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The first combined shinty/hurling match 1897

Fad air ais ann an ceò na h-eachdraidh, thàinig laoch a dh'Alba a Eireann. Le tri ceumanan mòra, thàinig e na chruinn-leum bho fhaicheanan na h-Eireann Chun Eilein Sgiathanaich. Crochte ri gach sliasaid agus e na shiubhal bha ceithir fichead neach : ceithir fichead eile air gach gàirdean: naoinear eile gan toinnemh na fhalt. Thàinig e a dh'Alba ga fhòghlam air altruim còmhla ris a' Bhànrigh Sgàthach; a dh'ionnsachadh armachd agus gaol. Mar thiodhlag, thug e an gèam camanachd do mhuinntir na h-Alba.

Shinty in London

© SCRAN

Way back in the mists of time, a hero came to Scotland from Ireland. With three massive steps, he came bounding over from the green swards of the Emerald Isle to the Isle of Skye. Hanging off his thighs and travelling with him were 80 other people: 80 more on each arm; nine more spinning in his hair. He came to Scotland to compete his education as a fosterling with the Warrior Queen Sgathach; to learn to battle and love. As a gift in return, he gave the game of shinty to Scotland.

The common heritage – the mythical part at any rate - of shinty and hurling can be traced back 2,000 years. The parting of the ways came much more recently when both were formally codified. The establishment of shinty's ruling body the Camanachd Association (1893) and the Gaelic Athletic Association in Ireland (1884) should be seen in the context of prevailing conditions in two quite separate and distinct environments.

In Ireland, the great mass of the people had been demoralised throughout the years of colonialism and particularly as a consequence of the Great Famine of the 19th century. The Famine had destroyed everything and hurling suffered a disastrous decline in the decades following Irish famines of the late 1840s.

In Scotland the impact of the Clearances was severe also, but remarkably, towards the end of the century, there was an element of cross-fertilisation between the two stick codes. A frenetic rash of activity culminated in the first ever shinty/hurling “international in Glasgow in 1897.

That this event ever took place was due in no small part top two key people, John Murdoch in Scotland and Michael Cusack in Ireland, both of whom were involved with newspapers, the Highlander in Scotland and The Celtic Times which was a unique venture in Irish sporting journalism, running for the whole of the year 1887.

In that year Cusack donated the Celtic Times Challenge Cup for an annual hurling versus shinty game which is understood to have taken place intermittently in Dublin at least up to 1919.

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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