Celtic Festival and Highland Games of the Quad Cities



What is Heavy Athletics at the Celtic Highland Games of the Quad Cities

Heavy Athletics is a term referring to the throwing events in Highland Games (Scottish).  Many of these same events are also contested in Hibernian (Irish) Games as well as in other Celtic Nations. 

Some believe the term "Heavy" came about due to the weight of the implements thrown or to the physical stature of the athletes who perform these events, but in general "heavy" has to do with the heavy or strenuous effort required to perform these feats and was a common term used in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Heavy Athletics is in contrast to “Light” athletics such as running, bicycling,  and jumping events, which are contested in Highland Games in Scotland.  Light Athletics also reffers to the Dance competition where in earlier times, heavy athletic champions also competed and won!

It has often been said these events have grown out of the Celtic Warrior Traditions of testing fellow Clansmen for strength and agility. However, the implements of the modern game have little to do with training for combat and these stories seem more designed to romance and entertain than being based on truths.

No matter the origins, Heavy Athletics is made up of six athletic endeavors, which test the contestant’s strength and agility. It is not surprising that versions of many of these events are seen in the Olympics, NCAA Track and Field meets, and Strongman contests as this sport is the grand daddy of all strength sports.

The endeavors that make up the Heavy Athletics (both Highland (Scottish) and Hibernian(Irish) Games) comprised of:

Clachneart (Stone of strength) & Braemar Stone

These ancient events evolved into the modern day shot-put. A stone is used instead of a steel ball. The stone must be 'put' (pushed) from the front of the shoulder using only one hand.

A 16 to 22 pound stone is used for the Clachneart, which allows a seven-and-a-half foot run-up to a toe-board.

The Braemar stone or standing stone throw uses a heavier, 22 to 30 pound stone.

The contestants are judged on the longest of the three throws.

Both Highland and Hibernian Games contest stone putting events.

Weight Throws

Scottish Weight throws are the origin of the NCAA track weight throw. The weight throw was also contested in the Olympics until the 1920 Olympics Games.

A heavy (56 lbs) and light (28 lbs) metal implement is thrown for distance. The weight is thrown one-handed from behind the toe board with a nine-foot run-up being allowed. Any style may be used, but the most popular and efficient is to spin like a discus thrower.

It is not uncommon to see a thrower use the Irish Sling on the heavier weight until they master the spinning technique.  The Irish Sling is a standing weight throw in which the competitor face the field and swings the weight between the legs and launches it forward.

The weights for both Highland and Hibernian events are based on “stone” weights of the old weights_trimmed_small.jpgimperial measuring system, often used in agriculture. The implements thrown developed from yard weights used to balance scales. A “stone” weighs 14-pounds, which means male athletes are throwing 2 and 4 stone weights.

The contestants are judged on the longest of the three throws.

Note: Women's weights are 28lbs and 14lbs.

Both Highland and Hiberian Games contest Weight Throws.  Just Hiberian events contest the Irish Sling but that technique is allowed in Highland Games.

Scottish Hammer

The Scottish hammer throw is the precursor to the Olympic wire hammer throw and most likely comes from throwing black smith hammers or “mells”.

Today, the Scottish hammer is a metal ball weighing 16 or 22 pounds (12 and 16 pounds for women) on a 50-inch long cane or PVC shaft and is thrown for distance.

The hammer is thrown over the shoulder with the competitors back facing the field. The hammer is whirled in circles about the competitor’s body from over his head to down in front of his feet in an orbit, each time picking up speed until the release. The competitor's feet may only move upon the releases of the hammer over his shoulder.

The contestants are judged on the longest of the three throws.

An often repeated story of the origin of this event claims that it comes from medieval mace being throwing at mounted knights. A romantic but completely false story.

Hibernian Games also contest the hammer throw, but allows the contestant to spin where as Highland Games are a standing throw.  We do not have the safety equipment or room to contest the Hibernian Hammer




Sheaf Toss

The Sheaf Toss uses a hay fork to toss a 16 to 20 pond sheaf (burlap bag full of twine) for height. In real life, a sheaf can be a bundle of wheat and in Irish and Australian events is an actual bundle of Rushes (a form of grass/thatch).   This event is also contested in Basque region of Spain and a few places in England.

Competitors can launch the sheaf over 30 feet in the air.  This event is not part of traditional Heavy Athletics in the States and is spreading through out Scottish Games world wide.

An unusual aspect of this event is that any competitor may use any other competitor’s fork.

The highest toss wins.

