Shinty's Place and Space in World Sport by Hugh Dan MacLennan, Aberdeen
Shinty - iomain or camanachd
in Scottish Gaelic - was introduced to Scotland along with Christianity and
the Gaelic language nearly two thousand years ago by Irish missionaries.
Indeed, it is worth noting, 1,400 years after St Columba's death, that the
venerable Saint is said to have arrived on these shores as a result of a
little local difficulty at an Irish hurling match. (2)
While shinty's place in world
sport has been recognised in terms of its historical pedigree and connection
with its cultural cousin of hurling in Ireland, its provenance world-wide
and its significance as one of the cultural anchors which emphasised the
"Scottish-ness" of Gaels forced abroad has been consistently
under-estimated, if not ignored completely.
Shinty, or some similar
version of stick and ball games, has been played through time virtually
UK-wide, from wind-swept St Kilda to the more hospitable and gentler plains
of the Scottish Borders; from the Yorkshire moors to Blackheath in London.
It is a game of great antiquity. It is linked (not always with complete
accuracy) to golf and ice hockey, and is also to be found in a much wider
space from the plains of Montevideo in the mid-nineteenth century, to
Toronto and Canada's Maritime Provinces; from the blistering heat of New
Year's Day in Australia 150 years ago, to Cape Town and also the war-ravaged
wastes of Europe through two World Wars.
Shinty, as with many other
aspects of Highland heritage (notably the Gaelic language) has been
frequently threatened: by Statute, the influence of Sabbatarianism following
the Reformation, the savage dislocation of the Highland Clearances and in
more modern times, by harsh economic reality and a falling birth-rate.
This paper will, in defining
shinty's place and space in world sport:
1 Summarise the origins of
the game now known as shinty
2 Establish its presence
3 Focus on its provenance in
4 Re-assess shinty's "place
and space in world sport".
The modern game of camanachd
(shinty), is played to the following rules (in summary):
The field of play is
rectangular, not more than 170 yards (155 metres) nor less than 140 yards
(128 metres) and its breadth not more than 80 yards (73 metres) nor less
than 70 yards (64 metres), with minimalist markings.
Scoring is by goals which
consist of two upright posts, equidistant from the corner flags and 12 feet
(3.66 metres) apart, joined by a horizontal cross-bar, 10 feet (3.05 metres)
from the ground. The goal has a net attached to the uprights and cross-bars,
as in Association Football.
The ball is spherical, made
of cork and worsted inside, the outer cover of leather or some other
approved material, not more than eight inches (20 cms) and not less than 7.5
inches (19 cms) in circumference. The weight of the ball at the start of the
game should not be more than 3 ounces (85 gms) nor less than 2.5 ounces (70
gms). In previous times balls have been made of India Rubber, wood, lemons,
sheep droppings and sheep's vertebrae - basically anything which could be
hit with a wide variety of curved sticks.
Players' equipment and
apparel, apart from the obvious stick (known as a caman) is also minimal:
shin guards and strips basically, safety being paramount. Helmets and
face-guards are now more common, à la hurling and cricket, and helmets are
compulsory for certain younger players.
The caman must conform to the
following standard: the head must not be of a size larger than can pass
through a ring with a diameter of 2.5 inches (6.3 cms); no plates, screws,
or metal in any form shall be attached to or form part of the caman. (The
Irish game of hurling allows such attachments.) A player whose caman is
broken during a game may play the ball before obtaining a replacement caman,
providing the broken caman is not deemed dangerous to himself or another
There is no doubt that shinty
(or more accurately, some early form of the stick and ball game) was played
in pagan times, but whether it was, as has been suggested 3 "a recognisable
relic of a very ancient, pagan, magical fertility rite", I doubt, although
the folk-lore collector Reverend Robert C. MacLagan, in somewhat bizarre
fashion, also postulated some phallic significance in relation to the shinty
As Anne Ross details in her
important The Pagan Celts, (5) board games were very popular amongst the
ancient Celts, and no doubt helped to pass the long evenings. Field games
were also encouraged. Cù Chulainn, the greatest of all the Irish heroes,
excelled at such games. Originally known as Sètanta, he won his name by
driving a ball through the foaming mouth of a dog, forcing the brute's
entrails through the other end. This prodigious feat, we are told in Tàin Bo
Cuailgne (The Cattle Raid of Cooley), ensured that the women of Ulster went
forth to meet him "stark naked" and bared their breasts to him. Our hero
was, according to the tale, "placed in three vats of water to quench the
ardour of his wrath".(6)
Hurling, shinty's sporting
and cultural cousin, has such a distant ancestry that it is impossible to
pin down its origins. According to the evidence of Irish myth and legend,
the game had its devoted followers more than a thousand years before Christ.
The first recorded reference dates to the Battle of Moytura, near Cong,
County Mayo, in 1272 BC between the native Fir Bolg and the invading Tuatha
De Danann, who were demanding half the country. When the request was
refused, a battle was inevitable. While the sides were preparing for the
fray it was agreed to have a hurling contest between twenty-seven of the
best players from each side. The match began. Many a blow was, predictably,
dealt on legs and arms "till their bones were broken and bruised and they
fell outstretched on the turf and the match ended." The Fir Bolg won, fell
upon their opponents, and then slew them.(7) There was also Sgàthach, the
warrior queen who trained the Irish heroes in the south end of the Isle of
Skye. The heroes arrived, with three bounds across the Irish Sea, to perform
their legendary feats; tales which are brilliantly satirised by Flann
O'Brien in his Snàmh dà eun ("At-Swim-Two-Birds").
We know that the Tailtean
Games, said to be the oldest recorded organised sports in the world, were
held in Ireland as far back as approximately 1800BC, and that they went on
until 1180AD. Stick and ball games would have been central to their
performance. But even before that, as Benny Peiser points out, the Egyptians
are to be found playing games with what appear to be sticks and balls some
4,000 years ago.(8) The earliest historical evidence regarding the stick and
ball games of the Gael is to be found in an Irish document dating to the
twelfth century - a version of the deeds of the ubiquitous Cù Chulainn,
where the word caman is clearly seen.(9)
The game at home
In Scottish terms, the
earliest written reference to shinty or "schynnie" is in 1589, in the Kirk
Session Records of Glasgow.(10) The Club of True Highlanders regarded shinty
undoubtedly the oldest known
Keltic sport or pastime. The game is also called Cluich bhall, shinnie,
shinty, bandy, hurling, hockey, and at one time was a universal and
favourite game of the whole of Keltland....The origin of this game is lost
in the midst of ages... indeed, it is said, and, no doubt, with great truth,
that the game of Camanachd, or club playing, was introduced into the Green
Isle by the immediate descendants of Noah. On such authority we may
rationally conclude that it was played by Noah himself; and if by Noah, in
all probability by Adam and his sons.(11)
The Book of the Club of True
Highlanders is a remarkable piece of work published by the Society of True
Highlanders in 1881. The Club's aims, according to one shinty historian,
buried beneath an ant-heap of
balderdash about supporting the "Dress, Language, Music and Characteristics
of our illustrious and ancient race in the Highlands and Isles of Scotland."
