The First Gourock Highland Games – 1956
The first Gourock Highland Games was held on Saturday 21st July 1956 to celebrate the official opening of the new playing fields at Gourock Park. It was considered that a Highland Gathering would have a wider appeal, particularly to women and children, than a sports meeting.
The playing fields were opened by Scottish Rugby’s John Bannerman, and the Games were presided over by Chieftain Colonel Duncan Darroch, Laird of Gourock. Indeed, the Darroch family presided over the Games for the next thirty years or so.
Eight pipe bands competed and the West of Scotland Highland Dance Championship, which is still held in Gourock Park today, was instituted, with fifty-three dancers taking part. Other events included a 14 mile road race, adult, junior and schools flat and relay races, handicap high jump, tossing the caber, tug-of-war and putting the 16lb ball.
The Pavilion – 1959
On 25th July, 1959, the formal opening of the Sports Pavilion which was erected to celebrate the first one hundred years of Gourock as a corporate community took place just before the Games. Over 10,000 people attended the event in temperatures well into the 70s. The £15,000 facility was reported to have “the construction is of a most substantial nature yet the design is well proportioned, colourful and pleasing, with materials and workmanship of the highest order”. The sign on the balcony area is still prominent today “Ceud Mile Failte,” Scots Gaelic for One Hundred Thousand Welcomes.
The pavilion is now used as a control area for public announcing, RSPBA officials and Games organisers.
The ‘Empire Games’ – 1966
The cream of Scotland’s athletes competed in the 1966 Gourock Highland Games before setting off for Jamaica the next day for the Empire Games. British Team Captain, Menzies (Ming) Campbell, dominated the entries in the men’s sprints. Ming, who was to become a prominent politician and Liberal Democrat leader streaked to an impressive win in 9.8 seconds.
The World Highland Dance Championships – 1969
Canadians swept the board in the individual events of the World Highland Dancing Championships held for the first time at Gourock Highland Games. But when it came to totalling up the points, Scots Girls Fiona Perry of Allison Street, Glasgow and Jean Stewart of Balloch, won the junior and senior championships respectively.
British internationalist Joseph Laughlin “Lachie” Stewart of Shettleston Harriers raced to his usual win when taking the two miles at Gourock in 9mins 31.6secs. In Edinburgh the next year, Lachie won a Commonwealth Gold in the 10000m in 28:11.8.
Inverclyde District Council Formed – 1975
In 1975, the three burghs of Gourock, Greenock and Port Glasgow were amalgamated to form Inverclyde District. The council agreed to sponsor the Games and the Director of Leisure and Recreation, Ian Douglas became joint honorary secretary with Sam Cummings, who had held the office since 1956. Ian was honorary secretary of the Games until his retirement almost twenty years later.
1975 was also the year that Fred Evans, doyen of Scottish Amateur Athletics, who had been official starter at Gourock since 1956, retired in his 90th year.
Games Move to May – 1977
In 1977, Gourock Highland Games, which been held in the third week of July since their inauguration, were moved to the second Sunday in May. The main reason for the change was to avoid a clash of athletic events with other major competitions normally grouped closely in July. There was also a tremendous increase in the number of pipe bands, as the date did not conflict with the holiday season. There was, however, a marked decrease in the number of Highland Dance competitors, as the Games lost the West of Scotland Championship. There was another championship in the second Saturday of May, and the Scottish Board of Highland Dance would not allow another such event.
In 1981, The West of Scotland Highland Dance Championship returned to Gourock on the 25th anniversary year and has been held here ever since. The Championship now sees over 100 entrants competing from home and abroad.
The numbers of pipe bands has increased over the years, from eight in 1956, to forty-three in 2008. The march past of the bands and Salute to the Chieftain is a magnificent site and is always an emotional moment for the crowd, and the Chieftain.
The heavyweight field, with events such as the Caber Toss, putting the 16lb shot and throwing the 56lb weight for height, is very popular. The audience participation event allows would be athletes to test their prowess by throwing the 16lb weight.
There was a general decline in interest in Highland Games in the late 1990’s and Inverclyde Council decided to introduce a more innovative programme, to encourage families back to Gourock. Celebrity guests and chieftains were also invited and people such as Dorothy Paul, Andy Stewart and Johnny Beattie have been chieftains over the past 14 years. The late Jeremy Beadle proved to be a very popular chieftain, and donated half of his fee to charity.
There are also a number of favourites who attend regularly; The Golden Lions Parachute Display Team, Loch Lomond Birds of Prey, Strathclyde Fire and Rescue’s Preservation Society with their vintage vehicles, a host of children’s entertainers and local singers and dancers provide the fun on the fringe.
Local sports council Sport Inverclyde have also become a big part of the programme with their displays of gymnastics, judo, football etc. This, combined with a number of come and try events, allow our audiences to participate in the fun.
Gourock Highland Games 2009 – 2016
In the year of the the creation of the Gourock Highland Games website, the programme looked promising, with a record entry for the pipe band competition and a strong heavyweight field. Unfortunately, due to a week of heavy showers and continuous rain on the day day before the Games, the event was cancelled at 2.00pm on the Saturday.
In 2016, the 60th Anniversary of the Games, the decision was taken to move them from their traditional home in Gourock Park to nearby Battery Park. This was to allow the games far more space and room for growth as well as allowing easier access for participants and spectators. This risky moved proved to be a huge success and 2016 was a record year for visitors. Battery Park is now the permanent home of the Gourock Highland Games.
This history of Gourock Highland Games is a work in progress and we will add to it and the photographic section. There are a number of people over the years that have contributed to the Games’ success and they should not go without note. These people, in particular, Convener former Provost Robert Finnie and Hon Secretary Sam Cummings were architects of Gourock Highland Games. Duncan McSwein, Duncan McSwein Junior and ex Provost Fletcher were among the many who made Gourock Highland Games one of the most successful in Scotland. Thanks must go to to the Darroch family for their support of Gourock Highland Games as presiding chieftains for some thirty years.
If you have any stories our photographs, then we would be grateful if you could contact us.