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More than two hundred years ago, in 1788, thirteen Highland gentlemen met in Inverness to discuss how life in the north of Scotland might be cheered up and enlivened. The Battle of Culloden fought in 1746, and the subsequent suppression of the clans by the Hanoverian government of the day, had brought the whole area to probably the lowest point in its history. The economy was shattered, roads were almost non-existent, and Inverness itself was run down and miserable. The Highland population had little chance or incentive to travel, meet friends and indulge in the social pleasures which we take for granted today. Only months earlier the thirteen gentlemen had heard the news that Bonnie Prince Charlie had died in Rome. With the '45 now history, it seemed to them a good opportunity to make a fresh start.
During the course of their "conversation at length on the subject" the Gentlemen resolved to hold an annual meeting "for the purpose of promoting a social intercourse" and agreed among other resolutions recorded by Dr John Alves, the first secretary, that "the Object of the Meeting is Pleasure and Innocent Amusement". The week-long gathering was intended to be free of political views, business ambitions and all the mundane worries of the time. .
The first Northern Meeting went very much as the thirteen gentlemen had envisaged. The company assembled at Mr Beverley's Inn at 4.0pm, where they dined. For the rest of the week dinner was held alternately in Mr Beverley's Inn and Mr Ettles' Hotel. After dinner the company would move to the Town Hall for the Ball, which commenced at 8pm and finished at midnight. Great attention was paid to the formality of dress and the correctness of the dancing - qualities to which The Northern Meeting has adhered down to the present day.
During the day the gentlemen would ride to hounds; affording ample time for the ladies to visit and catch up with the local gossip! As time went on other diversions were introduced, such as horse racing at Fort George and Dunain Croy. Later, in 1835, sports and games were held at Dochfour, and two years later they were moved to the fields of the Longman and opened to the public. In 1864 the Northern Meeting's own park was established in Inverness, which provided the venue for the Games for the next seventy years. However, by the 1930's the Games had become ever more difficult to run, because the Northern Meeting lacked the resources and staff to compete with the many other corporate-run events in the Highlands. With the onset of World War II the Games ceased, and in 1946 the Northern Meeting Park was sold to the Inverness Burgh Council. .
In 1789 the Northern Meeting proposed to build its own rooms and purchased from the Inverness Magistrates a site on the corner of Church Street and Baron Taylor's Street. Like many construction projects, costs over-ran the budget and the Meeting Rooms were to prove a financial millstone round the neck of the society for the next 170 years. Modelled on the assembly rooms in Edinburgh, the building had to be continually altered, extended and repaired, with the consequent drain on the Meeting's funds. In 1962 the Northern Meeting decided reluctantly to sell the site for development. Although this brought welcome financial relief, it deprived the society of a permanent home for the Balls and the Piping Competitions. Since that time the events of the Northern Meeting have been held at a number of sites in and around Inverness, but the long-term aim still remains to consider the possibility of acquiring or sharing a new home in the Inverness area. .
One of the prime concerns of the Northern Meeting is to support and encourage the traditional music of The Highlands. In 1841, what was billed as "An exhibition of Pipers and Dancers" was included in the programme for the Games, and this was the origin of the internationally famous Northern Meeting Piping Competitions, held each year in early September. In 1849 The Highland Society of London (who had held their own piping competitions from 1781, until they lapsed after 1844) accepted that the Northern Meeting Competitions had become the proper successors to their own competitions, and offered a Gold Medal to be awarded annually to the winner of the Pibroch event. Later the Northern Meeting presented its own award, the Gold Clasp, for competition among previous winners of the Gold Medal. These prizes remain to this day among the most prestigious accolades in the piping world. Click here for more information on the Northern Meeting Piping Competition. The Northern Meeting also gives financial support to encourage talented young musicians to learn the fiddle or the pipes, the traditional lifeblood of Scottish musical heritage. .
To mark the Bicentenary of the Northern Meeting in 1988 a full week of events was organised, a reminder of the week-long gatherings of the early years. A reception was held in the Town House to mark the publication of the book "The Northern Meeting 1788-1988", written by Angus Fairrie and a copy of the book was presented to the Provost of Inverness. The two day Piping Competitions were held in the Eden Court Theatre, Inverness, and the Highland Regional Council entertained members of the Northern Meeting to a luncheon in the Council Headquarters, emphasising the long association between The Northern Meeting and the capital of The Highlands. The Summer Ball, the centre-piece of the celebrations, was held at Beaufort Castle by kind invitation of Simon Fraser, Master of Lovat, and was attended by Her Royal Highness Princess Margaret. A thousand people danced to a band of twelve fiddlers formed especially for the occasion, and the Pipers of the Queen's Own Highlanders played for the eightsome and foursome reels, continuing a tradition of dancing to the pipes dating back to the earliest days of the Ball. Seldom has there been a more impressive occasion! .
The new millennium finds the Northern Meeting a vibrant and enthusiastic society, although changed to some extent by an increasingly ex-patriot and itinerant membership. The annual autumn and Christmas Balls are highlights of the year. Despite the modern trend of informality that tends to flatten so many events elsewhere, the Northern Meeting Balls still have the aura of a "grand occasion". The combination of exhilarating music, the friendly formality of the reels, the colour of the Highland dress, creates an unforgettable atmosphere. .
The Northern Meeting continues to provide its members with "The pleasure and innocent amusement" which its founders prescribed over 200 years ago. At the same time, by running and funding the premier Piping Competition in the world, the Northern Meeting makes a unique contribution to the Highlands, very much in tune with its original purpose of bringing concord and enjoyment to the northern Highlands of Scotland.
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