... They held three-day hunts, Gothic theatricals, balls and Highland Games
at which cows were first felled with a hammer, then torn to pieces and
Edited by C. MacIntyre North,
the book (published in two volumes) is a most fascinating text relating to
several (sometimes completely spurious) aspects of Highland and Gaelic
culture and is apparently based on material allegedly gathered in the
The term "shinty" itself
requires some explanation. Iomain, or more latterly camanachd, were the
Gaelic terms, meaning driving. This is "An English View of Shinty" in 1893,
the year the game took on the first vestiges of its organised form, with the
establishment of the ruling body, the Camanachd Association:
Camanachd is not an orchid;
nor is it a new biological eccentricity, nor the latest freak of
pathological nomenclature. It is a recreation. In Scotland there are three
games which can best claim to be native to the soil - golf, curling and
shinty and the greatest of these is shinty, whereof the Gaelic name is
"Shinty"(or its variants
shindy, shinnie, shindig etc), however, has proved much more contentious,
and the general view is that it is derived from the Gaelic sinteag - a
"leap, bound". Shinnie, in fact is held to be the older of the two (around
1600) with shintie replacing it some 100 years later. According to the
sport's first real historian, Father Ninian MacDonald, OSB:
Hurling or hurley became the
English equivalent used in Ireland (which must be carefully distinguished
from Hurling as practised in Cornwall). In Cheshire we find "baddin," in
Lincolnshire "crabsow," in Fifeshire "carrick," in Dorsetshire "scrush," and
in Gloucestershire "not" (from the knotty piece of wood used as a ball). In
other districts we find "chinnup, camp, crabsowl, clubby, humney, shinnup,
shinney-law, shinney," and so on.(15)
Shinty is still, strictly, an
amateur game. While sponsorship may be a relatively modern concept in its
delivery of support to the sport, it is clear that the patronage offered by
the lairds and gentry was well established across the Highlands, and indeed
Scotland, in the nineteenth century. Sir Aeneas MacKintosh described the
Camack or Shinty matches as follows, in his "Notes descriptive and
Historical, Principally relating to the Parish of Moy in Strathdearn",
published in 1892.
Playing at Shiney is thus
performed - an equal number of men drawn up on opposite sides, having clubs
in their hands, each party has a goal, and which party drives a wooden ball
to their adversaries (sic) goal, wins the game, which is rewarded by a share
of a cask of whiskey, on which both parties get drunk. This game is often
played upon the ice, by one parish against another, when they come to blows
if intoxicated, the players (sic) legs being frequently broke, may give it
the name of Shiney.(16)
Given the presence of the
aqua vitae, it should be no surprise that there was no event of greater
importance in connection with the celebration of the advent of the New Year
in the Highlands than the New Year's Day Shinty Match. Alexander Campbell,
in his epic poem The Grampian's Desolate (1804), added the following notes
to his original work as a footnote:
A cask of whisky strong,
the victor's prize:
The rural sports and pastimes
of the Gael are fast hastening into desuetude. Of the very few of those
gymnastic exercises that still remain, wrestling, putting the stone, and
shinny, or shinty (creatan) are practised occasionally. The latter exercise,
of which I have attempted a description, is by far the most active and
arduous of our rural pastimes. Shinny is a game performed with a wooden
ball, and sticks or clubs crooked at one of the extremities, for the purpose
of hitting the ball with more address and certainty.(17)
It was usual in the Highlands
to have the principal games of shinty at New Year or Old New Year, although
other festivals were also marked in other areas of the country as well.
These contests were often between two districts or parishes, with no limit
to the numbers taking part. Players arrived and departed at will, and often
matches continued from the forenoon until darkness fell.
There was a tradition in
Beauly near Inverness that prizes often took the form of "right" or
"monopoly" of raiding nearby farmers' stocks or produce without opposition.
The practice was continued in some Highland areas in the early 1900s by
younger boys where the major prize for opposing shinty teams was the right
to raid, without permission, the best farm's vegetable plot at
Halloween.(18) More conventionally, however, side bets were often placed by
lairds, and the games held, (most usually without rules, but sometimes with
a specific caveat), were no more than a means of settling old (or new)
Mrs M MacLeod Banks, in her
British Calendar Customs, drew heavily on the work of Ninian MacDonald and
MacLagan. She introduces shinty thus:
Shinty. The chief game in
Scotland at New Year was Shinty, or Shinny, the second probably the oldest
form of the name. Played with a bent or curved stick, the caman, its Gaelic
name was Camanachd, shortened to Cammock; it was also known as Iomain,
driving, though this name applied as well to football, or any game in which
a ball was driven forward.(19)
Mrs Banks then goes on to
reproduce some valuable source material relating to the games in the oral
tradition and especially the Tales, and the rules, particularly the
selection of the captains. She concludes by advising that "A piper played
before and after the game... At the end the chief, or laird, gave a dinner,
or, failing him, a number were entertained at the house of a mutual friend.
In the evening a ball was given, open to all."(20)
One of the best sources for
determining shinty's "place and space" is the dictionary. For example, the
Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue:
shinye, n, [Obscure. Cf. Gaelic sinteag a skip, a pace, later Scots shinty
(1769) thegame, (1773) the stick, 18th century English shinney (1794) the
stick.] A game played with a stick curved at one end like a hockey stick and
used for striking a ball, also, the stick itself. [With respectt to the
Kirk-yeard, that ther be no playing at golf, carrict, shinnie (Liber Coll.
Glasgow, p. lxviii shinny], in the High Kirk, or Kirjk-yard, or Blackfriar
Kirk yeard, either Sunday or week day; 1589 Glasgow Kirk S. 16 Oct. in
Wodrow Life of Mr David Weems 14 in Biog. Coll. II (Maitland Club 1845).]
The bairnes of France have the exercise of the tap, the pery, the cleking,
and (instead of our gouf, which they know not) they have shinyes; 1665-7
Lauder Journal, 125, He did transub Himself to ball, the Parliament to club,
Which will him holl when right teased at ane blow Or els Sir Patrick will be
the shinnie goe; c 1690 Bk. Pasquils 181.21
In Jamieson's Etymological
Dictionary of the Scottish Language (1825) shinty is to be found sandwiched
between "Shinnock" and "Shiolag":
SHINNOCK, s. The same with
shinty, a game, Loth.
SHINTY, s. 1. A game in which
bats, somewhat resembling a golf-club, are used.
In London this game is called
hockey. It seems to be the same which is designed not in Gloucest.; the name
being, borrowed from the ball, which is "made of a knotty piece of wood;" Gl.
Grose. The game is also called Cammon. V. CAMMOCK.(22)
Perhaps more surprisingly
however, the English Dialect Dictionary (EDD) records the following: shinham
in the north of England, shinnins and shinnop in Yorkshire, and shinny and
shinty in the north of England generally, and as far south as Lincolnshire,
Nottinghamshire and Gloucestershire. EDD mentions shinty being played in
Workington in Cumberland as late as 1888, when two boys were fined for
playing the game in the street and a third "was let off, having been well
thrashed by his parent". Finally, EDD records shinnop, as well as meaning
the ball-and-stick game "to trip any one up on the ice" in the East Riding
of Yorkshire, possibly indicating the game having been played there on
The Oban Times of 8 January,
1870 devoted eighteen column inches to an article on "New Year Customs in
the West Highlands". As many as forty people with sticks would do the
Calluinn round (as it was known in Gaelic) it states, the sticks being used
as "joists and supports" eventually! The grand finale, the article tells us,
is the shinty match - "usually about ten a.m. on New Year's morning":
Every able-bodied male
inhabitant, from both sides of the country, for a distance of many miles
each way, meet on a common near the centre of the parish, where a great
match of playing the club is held between the two sides of the district... I
have seen as many as 2,000 men engaged in these contests, besides a vast
number of visitors. Usually the stakes were simply the honour of either half
of the district, but occasionally a hogs-head of whiskey was given to the
winners by the proprietor. This liberality led to such scenes of drinking,
and sometimes of fighting, that in recent years he wisely refrained from a
present in the train of which were consequences so disagreeable.
