How It All Began
Taken from the 40th annual commemorative program.
In the late 1950s, the Gordon Heights Pipe Band was working hard to hone their competitive skills. They were called The Gordon Heights Pipe Band, not because they were associated with the Gordons, but because they held their practices in the Gordon Heights Fire Station at the north end of Wilmington.
Bob Gilchrist was Pipe Major and John Murray was the leading stroke. Maclean Macleod was a piper, Matt McConnell and Ian Johnston were tenor drummers. Their first competition was at the Feis, and they won first prize:$125. The band never got the money, but received instead hose tops, spare sporrans, things like that....
In general, things were in a pretty disorganized state. The Games were all small — four or five bands in the competition was considered a big Games — and there were no standards as far as pipe bands were concerned. If you played “Scotland the Brave” in the massed bands, it was five different versions, and a cacophony of sound that you wouldn’t believe!
There were no really good Games close at hand, so the pipe band traveled north to competitions in eastern U.S. cities such as Schenectady and Syracuse. In 1959, they decided to try and put on a Games event in Delaware.
And that’s how it began, with the First Annual Scottish Games, held at Delaware Park on August 6th, 1960, and sponsored by the Scottish Games Association of Delaware.
The Gordon Heights Pipe Band eventually became the City of Wilmington Pipe Band, and under the leadership of Roddy MacDonald, became a first class band. Roddy was a tremendous pipe major, and all 12 pipers in the band could play Piobaireachd, and participated in the Piobaireachd competitions.
But, Maclean Macleod was moving toward the Games side of things by then. He felt he could do more for piping by focusing on creating a higher standard of play. He pushed a higher standard for piping in both the newly formed United States Pipe Band Association and The Scottish Games Association of Delaware.
The Scottish Games Association of Delaware struggled early on to form its leadership and formulate its purpose. The second Games was held at Delaware Park on August 3rd, 1963 under the name, Delaware Highland Gathering.
After the re-start in 1963, the Games became a truly annual event. They were held at Delaware Park in 1963, 1964 and 1965. In 1966, the Delaware Highland Gathering moved to Fair Hill, Maryland where the event is still held today. The name was changed from Delaware Highland Gathering in 1974 when the organization decided to select a name more appropriate for the location. As the bicentennial was just around the corner, they chose the name, “Colonial Highland Gathering”.
Today there are over 100 Games throughout the United States, and, according to Mac Macleod, “it’s a greatly different situation to what it was over 40 years ago. The advances made over that time are nothing short of remarkable. A lot of the young people coming up today are used to the standards and perhaps don’t realize what things were like back in the beginning.” The Colonial Highland Gathering played a lead role and has been a good source of advice for other Games who were just starting out.
Today at the 40th Annual Colonial Highland Gathering, the three members of the original Gordon Heights Pipe Band hold key positions. Matt McConnell is the Grounds Steward. You may see him on Game day putting around in a golf cart as he motors from one problem to the next.
Ian Johnston, the Piping Steward, starts his task for each Game day at the close of the preceding one. Bands must be contacted, registration forms created, mailed and processed, along with a host of duties largely invisible to the public. Then on the day of the Games, Ian’s experience and knowledge come to bear as he keeps the competitions on schedule.
Maclean “Mac” Macleod, President of the Scottish Games Association, has been a guiding force for the Colonial Highland Gathering since its inception. He has served in a variety of official capacities, —Chairman, Director of the Games, Executive Director, and Convenor —the last, his favorite. Mac describes the position of Convenor (one who convenes the gathering) as “so ill-defined that no one knows what I’m supposed to do.”
In truth, Mac deals with Games issues all year long as part of his day-to-day routine, settling disputes, smoothing ruffled feathers, drawing on contacts made over four decades to make certain that the Scottish Games will again be held this year. On Games day, you can find him behind the microphone at Mid-day making announce-ments and introducing the participants in the ceremony. He’s there on the platform at the end of the day, too, announcing the winners of the competitions.
These three members of the old Gordon Heights Pipe Band have a few things in common. They share a passion for the Games, for the music of the pipes and for their heritage as Scotsmen.
The program this year is a tribute to Mac, Ian and Matt and the many volunteers who over four decades have made the Scottish Games a reality.
Adapted from "Patron f the Arts: An interview with Maclean Macleod",
The Voice, Spring 1998.