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Monday 21 January 2013

Making Shinty Sticks

Whilst visiting Badenoch in the summer of 1952, Calum Maclean gathered in a few details about what domestic life would have been like for previous generations. On the 25th of July, 1952, Maclean recorded a short anecdote in English from a Mrs Ferguson from Laggan (Lagan Choinnich) about how her father used to manufacture shinty sticks known in Gaelic as a caman.

My father used to make clubs. He would cut down a tree with the shape of a club, that had a bend in it, you know. He took it home. He would cut it again the size that the club ought to be the length, you know. The part that was to be in it had a sort of bend in it. And he would put that at the back of the fire for two or three days, not burning but on the fire in a way, but not letting it burn out but with the heat of the fire it made the wood bend. They could bend it with their hands, you know, with the heat of the fire. So they made their own clubs always. And very good clubs they were as far as strength was concerned, but I don't know if they were as good for playing as the bought ones, you know, but they could do it all right.
Maclean wrote of his visit to Mrs Ferguson on the 27th of July as follows:

After lunchtime, I went over to visit Mrs Ferguson, an old woman. I went over to see her about three o’clock in the afternoon. She’s a handsome old woman and is aged about ninety. She was brought up in Laggan and speaks Gaelic. I took down a short anecdote from her but I didn’t wish to do more than that on the first day at all. After I returned home I spent a while transcribing. After that I went over to visit Donald Finlayson. I was there until around midnight.

No mention is made by the informant about the type of wood that was used but traditionally the caman was made from ash, and, these days, hickory is also used. Maclean was an enthusiastic fan of shinty and its Irish equivalent hurley. Recalling Maclean’s last trip to Dublin, Seán Ó Súilleabháin (1903–1996), a colleague and close friend, wrote of how they spent their last week together:

In 1957 Calum lost his left arm in an operation. By that time too, his hearing had become still more impaired, but he bore these afflictions with stoic courage, and even his sense of humour survived. He wrote to me in the summer of 1958 to say that he wished to come to Dublin to see the All-Ireland Hurling Final at Croke Park. We went to the game together, and he spent a week with me, renewing old acquaintances, still gay and laughing as had been his wont.

Calum I. Maclean, The Highlands (Inbhir Nis: Club Leabhar, 1975)
SSS NB 14, pp. 1225–26

Shinty sticks / Camain

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