Even then, however, shinty
was of much wider interest than just being the expression of some local
conflict, or a landlord's patronage. The view from outside - and it is an
important one for a number of reasons - was as follows in The Penny Magazine
of 31 January 1835. Produced by the Society for the Diffusion of Useful
Knowledge, the Magazine's cover provides us with a useful visual
representation of shinty as it was perceived at the time: (24)
In the Highlands of Scotland
it is customary for persons to amuse themselves, in the winter season, with
a game which is called "shinty". This sport has a considerable resemblance
to that which is denominated "hurling" in England, and which Strutt
describes under that name. The shinty is played with a small hard ball,
which is generally made of wood, and each player is furnished with a curved
stick somewhat resembling that which is used by golf players... Large
parties assemble during Christmas holidays, one parish sometimes making a
match against another. In the struggles between the contending players many
hard blows are given, and more frequently a shin is broken, or by rarer
chance some more serious accident may occur.
This account of shinty may be
short on specifics in terms of location and identity, but the formula used
in the description of play is important because of the detail it reveals of
the game - its rules and rationale. The social aspect and the standing of
the individuals taking part is also significant, as well as its confirmation
that the game was played as part of the Christmas festival.
It should be noted that there
was a very active shinty scene south of Hadrian's Wall in the nineteenth
century. The pages of the Highlander newspaper, particularly in the late
1870s and early 1880s, read more like an account of English Premier league
football matches with details of games and frequent references to
Birmingham, Manchester Camanachd, Old Trafford, the Highland Camanachd Club
of London, Cottonopolis, Bolton, Nottingham Forest and Stamford Bridge, to
name but a few.
The London Camanachd Club had
direct links through preceding clubs in the metropolis to the Highland
Camanachd Club of London, which was formed in March 1878. This was not,
however, the first club established in England. That singular honour belongs
to Cottonopolis, Manchester, the Camanachd Club formed prior to December,
1875. The Manchester Camanachd Club held interclub matches on Christmas and
New Year's Days and they also played a 30-a-side game against a local
Scottish organisation, the Manchester and Salford Caledonian Club, on
Christmas Day, 1877. The Bolton Caledonian Camanachd Club was formed on 19
December 1877, with more than 50 members. The first meeting between the
clubs did not take place till 8 February 1879 at Old Trafford, Manchester,
where the home team was victorious. Several matches between the two clubs
were played in the following years including one at Bolton for the benefit
of the local infirmary. It is not certain when the Manchester and Bolton
clubs ceased playing shinty. The last known contest between the two was in
The Highlander is not the
only valuable newspaper though. The Inverness Courier of 23 June 1841 tells
Highlanders in London were
greatly interested in a shinty match organised by the committee of a body
which called itself `The Society of True Highlanders'. The match took place
in Copenhagen Fields, `an extent of rich meadow land lying on the outskirts
of Islington.' There was much enthusiasm and keenly contested games. It is
said that before the gathering half the glens of Lochaber had been ransacked
for shinty clubs.
The game abroad
The feverish activity which
characterises shinty in Scotland and England in the mid-nineteenth century
was matched in the farthest-flung corners of the globe - eventually in a
fantasy world of Celtic twilight, as we read in the Inverness Courier of 13
July 1842, relating an account of a match on 4 April, on the plains of
After sides were called, and
a few other preliminaries arranged, playing commenced, and was carried on
with great spirit till four P.M., when the players sat down on the grass and
partook of an asado de carvo con cuero (beef roasted with the hide on,) and
plenty of Ferintosh (Aldourie and Brackla being scarce.)(26)
Dancing then followed, and
much else by way of celebration. Similar scenes were also enacted from the
Cape of Good Hope to Toronto in Canada, to New York, where a team was formed
in 1903.27 In the summer of 1995, Effie Rankine of North Uist, who has
stayed in Mabou, Cape Breton Island since the 1970s, recited for me a
version of the poem "Tiugainn a dh'iomain" ("Come and play shinty") her
mother had learned in North Uist. She also recited this short New Year verse
from Mabou itself, which shows how the tradition survived on the other side
of the Atlantic.
Oidhche Chullainn, Challainn, chruaidh
Thàinig mi le'm dhuan gu tigh
Mis' Alasdair Mac Iain Mhòir
Gabhaidh mi mòran leis a mhòran
Gabhaidh mi an t-ìm leis an aran
Agus gabhaidh mi an t-aran leis fhèin
A'chailleach chòsagach, chòsagach
Na geàrr d' òrdag
leig a staigh mi.(28)
This verse was originally
recited for Effie by Johnnie White of Cape Mabou and related to the turn of
the century. When Effie asked about the tradition of celebrating New Year,
Johnnie replied "'S e na camain a bh'aca a' bualadh nan tighean" - "it was
shinty sticks they had hitting the houses."
This remarkable transference
and survival of the oral tradition is explained by the dislocation of
thousands of people from the Highlands to the far sides of the world during
the infamous Highland Clearances. The songs and stories which survived (and
sustained) the mass movement of Highland people in the nineteenth century,
(particularly during the 1830s, 1840s and 1850s), are the main source for
the delineation of one of the most interesting aspects of shinty's space and
place. Canada has been reasonably well dealt with, although there is still
scope for further work on the survival of the customs and pastimes in Alba
Nuadh (Nova Scotia) in particular.(29)
However, one of the standard
works on the history of Scots in Australia states:
Some other Scottish sports
have not taken on at all. (Curling requires frozen lakes, which are in short
supply in this country. Shinty is very similar to the Irish game of hurling,
and some Highland shinty players may have formed the kindred game in
Australia, but shinty itself is unknown.)(30)
This is a complete mis-representation
of the facts and a distortion of what actually happened. The earliest
evidence I have so far located of shinty actually being played in Australia
is in the Port Phillip Patriot of 6 January 1842.
Shinty. On New Year's Day a
splendid game at the good old Scotch game of shinty came off on Mr Donald
McLean's farm on the Merri Creek. About twenty stalwart Highlanders ranged
on either side, and the game was so keenly contested that after a four
hours' struggle under the broiling heat of the mid-day sun the parties were
fain to withdraw the game, neither party being able to gain the victory.
Two year's earlier, the
journal of the Argyllshire farmer Niel Black reveals that the "broiling
heat" may, in fact, have been too much for the Gaels who wished to indulge
in their traditional New Year pastime:
The mode in which the New
Year was welcomed out here was to keep up a constant firing but was not
troubled with first footing. We had a quiet New Year, different indeed from
any I had ever seen before. I dined with Eddington but there was no party in
either place. It would have been hard work here to play the Shinty or dance
in the heat we have had at present but I thought it might be done.(31)
Perhaps the most convincing
evidence of shinty's translation to Australia is a water-colour painting
ascribed to the Scot John Rae in 1842. The scene depicted appears to show
shinty being played. It is one of a series painted by Rae, a Scotsman who
apparently arrived in Sydney in December 1839, a year after the "St George",
the vessel which left Oban in 1838, packed with Badenoch folk, and for which
the Gaelic song "Guma Slàn do na fearaibh"32 was composed. The Oxford
Companion to Australian Sport33 captions the same picture: "Hockey is
supposedly depicted in this 1842 sketch by John Rae entitled A Game like
Hockey in Hyde Park, Sydney."
Further evidence of shinty in
Australia at this time is to be found in the Hamilton Spectator, in the poem
"Shinty", by Ossian Macpherson (34) who apparently wrote it when in London
in 1842. It is remarkable for its similarity to other poems of the period,
including material from Leabhar Comunn nam Fìor Ghàidheal - The Book of the
Club of True Highlanders.
Compare, for example, this
from Macpherson in Australia, drawing on his poem, "Shinty", commending the
establishment of a Caledonian Society to Scots of the neighbourhood:
Get up, up, ilk Hielan' wight:
The magpie coos, the morn is bright:
Seize the camac: grasp it tight,
An hasten awa' to shinty.
