Haggis Hurling: An Unusual Sport

The Scottish sport of haggis hurling has a somewhat controversial history. While it is claimed to be a traditional Scottish sport with an ancient origin, the game as it is played today is believed to have much more recent roots. Whatever the history of the game, its popularity has grown over the years and is played in far-off countries, such as the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, wherever groups of Scots have settled.

A widely accepted story of the origin of haggis hurling tells of a wife preparing a haggis for her husband’s lunch while he was out working in the fields or cutting peat. With the many rivers running through crofts and the presence of bogs, walking from the house to where the husband was working often entailed a long detour to find a suitable point to cross rivers and bogs. So, to save time the wife would toss the cooked haggis over the obstacle to her husband, which he would have to catch with the front apron of his kilt. Dropping it would mean haggis coated with dirt for lunch.

Turning this ancient time and effort saving practice into a sport reportedly came about in 1977, when Robin Dunseath placed an advertisement in one of Scotland’s national papers announcing that at the Gathering of the Clans in Edinburgh that year there would be a revival of the ancient Scottish sport of haggis hurling. The response was overwhelming, with large numbers of people wanting to participate, believing that they were reviving an ancient traditional Scottish sport. Dunseath remained as president of the World Haggis Hurling Association for almost 20 years, sending out certificates to champion haggis hurlers all over the world and even writing a book called the Complete Haggis Hurler, outlining the history and rules of the sport. However, in 2004 Duneath revealed that it had all been a hoax thought up by a group of friends as a gullibility gauge. Proving that it was just a joke and not done with the objective of financial gain, all proceeds from haggis hurling competitions as well as the sale of the book have gone to charity.

The rules of haggis hurling are very specific and are enforced by the Hagrarian, with the Clerk of the Heather starting the event and the Steward of the Heather measuring the hurl and confirming that the haggis is still intact upon landing. The haggis must be cooked and of a certain weight, which differs for male and female contestants. After the haggis has been inspected to ensure that it is not adulterated with any firming substance and has been prepared according to the traditional recipe, the haggis hurler stands elevated, usually on a whiskey barrel, for the throw. Winning hurls are determined by distance and accuracy. Despite Robin Dunseath’s hoax confession, the sport has not lost its appeal among serious haggis hurlers and remains a popular event at Scottish traditional games – with a good time being had by all.