Dictionaries of the Scots Language (DSL) notes the earliest meaning of this term as “A signal for assembling fighting men, sounded on bagpipes or drum. A tune used for this”. However, in less bellicose times the term came to mean: “One of many assemblies organised annually in various parts of the Highlands for the holding of athletic, dancing and piping contests”.

An early example of the latter comes from the Edinburgh Evening Courant of August 1828: “The Athole Gathering or Highland Meeting was held at the Bridge of Tilt, on Wednesday the 6th instant”.

Today would have been the annual Braemar Gathering, which also has a long history and some distinguished attendees. DSL records this from Queen Victoria’s Leaves from the Journal of Our Life (1850): “We lunched early, and then went at half-past two o’clock … to the Gathering at the Castle of Braemar”.

There are many other types of gaitherins. The Nairn Book and Arts Festival hosted a Gaitherin Day noted in the Forres Gazette of September 2019: “Mavis Macdonald, chairwoman of the festival, said: ‘Thanks to the funding [from Event Scotland] we’ve created an original, creative and diverse programme of events, which will include our first Gaitherin Day, bringing visitors and the community together with music, storytelling and song’.” Edinburgh now has a Youth Gaitherin which, according to in the Herald of April 2019, was supported by funding from the Royal Military Tattoo.

Finally, in June 2018 the Aberdeen Evening Express reported on an event called, simply, The Gaitherin: “The Gaitherin, a charity in Inverurie, won the Cultural Award at the ceremony. It helps promote traditional music, drama and dance across the region to encourage children during the school holidays to develop new skills.”.

* Scots Word of the Week is written by Pauline Cairns Speitel, Dictionaries of the Scots Language