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Issue 46 - Where to discover... Shinty

Scotland Magazine Issue 46
August 2009


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Where to discover... Shinty

Shinty is an ancient sport played almost exclusively in Scotland, but it's not for the faint-hearted. Dominic Roskrow reports.

As sports go, shinty is at the hairy, muscley end of the spectrum.

When it’s played at its most frenetic and full-blooded, it requires guts, strength and skill in equal measure. It is awesome in the truest sense of the word, a sport as rough and rugged as the Highland landscape that originally produced it. A shinty ball may travel at 100 miles an hour and control of it requires the deftest of touches and the sharpest of reactions.

But there is another side to the sport. In recent years it has grown from its traditional base and captured the imagination of a crosssection of people, and increasingly the sport is being played by women, children and teenagers. It has spread over Scotland’s borders, too, with clubs in England, Canada and America.

While shinty has developed as a uniquely Scottish sport, its origins are almost certainly based in other games, most notably hurling in Ireland. It is very likely that sports involving hitting a ball with a curved stick were played in a number of different places around the world. There is evidence that such a game was being played in Athens in the fifth century BC, and that a sport called camanachd was being played in sixth, seventh and eighth centuries.

It is likely that shinty was linked to training warriors, regarded as the perfect way to develop the skills that would be needed in battle and to learn skills in team-working and positive attitudes and behaviours that would serve people well in their lives. The present-day sport still holds these attributes as important.

In Scotland shinty developed as a sport which was played within one community, sometimes resulting in competition against people from other areas. These competitive matches used to take place on particular festival days, such as New Year’s Day. At that time, there were no restrictions on how many people could be in each team and no written rules.

The move to shinty becoming a more organised sport coincided with the emergence of the industrialised society and increased mobility amongst the people of Scotland. Emigrants to Canada took their sport with them and in the harsh winters played on ice – from which the sport of ice hockey was born.

Today’s version of shinty is still evolving but the sport is growing in popularity.

Today’s game is normally played on an outdoor surface that can be up to 155 metres long, and is similar in many ways to hockey, with the object to score more goals than your opponents. The game is played by two teams of players striking a small leather ball with a curved stick, known as a caman. In men’s shinty there are 12 players in each team – one of whom is always the goalkeeper.

In women’s shinty and in some competitions for children and young people, there are fewer players in the team and the pitch dimensions are smaller.

Watching shinty Shinty is played competitively from March to September and the game is structured in to a number of league divisions and there are also a number of cup tournaments. Full details of when and where matches are being played can be found at the Camanachd Associations’s website.

Internationally shinty is only just developing but in October there is an annual match is now played between a Scottish shinty team and a team from the Irish game of hurling (Camogie when played by women). The games have the same historic roots and are broadly similar, although each has evolved in its own way. Acomposite set of rules has been agreed between the Camanachd Association and its Irish counterpart, the Gaelic Athletic Association.

Playing shinty Although shinty is a tough, nocompromising game when played at the highest level it has been deliberately developed to provide playing levels for people of all ages, gender and background.

There are different forms of shinty, from the small-sided game, such as First Shinty for young children taking their first steps in the game to the hugely popular six-a-side tournaments, to the more traditional 12-aside senior game (or 10-a-side in the case of women’s shinty).

Young players start out playing First Shinty which introduces young players to the key skills of the game using rubber headed, flexible camans. As the players progress they move up to the wooden caman and are taught the basic skills of blocking to protect themselves and cleeking, or hooking, to prevent their opponent playing the ball.

From that starting point the game progresses at levels and at every level there are teams across Scotland providing opportunities in an ever increasing number of communities.

For the most talented players, there is a player pathway in place which provides a pyramid of participation levels to bring the player on and promote him or her to higher and higher competitive stages. A player development pathway ensures that players are given the very best opportunities and support to reach their full potential, which at the elite end may mean playing top level shinty and even representing Scotland at many levels from under 16s to adult for both men and women.

Afull list of about 50 clubs can be found at the Camanachd Association’s website.

Most clubs and the Association will provide advice as to what equipment is required from novice to senior level, and the Association also provides a list of shinty equipment suppliers.

More information The Camanachd Association is the governing body for shinty across the world. Based in Inverness, Scotland the Association is focused on working with member clubs to develop a game that is enjoyed by an increasing number of participants, of all ages and abilities both on the field of play and off it.

The Association has an extensive website which explains the rules of the game, lists all clubs and gives details of various competitions and leagues.

Its website is at Above left: Modern games of Shinty Above right: An illustration showing the game being played in the 19th century