Origins of Stirling Highland Games

THE ORIGINS OF HIGHLAND GAMES IN STIRLING.

The history of the Stirling Highland Games is intrinsically entwined with that of Stirling Castle. The castle goes back to at least the early 12th century. Its prominent defensive position was strengthened and altered over the following centuries, with new buildings and fortifications being built.

Given its natural commanding location, close to where the River Forth was bridged, the castle affords panoramic views across the area and controls the routes north and south.

Stirling Castle soon caught the attention of royalty and became a favourite royal residence and administrative centre. During the medieval period, the castle, which is associated with King Arthur, held jousting tournaments, accompanied by lavish feasts, music, and dancing. As the settlement around the castle grew, the area became the focus of trading, and regular markets and fairs were held. It has also been the home of a military garrison for centuries. These early competitions and the military training required to compete at them, are the link to the modern Stirling Highland Games.

By the time of the Stuart Kings, the Chapmen (merchants) in Stirling, were privileged to practice the regal sport of jousting. To keep the tradition, the Chapmen held annual tilting competitions at their fairs.

In 1707, the town council offered a purse of silver and the Guildry in Stirling paid for a gold ring, as a prize at the Chapmen’s annual “Tilting the Ring” sports competition. The event consisted of knights on horseback, galloping towards a suspended ring at full speed. The object was to detach the ring with their lance, as many times as they could within an hour.

By the mid-1700s, annual horse racing also took place in the King’s Park, Stirling.

On Saturday 19th September 1818, the annual Chapmen’s Sports were again held at the King’s Park. The main attraction was still the “Tilting the Ring” competition, where the coveted gold ring was the prize. The customary horse races were also competed for. Foot races, for the first recorded time, were also held at these sports. Thus, the roots of the Stirling Highland Games were born.

On Saturday 18th September 1819, the ancient “Tilting the Ring” competition was won by Mr. Dawson, the Stirling innkeeper. A variety of foot races then followed and afforded good sport. A horse race brought the day’s events to a close

In September 1820, Mr. Robert Young, a writer, won the contest for the ring. 20 riders managed to spear a ring, measuring 7/8 of an inch in diameter, 29 times in the allotted hour. Several excellent foot races then took place. One of them, which was a mile and a third around the racecourse, was accomplished in seven minutes and a few seconds. Four excellent horse races were then run over the course.

In 1821, John Gibson a vintner, won the gold ring, after he successfully carried off the suspended ring, which measured about the size of a ladies ring, five times. 36 people competed for the prize. Several horse races then took place, with foot races in between them. The main foot race of the day was won by John Lees, of the 41st regiment.

In 1822, John Gibson once more won the “Tilting the Ring” competition. A foot race for boys then took place. The first prize was a bonnet and the second prize was a pair of stockings. A foot race around the course for men was next competed for. The first prize was a guinea. Two horse races then took place.

On Wednesday 16th September 1823, the first event was a foot race for boys, with a hat and stockings as prizes. Putting a 22lb 4oz. ball was next competed for. R. Carrick from Bridge of Dreip won the event, with a throw of 29 feet 4 inches. Peter Cameron from Doune, was second. The “Tilting the Ring” competition was won by Mr. Sinclair, a Messenger, who successfully carried the ring 7 times. Horse and Ass races then followed. John McLuckie won the foot race around the course.

On Monday 20th September 1824, Thomas Jaffray, won the “Tilting the Ring” competition, after carrying off the ring 7 times. 6 competitors took part in putting the 22lb stone. William Drysdale, Alva, threw it 28ft 1 in. while John Brown was second, with a throw of 27ft 10in. 8 competitors took part in the sledgehammer competition, which was won by John Brown, Craigend, with a throw of 63ft 8in. William Drysdale was second, with a throw of 63ft 6in. Horse races then took place. To conclude the day, a sack race took place. It was also intended that prizes should have been given for wrestling, tossing the bar, foot-racing, and other sports. However, shortness of daylight prevented them from being held.

On Saturday 30th August 1851, under the patronage of the Provost of Stirling, Major Henderson from Westerton, and Officers from Stirling Castle, full Highland Games were held in Stirling. The events included, a standing distance leap, running high leap, standing high leap, vaulting with a pole, hop, step and leap, hitch kick, steeple race, a short and a long foot race, a blind race, throwing the stone, highland dancing and bagpipe playing. William Drysdale, who had featured in the 1824 Chapmen Games, won the gold ring at the “Tilting the Ring” competition.    

On Thursday 5th October 1858, the men from the garrison in Stirling Castle, held Highland Games at the King’s Park. The events included, a short foot race, Running hop, step, and leap, standing hop, step and leap, a hurdle race, putting the ball, running high leap, standing high leap, a long foot race, throwing the hammer, tossing the caber, a short race, a sack race, and a blindfolded wheelbarrow race.

In 1865, between 2000 and 3000 miners held a Highland Games in Stirling.

In 1870, Highland Games were held at St. Ninian’s Well Green, Stirling. ‘Local’ events were, throwing the hammer, putting the stone, long jump, hop, step, and leap. The ‘Open’ events were, throwing the heavy hammer, throwing the light hammer, putting the stone, a long foot race, tossing the caber, a short foot race, high jump, running long jump, vaulting with a pole, a sack race, a boys’ race, piping, highland dancing, and Stirling’s obligatory “Tilting at the Ring” event.