Children’s Gala Days

As summer approaches and the school year draws to a close ( yes, we are still in school), many towns and villages prepare for their summer festivals or Gala Days.  The activities, dates and traditions vary regionally throughout Scotland, but almost everywhere has a local summer party that can last a day or up to a week.   Here in Dunfermline we have the Children’s Gala, which is the largest and oldest celebration of its kind.

Statue of Carnegie in the Glen
Originally organised by the Dunfermline Co-Operative Society in 1902, the Gala’s Organisation and Funding was sponsored by Andrew Carnegie  and his wife via The Carnegie Trust from 1903 through the mid 1970s.  Each year a parade of children representing their primary schools and some local bands would parade down the medieval high street and enter the newly accessible ground of Pittencrieff Park, known locally as The Glen.

Gala Day 1972 by Ken Spowart - gifted to Dunfermline Museum

These were grand affairs  and much cherished by all.  After the parade finished upon entrance into the park, a lunch was provided and an afternoon of games and entertainment rounded off the event.

Thought to be the earliest known photo of Dunfermline Children's Gala - date unknown

 Please bear in mind that at t he turn of the 20th century this area’s main income was from mills, coal mines and farming, so an event on this scale – paid for in full –  would have been a highlight of the calendar for everyone.

Children in the Dunfermline Gala 1954

 The Carnegie Trust had to withdraw its funding for the event in the 1970s and the organisation and fundraising switched to the larger community.  Each year the Gala Committee and hundreds of volunteers raise funds, organise and host the Gala to keep the tradition alive.  Last year over 3,000 primary school children took part and over 15,000 people watched the parade and entertainment in the Glen.

Mermaid in the 2011 Gala

This year’s theme was “Under The Sea” and I have to say I was very impressed with the array of mermaids, undersea creatures,  bands and performers.

Gathering for the Big Event

Everyone who was to take part in the parade gathered in a parking lot just off the parade route.  I tried very hard to prise my terrified children from each of my legs just long enough to capture some sense of the mounting excitement.

Mermaids on stilts - very impressive!

The costumes were fantastic, the bands resplendent in their regalia and each child was given a balloon to create a sea of colour and energy on an otherwise grey day.

Giant Deep Sea Divers

There was a great mix of samba bands, these drummers – on stilts – with their heads covered – walking downhill –  on a cobbled road – drumming out some sick beats (like ya do), and of course…

Bagpipe bands.  Because you just can’t do anything in Scotland without the bagpipes!

My Big Girl's First Parade

Finally, it was my  Pirate Queen’s turn to join in the fun.  After securing the hand and support of her friend Lucy she marched all the way down the High Street for the first time with her school – Go Ladybug!


View from beneath statue of Carnegie looking back up the High Street

The crowd poured into the Glen and the energy shifted from cheering to congratulating the brave schoolkids, and enjoying the afternoon’s festivities.


Enjoying Her First Gala Day Picnic

As a part of the parade each child get a packed lunch, drink and some treats in their goody bag.  It was lovely to enjoy a day full of so many firsts for us but that also continues on our communities’ traditions that have lasted well over a hundred years.

And then the heavens opened and we went home for hot chocolate – ah well!

Comments (9)

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  1. Lee says:

    This is so fun! What a great town you live in! 🙂

  2. Marion James says:

    I live in Toronto but was born in Dunfermline and lived there till I was 16. I was in the Gala day from 1947 to 1951. it was something to look forward to every year. I remember the Glen so well and having ice cream with everybody dressed in their Sunday best. We used to have races and prizes and had a great time. In 1947 I was on a picture of the Gala day printed in Dunfermline press. I tried to get a print of it but was never successful. The picture of the painting of the Town clock is beautiful and very realistic. I remember the town clock well too when going down the High St. Brings back old memories and makes me nostalgic. Nice to see the old town again. I have never forgotten the Gala days or my old town and never will.

    • Jean says:

      Marion, Thank you so much for sharing this memory! As a newbie to the area I am enjoying discovering all of the new and traditional bits of living here in Dunfermline. You will also be happy to hear that the Carnegie Leisure Centre (Baths) have just re-opened from a specular three year renovation. Maybe a trip back to sunny Scotland could be in your future? Cheers, Jean

      • Marion James says:

        Hi Jean, I was browsing through my Favourites area on Windows XP and just noticed your reply above which you wrote on Dec.5,2011. Sorry I didn’t see your reply before now. When I think abiout it, I am not sure if the year was 1947 or 1949 with the Dunfermline Press Gala picture with me in it (at least I think it was me) among all the crowd its a bit hard to tell. the picture. I left Dunfermline in 1952. I think I may have a copy I got from the Press website years ago, but can’t remember where it is. It may be on my old computer which I would have to hook up, so don’t know when I would do that. I will look on my present computer and see if I can find anything. I think I told you I emailed the press to ask about it a few years ago, but they said something about Dunfermline library may have a print of it. I think I emailed them too but cant remember outcome. I just know I never saw the original print or copy. Did I tell you I was in Dunfermline on holiday in 2003? Again, sorry for the delay in replying. I will keep watch here and I checked “Notify me of follow up comments by email”. I have no website.

    • Jean says:

      I will also see if I can find a copy of the picture in the Dunfermline Press from 1947. I will let you know what I can find!

      • Marion James says:

        Hi Jean, yes, let me know if you see anything. I think it was 1947 which was my year at Queen anne High school in Dunfermline. A copy of the 1947 may be at Dunfermline library. I was in Dunfermline in 2003 but only for 2 weeks and actually gave up trying to get a copy a long time ago, so never went to the library. and 2 weeks soon passes.

  3. Michael says:

    The company I work for now funds the Children’s Gala in Dunfermline. But I must admit, I hide when they look for volunteer stewards (I like a wee drink on Gala Day 🙂 ).

  4. Marion James says:

    Jean, I just found something really interesting to me on an Internet search. It made my day. You might be interested, let me know. Its a website about films of Dunfermline done by a film maker called James Nairn. some of the films is of the Gala day. click on link below and click on “James Nairn” on the right side link and you will see a list of his films.
    One of the Gala day entries is 1951 and has a film taken of the Gala Day. so click on 1951 and you will see the film which is quite clear and nicely done. black and white films preserves usually more clearly than colour. The 1950 film didn’t seem to have a film, and I haven’t checked 1952 and others. But I enjoyed the 1951 film as I was still in high school then.some of the film is quite close up of people, but I didn’t see anybody I know. there is a pause button but it doesn’t seem to work. Anyway, it was an unexpected find for me as I used to do some searches of the Gala Days b ut didn’t seem much. It is very nice to see a film of it as it makes it real to me and I can remember everything. very nicely done film.

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