Then drain the quaich, fill again,
Loudly blaw the martial strain,
An' welcome gie wi' micht an' main,
To guid auld Hielan' shinty.
with this, from The Book of
the Club of True Highlanders:
Deil tak' the glass! Gie me a
That I may drink a heart drap
In health to ilka honest chap
Wha loses that game of shinty.(35)
It comes as no surprise then
when one finds that in Geelong, Victoria, a society was established by
Highlanders to maintain the culture and traditions of their people. "Comunn
na Feinne" (The Fingalian Society) lasted from the 1850s to the 1940s and
featured shinty at its New Year gatherings, particularly in its early
To go back 300 years on the
American Continent, it is worth noting in terms of place and space that the
Araucanians took horses from the Spaniards in the mid-1500s and moved
frequently between Argentina and Chile, fighting the Spaniards on the coast
and fleeing to the mountains for refuge. Secure in their mountain retreats,
we know the Araucanians found time for sport and recreation.(37)
Returning to Canada, the
exact degree to which shinty influenced the development of stick sports
there is one which is the matter of some debate, albeit that the argument is
very much peripheral to the main difference of opinion about who, exactly,
"invented" the game which is now called "ice hockey". There can be little
doubt but that shinty was a contributory influence to the development of the
sport: the indigenous Indian population were playing games called "shiney"
in hundreds of different forms across the continent before the Gaels
It is well known too that
when settlers from Wester Ross arrived in Pictou, Nova Scotia in 1773,
aboard the vessel "Hector", there was a piper in the company.(39) Whether
the assembled masses had taken time to pack shinty sticks amongst what
little possessions they could take with them is extremely unlikely. There is
little doubt, however, that once they got to Canada, they took up where they
left off at home in many respects. Their sports and pastimes were just about
all they had in the face of extreme adversity as the store of songs which
has survived shows. It appears, however, that the people adapted as soon and
as best they could in trying circumstances. Indeed, in the face of
difficulties visited on them by certain members of the clergy, notably
Reverend Norman MacLeod(40), the horrors of the natural environment may have
paled into insignificance.
This song was written by
Alexander MacDonald, (Am Painter Mòr - the Big Painter), son of Donald and
Sarah MacDonald, who was born in 1829, and died in Antigonish, Nova Scotia,
in April 1910. Big Donald moved from Lochaber in Scotland to Mabou c.1816.
The song details how "young people's past still seem to be largely the
traditional ones - music and song at waulkings and weddings, the celebration
of Calluinn and shinty playing."
Bu chridheil ar duan
An uair na Callainn,
'S mo luaidh na fir nach 'eil beò,
A bheireadh dhuinn duais
Bho fhuaim nan caman
Gu luath 's a' ghloin' air a' bhòrd. (41)
Finally, in relation to
shinty in Canada, I refer to a book called Games and Songs of American
Children. It was printed originally in Toronto in 1883 and re-printed again
in 1963. Item number No 136 is "Hockey".
This sport is also called
Shinny. The ball is struck on the ground with a bent stick, the object being
to drive it over the enemy's line. The game is much played on the ice, as
has been the case from the oldest times in the North; for this is doubtless
a descendant of the games with bat and ball described in Icelandic Sagas.
The name of "Bat and Ball", also given to this sport, indicates that in many
districts, this was the usual way of playing ball with the bat.
Captain Archibald MacRa
Chisholm of Strathglass, first Chief of the Camanachd Association claimed
that he had played shinty in North America "with our cousins and relations
in Canada, during the winter, on skates, with a splendid field of ice, 300
miles long, 200 miles wide, and the ice at least 10 feet thick". (42) If the
game we know today as shinty had penetrated the Canadian consciousness to
the extent just detailed, then it can safely be assumed that the ancient and
noble game is very much part of the developing history of sport in Canada.
One of the most famous early
depictions of shinty play is a painting called A Highland Landscape with a
Game of Shinty. It is believed to have been painted around 1840, and was
attributed to D. Cuncliffe (1826-55) and A. Smith of Mauchline (1840) by
Father Ninian MacDonald in the frontispiece of his famous book Shinty. The
painting contains all the elements of the (fictional) Highland scene of the
time, with a shinty match the central action, pipers, dancers and Lairds set
in an idyllic and completely over-romanticised Highland Glen.
Shinty is often regarded as
having retreated to the Gàidhealtachd (Highlands of Scotland) by the
nineteenth century. From there it was re-introduced to the Lowlands by
people who were encouraged or forced to move south. One example is the
children at New Lanark, and this also appears to be the explanation for an
active shinty club in the Vale of Leven in the 1870s; certainly it was
Highlanders in exile who played in the matches which were held in Glasgow
and Edinburgh (and much further afield) from the 1870s onwards.
It has not hitherto been
properly recognised, however, that a continuous tradition exists for shinty
south of the Highland Line until the second half of the nineteenth century.
There is extensive evidence of shinty as a children's game in the Lowlands,
particularly in and around Edinburgh until about 1850. In 1816 members of
the Burgess Golfing Society complained that their play on Bruntsfield Links
was being made hazardous by shinty players.(43)
There is also a significant
corps of visual evidence confirming shinty's existence in the city at the
same point. David Octavius Hill's A view of Edinburgh from the north of
Castle Rock, showing the Castle, the New Town and the Firth of Forth, dates
to approximately 1860.(44) Hill's panoramic vista of Edinburgh shows a group
of youths playing shinty at the west end of Princes Street Gardens. There is
also Charles Altamount Doyle's Duddingston Loch painting (1876), which
clearly shows shinty play in Edinburgh.(45)
It was in situations such as
these no doubt that the law was most often invoked against shinty and other
sports. Shinty, as with many other aspects of Highland heritage, and the
Gaelic language in particular, has been frequently threatened by Royal
edicts against popular and "uncontrollable" games, as well as by the
Sabbatarianism which followed the Reformation, outlawing the playing of
sports on the day of rest, and the rapid erosion of the Highland way of
life. Clearly this intervention often came on an official basis, with
policemen having an obvious role in stopping shinty. The County Police
orders for Edinburghshire in 1842 included the following:
Many complaints having been
made of boys playing at "shinty or football" upon the public roads, the
Constable is directed to put an immediate stop to it.(46)
The law was invoked against
shinty in Oban, Argyllshire, in 1843:
And be it Enacted, That every
person shall be liable to a penalty of not more than forty shillings who on
any road, bridge, or quay within the limits of this Act shall commit any of
the following offences (that is to say,)
Every person who shall fly
any kite, or play at shinty, foot-ball, or other game, to the annoyance of
The value of statutory
evidence lies, of course, in its authenticity, as opposed to the bogus
nature of much contained in, for example, the Book of the Club of True
Highlanders. That charge cannot be levelled against another volume which
greatly enhances our knowledge of the "intriguing web with wayward strands"
that is shinty.(48)
One of the finest historical
expositions of shinty, its time, place and context, as well as Gaelic
vocabulary, is by the famous scholar Alexander MacBain of Inverness.
However, the man to whom we owe the greatest debt of all was Alexander
Littlejohn, a Londoner of Scottish origins who donated the fabulous
Littlejohn trophy and Album to the University of Aberdeen, the trophy for
play between student teams from the Scottish universities.(49)
A series of hugely
interesting and memorable exhibitions matches 100 years ago were the
immediate catalyst leading to the formation of the Camanachd Association,
shinty's ruling body. The game has developed from a series of loosely
organised clubs and structures, into a reasonably efficiently run and
progressive organisation with around forty clubs of varying strengths
competing on a regular basis, commanding national media attention and
Shinty has approximately
2,000 players and between 2,500 and 3,000 members of the Camanachd
Association, with teams playing at various levels from primary school age to
senior (adult). The Association has a turn-over of approximately £100,000
annually. In Ireland, the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), a multi-million
pound business, administers an organisation of over 200,000 players - a
ratio of 100 hurlers for every shinty player. However, Scotland remain
unbeaten by Ireland in the four full international matches in the compromise
game of shinty/hurling played between 1993 and 1996, including an historic
first ever win on Irish soil by the Scots at that fourth meeting.
