Pipes and drums: The Atholl Highlanders will perform at the Highland Games. *Photo supplied
Pipes and drums: The Atholl Highlanders will perform at the Highland Games. *Photo supplied

WEDNESDAY, MAY 9: The Atholl Highlanders are unique — the only private army in Europe and the personal bodyguard of the Dukes of Atholl.

A company-sized unit of around 100 troops, including the pipes and drums, soon to be a highlight of Bermuda’s first Highland Games, its origins date back to 1777. Charles Dupplin of Bermuda-based reinsurance firm Hiscox, a captain in the Atholl Highlanders and whose family own Dupplin Castle, near Perth, was instrumental in getting the pipes and drums to visit the island. He said the Highlanders will perform at the 250th anniversary of the founding of Athol, Massachusetts, which was named after the village of Blair Atholl and then travel on to Bermuda.

“The Highlanders had to vote with their feet on this and the voted absolutely in favour of coming to Bermuda,” he explained.

“The thing which is really special is the founding of a Highland Games in Bermuda. I think the event will be here for evermore — I’ve been bowled over by the reception the games have had on the island.

“I hope they will be as happy and as friendly as similar events I have been to all over the world.”

The Atholl Highlanders will also march in the Queen’s Birthday Parade along Front Street on Saturday, June 9, and perform at the Royal Naval Dockyard.

Atholl Highlanders are recruited from around the Duke’s ancestral home, Blair Castle near Blair Atholl in the Scottish county of Perthshire, and many of them are workers on the castle’s estates.

Officers are recruited by personal invitation from the Duke and many are lairds and landowners with estates close to Blair Castle.

The regiment is a successor to the 77th Regiment of Foot, raised by the fourth Duke to help cover for forces committed to America during its War of Independence.

The regiment was posted to garrison duty in Ireland and expected to be sent home after three years’ service.

It mutinied after being transported to Portsmouth and told it would have to serve in the then-East Indies - south and south-east Asia.

The soldiers were marched back to Scotland and the regiment was disbanded in 1784, but it was revived as a personal bodyguard more than 50 years later by the sixth Duke of Atholl. The regiment received official status after Queen Victoria, who had been escorted by Atholl Highlanders on a tour of Perthshire in 1842 and was guarded by them during a visit to Blair Castle two years later, presented them with official colours.

The regiment has never seen active service, but its troops were absorbed into the Scottish Horse, the Perthshire volunteer force, during World War I and World War II and saw action as infantry, artillery and in the Army Air Corps. The Atholl Highlanders also had close links with another Scottish unit, the Lovat Scouts, which was one of the forerunners of the elite Special Air Service regiment (SAS).