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McIan's Highlanders At Home
Throwing the Stone

Throwing the Stone

ATHLETIC sports form one of the favourite pastimes of people in a state of society similar to that of the Scottish Highlanders, the inhabitants of mountainous countries delighting in the perils of Alpine adventures and the trials of strength and hardihood. These are the most congenial amusements to those of masculine, agile frames, and impetuous spirits, and they greatly promote both mental animation and warlike prowess.

The famed Olympic games, founded in the infancy of Greece, and instituted for the display of feats of strength and agility, were proudly supported through after ages. The Athletes were professional exhibitors, but the most exalted personages also entered the heroic arena, and often carried off the prize. The Olympiads bore a close resemblance to the Bardic festivals still maintained in Wales, and the competition gatherings so frequently held in the Scottish Highlands.

Indoor employments are less suitable to the taste of a Gaël, than the invigorating recreations of the field, yet, when not called abroad, some divertisement is naturally required to alleviate the tedium of the evening hours, during the long and darksome winter, in which he is enwrapt. For this he is well provided with many amusing social recreations, some of which are unknown in the low country. Mairi, nighean Alasdair ruadh, a poetess of high renown, who flourished about 1620, tells us that "the game of Chess and the music of the harp—the history of the feats of the Fingalians, with the relations of the pleasures of the chase, were what the good son of Mac Leod loved."

The antiquity of Chess among the Highlanders is proved by a curious discovery which was made in the Isle of Lewis 1831 of a number of the pieces, antiquely carved from the tusks of the Walrus, and a king-piece of similar workmanship found in the ruins of Dunstafnage Castle, Argyleshire.

The love of gambling was particularly observable among the ancient Gauls and Irish, for the latter would lie in wait for any one whom they might induce to play, and the former would continue the amusement, if the term can be used for so serious an affair, until all being lost, they staked their freedom on the chance and would thus place themselves in slavery!

The Cymro branch of the Celtic race, so remarkable for the minute regulation of all their customs, did not overlook the importance of manly exercises. From ‘Proberts Welsh Laws’ as published in the Archaeology, the following among "the twenty-four excellencies," which formed the proper education of youth, are given as applicable to the present subject.

Feats of strength.
Fencing with sword and buckler.
Fencing with the two handed sword. Fencing with the double pointed stick.
Coursing with grey hounds.
Chasing birds.
Playing at Chess.

The first ten only are accounted manly, the others being either "youthful" or "trivial."

The Quinquertium, or five principal games at the Olympian festival were running, leaping, wrestling, throwing the javelin and quoits. Among the Highlanders, are racing, leaping, the running leap, much practised for its usefulness, wrestling, club and foot ball, tossing the caber, throwing the hammer, putting or throwing the stone, lifting a heavy stone, contests in swimming and many other feats of sheer strength and agility. The weight of the stone, called clach-neart or the stone of strength, which was to be lifted from the ground, was sometimes very great, and it was frequently placed near the church and sometimes in the Kirkyard, that the men might exercise their ‘vis inertia’ after the conclusion of religious service. One of this sort, named the Puterach, remains near the Kirk of Balquhider in Perthshire, which the strongest may boast having raised from the ground, breast high, which is the trial, and he is accounted a muscular man who can do so. Clach-cuid-fir was a stone of two hundred pounds weight and upwards, which was to be lifted from the ground and placed on another four feet high at least, and the youth who could perform this feat was forthwith reckoned a man.

It is judicious in several respects to encourage national sports and pastimes, especially when they are of a manly and invigorating character. It affords pleasure to the tenantry who are excited to a generous rivalry, and circulates money in localities where it is sometimes of great use. We accordingly find throughout Scotland, numerous associations for promoting competition in these exercises, supported by the nobility and gentry. Besides the Highland Society of London and its branches, the chief objects of which, are the encouragement of Language, Literature, and ancient Music, and that of Scotland, which is principally devoted to Agriculture, the following may be enumerated as more particularly engaged in the patronage of athletic games. The Celtic, the Bannockburn and Stirling, the St. Fillan, the Athol, the Braemar, the Strathearn, the Glasgow, the Perth, the Dunkeld, the Fort William, the Dornoch, established by the Duke of Sutherland, the Holyrood and the Roslin Gymnastic, the Heather Club of Edinburgh, and the St. Ronan on the border.

In the game here illustrated which is called Putting, two sorts of stones are used, the light and the heavy. The first is about sixteen pounds in weight, the latter from twenty to twenty-four pounds; but the regulation differs in several societies. Sometimes a few paces run is taken to increase the impetus. We have seen a stone of twenty-two pounds thrown a distance of thirty—three feet, but it is often propelled considerably farther. The prizes are sometimes in money and at others in dresses, swords, dirks, powder horns, brooches, snaoisin mulls or snuff horns, medals, etc.

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