King Malcolm Ceanmore, who began his reign in 1057, is credited with initiating crude forms of today's Scottish Highland Games athletic competition as a means of improving the abilities of his military.  While the games had become festive occasions by the sixteenth century, they were still seen as a way for kings and chiefs to choose the best men for their retinues. Sporting contests were taking place at the conclusion of military musters called "wappinschaws", held by the various clans. The clans' warriors needed to test their physical prowess in much the same way as modern soldiers engage in physical training. It was at one of these in 1574 that "tossing of ye barr" (caber-tossing) first appeared on record.
   Several localities in both Eire and modern-day Northern Ireland were places that hosted such Games; but the most important ones were those at Teltown in County Meath, at Emain Macha near Armagh in Ulster and at Carmain in Leinster. The first of these, at Teltown, were "funeral games" which honored the dead foster mother of a half-mortal, half-diety known as Lůgh, the Celtic God of Light. From Lůgh and from nasa, a word meaning Games, comes the modern Gaelic word for August, Lůghnasa, still the traditional month for Highland Games in Scotland. According to The Book of Leinster, the Teltown Games continued until the late 1700s. They were briefly revived at Dublin in 1924.
   The equipment currently used for the Highland Games has evolved from items locally available to the early Scotsman.  A blacksmith's hammer or a mell for driving fenceposts has become the 22# hammer.  Woodsmen produced the "caber” (gaelic for "tree") for their own event.  Thrown for height and distance were 56# and 28# steelyard weights. Tossing a sheaf with a pitchfork likely emerged from the agricultural regions. A rounded riverbed stone made the ideal "c1achneart”, and still does today. At the end of the second day of competition all the points are totaled, the winner being the one with the most points. The traditional basic events are:

Caber Toss

   The centerpiece of the modern Highland Games, the caber requires strength, balance and timing. The caber is a tapered log approximately 19 feet long and weighing 100# to 130# (These weights and measures vary at different games depending on the field of athletes and the terrain).  The athlete hoists the caber and folds his hands under the end while cradling it against his shoulder. Gaining the balance of the upright caber, he will run briefly with it to gain momentum for the toss. Followed by field judges, the competitor heaves the caber up and over to ground its heavy end and let it fall forward.  The field judge will ascribe a "score" to the toss.  If the caber is "turned" it will be scored with its final position relative to the face of a giant clock, 12:00 being a perfect score. If the caber is grounded but doesn't turn, it is scored by the degree it rose from the ground. There are at least two opinions as to the origin of the caber toss. One is that it was a skill developed for the timer industry in Scotland, where the toss was aimed at getting a fallen tree into the river and headed down stream in the current. Another thought is that they were used to create bridges over streams on the fly in the heat of battle.

The Clachneart or "Stone"

   This ancient event is similar to the modern day shot put, using a stone approximately 16# to 28# instead of a steel ball (and the women use an 11# stone).  The stone must be put from the front of the shoulder using one hand only. Each competitor is allowed a seven-and-a-half foot run-up to the toe-board or trig. The contestants are judged on the longest of the three tosses.  If the athlete touches the top of the trig or the ground in front of it during his attempt, the toss is not counted. In an alternate form, the contestants don't get to make an approach like the conventional style, but must throw the stone as far as possible keeping one foot stationary against the trig. This is called the Braemar style and the world record is 62'11".

The 23 and 56 Pound Throw

   Using metal weights with a chain or handle attached, the athletes throw for distance.  The weight is thrown one-banded from behind the trig with a nine-foot run up allowed.  Any style may be used but the most popular and efficient is to spin like a discus thrower.  The contestants are judged on the longest of three tosses. The athlete must remain standing after throwing the weight.  If the athlete touches the top of the trig or the ground in front of it during his attempt, the throw is not counted.

The 56 Pound Weight Toss

   The objective of this strength event is to toss the 56# weight with attached handle over a horizontal bar of variable height.  The starting height of competition is the lowest agreed upon by the competitors. Once a competitor starts to throw, he must compete each time the bar is raised. Using only one hand, each athlete is allowed three attempts to clear the bar at each height. If the weight touches the bar on its way over but doesn't dislodge it, it remains a successful toss. All measurements are made from the ground to the top of the bar midway between the uprights. As the bar is raised, the field of athletes is reduced. This event continues until all competitors but one are eliminated.

The Hammer Throw

   The Scottish hammer, a round metal hammerhead weighing 16# or 22# with a cane shaft, is thrown for distance. The athlete throws the hammer with his back to the trig and the throwing area.  The competitor's feet may not move until after he releases the hammer. He whirls the Hammer around his head as fast as possible releasing it at it's maximum speed. Each athlete gets three throws with the hammer and is judged by his best distance. Touching the top of the trig or the ground in front of it renders the throw foul.

The Sheaf Toss

   Using a three-tined pitchfork, the athletes hurl a 16# burlap bag stuffed with straw over a horizontal bar raised between two standards.  Each competitor is given three opportunities to clear the bar.  After all attempts, the bar is raised in one to two foot increments. The continually rising bar reduces the field as competition continues until all but one athlete is eliminated.

Farmer's Walk

   This event is a real crowd pleaser as spectators are allowed to participate. The competitor stands between two suitcase-like weights each weighing 300# or more. All the competitor has to do is grasp the handles on the weights and then walk with them as far as he is able.