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Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Playing Shinty on a Frozen Loch

So keen were the Gaels of yesteryear with regard to playing shinty that they didn’t let severe weather conditions or religious observance get in their way. According to an anecdote recorded on 22nd of August 1952, by Calum Maclean from James MacDonald, then aged seventy, and who originally belonged to Balnain, Glen Urquhart, but at the time of recording was in Millton, Drumnadrochit, a local minister by the name of Grant had rather a hard time of stopping young lads from playing shinty on a frozen loch and who then made them attend the sermon in the local meeting house:

’S ann ma dhéidhinn na ministearan a tha an rud a bha seo. Tha e air aithris ma dhéidhinn na ministerean a bh’ ann ri latha “patronage” gun robh iad ’nar nàmhaid, mar a theireadh na bodaich. Ach co dhiubh a’ chiad fhear air an cuala mise sgiala dhiubh: bha seanair mo sheanmhar ag aithris gun robh cuimhne aice-se air. Tha mi a’ creidsinn gur h-e Granndach a bh’ ann anns a’ Chill Mhóir. Ach co dhiubh thigeadh e an airsd. Bha e a’ cumail seiribhis anns an taigh-choinni’ an Crasgag. Agas bha a’ chuile balach òg a bha ’sa Bhraighe a seo feasgar na Sàbaid a’ toir leis a’ chamag fo achlais. Thigeadh e dhe muin an eich. Bha e glé reòta aig an am agas bha a’ chluie bhall air Loch Muichdlaidh. Bhiodh e a’ falabh as an déidh agas a Bhioball fo achlais agas casag air – ’s e a bhiodh a’ dul air na ministerean an tràth sin. Bha e a rithist ’gan toir dha’n taigh-choinni’. Chan ’eil fhios agam-’s dé bha e a’ ràdha riutha – an robh iad a’ faighinn cronachdainn na nach robh. Ach bha a’ chlui(ch) bhall ann mus robh an t-searamaid ann.

And the translation goes something like this:

This anecdote is about ministers. It is said ministers in the days of patronage were our enemy, as the old men would say. But at any rate the first story that I heard about it was recalled by my grandmother about her own grandfather. I believe that he [the minister] was a Grant from Kilmore. But anyway he used to come up. They held a service in a meeting house in Crasgag [Kilmartin] and every young lad in the Braes on a Sabbath afternoon would carry their shinty stick under their oxters. He would dismount from the horse. It was very frosty at the time and they played shinty on Loch Muichdlaidh [Loch Meikle]. He would go after them wearing a cassock and he’d carry a Bible under his oxter and try and put a stop to it – that was how minsters behaved back then. He would then make them go to the meeting house. I’ve no idea what he said to them – whether they got a severe telling off or not. But they used to play shinty before the sermon was given.

In his book The Highlands, Maclean gives a brief summary of the above anecdote as follows:

There is little doubt that shinty was played on Sundays in Glen Urquhart over a century ago. James MacDonald of Balnain remembers that an older generation in the glen often spoke of a goodly minister who used to hold services in a church up the glen on Sunday afternoons. Whenever he arrived he found the young men and boys playing shinty in a field near the church. He caught hold of a club, rounded up the players and drove them into church. The young men whiled away the time playing shinty until the minister arrived. They had all come there to attend the service.

One wonders whether the young lads in the congregation whilst listening to the sermon didn’t let their imaginations let slip and wander to more entertaining pursuits. Given that this allegedly happened five generations previously then it would make the historical setting at some point in the early decades of the eighteenth century.

Calum I. Maclean, The Highlands (Inbhir Nis: Club Leabhar, 1975)
SSS NB 17, pp. 1512–13

Loch Meikle / Loch Muichdlaidh

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