[22.30 update below ]As of this morning, from a fact checking session with the Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing [SOBHD], it looks as if the Argyllshire Championships may never have been a qualifier for the annual national finals, held in Oban in May each year.
The Argyllshire Championships is the prestige highland dancing event at Dunoon’s internationally renowned Gowal Gathering each August.
It is confined to dancers living within the boundaries of the historic area of Argyllshire and, around 1985, dancers from the Isles of Bute, a separate historic area, were included.
A dispute had arisen when dancers from Helensburgh – part of the local authority area of Argyll and Bute, wanted to be allowed to dance in the Argyllshire Championships – because it is a prestige event.
They did not see why Bute should be admitted from beyond its boundaries where they could not.
They were told that the event was not accessible to them – and a fairly heavweight dispute broke out.
Enquiring into the details we were told by the Cowal Gathering management, as later was also the Dunoon Observer:
- that the Argyllshire Championship was one of 13 national qualifying events for the national finals held in Oban each year – all with historic area boundaries;
- that, as a qualifier for this event, the national body wished it to maintain its historic boundaries;
- that Helensburgh and Lomond dancers accessed the national finals through the West Dunbartonshire qualifier, whose historic boundaries embraced them;
- that Bute was admitted because it had somehow been excluded from access to the national championships and so the Cowal Gathering had changed its boundaries, with permission, to allow them that access, through its own qualifying championships.
Our first investigation
Alerted by a Helensburgh dancer teacher angered by injustice and incensed with our own hard hitting dismissal of the Helensburgh case – following the information authoritatively given us as above, by th4 Cowal Gathering, we realised that we needed to test the apparent authority.
The Cowal Gathering management admitted, in response to a direct question, that, as they put it, the Argyllshire Championships had not been a qualifier for the national finals at this year’s games but hoped to be next year.
We asked how long it had not been a qualifier for the nationals and, with no date available, that was said to be unknown but recent.
In the meantime we had established that the Inveraray Games hosted the Argyllshire qualifier for the national finals and then asked whether, with the Cowal Games’ hope to be the Argyllshire qualifier next year, it meant that Inveraray was prepared to give it up.
We were told that nothing had been decided but that the two events hoped to share the event, hosting it in alternate years.
The continuing investigation
The Cowal Gathering has remained unable to give us the facts on two straightforward questions:
- When did the Argyllshire Championships cease to be the Argyllshire qualifier for the national finals?
- Was it the qualifier at the stage when Bute was admitted to dance at it? [The assumption here is that it must have been, since its management had claimed that Bute was only admitted to the Argyllshire Championships to give it access to the national finals it did not have.]
We therefore contacted first the Inveraray Games, asking when they had first hosted the qualifying event. They are getting the precise year from their Dance Convener who holds the records but said it had been ‘along time’.
We then spoke to the Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing and were told:
- that the national finals in Oban have been going for around 15 years;
- that to the best of their knowledge, the Inveraray Games has hosted the Argyllshire qualifying competition since the national finals event began;
- that there has not been a predecessor national competition to the one in Oban [Ed: this removes any possibility of confusion between two similar events, one succeeding the other]
- that at the moment there is a discussion ongoing between the Inveraray Games and the Glasgow Games, looking at their two boundaries, as a small area seems to have been missed out between them. This looks like it’s Helensburgh and the result of the discussion may see Helensburgh dancers able to qualify for the nationals through the Inveraray Games;
- that SOBHD, the national body – does not set boundaries for contests;
- that the host organisation for championship events simply registers an event and the desired boundaries for it with the SOBHD, who approve them according to compliance with the rules below.
The relevant excerpt from the SOBHD rules governing championships is:
Titles of Championships
Titles of Championships are limited to the following five classes:
- National: Covering a whole country or more
- Area – [Ed: which applies to the Argyllshire Championships] Covering a large geographical area of the country, such as North, South, East, West or Midlands, in which case the boundary of a proposed area Championship must be clearly defined by the organisers and receive approval of the Board.
This means that a clearly defined area like a local authority area, for example – germane in this instance – would be likely to be acceptable to the SOBHD; and that, since the Argyllshire Championships is not a qualifier for the national finals, it has no other constraint on its boundaries that those it wishes to impose.
Given that the Inveraray Games would appear to have hosted the Argyllshire qualifier for the national finals since the outset, it is hard to give credence to the stated notion that the Cowal Games hopes that its separate event, the Argyllshire Championships, will be the qualifier for the nationals next year.
With Inveraray a much smaller event that the massive Cowal Gathering, it has to be unlikely that it would willingly hand over a unique selling point like offering access to the national finals.
It is clear that no one in Helensbugh, councilors or dancers or dance schools, wants the Cowal Gathering to lose any funding from Argyll and Bute council over this – a matter to be discussed at the council meeting on Thursday; and that the threat of such withholding has been used only to force out the truth of the situation.
In the light of this information above, the Cowal Gathering really does have to answer the question as to why it chose to admit Bute and exclude Helensburgh.
22.30 update: We now have the date on which the Inveraray Games became the qualifier for the national finals in Oban. It was 1994 – and it was the start of the national competition in which they have continued to host the Argyllshire qualifier.