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Issue 42 - Everything you need to know about ... Shinty

History & Heritage

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Scotland Magazine Issue 42
December 2008


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Everything you need to know about ... Shinty

The game of Shinty was brought to Scotland by the first Celtic settlers from Ireland as early as the first millennium, and bears a striking similarity to the Irish sport of Hurling, which is also known to have existed for at least 2,000 years. Today, Shinty (Camanachd or Iomain in Gaelic) is found almost exclusively in the Highlands of Scotland, a fast moving team sport which is played with sticks and a ball.

Although there are certainly similarities, the more widely enjoyed Field Hockey differs from Shinty in that Shinty players are allowed to hit the ball in mid air, providing it is directly overhead, and to use both sides of their stick, which is known as a ‘Caman.’ Unlike the Irish Caman, the Shinty Caman has no blade, and although made of wood with a hook on it, there is no metal attached to it. In olden days on the island of Uist, stalks of seaweed were used in the absence of tree-wood.

Camans can be used to tackle and block, although players are not permitted to hack, in other words to come down on an opponent’s stick. Only the goalkeeper is allowed to use his hands, and then only the open palm. Playing the ball with the head, aside from being singularly painful, constitutes a foul which results in a free hit.

Tackling is allowed, but only when it is shoulder-to-shoulder.

Shinty Teams are made up of between six and 12 players per side, including a goalkeeper, and, similar to other ball games, the object is to play a small ball into a 12 feet across and 10 feet high goal situated at the end of a 140 yard pitch.

Matches are played over two halves of 45 minutes.

All of this makes for an energetic and frenzied outdoor sport, ideal for keeping warm over the cold winter months, which was when it traditionally took place.

Thereafter, with the flow of Scottish migration to the Americas over the 18th and 19th centuries, it was to have a major influence on the introduction of Ice Hockey in Canada.

Shinty Clubs in Scotland continue to compete on a north to south basis, the geographical divide being Ballachulish in Argyll. Today, there is League Shinty and Cup Shinty, and the premier national competition in Scotland, is the Scottish Cup, otherwise known as the Camanachd Association Challenge. Several clubs run second teams which also compete in the lower leagues against clubs with only one senior side.

Over the past 20 years, Kingussie has been the dominant team in League Shinty winning more than 20 consecutive championships. Fort William gained the title in 2006, but Kingussie regained it in 2007. As part of the Highland 2007 Festival, the final of the Camanachd Cup, the premier national competition, was fought at the Bught Park in Inverness between Fort William and Inveraray, with Fort William the winner 3-1. As a tribute to their origins, annual international matches are held on a home and away basis between Hurling teams from Ireland and Shinty teams from Scotland.

In 2003, it was decided that a Summer Shinty Season would be introduced over a trial period of two year. This proved so successful that in 2005, an Extraordinary General Meeting of Scottish Shinty Clubs voted in favour of this continuing.

Although considered to be primarily of a Scottish Highland provenance, Shinty Clubs now exist in both Edinburgh and Glasgow, and there is even the London Camanachd in England. Shinty was introduced to New Zealand and Australia by Scottish immigrants, and has recently enjoyed a revival in America, with teams such as Northern California Camanachd Club, the Houston Camanachd Club, the Washington Camanachd Club, and the Dunedin Camanachd (Florida) The Camanachd Association came into being in Scotland in 1893 to unite the different codes and rules being employed by players scattered throughout the Highlands.