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‘The Shinty Boy’ by Duncan MacGregor Whyte (1866 – 1953)

‘The Shinty Boy’ by Scottish painter Duncan MacGregor Whyte (1866 – 1953). Portrait of the artist’s son.

Shinty, the popular name for Camanachd, is derived from the Irish game of hurling and is the native stick and ball game of the Scottish Highlands. Originally the same game was played in both countries, but the two games drifted apart over the centuries to develope separate identities. Modern shinty is played twelve a side. The duration of the game is ninety minutes, forty-five minutes each was on a field 140-200 yds. X 70-100 yds. (128-182m. x 64-83m.).

The sticks used are called Camans – as in Irish hurling – and the object of the game, in common with hurling, is to get the ball through the opposing goal. These are known as ‘hails’ and are formed by goal posts 12ft. (3.7m) wide and 10ft (3.048m.) high with a cross bar. Shinty also has much in common with hockey, and to a lesser degree with lacrosse. The camans are shorter than hockey sticks with a heavier blade but the broad blade of Irish hurling is unknown in Scotland.

The game of shinty is probably faster and more violent than hockey and there is no ‘sticks’ rule – players can strike with either side of the caman – and an attacker is offside only if standing in the opposing ten yard area when the ball enters it.Although the game has been ‘toned down’ since it’s violent early days, shinty is still very tough as well as skilful.

This is illustrated by an interesting discourse which took place in the House of Commons in 1950 between Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton (Conservative, Inverness), and the late Hugh Gaitskell (1906-1963), when the latter was Chancellor of the Exchequer. Lord Douglas-Hamilton asked the Chancellor if he would consider remitting the purchase tax on shinty sticks in the forthcoming Budget to which the Chancellor, in the true evasive manner practiced by all experienced politicians, refused to commit himself. Lord Douglas-Hamilton preserved: ‘Are you aware that the old Highland game of shinty perused with its customary vigour does often involve the breaking of sticks and the high cost of replacement is in danger of impairing this vigour?’

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