The first Cowal Games was held in Dunoon in 1894, and attracted fewer than 2,000 spectators. By 1901 attendances reached 5,000 and the first overseas competitor, an American athlete took part.
1906 saw the introduction of a Pipe Band Competition which was to be the breakthrough that ensured Cowal's place in history and ensure its status as the most spectacular of all the Highland Games worldwide. In 1929 the first approaches from Scottish Societies overseas were received and this has continued as exiles the world over have turned to Dunoon for advice and practical assistance in setting up their own Gatherings.
After a break during the years of World War II, the first Post-War Gathering, in 1946, attracted attendances of 28,000. However, the record attendance, to date at least was in 1950 when 30,000 visitors attended. One of whom was then Prime Minister Clement Attlee.
In 2000, Changes to the Highland dancing format has resulted in the Friday becoming a high profile day for dancing with the top dancers out to qualify for Saturday's finals. The Solo Piping competition introduced a Graded system which has enhanced the competition and increased the enjoyment of officials, competitors and spectators. Shinty was reintroduced with great success, attracting high calibre competitions.
2003 saw Cowal extended to a 3-day event with the introduction of the Scottish National Highland Dancing Championships and the 5k Cowal Run.
2007 saw controversy when the committee decided to stop track athletic competitions, tug-of-war and shinty. It was rumoured that this was due to pressure from the pipebands to allow the crowd to come closer.
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