Save our skirl: hunt for pipe band to keep 700 years of history alive

SCOTLAND'S oldest free Highland Games could be left without a pipe band for the first time in its 700-year history – because all the bands are competing in a major tournament on the same day.

• The Ceres Highland Games features a series of traditional sporting events

Around 5,000 people flock to Ceres, near St Andrews, Fife, every year for the Highland Games. They first took place in 1314, when men returning to the village after the Battle of Bannockburn staged horse races and other events on the village green to mark victory.

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Pipers always play a central role in the day's entertainment. But this year's Ceres Highland Games, on 26 June, clashes with the British Piping Championships being held in Annan, Dumfries and Galloway – leaving organisers unable to find a band able to play.

Organisers said yesterday it would be "a disaster" if the games – whose chieftain will be former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell MP – were forced to go ahead without the music of pipers and drummers.

Grant Robertson, honorary president of the games committee, said: "Ceres is Scotland's oldest free Highland Games, always held on the last Saturday of June, every year since the charter to hold the Games was given to the people of the village by Robert the Bruce in 1314 in recognition of their support at Bannockburn.

"We have bags of history, an ideal setting and thousands of visitors. Our only problem is that all the pipe bands we have used in the past are competing in the British Championships this year and can't attend.

"We've asked the St Andrews Pipe Band; Methil and District and even Fife Police Pipe Band, but they're all heading to Annan.

"Two years ago we had a visiting band from Australia, which was fantastic, but this year we are getting in to a panic.

"It would be a disaster if we couldn't find one this year."

Mr Robertson said the committee was able to pay up to 500 for a good band to play.

The pipe band would lead a procession through the village to start the games, then perform later in the afternoon and at the close of the event. Pipers would also be able to take part in the lucrative solo competitions.

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Last night, Kevin Reilly, the president of the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association (RSPBA), the oldest pipe band association in the world, said that his organisation would do its best to help the games.

He said: "Not every one of our bands take part in the championships, so I am sure that there would one or two non-competitive pipe bands in our membership able to help them out.

"It's just unfortunate that the dates have clashed in this way. We often hold some of our smaller championships at Highland games. But I think it would be the least we can do to help the world's oldest Highland games."

Other events at the annual games include heavy weights, Highland dancing, sprinting, cycling and wrestling.

• Any pipe band wishing to offer its services to the Ceres Highland Games can contact organisers either through the organisation's website, or via the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association's own website at