Credit: Glasgow University Shinty Club via Facebook

Shinty and Scottish Culture

By Natasha Coyle

Shinty played a key role in the development of sporting leisure activities in Scotland’s recent history.

Shinty is a sport entangled with Scottish history and culture. Shinty resembles field hockey in many ways, however, a key difference is that a player can use both sides of their stick, which is called a caman, to hit the ball. The ball can also be hit in the air. The historical origins of the sport that connect it to local communities in Scotland ensures that shinty lives in the minds of many Scots and is still a well-loved leisure activity for many.

Shinty became an organised sport as a result of greater industrialisation in Scotland and the increased mobility of the Scottish people. In Scotland, shinty was played by local communities and competitions were often against two different local communities. Somewhere along the line of shinty’s development as a sport, shinty was linked with training warriors and was seen as the ideal way to develop battle skills that would be needed in war. Since then, the shinty Premier Division league was formed in 1996 and involves ten teams. There are approximately 2,000 active shinty players in Scotland, and between 2,500 and 3,000 members of the Camanachd Association.

The distinction between work and leisure in 19th Century Scotland became sharper as a result of shift work, the introduction of Greenwich Mean Time in 1884, and the increased number of public leisure spaces meant that sporting events adapted to changes in capitalism and economics. A game of shinty takes 45 minutes to play and requires 12 players. Not only is a game of shinty economically time-friendly, but it instils a community work ethic into the players. For 19th Century employers—and even in our own society—they saw the value of sports such as shinty which taught their players the benefits of great teamwork. Certainly in 19th Century Scotland, work and leisure spaces were interconnected despite a clearer line forming between the two. In today’s society, shinty is still loved and played by hundreds in Scotland and is a favourite leisure activity for many.

The Camanachd Association came into being in 1893 as the official government sporting body for shinty in Scotland. The association established a formal set of rules and provided a framework for organising shinty competitions at a national level.

Shinty also played a vital role in the development of ice hockey in Canada. When many Scots (along with other Brits and Irish) emigrated to Canada in the 18th and 19th Centuries, they continued to play shinty but did so on the icy surfaces in regions such as Nova Scotia. And so ice hockey developed. Its origins are a combination of hurling and shinty.

If you’re interested in becoming involved in the sport, Glasgow University Shinty Club is open to new members and runs sessions every Wednesday. For more information, check out their social media @GUShinty.


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