Haggis-throwing competition becomes fundraiser

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IT started as a bit of mindless banter between friends – now it’s set to boost the profile of one of Scotland’s most bizarre sports.

Chris Igoe, a steeplejack from Bonnyrigg, admitted he had been stunned to have more than 150 people sign up to take part in a Haggis Hurling contest dreamt up after some friends were looking at YouTube videos of a competition held in America.

Chris Igoe is arranging the haggis hurling event in Bonnyrigg. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Chris Igoe is arranging the haggis hurling event in Bonnyrigg. Picture: Ian Georgeson

And the 27-year-old is said they had been bowled over by the enthusiasm of the local community, with more than 700 people joining their Facebook page.

“It started around about the time of Burns Night last month,” he said. “We were looking at videos of people throwing haggis in the US and we thought it would be fun to do our own event in King George V park.”

“It has escalated a bit! Once we realised so many people were interested in coming along and taking part we thought we should raise some money for charity while we’re at it.

“At the moment we’re leaning towards Help for Heroes. We’ve also been in touch with the council as with something of this size we need permission. We had originally planned to hold it on March 1, but we’ll need to confirm that with the council first.”

Ironically, the origins of haggis hurling are also rooted in a small idea that took on a life of its own. Back in 1977 Irishman Robin Dunseath, then a publicist for Leith-born entrepreneur and Kwik Fit founder Sir Tom Farmer, placed an advert in a national newspaper inviting entrants to The World Haggis Hurling Competition.

Mr Dunseath claimed to be reviving a 17th century practice, where the women of Auchnaclory tossed haggis across the River Dromach to their husbands, who were working in the fields, in an effort to save time which would otherwise be spent walking to a crossing point. The men would have to catch the haggis in their kilts to avoid having dirt mixed in with their dinner.

Hundreds of people responded, and the sport soon spread throughout the rest of the world, with competitions popping up in countries with links to Scotland through migration, such as the US, Canada and Australia.

But in 2004 Mr Dunseath dropped a bombshell – the history of the competition was a complete work of fiction.

He said: “It was all just a joke. Myself and a few friends were annoyed at people exploiting Scotland for their personal advantage, selling all of this rubbish – tartan knickers and tartan pencils – to tourists.”

Many haggis hurlers reacted angrily to the news that they had been duped, with some even denying the hoax was a hoax.

Alan Pettigrew, who became the first to hold a Guinness World Record for Haggis Hurling after throwing a haggis 180ft 10in in 1984, is reported to have said: “[Dunseath] said he invented the history? That’s rubbish. He may have helped revive the sport, but he didn’t make it up. The history is real.”

However, as Mr Igoe’s experience proves, the revelation that the ancient sport is not quite so ancient hasn’t put people off taking part, with the World Haggis Hurling Championship still a regular fixture in the Burns Night Celebration calendar at the Alloway 1759 Festival. This year saw 2013 Champion Gary McClay, 23, of Kilmarnock, successfully defend his title with a throw of 183ft – a new personal best.

The world record, set in 2011 by 19-year-old Lorne Coltart at the Milngavie Highland Games, is 217ft.

A council spokesman said: “This sounds like a fun day out with the proceeds going to a worthy cause. I’m sure it will be well attended.”