The Glasgow Celtic Society was constituted on 5th February 1857 with a membership of 527. The objects were the preservation of the language, literature, music, poetry, antiquities, and athletic games of the Highlanders of Scotland, the encouragement of the more general use of the Highland garb and the establishment of a fund for affording temporary relief to deserving and destitute Highlanders in Glasgow. Later a third object was added, to found bursaries or make annual or other grants of money in aid of diligent or distinguished students, natives or sons of natives of the Highlands of Scotland.

At their first AGM plans were made to hold a Gathering later in the year. This was to be on the 6th and 7th of August in the College Park. Details of the competitions and rules appeared in the Glasgow Herald on 7th July. The advertisement was headed by a list of the patrons, beginning with the Dukes of Atholl, Argyll and Montrose followed by the Earls of Elgin, Perth and Seafield, then various other noblemen, Clan Chiefs and landed gentlemen. Concerning the piping events the rules were as follows:

  1. For Pibrochs on the Great Highland Bagpipe. First Prize L8 8s and a handsome Silver Medal. Second Prize L5 5s
  2. For Marches and Strathspeys. First Prize L5 5s and a Silver Medal. Second Prize L2 2s.
  3. For Reel Playing. First Prize L4 4s and a Silver Medal. Second Prize L2 2s.

“The Directors of the Glasgow Celtic Society have to announce that the Competition for the above games is open to all Competitors appearing in the Highland garb; but in order to encourage and foster the rising talents of youths and others throughout the country, the Directors exclude from this Competition for Pipe Music and Dancing all dancing masters and persons going from place to place practising pipe-playing and dancing for their living. Those wishing to compete for the Pipers’ Prizes must lodge with the secretary, at least ten days before the day of competition, a list of ten Highland Pipe Tunes, along with the certificates of their qualifications from their employers (if family pipers) or from any two gentlemen judges of the National Music of Scotland; any of which tunes the managers may order them to play for competition.”

The programme for the Gathering was published in the Glasgow Herald on 5th August. It began with the list of noblemen and gentlemen who were the patrons of the gathering, including the Chief, His Grace the Duke of Athole and the President William Campbell Esq of Tillichewen. The order of procedure on the first day was: “The Office Bearers and Members of the Society are to meet in George Square at Half-past Ten o’clock a.m., where they are to be joined by his Grace the Duke of Athole’s Highlanders, the Competitors, and deputations from other Societies, in Highland Costume, and precisely at Eleven o’clock, the procession is to march as follows: From George Square to St. George’s Church, down Buchanan Street, along Argyll Street, and Trongate, and up Canderiggs Street, through Albion Street, thence through College Street, and by the College Gate into the park. On entering the Park the Chief’s Pipers will play THE GATHERING OF THE CLANS. The procession will march round inside the ring – The Pipers playing – and then the procession will retire to the Competitors’ Ground near the Grand Stand. The proceedings will then commence with a General Highland Reel of Twelve or Sixteen Dancers. Thereafter,

  1. Pibrochs.
  2. Sword Dance.
  3. Pibrochs.
  4. Reel of Tulloch Dancing.
  5. Pibrochs.
  6. General Highland Reel of Twelve or Sixteen Dancers.
  7. Marches and Strathspeys.
  8. Highland Fling Dancing.
  9. Marches and Strathspeys.
  10. Running Leap (competition.)
  11. Reel Playing.
  12. Sword Dance.
  13. Reel Playing.
  14. Foot Race 400 yards (competition.)

And to conclude with the Reel of Tulloch Dancing.

On the second day the procession was to assemble again in George Square at 10am but this time the route was down Queen Street, along Ingram Street, up Albion Street, through College Street and into the College Grounds as before with the chief’s pipers playing The Gathering of the Clans. The events for the second day were:

  1. Pibrochs.
  2. Sword Dance.
  3. Best Dressed Highlander.
  4. Marches and Strathspeys.
  5. Reel of Tulloch Dancing.
  6. Reel Playing.
  7. Highland Fling.
  8. Putting the Stone.
  9. Reel Dancing.
  10. Throwing the Hammer.
  11. Running High Leap.
  12. Tossing the Caber.
  13. Hurdle Race.
  14. A General Highland Reel.

The prizes were to be awarded immediately after the termination of the Games then the procession was to form up and proceed by High Street and George Street to George Square where the Office Bearers, Members of the Society and their friends would dine in the Globe Hotel. Admission to the Gathering was 1s for admission to the Park, 2s 6d for the Grandstand and Reserved Seats 3s 6d.

Another notice in the papers, from the secretary Donald Ross, requested members in Highland garb to join the procession each day.

Many features of the Gathering, such as the march to the games field were reminiscent of the Northern Meeting and later the Argyllshire Gathering where the parade still continues. These gatherings were dependent on patronage by the class of land owners many of whom at this time followed the example of Queen Victoria and employed pipers. Today patronage has largely been replaced by sponsorship.

