History of Aboyne Games

The Parade of the Full Pipe Band of the Gordon Highlanders, 5th September 1946.

The Parade of the Full Pipe Band of the Gordon Highlanders, 5th September 1946.

During the era of the Clan system in the Highlands it was the custom of the chiefs to summon their clansmen to periodical gatherings for hunting, the practice of military exercises and the transaction of clan business generally.

In 1703 the Laird of Grant sent a summons to 600 of his people to be ready to go to a gathering in August, and the matter was considered of sufficient importance for a report to be made by the intelligence officer at Inverness to the Governor at Fort William. The records of the summons are preserved in the court books of the regality of Grant, and among other details, it is recorded that those who summoned the Laird of Grant for his “hoisting and hunting” shall provide themselves with “Highland coates, trewes and short hose of tartane of red and greine sett broad springed, also with gun, sword, pistol and dirk.”

Readers of Waverley will recall Sir Walter’s account of such a gathering and of the impromptu athletic competitions that followed the military exercises. Such competitions must have taken place on the Aboyne Green when Mar’s Highland army camped there after marching down from Braemar where they had raised the standard in 1715.

The abolition of the powers of the chiefs which followed the defeat of Culloden and the accompanying banning of all things Highland put an end to such gatherings, but at the beginning of the nineteenth century when the procription of the tartan and the bagpipes had been lifted, and the nation, thanks to Sir Walter Scott, was beginning to take a keen interest in all things Highland, the gatherings were revived, and since then have spread in every place where there are descendants of the Clans.
The sports which accompany such gatherings still show their links with the past, in the competitions for dancing and bagpipe music, in the granite balls which are used for putting the stone, and in the wooden shafts of the hammer which replace the flexible steel handles, though the conventional head of the blacksmith’s long-handled hammer has been replaced by a metal ball.

Though in point of age the Aboyne Games cannot compare with their sister gatherings of Braemar and Lonach, they are of respectable antiquity, having been instituted in 1867 and continued without a break, except for two world wars, ever since.
The programme, originally a comparatively simple one – there were only two flat races, 100 yards and quarter mile has grown till it now includes nearly all the major athletic competitions. Since time and space are limited it takes considerable organisation and effort to crowd in all the events.

Because money prizes are given the Games are mainly for professionals only, although in the judging and conduct of the events A.A.A. rules are followed with some minor variations and amateurs can compete without their amateur status being affected. It is the object of the Games Committee to encourage local talent, particularly in the heavy events. Time unfortunately does not permit the running of a parallel series of open and local events, but to encourage local men to enter the open events, prizes are given to any of them who in the competition break a standard laid down.
A great deal of ceremonial and colourful pageantry always accompanied clan proceedings, and at the Games an attempt is made to recover and revive this.

The Earliest Immigrants to Aboyne (Obeyn)

During the reigns of the Scottish kings David 1 [1124-53] and William the Lion [1165-1214] the policies of both these kings were to encourage younger sons of English knightly families to come to Scotland and take over Scottish estates. Amongst these families was the family of Bisset who were brought north from Nottingham by William the Lion and Walter Bisset was given the lordship of Aboyne not later than 1220. His nephew John was lord of the Aird west of Inverness.

The Earl of Mar was the overlord of the lands between the rivers Dee and Don. The King of Scotland Alexander II was reducing the powers of the Earls, besides the lordship of Aboyne he agreed to the Dorwards, who had married a daughter of the Earl of Mar, being given a large area of land between Banchory and Tarland, in addition Alan Dorward was given the Motte at Lumphanan as his residence about the year 1228. There was additional rivalry for land by other families such as the Comyns [Earls of Buchan] and the successors of the Earls of Angus and Atholl.

The situation was more or less stable until 1242, in that year a joist or tournament was held at Haddington near Edinburgh and Walter Bisset was unhorsed by the young Earl of Atholl. On the night after the joist the young Earl’s lodging was burnt down and his body was found in the ashes. The Bissets, Walter and his nephew John, were accused of murder, John fled to England and Walter also found refuge with the king of England Henry III.

Walter was given an estate in England “until his Scottish lands were returned” and sent to Ireland with his nephew John on the king of England’s services. In the year 1246 he was captured by his enemies at the storming of the castle of Dunaverty on the peninsula of Kintyre in Argyll. This incident shows how Henry III was looking at likely islands or remote promintaries to take from the king of Scotland’s influence. Walter died in 1215 without recovering Aboyne.