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16 October 2014

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The first combined shinty/hurling match 1897

There was clearly some engagement between Scots and Irish in various places in the 1880s but the real resumption of links between Ireland and Scotland towards the end of the 19th century seems to have come about in the aftermath of the formation of the Camanachd Association in 1893. The impetus as far as shinty was concerned came from the cities of Glasgow and London.

On Boxing Day in 1896 at Lea Bridge in London, the most attractive event of the day was a hurling match between a team selected by the County Board and a team from the London Scottish Camanachd Club which lay some claim to "international" status, ending up Ireland 3; Scotland 0.
This was the forerunner of the great event.

In Ireland, in May 1897, it was reported that "the final preparations" for a fixture between Dublin Celtic and Glasgow Cowal in Glasgow were complete. Rules were set and colours chosen for a match reported as "the first between Irish hurlers and Scottish shinty men on Scottish soil". The Celtics left Dublin on Friday evening by the Dublin Life Boat.

This game, which was being looked forward to with much interest by Highlanders in Glasgow, took place on the Saturday afternoon at Parkhead, by kind permission of the Celtic Football Club. "Each combination wielded sticks peculiar to their respective countries. Those of the Irishmen resembling elongated bats. A number of the Irishmen played in their bare feet. Mr. MacFarlane, Oban, ex-president of the Scottish Shinty Association acted as a referee. There was a big crowd of spectators, amongst whom were many well-known Highlanders!"

The Scots made a stunning start to the game and led 8-0 at the interval, with David Chisholm scoring seven of them. A larger size of ball, and one similar to that usually played with in hurling games, was brought out in the second period, and the advantage to the Irishmen was immediately evident. They had, however, to concede defeat in the end by 11 goals to 2.

At the close three cheers were raised by the defeated team for the victors, and were returned by the victors for the losers. The teams and officials of the clubs were afterwards photographed. After the match the members of the Dublin team were entertained to dinner by the Cowal men.

It was immediately reported that a return match was to be played in Dublin on Glasgow Fair Saturday, July 17. This was played in Dublin as scheduled, in front of a poor attendance in "oppressive weather" at the City ground on Suburban Road, Jones Road. The Irish were said to have "made a fair show against the Glasgow men considering the fact that they had never before tried their luck at the game".

The referee was none other than Michael Cusack and Cowal again won, by a reduced margin of two goals to nil.

The difference in the scale of Scotland's victory between the two games has been a mystery which can now be clarified. As the second game was fixed for the Glasgow Fair Holiday, six key Cowal players decided that they would head for Argyll rather than Dublin!

The match was also to be played 15-a-side instead of 12 as in Glasgow, due to the bigger pitch. All this taxed Cowal's resources. The match was reported as one of the most exciting games of shinty or hurling that has ever been seen in Dublin.

The irony was that it was to be another 27 years – in 1924 - before a great game would be played between Irish and Scottish hurlers on Irish soil. By then Ireland itself, never mind camanachd, would be very different.

Thankfully the links established in the 1880s have survived and Ireland now meet Scotland in international challenge matches at a number of levels, including a women's match. One wonders what the great hero himself and the Warrior Queen Sgathach would have thought of it all.

Written by: Hugh Dan MacLennan

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