A BRIEF HISTORY OF SHINTY
What's older than kilts? Shinty!
Shinty (iomain or camanachd in Scottish Gaelic) is a team sport of the stick and ball variety that has been played in the Scottish Highlands for many generations. Shinty's origins date back nearly 2,000 years, and it can claim hurling as a cousin, and hockey and golf as descendants.
Why haven't I heard of Shinty before?
The Shinty season has traditionally run from Fall to Spring (though this changed in 2004, the season now runs from March to October) and so most folks who visited during summer vacation did not have an opportunity to see the game being played. It is also true that Shinty is not played in all parts of Scotland. The game has close ties with the Gaelic culture and has generally flourished in the Gaidhealtachd. A great many teams can be found in close proximity to the Great Glen, between Inverness and Fort William, and on the West Coast. Teams also exist in other locales, including Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, and St. Andrews.
A brief overview of the rules
Two teams (usually of six or twelve players a side) play on a field of similar proportions and size to a soccer pitch. The players use Camans (hooked/curved sticks with a triangular cross section) to strike the shinty ball, either in the air or on the ground, with the intention of scoring a goal. As in soccer, a goalkeeper guards the goal nets, which measure 12 feet across and 10 feet high. A shinty match is either 30 minutes (for six-a-side) or 90 minutes (for twelve-a-side) in length, divided into two halves with a short break between. A referee regulates play, enforcing rules and calling fouls for illegal and/or dangerous play. There are also side judges and goal judges to assist in calling side-outs, end-outs and goals. A more detailed explanation of the rules can be found elsewhere on the US Camanachd site (here) and a full set of rules and regulations, as well as rules for shinty/hurling hybrid matches, can be found at the Camanachd Association site here.
The history of Shinty
From its earliest days through the late 1800s Shinty matches were often connected with celebrations, particularly on New Years Day, and generally involved the male populations of one parish, village or district playing another. In this sense it has long held an important role in Scottish communities and continued to be played by Highland Immigrants in the Eastern United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Of course "the sport of the Scottish Gaels" also suffered from the same repression that plagued Scottish culture after the 1745 Rebellion, with attempts to legislate against it (along with golf) led both by the Kirk and English authorities. Despite these efforts Shinty has endured to the present day.
The sport has had many regional variants over the years. Beginning in 1869 Shinty clubs began to form and soon District Organizations sprung to life as interest in the sport continued to grow. In 1880 the first set of universal rules was adopted and the foundations of the modern game laid. A leading figure in this renaissance was Capt. Archibald Chisholm, the founder of the Strathglass Club and, in 1893, the first Chief of the Camanachd Association.
Shinty has continued to exist both as a formalized sport, under the auspices of the Camanachd Association, and as a traditional pastime of the Scots at more casual and/or social events. The game was played by Highland Regiments during both World Wars, and WWII POWs from the famous 51st Highland Division even formed teams while being held in Stalag IX. Shinty is currently played in Scotland by many organized teams, and the Camanachd Association oversees a number of leagues for different age groups of both men and women.
What is US Camanachd?
US Camanachd (sponsored by the Northern California Camanachd Club) is intended to function as a clearing house for information about shinty for Americans interested in this Scottish sport, and as a means for geographically diverse U.S. clubs to find one another and establish contact. Furthermore we hope to generate and foster interest in this great sport within the Scottish-American community and the United States in general. We can be contacted most easily via email.
How can I find out more about Shinty?
There are several websites which provide a lot of information about the sport and even photographs of recent matches. A list of on-line and off-line references follows below:
- The Official Camanachd Association website (Scotland)
An amazing amount of information including rules, league standings and extensive photo galleries, as well as further details on the history of the game.
- Hugh Dan MacLennan's writings:
Not An Orchid (HC)
Shinty's Place and Space In World Sport (PDF)
Two wonderful books and an article full of history, illustrations and just about anything you'd want to know about shinty.
- Roger Hutchinson's Camanachd!: The Story of Shinty (TPB) in a new edition
An overview of the history of the sport with a section updating the volume to 2003/4.