Cincinnati Strongman Tours Scotland to Lift Ancient Stones
By Barry Conway
Life’s journey takes us down many paths, as we try and find our place in the universe. Sometimes, these turns can be unexpected. For North Ridgeville, Ohio strongman Sean Urquhart, his journey took him down the discovery of the ancient ritual of stone lifting.
Gone are the fancy workout centers or even weights with handles or bars. It is simply muscle and flesh on stone, and the right of passage into manhood.
Sean Urquhart grew up an athlete in the Cincinnati area. Nine years ago, once he finished university study, he began participating as an amateur in the heavy events at highland games. Sean was first exposed to the heavy events as a boy while visiting his grandparents at the St. Andrews Highland Games in Lavonia, MI.
Sean did well from the start, and after only a few years, became a professional, traveling to highland games as far away as Alaska, Florida and Maine. For years, Sean trained in his garage on evenings and weekends after his duties as a Physical Education and Health teacher at Euclid High School were over, then traveled throughout the summer competing at highland games. Still, he longed for something more that would connect him with his ancestors.
In early 2019, Sean watched an episode of Strongland, which is a Netflix documentary on strongman rituals throughout the world. Episode two is Stoneland, which details stone lifting in Scotland. In clan society, lifting of a weighted stone was part of a right of passage as a boy reached manhood.
In an instant, Sean was hooked, went into his back yard, found a big stone and began training. In April, he booked flights for he and his father, Brian Urquhart, to tour the country and lift some of Scotland’s most prominent stones, some which date back centuries.
Once landed, Sean began his journey with Scotland’s most famous stones, the Dinnie Stones, which are named after Donald Donnie, who was Scotland’s first sports superstar. Dinnie dominated athletic events, winning the Scottish Championship in all but one year between 1856-1876.
Let the Lifting Begin: The Dinnie Stones date back to 1860, and are massive, weighing a combined 733 lbs. Sean’s lift was successful, becoming the 122nd person to lift the stones, and only the 15th to lift them side-by-side.
Next was the Inver Stone, weight 265 lbs., which is considered by some to be the father of the modern Atlas Stones because of its round shape. This stone was lifted by Scottish strongman A.A. Cameron, who was Scottish Champion from 1909-1914. Sean lifted this stone to his shoulder with relative ease.
After lifting the 13th century “Clans Putting Stone,” the Barevan Stone, Sean attended the Tain Highland Games ,which is held at the beautiful Glenmorangie Distillery. Sean finished the day tied for first among all competitors.
Next were the Stones of Glen Roy, which date back to the Gaelic speaking culture before the defeat of the Catholic Jacobite’s in 1745 at Culloden Mor. The two stones are massive, with Grey Mountain weighing 302 lbs. and Big Redweighing 293 lbs. These stones were used to settle disputes, with the winner having to balance Grey Mountain on top of Big Red.
The Dalwhinnie Stone was next. Weighting a relatively light 225 lbs., Sean managed to drink a dram while holding this stone on his shoulder.
Next was the Newtonmore Stone, which sits at the base of a single ancient tree. It marks the entrance to an ancient coffin road ,where loved ones would carry the deceased along the road to their final resting place.
Legend has it that the stone lifting took place during the march down the road, with the successful stone lifters carving their name with the date into the ancient tree.
The Fianna Stone, with a weight of 280 lbs., was next on the journey. This stone is said to be the oldest lifting stone in Scotland. In order for a boy to reach manhood, he must lift the stone above the plith (which is approximately one meter).
The Puterach Stone was a relatively small stone near the grave of Rob Roy and needed to be placed on another stone. The Ardvorich Stone was Sean’s favorite stone, as it was the largest single stone, weighing in at 335 lbs.
Next came the Sadlin Mare Stone of Sma Glen (218 lbs.) and the Castle Menzies Stones (255 lbs.), also known as the chieftain’s stone. In clan society, being clan chief wasn’t a birth right. A Clan Chieftain needed to prove his worthiness. So much was stone lifting intertwined into the Gaelic culture that you could not become chief until you carried this stone.
While on this journey, Sean did attempt to find information about his Clan, Clan Urquhart, but was unsuccessful. This isn’t unusual, as many highland clans were moved, in mass, during the highland clearances to destinations such as Nova Scotia and North Carolina. Still, his journey did connect him with a part of who he is, a strongman from Clan Urquhart, North Ridgeville, Ohio. Sean competes annually at the Ohio Scottish Games & Celtic Festival, which will move to the Cuyahoga County Fairgrounds in Berea on June 27, 2020.