Origin of the Games
The Highland Games have been a classic part of Scottish culture for centuries. Many stories have been told purporting to explain the origins of highland games. A method of finding the best warriors to fight for the clan chieftain; a way of passing the time for agricultural workers – using available items such as hammers, tree trunks and bales of straw as a means of testing the strength.
About the Games
Whatever the origins, highland games take place regularly in many highland villages and towns every year. Set in the splendid natural amphitheatre of the surrounding hills, the Balquhidder, Lochearnhead and Strathyre Highland Games are still run along traditional lines as a “village games.” The games were first run many years ago with the three villages – Balquhidder, Lochearnhead and Strathyre – taking turns to host the games. For a few years the games lapsed before being re-started by Mr Ewen Cameron, then the proprietor of the original Lochearnhead Hotel. He was himself a notable heavyweight athlete taking over 100 first prizes over a season when he was competing. Ewen stood almost 6 feet 5 inches in height but did not look anything like this as he was 22 stones in weight, with a 53 inch chest, 16 inch biceps and 36 inch thighs, remotely related to the great A. A. Cameron he was, like his predecessor, a very good wrestler and for a long time was unbeaten, on one occasion he even beat the British Cumberland style champion, which is no mean feat, for it took a lot then, as now to “coup” the lads from the north of England. On one occasion Ewen packed up his caber and went off on his own to Denmark to appear before 30,000 spectators proving, as always, a wonderful ambassador for Scotland. When the games once again became a regular annual event they were always held at Lochearnhead games field, mainly for reasons of space and convenience. The three villages are now in the midst of the new Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park, and have wonderful historical links to many of the famous Scottish clans. To this day, there is a strong presence of the clans MacLaren, MacGregor, Stewart, Macnab and Cameron, all whom have been represented as Chieftain.
The Ewen Cameron Cup
Balquhidder, Lochearnhead and Strathyre Highland Games has been host to the British heavyweight championships for many years. The Ewen Cameron cup is still presented every year for the best competitor in the ‘Ball’, ‘Hammer’ and ‘Caber’ events.
The Druim a’ Charraich Quaich
In the 16th and 17th centuries the MacGregor Piping School flourished near Glen Lyon. One of the Clan’s many eminent pipers was John MacGregor of Fortingal who became personal piper and attendant to Prince Charles Edward Stewart. He survived Culloden and in 1781 at the age of 73 won third prize at the Falkirk Tryst which claims to be the forerunner of modern piping competitions. The Druim a’ Charraich Quaich is still presented annually to the winner of the Piobaireachd competition at our own highland games.
Local Clan Interest
The Cameron’s are associated with the Balquhidder, Lochearnhead and Strathyre Highland Games as described above. Ewen Cameron’s son Angus still plays an active part in the organising of the event thus continuing the family interest in these traditional games.
The MacGregor Clan was until recently very well represented in the area, especially at Balquhidder Glen. Most have heard of the best known MacGregor – Rob Roy – who had his home in the Glen. The Motto of MacGregor is ‘EINDOE AND SPARE NOT’ though the words ‘MacGregor despite them’ have also long been associated with the Clan as a consequence of the name MacGregor being ‘proscribed’ or prohibited for many years during the persecution of that clan. The MacGregor mausoleum is at Auchtubh in the glen and a small MacGregor burial ground lies at the end of Loch Doine at the west end of Balquhidder Glen
The Clan MacLaren is also associated with Balquhidder Glen. This clan had one or two famous tussles with the MacGregors in the past – one famous incident over a row about who should enter the church first! Behind Balquhidder church is a crag known as ‘Creag an Tuirc’ (the boar’s rock). The rallying cry of the MacLarens comes from the name of this rock.
The Clan Stewart has strong associations with Loch Earn in that Ardvorlich House on the south shore has been occupied by the Stewart Clan Chief for centuries. Many stories have been told of the Stewarts and two carved stones near to Ardvorlich commemorate two of these tales:
Seven MacDonalds of Glencoe were killed during an attack on Ardvorlich. They were buried close by and were unearthed during the construction of the south loch road where an inscribed stone marks the place next to the bridge at the driveway to Ardvorlich House.
Another stone close by carries the inscription ‘ This stone marks the place of interment of Major James Stewart afterwards removed to the family vault at Dundurn died about 1660’. This commemorated an incident when Major Stewart died and was being carried to Dundurn – the pall bearers heard that the MacDonalds were planning to desecrate the corpse so they temporarily ‘sheuched in’ the major in a shallow scrape beside the loch until things calmed down – several years later. He was then taken to Dundurn and the stone marks the temporary burial place.
Clan Campbell also had influence in the area and Edinample Castle on the south loch road was built by the infamous ‘Black Duncan Campbell of the cowl’. He is reputed to have pushed his builder off the parapets in order to avoid paying for the construction of the castle. Close to Edinample castle is a Campbell Mausoleum at Edinample falls.
Clan Campbell were also largely responsible for the persecution of the MacGregors.
Clan Macnab tends to be associated with Killin and Kinnel House. There is however a Macnab story associated with Lochearnhead: The Clan Neish lived on an island on Loch Earn and often raided the Macnab properties at Killin. They felt safe as they kept all the loch’s boats at their island. On one occasion they had irritated the Macnab chief a little too much and the Macnab chief instructed his sons to take revenge. The sons carried a boat over the hill from Loch Tay to Loch Earn and killed the Neishs (except for one small boy). They took the chief’s head to their father as proof and since that day many Macnab properties have a stone head in a prominent position to commemorate the event.