Highland Highlights

By Loraine Ritchey



Does it host the TRUE World Highland Dancing Championship?

Celtic World has openly expressed it criticism of Cowal Highland Gathering's decision to effectively banish Highland dancers who are members of organizations such as the Victorian Scottish Union, Pipers and Dancers Association of New Zealand and even SOHDA, based in Edinburgh, Scotland's capital, from competing in what it calls the "true World Championship

Searching for some transparency, we asked the Cowal Highland Gathering for an official response to claims of discrimination. This recently received response from Ronnie Cairns is unlikely to appease the detractors of Cowal's stance.

In fact the claim of discrimination against Cowal Highland gathering seems stronger than ever in the face of Ronnie Cairns' advice to dancers, "to register with an association who is a member of the SOBHD"

The question about discrimination has not satisfactorily been answered by Cowal and remains OPEN

Readers are invited to express their thoughts on this topical subject. contact celtic_world@hotmail.com

Ronnie Cairns:Director & Convener of Highland Dancing

Contact info@cowalgathering.com or http://www.cowalgathering.com

Cowal Highland Gathering

Cowal Highland Gathering is proud to host the World Highland Dancing Championships each year in Dunoon and welcomes competitors who compete for the title of 'World Champion'.

The sun shone over the Cowal peninsula this year on the last Friday and Saturday in August. The now covered dancing platforms and warm-up boards acted as shades from the suns strong rays. The weekend went without a hitch with the more experienced competitors taking it in their stride and the first time competitors, although nervous, enjoying being part of the supreme event in the Highland Dancing calendar.

Yet in the most ideal of settings there is controversy as to how the Championships at Cowal should be run. Before the establishment of the SOBHD at Cowal things were becoming chaotic with Cowal receiving floods of complaints concerning the eligibility and biased of the judging.

The then Cowal Committee was under pressure and had no alternative but to open formal discussions with the Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing, to improve the situation. It seemed that regulation was necessary to answer the growing number of critics. Although both sides took some time to come to agreement on some issues, the Cowal committee decided to adopt the ways of the Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing, a partnership that has worked well for the past 23 years.

Cowal Highland Gathering is a multi-disciplinary event not just incorporating highland dancing but this year the Pipe-Band Champion of Champions, athletics, track and field and a national six-a-side shinty championship. In common with all such major events, the Gathering administers the running of the various disciplines in conjunction with what is considered to be the appropriate governing body. In shinty we use the expertise of the Camanachd Association, in athletics the Scottish Athletics Federation, the Pipe-Band Championships the Royal Scottish Pipe-Band Association, and the Highland Dancing events are run under the rules of the Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing.

Each of these bodies has a policy of admitting to competition only those who are in membership of their respective bodies. So we are aware that strictly speaking, some athletes, Pipe-Bands and of course dancers may be precluded from participating at Cowal, but only by virtue of their personal decision not to join the relevant association.

I am very much aware of the criticism leveled against us from a minority of interested parties, but you cannot run a major event without regulations. I am sure there are problems with all regulatory bodies but what is important is that they are representative of the vast majority (Approximately 95% in the case of the SOBHD), are democratically administered, efficient and helpful to us. Changes to the rules of these bodies can only be brought about by the members themselves.

The SOBHD also take in to consideration the views and opinions of event organisers and outwith board meetings facilitate an annual organisers meeting where all competition organisers can get together discuss problems and put forward suggestions to the board. I have recently been critical of the SOBHD in respect of their poor public relations and primitive communication channels in this day of email and the Internet in which so much useful information can and should be shared. To the credit of board they are in the process of taking steps to improve this and looking at the viability and management of a web-site. It is time to move forward a time for more dialogue, more openness, more exchanging of views and more understanding and for all interested parties to join an association, and come under one umbrella. To quote from a recent posting on the web form Bill Weaver (President of FUSTA-ED) "To know how the SOBHD works is to know how to change the things you need changing".

I am aware that many people have genuine concerns and wish to voice them and it appears that Cowal Highland Gathering is being singled out, but we at Cowal realise that this is due to our high profile. The Board of Directors of Cowal Highland Gathering are confident in the integrity of the present system we operate. Highland Dancing at Cowal is flourishing, with ever increasing numbers and with representation from more countries than ever before coming to compete on the world's best stage. May Falconer once told me, "Highland Dancing has taken me all over the world and I have had many fond memories but as a dancer the feeling you got when you stepped on to the center boards at Cowal will never leave you".Many more competitors should be allowed to experience that feeling and of course many will.

Fairness of any competition requires regulation and it is Cowal's duty to abide by the vast majority of highland dancers. Those who claim they are being discriminated against may have the solution in their own hands. In registering with an association who is a member of the SOBHD they put themselves in position of negotiation and influence on the rules & regulations they would abide by. In taking these steps all can compete with the worlds elite highland dancers at the undisputed world highland dancing championships at Cowal Highland Gathering.

I look forward to the continued prosperity of Highland Dancing at Cowal.

You may subscribe to Celtic World by e-mail celtic_world@hotmail.com P.O. Box 98 Corrimal NSW 2518 Australia.

As always for Questions and Comments, I can be reached at

Loraine Ritchey, 1127.W. 4th Street, Lorain, Ohio, 44052.