Shinty in its organised form
has come a long way since it fought to survive in the Glens of the Highlands
and much further afield, in public parks as far from its main heartland as
Wimbledon, Manchester, and even in Aberdeen, where the North of Spey Club,
met on the links on 1 January 1849, "for conducting the long established
The game is being dragged,
often kicking and screaming, into the twenty-first century - round a
roundabout, rather than at the cross-roads, I would venture. Developments
such as Team Sport Scotland's initiative see shinty once again making
inroads into many of the urban areas where, 100 years ago, it was played
The sport's dilemma is,
however, whether to promote the ancient sport of the Gael as a modern,
vibrant game, or to preserve it as a quaint aspect of Highland culture. It
has, after all, survived the ravages of two World Wars and has also seen off
the many economic disasters which have beset the Highlands; decisions taken
by executives of multi-national oil companies in the US, or Admirals of
their navy to set sail for home. The falling birth-rate and school closures
are but another historical affliction affecting the game in rural areas.
Shinty's players and
administrators regard their sport, quite rightly in my view, as one of the
greatest games in the world. For life-force and continuing success, however,
the game must continue to aspire to skill and spectacle at the highest
level. Shinty is also one of Scotland's truly national - indeed
international - assets, which has an important, and hitherto largely
under-valued pedigree and provenance world-wide. For too long now
historians, and particularly sports historians, have at best under-valued,
at worst ignored, shinty's rightful place and space in world sport.
Banks, Mrs M. MacLeod British
Calendar Customs (London: Folk-lore Society 1937)
Barron, Hugh and Campbell,
John W., A History of Comunn Camanachd Strathghlais, Strathglass Shinty Club
(Inverness: Strathglass Shinty Club 1980)
Campbell, John L., Songs
Remembered in Exile (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 1990)
Campbell, John G., Witchcraft
and Second Sight in the Highlands (Glasgow: 1902)
Campbell, Muirne, A.N.,
Scottish Camanachd. A study of the Traditional, Historical and Cultural
Background with an Outline of the Modern Organisation. (Unpublished MA
Thesis, Aberdeen University, 1971; See also Shinty Yearbook, 1971)
Culin, Stewart, Games of the
North American Indians (Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press 1992)
de Burca, Marcus, The GAA. A
History of the Gaelic Athletic Association (Dublin: Wolfhound Press 1980)
English, Peter R., Glen
Urquhart. Its Places People, Neighbours and its Shinty in the last 100 Years
and More (Aberdeen: Glen Urquhart Shinty Club 1985)
Hutchinson, Roger, Camanachd:
The Story of Shinty (Edinburgh: Mainstream 1989)
Jarvie, Grant and Jackson,
Lorna, "Sport, Shinty and Politics in the life of John Murdoch", Scottish
Centre Research Papers in Sport, Leisure & Society, 1 (1996), pp. 1-14.
Jarvie, Grant, Sport in the
Making of Celtic Cultures (London: Cassells Academic 1998)
King, Seumus J., A History of
Hurling (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan 1996)
Littlejohn Album, 1905. (Held
in Aberdeen University Library, copy in library of the Gaelic Society of
MacDonald, Alexander, Shinty,
Historical and Traditional, Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness,
XXX, (1932), pp. 27-56
MacDonald, Rev. J. Ninian,
OSB, Shinty. A Short History of The Ancient Highland Game (Inverness: R.
MacKay, Donald, Scotland
Farewell: The People of the Hector (Toronto: McGraw Hill 1992)
MacKintosh, Sir Aeneas, Notes
Descriptive and Historical, principally relating to the Parish of Moy.
(London: Privately circulated 1892)
Leabhar Comunn nam Fior Ghael (London: 1881)
MacLennan, Hugh D. Shinty:
Rules of Play and Coaching Manual (Inverness: Camanachd Association, 1983)
MacLennan, Hugh D., Shinty!
(Nairn: Balnain Books 1993)
MacLennan, Hugh D., Not an
Orchid (Inverness: Kessock Communications 1995)
MacLennan, Hugh D., Shinty:
Some Sources, Scottish Centre Research Papers in Sport, Leisure & Society,
III (1998) (forthcoming)
MacLennan, Hugh D., Shinty.
Some fact and fiction in the Nineteenth Century", Transactions of the Gaelic
Society of Inverness LIX (1994-1996) (forthcoming)
Mott, Morris, Sports in
Canada: Historical Readings (Toronto: Copp Clark Pitman, 1989)
National Dictionary of
O Maolfabhail, Art, Caman:
2,000 Years of Hurling in Ireland. (Dundalk: Dundalgan Press 1973)
O Rahilly, Cecile (ed.) Tàin
Bò Cualnge (Dublin: Institute of Advanced Studies 1967)
Prentis, Malcolm D., The
Scottish in Australia (Melbourne: AE Press 1987)
Redmond, G., The Scots and
Sports in the Nineteenth Century Canada (no date)
Reid, W. Stanford, The
Scottish Tradition in Canada (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart 1976)
Robertson, John, Kingussie
and the Caman (Inverness: Kingussie Camanachd 1994)
Ross, Anne, The Pagan Celts
(London: Batsford 1970)
Shinty Yearbook Published
annually since 1971
Thomson, Derick, (ed), The
Companion to Gaelic Scotland. ( Oxford: Blackwell 1983)
Vaughan, Gerard, The Puck
Stops Here (Windsor, Nova Scotia: Goose Lane Editions 1995)
Young, Alex. J., Beyond
Heroes: A Sport History of Nova Scotia (Hantsport: Lancelot Press 1988)
Notes and References
1 This paper draws on
research conducted in pursuance of a PhD at Aberdeen University. I am
indebted to my supervisor Prof Allan I Macinnes and many others who have
helped at various points, including Dr Cliff Cumming, Australia, Prof Grant
Jarvie, Stirling, Prof John Reid, St Mary's University, Halifax, Nova
Scotia, John Burnett, National Museums of Scotland and Jack Richmond,
2 MacLennan, 1995, pp. 26-41.
3 Letter to the West Highland
Free Press, 13 January 1989.
4 R.C MacLagan, Occasional
Papers c.1910, in National Library of Scotland, H.2.86.1349, article on
Hogmanay, pp. 3-42.
5 Ross, 1970, pp. 95-97.
6 O Rahilly, 1967, pp. 162,
7 The source for this account
is Leabhar na Nuachongbhalaor the Book of Leinster, the compilation of which
began in 1152, more than two thousand years after the event described. See
King, 1996, p.1).
8 BSSH Annual Conference,
9 MacLennan, 1995, p.42.
10 Kirk Session Records,
Glasgow, October 16, 1589; in Wodrow's Life of Mr David Weems 14 in Bio.
Coll. II (Maitland Club, 1845), the reference is - "With respectt to the
Kirk-yeards, that ther be no playing at golf carrict, shinnie" (Liber Coll.
Glasg. p. lxviii). My thanks to Lorna Pike, Dictionary of the Older Scottish
Tongue, University of Edinburgh, for bringing this to my attention and for
her assistance with transcription.
11 Leabhar Comunn nam Fìor
Ghael, The Book of the Club of True Highlanders, p.50.
12 Hutchinson, 1985, pp. 62
13 See for example,
MacLennan, 1995 pp.78 and following.
14 The Globe, 1893. Inverness
Courier, 12 May 1893; See also MacLennan, 1995 p.215.
15 MacDonald, 1932, p.55.
16 At pp.90 and 31
respectively; extracted from Grant, I.F., Everyday life of an old Highland
17 Edinburgh, 1804,
18 My thanks to Roddy
MacKinnon for bringing this to my attention.
19 Published London, 1939.
20 Quoted from Campbell,
21 Dictionary of the Older
Scottish Tongue, (ongoing), University of Edinburgh. I am indebted to Lorna
Pike for her assistance.
