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Highland Gatherings
Chapter III - The Luss Gathering

By SIR IAIN COLQUHOUN, Bt., D.S.O., Chieftain, Lord-Lieutenant of Dumbartonshire

The Luss Highland Gathering affords an excellent example of. one of the smaller gatherings which, although largely local in the matter of attendance, became widely known for the excellent sport it provided, and for the presence of the most famous athletes from every part of Scotland.

The first gathering, held in 1875, owed its inception to the enthusiasm of several farmers and local sportsmen, all of whom belonged to the Luss Company of the Dumbartonshire Volunteers. This Company, clad in the Colquhoun tartan, and commanded by Geordie Colquhoun (Shemore), was a very popular and efficient unit of the battalion.

The Committee included Messrs. Geordie Colquhoun, James Lennox, Wm. MacGregor, John Galbraith and Robert McNab, with James MacIndoe as Secretary and Sir James Colquhoun of Luss as Chief. The Committee was a very influential one, all its members being well known and greatly respected men.

The first Saturday in September was selected for the date, and the games proved an unqualified success; the presence of the noted athlete, J. Fleming, who won all the open heavy events, added greatly to the interest of the day.

The games, which were well supported by shooting tenants and other local gentlemen, were held for three years in a field north of the River Luss, but as they became rapidly very popular, the site was changed to the larger field on the south side, where they have been held ever since.

A more beautiful or romantic position for a Highland gathering could hardly have been chosen. The River Luss bounds one side with Loch Lomond in the background, whilst the wooded policies of Camstraddan and the rugged Luss Hills (up which the shepherds scramble in their annual race) complete a picture with which Doctor Johnson himself could hardly have found fault.

I have been greatly touched by the appreciation of the scenery which athletes from far and near have shown. Few of them to whom I have spoken but have expressed to me their pleasure in competing in such an ideal spot.

In the early days the Gathering was naturally for all the local people the great day of the year, and from early morn, from hill and glen, the farmers and shepherds would make their way to the village on foot, horseback, or in farm cart; to be reinforced at a later hour by every form of vehicle from the four-in-hand brake to the humblest type of "machine," whilst the crude English tongue would be almost superseded by the infinitely more beautiful Gaelic.

On arrival at the ground all vehicles were parked in a circle round the roped enclosure, and it is on record that at one meeting the circle was three deep. The occupants had therefore a comfortable seat and an excellent view of the sports field. Prices were charged on a basis of so much for a two-horse and so much for a four-horse machine. At one gathering a large four-horse brake from the Vale of Leven drew up before reaching the ground, unyoked two horses, and attempted to enter the field at the lower price. On this being reported to Geordie Colquhoun, he expressed himself with such fluency that the driver was heard voicing the opinion that the only two-horsed vehicle which could get in unchallenged would be Elijah's chariot.

All the great Highland athletes competed at one time or another at Luss, but the one who holds the highest place in the hearts of his countrymen, from whence he will never be dethroned, is Donald Dinnie.
His first appearance at Luss created great interest, and I have heard many of the older men of the village affirm that Dinnie in those days was the finest specimen of manhood they had ever seen. From caber to high jump it was all the same to Donal'. One of his little affectations was to handicap himself by performing the high jump in the kilt. On one occasion, having knocked the cross-bar down on two successive attempts, he hurled his "philabeag" to the ground and soared over at his third effort clad only in an extremely abbreviated pair of tartan trews.

Wrestling was always a great feature of the Gathering, and the styles of Steadman, Currie, Alec Munro and other giants of the game were well known to the Luss people, whilst the famous exponents of the hammer, ball and caber from A. A. Cameron downwards have competed regularly there.

The games field is not very suitable for running, being rough and hummocky, but great runners like McLeavey (Vale of Leven), champion at any distance from one to ten miles, and after him Peter Cannon of Stirling, have often delighted the Luss audience by the ease and grace of their movements.

Among the great masters of our national instrument, no names are held in higher esteem in Luss than those of John McColl and MacDougall Gillies, and when their competing days were past, their presence as judges inspired and encouraged the young pipers who were endeavouring to follow in their footsteps.

The year 1896 is a black one in the annals of the Gathering, for when the great day arrived a perfect deluge descended. At eleven a.m. the ground was flooded and there were two feet of water round the marquees. The sports were abandoned and a spirited argument ensued with the competitors, who demanded their money back. A man was seen escaping from beneath the luncheon tent with a large boiled salmon under his arm. On being challenged by the police, he explained he had killed it with a stick under the grandstand.

A military band was generally in attendance, and in some years a company of the Maryhill Garrison would perform gymnastics, etc.

In the local competitions a high standard was always maintained, and names far too numerous to mention are well remembered in the parish.

Among the more prominent were A. Jardine and John Jardine, John MacFarlane, John Stewart, Willie McCallum, Dugald McCallum and the Cameron Brothers from Glen Luss - Willie, James and Archie.

Archie competed regularly in many races for over thirty years, and in 1925 won the hill race when over sixty. He carries a medal presented by the Committee of the Luss Gathering commemorating his long and successful record as a competitor.