It can be easily believed that this event comes from farmer tradition of launching sheafs of wheat into wagons and up & into barn lofts.

An amusing myth states the origin of this event was from medieval castle sieges where the knights would use a hay fork loaded with animal droppings and bedding material which was lite on fire and thrown over the castle wall to set buildings on fire.



Masters World Champion Sue Hallen rocking the Wight Over Bar

Weight Toss for Height (weight-over-bar)

This event is often called the Test of Champions as it is usually the last contested of the day and tests the athlete’s endurance and mental fortitude to dig down and find that little extra.

The 4 stone or 56 pound (2 stones, 28lbs for women) weight used for distance event are used in this event.  This event periodically appears in the World Strongest Man Competition.

With heights thrown over 16 to 17  feet, this event is akin to throwing a car battery onto a highway overpass.

The highest toss wins.

This is both a Hibernian and Highland Games event.



Taylor Hurry and Julian Vandervelde
wrestling with the Dan Dolan Homes Caber

Caber Toss

The Caber Toss is the signature event of Heavy Athletics. This event requires raw strength, balance, and coordination to pick up a 15-20 foot tall tapered pole weighing 90 to 140 pounds and flipping it end over end.

This event is done for accuracy not distance or height. The best turn of the caber is when the smaller end held by the competitor is propelled end over end and lands directly away from the competitor as if it was a clock hand pointing at 12:00.

There are many myths surrounding this event but common sense eliminates all of them as the origins of the caber toss.

Myth 1: The caber toss grew out of the practice of flipping a pole up against a castle wall to breach its defenses. If this was true, the practice did not last long as there would be a high mortality rate from men with long bows picking off lumbering invaders caring a tall pole across the battle field!

Myth 2: The caber toss grew out of the practice of lumberjacks launching newly harvested logs into a stream allowing them to float down river.  Usable lumbering logs are much thicker and longer than the size of the biggest cabers. In addition, the weight of freshly cut logs make it impossible for a single man to lift let alone lift it in the most awkward way and then throw them into a river.

Myth 3: The caber toss came from a military tradition where the logs where thrown in a manner allowing the troops to traverse a stream. This is why they are thrown for accuracy. However, if a military unit wanted to cross a stream, they would do it in a much less strenuous and more accurate manner, such as standing the log up and pushing it over!

Myth 4: A group of strapping young lads were enjoying a dram of amber necatuer in a field by a lane after setting fence posts. Along comes a fine red headed lass and nature took its course. The lads wanting to impress the lass with feats of strenght. Next thing you know, the caber toss was invented. This is the only plausible explanation I have ever heard as to the origin of this event!


The Celtic Highland Games of the Quad Cities draws top amateur athletes and has seen eleven different world records broken. Athletes compete in divisions from the top amateur down to Novice as well as lightweight (under 200 pounds), women’s and masters divisions.

You may also see several different Challenge Events at Highland Games. They include:

Irish Super Heavy Two Handed Stone Throw

The Super Heavy Stone Throw has strong Irish Heritage but is practiced across many European countries.  It is a true challenge. For men, the Irish event uses a bolder weight more than 8-stones (over 112 lbs) for men and 4-stones (56 lbs ) for women.  

After the massive stone is hoisted up to chest height or over the head for the more adventurous throwers, a short run is made and the stone is heaved forward landing with a ground-shaking thud.

Distances are not great, but seeing the contestants lift this boulder off the ground can often be amusing. This event has earned the nickname “Stupid Stone Throw” for a variety of obvious reasons.


Keg Toss

A fan favorite is the throwing of ¼ barrel for height similar to the weight over bar. Here in the QC, the keg is painted in Irish Tri-Colors to give the event a Irish flare. This is an elimination tournament with the highest throw winning.

Farmers Walk

A test of endurance, grip strength, and mental toughness, the farmers walk is a timed event in which the contestant carries a heavy implement in each hand over a course that is down and back.  The contestant cannot set or drop the implement. The fastest time wins.

Naturally, their is a myth behind this event -- It is called the plunder walk, as the Rouge Kilts were known to plunder treasures.

Clach cuid fir

Gaelic for “Manhood Stones” is lifting a large stone two hundred pounds or more from the ground, and placing it on the top of another about four feet high. A youth that can do this is forthwith reckoned a man, whence the name of the amusement, and may then wear a bonnet

Clach cuid fir has evolved into an event seen in strongman contests called Atlas Stones.

QC Strongman Will have stones on display and may even perform.



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