22 National Dictionary of
23 I am indebted to John
Burnett of the National Museums of Scotland for bringing this to my notice.
24 MacLennan, 1995, pp.92-93.
25 See Alister Chisholm,
Shinty Yearbook, 1990, p.53; also MacLennan, 1993 and Hutchinson, 1985.
26 MacLennan, 1995, p.99.
27 MacLennan, 1995, p.244.
28 See also Campbell, 1990,
pp. 80-81. This version of the song was recorded by John Lorne Campbell from
John MacKinnon, Mac Talla and Neil D. MacKinnon at Lake Ainslie, Cape
Breton, in 1937. The words were transcribed by Dr Calum MacLean. A similar
version is to be found in "Tales until Dawn" by John Shaw, page 390. The
"Hogmanay Verse" (Duan Challuinn) is translated thus: "I have come here to
the house with my verse/I am Alasdair son of big John/I will take anything
you offer/I will take butter with the bread/or I will take bread with
nothing on it/O long-coated old woman/ don't cut your finger/let me in."
29 See for example: Young,
1988; Reid, 1976; Mott, 1989 and Vaughan, 1996 which unfortunately ignores
the Scottish dimension!
30 My emphasis. From Prentis,
31 La Trobe Library,
Melbourne. Niel Black Journal (1839-40); 99/2; Papers (1839-80); MSS 8996;
Diary entry for 1 January, 1840.
32 See MacLennan, 1995,
pp.102 and thereafter.
33 OUP, 1992, p.168.
34 I am indebted to Dr Cliff
Cumming of the School of Australian and International Studies, Deakin
University, Geelong, Victoria, for his assistance with this and related
points. Dr Cumming has recently, along with Kerry Cardell, published a
useful paper on "Scotland's Three Tongues in Australia", Scottish Studies,
31, (1992-93), pp.40-62.
35 Leabhar nam Fìor Ghael,
Book of Sports, Chapter V. Orain na Camanachd.
36 See, for example, the
Illustrated London News, April 11, 1862. This is a subject which requires
further research. I hope to develop it in a future paper.
37 See for example, Discovery
and exploration. God, Gold and Glory, page 46 (London, no date)
37 See Culin, 1902.
38 See MacKay, 1980.
40 See Macpherson, Flora,
Watchman against the World, (London, 1962, re-printed 1993).
41 Ferguson, Donald A., Fad
air falbh as Innse Gall. Beyond the Hebrides. (Halifax, Nova Scotia: 1977 p.
57. Translation: Lively was our song/At Hogmanay/Praising the men no longer
with us/Who would give us our due/with the sound of the caman/Quickly, with
glasses ranged on the table.
42 Inverness Courier, 19
43 MacLennan, 1995, p.69.
44 See City of Edinburgh
Museums and Galleries publication A Picture of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, 1995,
45 Acquired by the National
Museums of Scotland, Edinburgh. This is a large water-colour dated 1876.
Again, my thanks to John Burnett.
46 Quoted in MacLennan, 1993,
47 Argyllshire Roads Act,
1843. I am indebted to Murdo MacDonald, Argyll and Bute District Council
Archivist, Lochgilphead, for bringing this reference to my attention.
48 The phrase was first used
by Dr Peter English: 1985, p.3.
49 For more on Littlejohn and
his family, including pictures of his wife and daughter, see the Celtic
Monthly, 11, Volume IV, (1896), pp.201 and thereafter. See also MacLennan,
1995, Introduction and pp.246 and thereafter.
The Sports Historian, No. 18,
1 (May, 1998), pp. 1-23
PUBLISHED BY THE BRITISH
SOCIETY OF SPORTS HISTORY
A list of publications
about Shinty supplied by Rob Ritchie through Ian Gibson are:-
Skye Camanachd [a Century remembered]
A Short History of the Ancient Game Rev
J Ninian MacDonald 
Camanachd Roger Hutchinson
Shinty Historical and Traditional Alex
MacDonald [Gaelic Society of Inverness] 1919
Caman 200 years of Hurling in Ireland
The History of Gaelic Games Ian Prior
Glenurquhart It's people and Shinty
Shinty Hogh Dan MacLellan
Kyles Athletic Ian Thorburn
Kingussie and the Caman John Robertson
All shinty year books published from the
1970s plus reports on the game for over 100 years by Inverness Courier,
Oban Times & Northern Scot newspapers.
This story comes from Volume
I of the Celtic Magazine published in 1876 and includes this story which
includes an account of Shinty.
NEW YEAR IN THE OLD STYLE IN
OLD Mr Chisholm sat at his
parlour fire after a hearty New Year dinner. His wife occupied the cosy
arm-chair in the opposite corner; and gathered round them were a bevy of
merry grand-children, enjoying New Year as only children can. Their parents
were absent at the moment, and the family group was completed by a son and
daughter of the old couple.
Mr Chisholm was in a
meditative mood, looking into the bright blazing fire. "Well," he observed
at last with an air of regret, "The New Year is not observed as it was when
we were children wife. It's dying out, dying out greatly. When these
children are as old as we are there will be no trace of a Christmas or a New
Year holiday. What did you say you had been doing all day Bill?" he asked,
turning to his son.
"Shooting," said Bill, "and
deuced cold I was. Catch me trying for the silver medal and other prizes'
another New Year's Day."
"Shooting may be interesting"
said Mr Chisholm, "but as you say it is cold work. We had sometimes a shot
at a raffle in my young days,. but usually we had more exciting business.
Shinty my boy, shinty was our great game," and Mr Chisholm looked as if he
greatly pitied the degeneracy of the latter days.
"I have played shinty myself"
said Bill, "and I see it is still played in Badenoch and Strathglass, and
among wild Highlanders in Edinburgh. But it's too hard on the lungs for me,
and besides we never play it here."
"The more's the pity, Bill.
There's no game ever I saw I could compare to shinty. Talk about cricket,
that's nothing to it. Shinty was suited to a New Year's day; it kept the
spirits up and the body warm. I should like to have a turn at it
yet—wouldn't I run?" And the old man's heavy frame shook as he chuckled at
the idea. "However, there's no use speaking; is tea ready wife?"
"No, and it wont be for
half-an-hour yet, perhaps longer" said Mrs Chisholm. "You know we have to
wait Bella and John," indicating her married daughter and her husband.
"Then," said the old man,
"come here bairns and I shall tell you how I spent one of my early New
"Yes, do, grandfather,"
shouted a happy chorus; "now for a story."
"Not much of a story" replied
Mr Chisholm, "but such as it is you shall have it. I was born and bred in
the country, you know, my father being a small farmer. The district was
half-Lowland, half-Highland, and we mixed the customs of both. At that time
shinty was a universal winter game, and greatly we prided ourselves on our
smartness at the sport. And it was a sport that required a great deal of
smartness, activity, strength, presence of mind, and a quick sure eye. Many
a moonlight night did the lads contend for the honour of hailing the ball.
On this particular day there was to be a match between two districts—twenty
men a-side, and the stake £5 and a gallon of whisky. Our leader was a
carpenter, named Paterson, who was the hero of many a keenly contested
"The eagerly expected morning
at last arrived. The New Year was taken in by the young folk trying for
their fortune in 'sooans.' Bless me bairns, don't you know what sooans' is?
No; then the thin sooans was made for drinking like good thick gruel; the
thick was like porridge, but that we never took on a Christmas or New Year
morning. About four o'clock I came down to the kitchen, and there found my
mother superintending the boiling of the sooans,' and the place filled with
the servants, girls, and men, and some of our neighbours. My friend
Paterson, who had an' eye to one of the servants (a pretty country lassie)
had walked four miles to be present. Wishing them all a happy Christmas I
sat down to share the `sooans' with the rest.
"Well Paterson,' said I, 'how
do you feel this morning Nothing, I hope, to interfere with your running
"No thank ye, Willie,' said
he, I'm as supple as a deer.'