Sometimes a competition in Gaelic singing would take place, in which John McColl (Oban) and Donald McInnes and Duncan McCorquodale, both local, were prominent. There was also a competition for the best made shepherd's crooks, in which Willie McCallum (Tarbet) and Willie McCallum (Luss) invariably carried all before them.

A feature of the Gathering was the luncheon to which the chief, Sir James Colquhoun, entertained his clansmen and their friends. They were piped into the large marquee by the most successful piper, generally John McColl. It was largely attended, as the Colquhouns are one of the few clans who have never left their own country, and to this day I do not think I should be far wrong in saying there are as many of that name in the parish of Luss as in the rest of Scotland.

A familiar and greatly loved figure at the gatherings was "Daft Tosh." Tosh thought he was a police officer, and the kindly village constables would give him any cast-off police clothing, helmets, etc., they could lay hands on. During the year Tosh would keep copious notes of any misdemeanours which occurred in the village. At the Gathering the Chief Constable invariably had him summoned into the ring, where, after inspecting the notebook, he publicly congratulated Tosh on the fine order he had maintained in the village. A "prood man" was Tosh that day. He died many years ago, lamented by all.

The two chief judges for many years were Peter Weir and Chief Constable McHardy. Two finer types of Highland gentlemen could not be found. Fluent Gaelic speakers, with the love of their country as the great impetus of their lives, they were beloved and respected wherever they went.

On the retirement of James MacIndoe as secretary, the duties were taken over by James Wilson of Rossarden. His enthusiasm and keenness knew no bounds, and for many years he was the moving spirit in all that pertained to the good of the Gathering. On the death of Sir James Colquhoun, the post of chieftain was taken over by Sir Alan Colquhoun, who took a warm interest in the Annual Gathering.

The Loch Lomond steamboats are the main means of transit to and from Luss. In 1912 they refused to run special steamers for the Gathering unless a large number of passengers were guaranteed. The Committee could not see their way to accede to this demand, and the Gathering remained in abeyance from 1912 until 1921, having run continuously since 1875, a period of thirty-six years.

The old minute books and records referring to the Luss Gathering have unfortunately been lost, and for much of the earlier information I am indebted to my friends, Andrew Colquhoun, John McKellar, Sandy McInnes, John MacFarlane and Donald MacFarlane, all of Luss, whose courtesy and accurate memories have enabled me to tabulate much of interest which would otherwise have been lost sight of.

The largest attendance recorded was just over four thousand.

After the war a post of the British Legion was formed in Luss, and in 1922 the Committee of the post inaugurated a local sports meeting, which, in spite of a postponement owing to bad weather, proved very successful.

Encouraged by this success the Committee determined to resuscititate the Luss Gathering, and with this object in view sent round an appeal for subscriptions. A splendid response was met with, the farmers and people of the parish subscribing most generously.

In 1923 the competitions were reserved to the parishes of Luss, Arden, Glen Fruin, and Arrochar, with an open class for juvenile dancing and piping.

The following year the programme was greatly extended, eighteen events being thrown open to the County of Dumbarton.

The Committee, which included Sandy Taylor, Donald Jack, Reverend A. S. Dunlop, A. Reid, Robert Kerr, Harry Davie (treasurer), Andrew Colquhoun, junior (secretary) and Sir lain Colquhoun, chieftain, all ex-service men, now felt themselves in a position to promote the open gathering. This, therefore, took place on June 20th, 1925, and proved in every way a success. There were seventeen open events, sixteen events confined to, nine parishes, and nine juvenile events confined to Luss.

The Gathering in 1926 was held on the 19th June, and suffered in attendance on account of the coal strike. The Loch Lomond steamers were not running, and the audience of about two thousand was conveyed largely by chars--bancs.

In these two years the games were notable for the keen competitions in the open heavy events, and there was probably a finer selection of prominent Highland athletes competing at Luss than at any other Highland gathering.

The present Committee, which consists of Harry Davie, Robert Kerr, Sandy Taylor, Donald Jock, John Galbraith, Andrew Colquhoun (secretary), James Allan (treasurer), and Sir lain Colquhoun (chieftain), have given every encouragement to local athletes, and the confined events are always keenly contested.

At the last two gatherings Constable A. Weir (Renton) gave a splendid display in the heavy events, carrying off prizes in both open and confined competitions, whilst Douglas McGibbon, George Taylor, Peter Cameron and Sinclair Colquhoun, all of Luss, show great athletic promise.

A feature of the games in 1924 was the tug-of-war, in which a team of eight Colquhouns, all from the parish of Luss, headed by their chief and captained by Andrew Colquhoun, J.P., were only defeated in the final by a highly trained team from Arden.

The management of every Highland gathering has many difficulties to compete with at the present time. There are many other attractions; it is hard to avoid a clashing of dates, and the entertainment tax falls very heavily upon the smaller ones.

In spite of these difficulties the Luss Games retain their hold on popular affection and are splendidly supported by the local people.

The Committee organizes an annual Highland concert and annual Highland ball, and these are eagerly looked forward to.

Their great ambition is to preserve the old customs and the old character of the games, and to see that the modern Luss Highland Gathering shall be in no way inferior to the famous meetings in the past.

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