Local Story

A celebration of ancestral ties

Attending a Highland Games is a summer highlight for many visitors to the Scottish Highlands. The Cairngorms National Park has a long tradition and history of Highland Games, it being home to some of the most famous gatherings.  Originally Highland Games took place in August to tie in with the shooting season.

Today, although many keep to that calendar, Games take place throughout the summer e.g. Tomintoul (16 July 2016) and Braemar (3 September 2016). See www.shga.co.uk/events.php for a list of Highland Games across Scotland.

Highland Games became established as annual events in the 1820s. It is thought their origins lie in Scottish clans competing against each other in various sporting events as a clan chieftain’s way of choosing the best bodyguards and the strongest fighters. It was not all about war though; pipers and dancers were important too and Games doubled up as ‘gatherings’ where all members of a clan would march together in a display of force.

Those roots and traditions are still evident in modern day Highland Games and Gatherings which attract clan members from across the world. Clan Associations and Societies keep alive the principles of the Scottish clan system, with its heritage of mutual support and kinship. It cultivates a spirit of friendship, helping clan members to keep in touch with one another and share in their common ancestry and rich history.

One clan with its ancestral roots in the National Park is Clan Macpherson; land in Badenoch was bestowed upon the Clan by Robert the Bruce for their help in defeating the Comyns (Cummings). The Clan Macpherson Association is a world-wide organisation that promotes and fosters the spirit and life of the Clan at home and abroad. Started in Scotland in 1946, it now has a global membership of over 2,000 with Branches operating in Australia, Canada, England, Wales, New Zealand, Scotland and the United States of America.

Cairn, constructed of stone from all around the world, sent by Macphersons from where they live
Cairn, constructed of stone from all around the world, sent by Macphersons from where they live

This year the Macpherson Gathering celebrates the Clan’s 70th anniversary in its traditional heartland focussing on events in and around Kingussie and Newtonmore between 4 – 9 August. Members from all over the world will congregate at the Duke of Gordon Hotel, Kingussie to enjoy a varied programme including a walking tour of Kingussie, whisky tasting, a Highland Ball and an outdoor ceilidh in the atmospheric setting of Ruthven Barracks. Some events are open to non-clan members; check at: www.ptdhubh.clan-macpherson.org/

Pic and caption: Local, John Barton, who leads the walks during the Rallies.

The highlight of their celebrations will be the Newtonmore Highland Games (8 August) as the Clan considers this to be their “own” Games. Always a winner with the crowds, is the spectacle of kilted Macpherson men and women marching onto the Games field.

Clan marching over the River Spey led by the Chief, Sir William Macpherson of Cluny
Clan marching over the River Spey led by the Chief, Sir William Macpherson of Cluny

Bill Macpherson, Clan Macpherson Association Vice Chairman told What’s On: “It gives me immense pride that from Norway to Chile, from Hawaii to Borneo, there are men and women who still feel that closeness to a single ‘family’ unit. “The Association grew out of a desire to foster the spirit and life of the Clan at home and abroad, to keep in touch with clansfolk in all parts of the world and to encourage the study and preservation of the folk-lore, literature, music, treasures and traditions of the Clan. Seventy years on and I’m delighted it is still going strong. I hope that we will continue to remain relevant well into the future; still with that thread which says ‘we are just one’.”

The Macpherson story unfolds for all to discover at the Clan Macpherson Museum, Newtonmore. The museum, which is owned and run by the Association, celebrates the contribution of Clan Macpherson members individually, and as a group, to Scottish culture.   www.clan-macpherson.org/museum/

Clan Macpherson Museum
Clan Macpherson Museum

Many other clans have an equally rich history and a vibrant presence that is fostered through a clan organisation; one example is Clan Grant. The Clan Grant Society has its heart at the Clan Grant Centre in Duthil, Carrbridge. Set up some 30 years ago, the Grant Centre Trust exists for the benefit of its clan members.  There are active Clan Societies in North America, Australia and New Zealand and, like the Macphersons, Clan Grant meets in their ancestral homeland every August. Their focus is the Abernethy Highland Games, Nethy Bridge (13 August) where they gather at the Clan Tent before assembling to march to the opening ceremony. 2015 marked a major anniversary for Clan Grant as it was 250 years since the founding of Grantown-on-Spey (by the 5 times great grandfather of the present Clan Chief, the 6th Lord Strathspey).

Some other clans associated with lands around the National Park include:

Clan Murray with its ties to Blair Castle; since 1629 the Castle has been the seat of the Chief of Clan Murray – the Duke of Atholl. The Clan Centre and Museum at Blair Castle was the first purpose built clan museum in Scotland. Every May, the Duke of Atholl hosts the 2 day Atholl Gathering including a Parade by the Atholl Highlanders (Blair Castle’s private army).

Invercauld House (Castle) is the seat of Clan Farquharson. Covering 200 sq. miles of the National Park, Invercauld Estate is closely linked with the history of Royal Deeside; Balmoral Castle was owned by the Farquharson Chief until it was bought by Queen Victoria in 1848.

Clan Chattan is a grouping of individual clans, something unique in Highland clan history. The association of separate clans include names such as MacGillivray, MacBean, Davidson, Shaw and Macqueen.

So, while your family name might not be a clan name, it could be part of a clan. Discover your ancestral home at; www.scotclans.com/scottish-clans/clans-a-z/

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