The first day of the Gathering was reported in the newspapers as follows:

“The first grand national gathering of the Glasgow Celtic Society – the programme of which embraces two days – took place yesterday (Thursday) in the College Park, under the most auspicious circumstances. The weather was delightful, and the proceedings attracted an immense concourse of spectators. At half past ten o’clock in the morning the office bearers and members of the society met in George Square, where they were joined by the chief, his Grace the Duke of Athole, his son the youthful Marquis of Tullibardine, his Grace’s Highlanders, about 40 rank and file, with their officers, the competitors and deputations from other societies, all, with three or four exceptions in Highland costume. Having formed into line, with pipers playing, and the standard flag of the Athole Highlanders floating overhead, the procession marched to the Park. The procession though not large, formed a very interesting spectacle, while, conspicuous in front, acting as kind of drum major to the company, strode one of the Duke’s foresters, William Duff, a broad shouldered stalwart Highlander, apparently six feet four, with long grown beard and locks, and gleaming broadsword, presenting the very ‘beau ideal’ of a ‘clansman stern.’

“The procession as it moved along was greeted with frequent and enthusiastic cheering. On entering the College Park the procession marched round inside the ring formed to divide the spectators from the performers, the pipers playing The Gathering of the Clans, and then retired to the competitors’ ground near the grand stand, a substantial wooden erection east of the ring, capable of accommodating about 1,000 persons, having a spacious roof to afford protection from the weather, and decorated with flags, the national banner floating conspicuously from the north and south corners. A large concourse of persons had already assembled, and hour after hour brought great accessions, till the numbers present were estimated at little less than 20,000.

“The proceedings commenced with a general Highland reel of 12 or 16 dancers, which was followed by pibrochs, sword dance (gillie callum) marches and strathspeys, reel of Tulloch dancing, reel playing, Highland fling dancing, putting the stone, throwing the hammer, running leap, and a foot race of 400 yards’ distance. There was a large number of competitors, all of them dressed in the Highland costume, and among them several who had distinguished themselves on former occasions of a like nature and bore their glittering honours on their breasts. The piping and dancing were excellent, as were all the other performances; the contest was keen, and close in many instances, and the spectators generally appeared much delighted with the proceedings.

“The Queen of the Netherlands reached the ground at two o’clock, and remained for an hour, occupying a reserved seat of the grand stand. Shortly after her arrival, the Duke of Athole, followed by the directors of the society and others present, stepped forward in front of the grand stand, and, addressing the Queen, stated that he had been deputed by the gentlemen of the Celtic Society to express their gratification at being honoured with the presence of her Majesty that day, and to say they were desirous of giving her three hearty cheers. The proposal was followed by an enthusiastic response of three times three, which her Majesty graciously acknowledged by bowing repeatedly. Her Majesty was present during the competition in putting and the champion (Tait) had the honour of being afterwards introduced by Sir Archibald Alison to the Queen. The sports lasted till after four o’clock, and will be resumed today, when prizes will be awarded to the successful competitors.”

Another report was not so enthusiastic: “Yesterday the first grand national gathering of the Glasgow Celtic Society was held in the College Park. The attendance was numerous, and during the day the Queen of the Netherlands and other distinguished visitors, honoured the ‘gathering’ with their presence. The ring was encroached upon during the day, and the crowd took up a position opposite the Grand Stand, thereby impeding the view from that quarter. The games were proceeded with under this disadvantage, and seemed to give evident satisfaction. The police arrangements were anything but satisfactory; but this is not to be wondered at, seeing that the great body of the force, as well as the chief officers, were stationed at the cattle show.”

•Duncan Campbell piper to Sir Charles Forbes.

The Aberdeen Journal reported on the gathering by saying that among the prize winners were Duncan Campbell piper to Sir Charles Forbes who was second for Piobaireachd, first for marches, first for strathspeys and reels and second for best dressed Highlander at his master’s expense; James Mearns, Piper to Sir William Forbes who was second for Marches, John Gray piper to J T Gordon, Nethermuir who was third for strathspeys and reels, and Charles MacPherson, Glenlivet who was second for best dressed Highlander at his own expense.

According to reports the figures for the 1857 Gathering showed a profit of £186. Prizes to the value of £148.14s 6d had been given.

At this time George Augustus Frederick John Murray (1814-1864) was 6th Duke of Atholl. His son John James Hugh Henry Stewart-Murray (1840-1917) was the Marquess of Tullibardine from 1846 to 1864, when he became the 7th Duke of Atholl.

Duncan Campbell was born at Fortingall in 1816. He was piper to the Duke of Atholl 1842-48, piper to William Campbell of Tulliechewan Castle 1849 and piper to Sir Charles Forbes of Newe 1850-1860. Duncan won the Northern Meeting Prize Pipe in 1850. Sir Charles Forbes was Chief of the Edinburgh Highland Society and Duncan was piper to the Society and Piper to the Highland Rifle Volunteer Company, Edinburgh. He worked as a night watchman at the Royal Bank and while on duty in 1860 he fractured a leg and died one week after the amputation in the Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh.

In November 1857 the Society announced the results of a competition for a Gaelic poem nor exceeding 100 lines on the military services of the Highland regiments during the late war. The prizes offered were £5.5s and £3.3s. Twenty-five entries were received and the winners were William Livingston, tailor, and John Cameron, commission agent both from Glasgow.