pipers being killed in World War I. The military tradition is alive today: you can’t have a Scottish Regiment without a piper.

At the Highland games the massing of the bands is one of the highlights, when all the pipers taking part in the pipe band and solo bagpipe competitions play together. Another exciting cultural event is the opportunity to listen to the Celtic harp, which is another musical instrument that survived from the Middle Ages. Of course, there are no highland games without highland dancing competitions and shows. Highland dancing is a competitive and technical dance form requiring technique, stamina, and strength, and is recognised as a sport by the Sport Council of Scotland.

Highland dancing is not to be confused with Scottish country dancing, which is a social dance, danced with a partner or in formation. The former is a solo dance and the competition repertoire has several types of dances which require different outfits. The special dancing shoes are called ghillies, which are soft and made of supple leather that forms to the foot. Laces are criss-crossed and tied at the top of the foot. The World Highland Dancing Championship is held at the Cowal Highland Gathering, regarded as the biggest and most spectacular Highland games in the world. This event is conveniently located close to Glasgow, in Dunoon and it’s an ideal tourist destination for the last weekend of August. It also offers the unique opportunity to listen to over one thousand pipers play the traditional tune Salute to the Chieftain.

heavy athletics – nehézatlétika
field and track events – futó és dobószámok
wrestling – birkózás
Celtic – kelta
medieval – középkori
pretender to the throne – trónkövetelő
bagpipe – duda
kilt – skótszoknya
to be banned – betiltják
caber toss – póznadobás
tapered – elkeskenyedő
Gaelic – gael, a skót kelta nyelv
vertically – függőlegesen
momentum – lendület
to turn over – átfordulni, átfordítani
parallel to – párhuzamosan valamivel
stone put – kőlökés
shot put – súlylökés
weight – súly
cradled in the neck – vállgödörben helyezkedik el
Scottish hammer throw – skót kalapácsvetés
shaft – nyél
to whirl – megpörgetni
weight throw – súlyvetés távolra
handle – fogantyú
weight over the bar – súlyvetés magasra
horizontal – vízszintes
attempt – próbálkozás
tie – döntetlen
concept – fogalom
Jacobite rebellion – Jakobinus felkelés
exiled – száműzött
to ban someone from – valakit eltiltani valamitől
weapon – fegyver
kilt – skótszoknya
mass emigration – tömeges kivándorlás
descendant – leszármazott
warfare – hadviselés
to rouse – lelkesíteni
tune – dal, dallam
highlight – fénypont
piper – dudás
pipe band – skótduda zenekar
harp – hárfa
Middle Ages – középkor
stamina – állóképesség
to be recognised as – elismerik, mint
is not to be confused with – nem szabad összetéveszteni
social dance – társastánc
former – az előbbi, korábbi
leather – bőr
spectacular – látványos

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