"Supple enough,' said one of
the men with a grin ; he was here first this morning. Wasn't he, Maggie?'
""Twould be lang afore ye
were first,' retorted Maggie; the laziest loon on the whole country side.'
"By this time the sooans'
were ready, and we were all unceremoniously turned out of doors. In our
absence ten bowls were filled. In two of these a ring was placed,
signifying, of course, speedy marriage; a shilling put into two others
represented the old bachelor or old maicr; and a half-crown in another
represented riches. Called in, we had each to choose a dish, beginning at
the youngest. Great was the merriment as we drained our dishes, but at the
last mouthful or two we paused, as if afraid to peer into dark futurity.
"Here goes,' exclaimed
Paterson first of all, and he emptied his dish. At the bottom lay a
shilling, which he exhibited amidst a general shout of laughter.
"`What have you got Maggie,'
was the next exclamation. With a titter Maggie produced a ring.
"And here's the other ring'
cried Jock, the laziest loon in the country side.' Maggie, you're my lass
for this year any-way.'
"Maggie tossed her head in
"I'll try my luck now,' said
I, and drained my dish. My luck was to get the second shilling. So you see
wife, though I got you I was intended to be a bachelor. The half-crown, I
think, fell to a man who could never keep a sixpence in his purse.
"After breakfast we started
for the place of meeting. Our men joined us one by one, and many more came
to see the game. As we passed the cottages the girls called to us to see
that we supported the honour of the place, and returned victorious, to which
we replied ay, that we will,' and flourished our clubs with vigour. Before
we reached the appointed ground the procession had greatly increased in
numbers, and a large crowd at the spot welcomed us with tossing up of
bonnets and rounds of cheering. Soon afterwards our opponents arrived,
headed by a piper, and their leader Jack Macdonald. Their appearance also
excited hearty cheering, and preliminaries were soon arranged.
"The sides were very equally
matched. Macdonald was an active young ploughman, who came neatly dressed in
a velveteen jacket and corduroy trousers, the latter adorned with rows of
buttons. Paterson, of course, was our mainstay; and besides him, we had an
innkeeper, as stout and round as one of his own barrels, who, singular to
say, was a capital shinty player. Our opponents had the assistance of an
enthusiastic ! schoolmaster, who, even in those days, encouraged sports
among his pupils, in spite of the remonstrances of some of the wiseacres.
Our clubs were carefully selected. Some preferred a sharp square crook, some
a round one, just as they happened to excel in hitting or birling'—that is,
in getting the ball within the bend, and running it along upon the ground.
The ball, composed of cork and worsted, was at once strong and elastic.
"The hails, four hundred
yards apart, were duly measured out and marked by upright poles. Then the
players ranged themselves in the centre of the field, Macdonald and Paterson
hand to hand; and at the understood sign the ball was thrown down and the
strife commenced. I don't know whether the rules were the same in all
places, but with us no kicking or throwing of the ball was allowed. We could
stop it by any means we pleased, but we could strike it forward only with
our clubs. The players were ranged in opposing ranks; and it was against all
rule for a player, even in the heat of contest, to turn round to his
opponents' side, though he might, by so doing, obtain a more convenient
stroke. Should such a thing happen, the roar of "Clipsides ye" from a dozen
throats, and the thwack of two or three clubs on his legs would soon apprise
the unlucky individual of his fault.
"As long as the ball was in
the midst of the players there was great scrambling and confusion. The lads
pushed and shouted; club stuck fast in club; and the ball was tossed from
side to side without any advantage to either party. Paterson watched his
opportunity, and cleverly picking the ball from the other clubs, he gave it
a hasty stroke which brought it close to me, eagerly waiting for it outside
the thick of battle. In a moment I had caught it, and sped along the field,
'birling' rather than hitting, followed by the whole troop, cheered by my
friends and stormed at by my opponents. Macdonald, rushing fast and furious,
first came up and seized my club with his as I was about to administer a
stroke. For a second or two we were both helpless; Macdonald first succeeded
in extricating his weapon, and struck .the ball backwards two or three
yards. The other players were almost upon us, when I struck up Macdonald's
club, caught the ball again and shot a-head. Macdonald overtook me with a
few bounds, for he was now thoroughly roused and heated; but stretching too
far to hit the ball he fell on his knee. The schoolmaster, however, was now
upon me, and the ball was hurled back by him among the troop of players.
Macdonald had sprung to his feet almost in an instant, and darted back to
"Again the scene of confusion
recommenced: Backwards and for-wards, backwards paid forwards, swayed the
excited crowd, every face flushed, and every muscle strained to the utmost.
Shins and arms received some awkward blows in the strife, but no one cared
as long as the injuries were unimportant. Macdonald at last succeeded in
pulling out the ball, and getting it for a moment into a clear space, he
delivered a tremendous blow, which drove it far on the road to hail. There
was a race who should reach it first. Paterson succeeded, and drove the ball
far down the field, but out of the direct way and into a whin bush. Hands,'
shouted his nearest opponent; and at this call the stout innkeeper, who was
nearest the bush, caught up the ball and brought it into the open field.
"High or low' said the
innkeeper, holding his club in his right hand and the ball in his left.
"'High,' said his opponent.
"The ball was immediately
thrown into the air and both tried to strike it as it fell. The innkeeper
was successful, but the blow was necessarily a feeble one, and carried the
ball but a few yards.
"The contest continued during
the greater part of the day, neither side being able to claim a decided
advantage. During a momentary pause Paterson fhaig off his boots, sharp
frost as it was, and was followed by Macdonald, the innkeeper, and myself.
The innkeeper freely regaled himself from his pocket-flask, and actually
became more eager and active. Late in the afternoon he got a-head with the
ball, and skipped forward, sometimes thirling and sometimes hittinf, it,
until he was within twenty yards of hail. Another blow would have finished
the match, when Macdonald caught the ball and ran back with it, most
wonderfully eluding all the clubs, now wielded by arms for the most part
greatly fatigued. Paterson, thrown off his guard by the suddenness of the
movement, was left behind. The innkeeper pursued Macdonald closely—so
closely, indeed, that his bulky body obstructed all movements but his own.
Macdonald was in high spirits, when, running against an opponent in front,
he turned round for a moment to our side to secure a better stroke. The
innkeeper, foaming with rage and disappointment, roared out 'Clip- sides
ye,' and administered a blow to Macdonald's leg that caused him to halt for
an instant. That halt was fatal. I darted past and hoisted the ball to
Paterson, who seized it and carried it easily through the now scattered
ranks of our opponents. Once out into the open field it was a direct chase.
Paterson had better wind than any man on the field, and having got so far
ahead he made the most of his advantage. Macdonald pursued him hotly. Twice
he came up with Paterson, twice he struck at the ball, and both times struck
the ground just as the object of his pursuit was carried forward by our
leader's weapon. After that all was over. Paterson took the ball to within
twenty yards of hail, and then with a well-directed blow sent it between the
winning posts. A loud shout rent the air. In the excitement of the moment I
attempted leapfrog over the stout innkeeper, and both came to the ground.
"After this the whisky was
broached, and mutual healths followed. The game had been so well contested
that there was no ill-feeling; and we promised to give our opponents an
opportunity of revenge another day. Late at night we returned to my father's
house, where a good supper was spread for us in the barn. A hearty dance
followed, and so New Year's Day, old style, came to a close. Don't you think
it was a jovial day?"
"Not a doubt about it" said
Bill, "only the sport was rather rough. Do you really mean to say that you
threw off your boots for the play?"
"That we did my boy in the
heat of the match, and it was not so unusual as you may suppose. Highlanders
were tough lads in those days, and they didn't fear a blow or a bruise."
