In the heyday of the Scottish clan system, chieftains would often meet with their members to devise cattle raids, seize lands or conspire against rivals. The earliest Highland games were said to have originated from the chiefs’ desire for self-preservation, using challenging tests of speed and strength to seek out the burliest bodyguards and the most powerful of warriors.
Nowadays, when clans gather, the circumstances are usually much more amicable. There’s a great sense of occasion, but at the heart of these events are long-standing traditions. Many clan gatherings take place at Highland games, which in the 21st century continue to be a truly unique celebration of Highland culture.
In addition to the dozens of Highland games taking place across the summer months throughout the country, there are some other brilliant clan-related events that you can attend. You’ll discover more about modern day clan societies, see impressive spectacles of ceremony and tradition, and even learn of bloody, centuries-old stories from more tumultuous times. Here are just a few for you to consider:
2014 Clan Lachlan Gathering & Strathlachlan Festival, 20 – 22 June, Cairndow, Argyll
Join the MacLachlans on their ancestral lands, situated on the beautiful eastern shores of Loch Fyne, for an event which combines a customary clan gathering with a local festival. There’s a whole range of cultural activities, from displays of shinty and sheepdog trials to Scottish pipe band music and Highland dance. Get a real flavour for the region and sample locally produced food, attend artisan craft workshops, and whisky and wine tastings, or follow a historical walk to see Old Castle Lachlan.
Pipefest, 27 June, Stirling
Head to the ancient wynds of Stirling for a wholly Scottish display of pageantry at Pipefest. Clan chiefs and members will join with hundreds of pipers, drummers and Highland dancers as they march from the majestic Stirling Castle through the city’s historic streets. This grand parade commemorates the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, one of the country’s most famous historic events which many clans took part in.
Bannockburn Live, 28 – 29 June, near Stirling
In addition to Pipefest, a fantastic feast of food, music and history will be held on the ancient battlefield to mark 700 years since the epic battle. As well as top musical entertainment, battle performances, storytelling and delicious Scottish food and drink, dozens of clans will gather to fly their family colours, hang their crests and share their colourful histories. Expert genealogists will be on hand too, so you can find out if you descend from one of the great clan chieftains.
10th International Clan Munro Gathering, 26 – 27 July, near Dingwall, Ross-Shire, Highlands
At Foulis Castle, the ancestral seat of Clan Munro, come together with clan members, and experience a packed programme of events which features music, historical re-enactments, exhibitions, whisky samplings and displays of Highland traditions, such as caber tossing and falconry. Take part in a guided hillwalk to an ancient local monument or a visit to Historic Scotland’s Fort George and its newly reopened military museum, or join clan members for a fine evening of dining, entertainment and ceilidh dancing.
Inverness Highland Meeting, 12 – 14 September, Inverness, Highlands
Part of the two-month long Highland Homecoming, the Inverness Highland Meeting will see a spectacular clan parade in the city centre along with a ceremony to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Northern Meeting Park, the world’s oldest Highland games stadium. Clans and athletes will gather on the banks of the River Ness for a celebratory weekend of Highland games, including special heavy events, called the Masters World Championships.
Discover more about traditions and clan gatherings, or search for thrilling Highland games and other great summer events. If you’re keen to find out whether you have Scottish roots or even ancient clan ties, you can learn more about researching you Scottish ancestry on our dedicated pages.