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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.

Camanachd Cup 1988

© SCRAN

The match was the culmination of a competition seen as the means of raising the flagging interest in “the fine old Highland pastime of shinty”. The contestants were brilliant exponents of the game, the North versus South dimension an added attraction. Cowal were reported to be travelling with “a terrorising name”. The Badenoch warriors “would grimly fight for the honour that was at stake.”

The match was played at a venue no longer in sporting use in Inverness, a park at Needlefield, a piece of ground situated between Longman Road and Cromwell's Fort, near the current harbour area. The day was practically observed as a holiday in Kingussie. A special train that conveyed the team to Inverness brought over 400 people to see the contest. From the whole Highland area, they gathered in droves, “an unwonted number of wearers of kilt and knickerbocker.” The Glasgow team arrived on Friday night to be in trim for the contest.

On a murky Saturday, drizzling rain rendered the playing pitch slippery. Notwithstanding the charge of a shilling, crowds had flocked to the match, and there were around 1000 in attendance, producing gate receipts of £41.

Teams:
Kingussie: Goal, John Campbell; backs, J. Campbell and A. Macpherson; half-backs, A. Gibson, J. Dallas, and J. Pullar; forwards, I. Grant, A. Cumming, A. Robertson, A. Campbell, and W. Ross (captain). Umpires: Sergeant-Major Macdonald and John Mackenzie.
Cowal: W. Robinson; backs, P. Campbell and D. Martin; half-backs, Dunn, Morrison and John Macinnes; centres, D. Robinson, A. Campbell, and A.B. Ferguson; forwards, Peter Macinnes, Thomas Scott (captain), J. McCorquodale, and A. Crawford. Umpires: D. McCorquodale, and Henderson.
Referee D. P. MacGillivray, Gorbals, Strathdearn

Cowal started well and the Kingussie team looked unsettled. Cowal's striking was sharp and sure. Again and again Dallas of Kingussie, by most determined and really brilliant play, averted danger, frustrating his opponents.

The Badenoch men however began to play to some purpose and with more method. Encouraged by the slogans of their enthusiastic supporters, and with a defence seemingly impregnable, and the Kingussie forwards, no doubt inspired by the brilliant play of their own defence, re-awaken to a sense of their responsibility and opportunity. Ultimately, with a dash and impetuosity that was well nigh irresistible, the men from Badenoch press their opponents, and William Ross has the satisfaction of scoring the first goal for Kingussie, after seventeen minutes' play.
A second followed later when Alex Campbell by way of a scorching shot scored amid the “loud and prolonged demonstrations of the spectators”. The pace never slackened. It was wonderful how the players maintained the high rate of speed and energy required. The ball was carried from one end to the other with the Kingussie defence the outstanding element of their play.
Amidst intense excitement, Kingussie carried away victory, and won the first ever championship by two hails to nil.

News of the victory was received with much satisfaction in Kingussie and district, and the players were accorded an ovation on their return, pipers playing lively airs, and others carrying lighted torches, assembling at the train station, and marching through the town, while bonfires were lighted above the burgh and two on the farm of Dunachton.
Thus shinty's premier trophy, designed by the famous silversmiths of Edinburgh, Hamilton and Inches and sponsored since 1976 by the Glenmorangie Distillery company eventually found its way to Badenoch for the first time where it has been won by Newtonmore and Kingussie on nearly fifty of the occasions the championship has been played. The cup was not ready for the day of the final but that did not diminish the celebrations and it was finally presented to Kingussie in November by their own club Chieftain, Cluny Mcpherson at one of the biggest ever celebrations seen in the village.
The 100th final will be played in Inverness in 2007, taking into account the years during World Wars when no finals were played.

Written by: Hugh Dan MacLennan



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