"Did many accidents happen?"
asked Bill. "When clubs were swinging about freely I should think heads were
"Serious accidents were rare"
replied Mr Chisholm. "Ankles and legs and hands did get some smart knocks,
but heads generally escaped. In the thick of the strife there was no use
swinging clubs in the air. We could only push and thrust, and pull the ball
out with the crook. In a race we struck as we ran, giving short rapid
strokes and. when a player delivered a sweeping blow, he had generally space
for the swing of his club. I remember a boy getting his face laid open by an
awkward fellow; but such an occurrence was rare among experienced players.
We could handle our clubs as you handle your guns—scientifically. There are
not usually many casualties at a shooting match—eh Bill?"
"But, grandfather, what came
of Paterson ?" asked little Mary. "Did he marry Maggie?"
"Oh, that's the subject of
interest to you, lassie. No, he didn't. Women are always contrary. Maggie
married the lazy loon' Jock ; he made the most of his good fortune in
getting the ring, and the marriage was long cited as a proof of the
unfailing certainty of the oracle."
"Grandfather," cried Henry,
"have you made us the totum? Didn't you used to play the totem on New Year's
"That we did boy" said Mr
Chisholm. "The youngsters thought it a capital game, and the elders did not
refuse to join in it. Yes, Harry, I made you the totum, and by-and-bye we
shall have a game."
"Let us have it now" cried
the children springing up in eager excitement. "Let us have it now; we have
all brought our pins."
Mr Chisholm cheerfully
acquiesced. The group gathered round a little table, each with a stock of
pins displayed, to be staked on the game' now about to be commenced. Look at
the totum as Harry takes it up and balances it between the thumb and second
finger of the right hand.' It is only a piece of wood about half an inch
long, cut away to a sharp' point below, and having a slender spike thrust in
at the top to serve as a. handle. It is four square, and a letter is carved
on each side—namely,. "T," "D", N," and "A." Each player stakes a single
pin, and each in rotation gets his chance of whirling the totum. If, after
whirling, the totum falls with the letter "A" uppermost, all the stakes
become the, prize of the player; if "T" is the uppermost letter he only
takes one; if: "N" appears he gets nothing at all; while "D " obliges him to
contribute a pin from his private stock to the heap in the centre. Every
whirl comes to be watched with as much eagerness as if a fortune depended on
The nature of the game having
been made sufficiently plain, Mr Chisholm leads off with a whirl which sends
the totum spinning round so fast as to be almost invisible; but gradually
relaxing its speed it falls at last, exposing upon its upper surface the
letter "N," carved, if not with elegance, at least with sufficient plainness
to show that it is a veritable "N" and no other letter of the alphabet.
"Nickle nothing," shout the
children, as they clap their hands with delight.
Then Harry takes his turn. He
holds the totum very carefully be-tween his finger and thumb, poising it
with intense gravity; then looks at the letter next him, twirls the toy
backward and forward, and finally propels it by a sudden jerk from his
finaers. It whirls like a top for a few seconds, watched by eager faces, and
°ultimately falls with the letter "D" uppermost.
"D put down" bursts from the
merry group ; and the boy looks very disappointed as he withdraws a pin from
his private stock and places it among the general deposit. Grandfather
enters into the fun with as much enthusiasm as the children, and the spirit
of gambling has taken possession of the New Year party.
The smallest girl—four years
old—next takes the totum. She places it between the thumb and forefinger,
screws her mouth to make an effort, and placing the point on the table gives
it a whirl. It goes round three or four times with a convulsive staggering
motion, and at last falls, "A" uppermost, amidst a general shout of laughter
"A, take them all—Lizzy has
got the pins"—and the surprised and happy child, proud of her success,
gathers the heap to her own stock, while the others each replace a stake.
So the lively little game
proceeds amidst varying success. Possessions grow and diminish as the totum
makes its rounds; and before the game ends Mr Chisholm is reduced to his
last pin. He holds it up with rueful countenance, confessing himself a
ruined man, while the children clutch their treasures, and boast of their
"Grandfather is beaten—is
beaten at the totum" cried Mary as her father and mother at length
arrived."He showed us how to play, and look at the pins we have gained."
"May you always be as happy
with your gains," said the old man resuming his paternal attitude. "Now you
know how we spent our Old New Years. Sooans and shinty, and the totum—they
were all simple maybe, but there was pleasure in them all. Many a heart was
lost at the sooans; many a hand made strong at shinty; and many a little
head got its first notion of worldly competition from the totum. Take your
seats, boys and girls, for here's the tea!"
Shinty - 1985 Camanach Cup Final
It's all to play for in the Glenmorangie Shinty Camanach Cup Final on the
banks of the river Spey. Playing for the trophy today are cup holders
Kingussie, and hoping to stop them from gaining a ninth Camanach Cup victory
are the favourites and visitors, Newtonmore.
This article came from the
Scotsman Newspaper on 24th October 2013.
A new chapter is being written in sporting history with the launch of a new
hybrid game of Scottish Shinty and Irish Hurling, called Iomain.
For 120 years Scotland and Ireland have competed in challenge matches
involving a mix of Shinty and Hurling and now the new game, which could
re-write the rules, is to be piloted following the televised Marine Harvest
Shinty/Hurling international Series match at Croke Park in Dublin on
Officials have returned to the origins of both sports to develop the concept
with the word ‘Iomain’ being one of the Gaelic words for both Shinty and
However, in a major break from tradition which has lasted over a century,
players will use a universal stick that is neither a Scottish caman or Irish
Presently, the hickory stick or ‘caman’, is a thinner wedged club evolved
for ground play while the ash hurley is a flatter bladed stick designed for
The stick which will be used in Saturday’s demonstration has been developed
by highland caman producer, Alan MacPherson, in conjunction with Irish
hurley maker, Michael Barron.
The bottom third of the stick will be the same dimension and design for both
teams with the design and length of handle being optional.
In a further shift from modern composite rules, only goals will count rather
than hits over the cross-bar; a significant departure for the Irish.
The idea has been developed by the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) in
Ireland in conjunction with the Camanachd Association in Scotland, with the
Irish seeking to reintroduce the forgotten art of ground hurling.
And although Iomain may not immediately suit all the purists, officials on
both sides of the Irish Sea believe it could spread beyond traditional
Donald Stewart of the Camanachd Association said: “The ten minute
demonstration game on Saturday could represent the first step towards an
exciting progression for Shinty outside of Scotland, where it is an aim that
it is played among the diaspora.
“The GAA wishes to introduce a game of ground hurling around the world to
increase participation, particularly at youth level, and the Camanachd
Association similarly wishes to promote Shinty with the GAA’s support.
He added: “We’d like one day to play other internationals against other
Iomain is the root source from which both Gaelic stick and ball games
descended although the game has evolved differently on either side of the
The first recorded Shinty/Hurling challenge between Scots and Irish was in
5th Century AD but the first recognised mixed rules game was at Celtic Park
Since then, an agreed set of compromise rules have enabled the two nations
to face each other on a regular basis, although never with the same stick.
Pat Daly, Director of Gaelic Games at The GAA, says a re-unified game could
be popular wherever Scots and Irish expats have settled in the world.
“Ground hurling was a big part of the game in Ireland right up to the 1980s
and 1990s but is pretty redundant now.
“We felt it was incumbent on both countries to look at the sport’s origins
and take it back to the essence of both games.
“Having one stick would also enable us to potentially internationalise the
sport. We recently had hurling teams over to Ireland from Argentina,
Indianapolis and Milwaukee and Iomain would have broad appeal in places like
The demonstration match will take place in the half time break between the
International Rules football match which immediately follows the Shinty/Hurling
Shinty historian Hugh Dan MacLennan feels it is only right to look at the
development of the cross-codes game.
“It is certainly worth assessing and has value as a trial. One of the issues
has always been about finding a truly level playing field and if you can’t
do it by the scoring system, then looking at the equipment seems logical.”
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