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Tuesday 22 January 2013

Shinty at New Year

It was common practice in the Highlands and Islands and wherever the Gaels happened to find themselves or meet to play a game of shinty in order to celebrate the New Year. On the 27th of July, 1952, Maclean recorded a short anecdote in English from Donald MacDonald, then aged seventy-five years of age, who stayed in Laggan, Badenoch about the ancient sport of shinty:

I remember the old ball play. There might be fifty playing at one time, playing all together perhaps. They would probably draw out a big team both sides. They played shinty something like what they do today, but it was a “ball gaoisid” that they had made of hair, not leather. Oh! I remember it well. It wouldn’t go very far when you hit it. It would be heavy. When I remember shinty first there was always sixteen men a side. It was cut down after that to twelve. They always played shinty on New Year’s day. You see there was various people that were well-to-do and they would give them a day at shinty. They would give them the whiskey anyway. They used to give them the whiskey. Perhaps one man would have Christmas day, another man would have New Year's day. Sometimes they played parish against parish. I believe they played here, Laggan and Newtonmore at one time, I remember one old story about a man. They were playing on the Eilean and he took the ball of the Eilean up over Calder Bridge, a Laggan man. He took the ball with him. This man took it home with him. He took it off the field all together and left them all there. He took the ball up over the bridge. Probably he was on his own territory by that time. He won the game. There would probably be twenty on a side. There were not so many rules and regulations. The fastest and strongest man was the best, one that would throw every other man about. There was no nets or anything on the goals in those days, just two posts. There was no fouls. That all stopped over sixty years ago. I was very, very young, when it stopped. They called it “cluich iomain” in Gaelic. The clubs were mostly birch. They were home-made. If they were seasoned, they wouldn’t be so bad. I had one myself made of willow. It was light. I had it for a long time. It was home-made, of course. It was my father that made it. I wasn’t very old, when the leather ball started. I would be something in my teens, when they started with the leather ball. Before that they had one of horse-hair and wool, of course. Perhaps it was drawn out of an old stocking for all I know. It was very heavy.
Being a shinty fan himself, Maclean mentions the popularity of the sport in his book The Highlands:

The villages of Newtonmore and Kingussie have long been nurseries of shinty teams and noted players. The Newtonmore club has won the Scottish shinty trophy more often than any other club. The last time I was in Newtonmore the Scottish Cup and several other trophies were displayed in a shop window on the main street. In many homes there pictures of noted teams of the past were proudly shown, in many cases teams dating back to the years 1905 and 1906 and the years immediately preceding the First World War, when the late Dr John Cattanach, subsequently killed on active service, was a member of the team. Over forty years have gone since Dr John Cattanach played for Newtonmore, but he is still remembered and will be as long as shinty is played in Badenoch. Shinty will be played in Badenoch for a long while yet, as I observed during my stay at Newtonmore. Although it is principally a winter game, I noticed youngsters who had hardly reached school age going about with their camain (clubs) during the long summer evenings. Matches between the rival adjacent villages of Kingussie and Newtonmore are attended with great enthusiasm.

Calum I. Maclean, The Highlands (Inbhir Nis: Club Leabhar, 1975)
SSS NB 14, pp. 1217–19

Highlanders playing shinty

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