(Hutchinson, R. 1989. Camanachd: The Story of Shinty. Mainstream Publishing)
It is very likely that sports involving hitting a ball with a curved stick were played in a number of different places around the world. Hutchinson shows us that such a game was being played in Athens in the fifth century BC. And that a sport called camanachd was being played in sixth, seventh and eighth centuries. Shinty and hurling, as played in Ireland today, certainly have the same historical roots.
Somewhere along the line of its development into the sport it is today, shinty was linked to training warriors. It was seen to be the perfect way to develop the skills that would be needed in battle. More relevant for 21st century society is the fact that shinty was also seen as the ideal activity through which to learn skills in team-working and to develop positive attitudes and behaviours that would serve people well in their lives. The present-day sport still holds these attributes as important.
In Scotland shinty developed as a sport played by people within one community, sometimes competing against people from another community.
These competitive matches used to take place on particular festival days, such as New Year’s Day. At that time, there were no restrictions on how many people could be in each team and no written rules.
The move to shinty becoming a more organised sport coincided with the emergence of the industrialised society and increased mobility amongst the people of Scotland. Emigrants to Canada took their sport with them and in the harsh winters played on ice – from which the sport of Ice Hockey was born. The eminent shinty historian Dr Hugh Dan MacLennan has also shown that Scots emigrating to the industrial cities of England set up shinty clubs that also incorporated football (soccer). Some of these clubs, such as Chelsea and Manchester United went on to become some of the biggest football teams in the world.
The development of any sport is an evolutionary process. And shinty is no different. As shinty started to get organised as a national sport in the late 19th century, one of the rules was that there could be 16 players in a team and that the field of play could be up to 300 yards (275m) long. The current rules of play show how that has changed.
Shinty will continue to evolve as a sport. That’s the way to make sure it remains relevant and attractive to young people.