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17 October 2014

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Shinty

Camanachd Cup

The victorious Kingussie team of 1896

© Highland Folk Museum

Shinty, or camanachd, as it is traditionally known in the Gaelic-speaking West Highlands, is an ancient game. Introduced to North-West Scotland along with Christianity and the Gaelic language nearly two thousand years ago by Irish missionaries, the game can legitimately lay claim to being Scotland's national sport.

There is no doubt that the game was popular at various stages virtually nation-wide, from the wind-swept rocks of St Kilda to the more hospitable and gentler plains of the Borders; from Wimbledon Common to Manchester, in a fantasy world of Celtic twilight. Indeed, it is claimed that golf was perhaps born out of shinty players practicing, alone or in pairs, the art of driving the ball with the caman, or stick.

The game is also to be found on the worldwide stage with exiles taking the game to the furthest flung corners of the globe. That shinty has survived the combined assaults of Royal edicts against popular and `uncontrollable' games, as well as the Sabbatarianism following the Reformation and the outlawing of sports on the day of rest is a tribute to the people involved in the setting up of the organisation which drew this intriguing web of wayward strands together in the 1890s - the Camanachd Association, shinty's ruling body.

A series of hugely interesting and memorable exhibition matches in the preceding two decades ago were the immediate catalyst leading to the formation of the Association which has seen shinty develop from a series of loosely organised clubs and structures, into a progressive organisation with some forty clubs competing on a regular basis.
The modern, organised form of shinty therefore is only to be found from the mid to later 19th century. By this time there had been a considerable drift of Highlanders into the towns and cities of the south and clubs began to be formed as a means of retaining territorial identity, as well as for social reasons.

By the end of the century, greater mobility, mainly due to improved means of transport, helped to make the game more popular and gradually games began to be organised between clubs located at considerable distances apart. Gradually the local rivalries began to be replaced with a more competitive, ambitious atmosphere.
It became obvious that rules and regulations were required and, in the spirit of the time, the Camanachd Association was formed in October 1893. Part of the process of organisation was the instigation of formal competition, and the various rounds having been played, the first ever final tie of the Camanachd Association Challenge Trophy took place at Inverness at 3pm on 25th April, 1896 between Kingussie and Glasgow Cowal.

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