David Ross reports

on the past and future

of shinty as the

Camanachd Association

celebrates 100 years.

Shinty is at a crossroads. We have to decide whether we are going to

allow it to develop into a modern game or are we going to let it jog

along as something quaint.

Hugh Dan MacLennan

TWO shinty teams will don period costume today to recreate the match

100 years ago that led to the formation of the ancient game's ruling

body, the Camanachd Association.

The confrontation in Kingussie between the home team and Glasgow Cowal

is part of the association's centenary celebrations, but there will be

more than nostalgia about in the Highland town this afternoon, according

to Mr Hugh Dan MacLennan, the BBC's ''voice of shinty''.

Mr MacLennan, who has written the association's centenary history

which will be launched in June at the Camanachd Cup final, said:

''Shinty is at a crossroads.

''We have to decide whether we are going to allow it to develop into a

modern game which can hold its head up in the world of competitive sport

or whether we are going to be content to let it jog along as something

quaint, living in its past and conforming to all the old caricatures of

things Highland.

''There have been some healthy developments through sponsorship, the

Scottish Sport Council appointing a development officer, and, very

importantly, the development of the junior internationals with Irish

hurling teams. To my mind, we have got to go forward.''

Things have certainly gone forward since the origins of the game which

are shrouded in the mists of time and legend.

It is said that Cuchullin, the hero of the Red Branch Gaelic legends

of Ulster, which date to the first century, took to the road as a boy

carrying a ''caman of bronze and ball of silver''.

He subsequently defeated 150 of the youths of Eamhain by catching the

ball between his knees and taking it over the goal line.

As you might expect, this little pleased his opponents and the story

goes: ''They cast their thrice 50 caman at the boy's head. He lifted his

single caman and warded off the thrice 50 sticks. Then, they cast the

thrice 50 balls at him. He warded off the thrice 50 balls.'' Cuchullin

was to display these extraordinary skills in Scotland in between other


Shinty can be linked even to the coming of Christianity to Scotland.

An argument during a game in Ireland led to the son of the King of

Connaught hitting the son of a courtier of the King of Ireland, Diarmid

mac Cerbuill, over the head with his caman and killing him. The young

prince fled to Columba for sanctuary but Diarmid removed him by force

and put him to death. Columba promptly cast off in his curragh for

Dalriada and Iona.

It was men like Columba and his followers who brought Gaelic and

shinty from Ireland. It became an integral part of Scottish social life

from St Kilda to the Borders. On the afternoon of February 12, 1692, the

people of Glencoe played some military ''guests'' who were to rise early

the next day to do their duty.

But the game was to survive better than MacIain's people in Glencoe.

Even in 1769 in the aftermath of Culloden when the Hanoverian government

was dabbling in genocide north of the Highland line, one Thomas Pennant

wrote that most of the ancient sports of the Highlanders had disappeared

with the exception of shinty.

The sport survived royal edicts and it also survived, but less well,

nineteenth-century Presbyterianism which had little time for such

recreational gatherings as sport.

Roger Hutchinson's history of the game, Camanachd, records that the

Rev. Roderick MacLeod, whose ministry in Snizort, Skye, at one time

attracted 3000 people to a Communion Sunday, wrote in 1857: ''I have

raised the standard

against shinty and tobacco''.

For most of the early centuries of shinty, there were little in the

way of rules and matches could involve as many as 30 or 40 on each side.

The quality and nature of the camans varied greatly with some in the

treeless islands using stiff, dried lengths of tangle.

For the book, Glasgow Cowal won 100 years ago but contrary to popular

belief, that was not the last time Kingussie was beaten.