It’s a double celebration this year with both shinty in Lewis and Harris and the Hebridean Celtic Festival marking special 20th Anniversaries.
This year is the Heb Celt’s 20th and the festival’s links with shinty run back to 2007 when they first provided a trophy for the Hebridean Celtic Festival Cup.
Whilst this year will see the ninth running of the cup, the sport of the Gael was for many years moribund in the Hebrides.
But this year shinty marks a 20th birthday of its own. And to coincide with the Hebridean Celtic Festival, a full week of events are planned, to tie in with the fact that 2015 marks twenty years since the revival of the sport by the late Dr Alasdair Barden at New Year on the Tong pitch.
Two decades later, and the Hebrides plays host to a vibrant local shinty scene, with Camanachd Leòdhais competing weekly in the North leagues and youngsters from the Butt to Barra all having at least some opportunity to play.
The week will tie in well with the Thursday night debut at the Festival of Curaidhean na Camanachd.
‘The Shinty Heroes’ concert has been an acclaimed success since it premiered in Fort William in 2013. It explores the contribution and losses of shinty playing communities in the Great War – and every performance has had a local flavour.
So shinty historian Hugh Dan MacLennan and musical director Gary Innes will be sure to touch on how that the conflict practically wiped out shinty in the 1920s.
Hugh Dan commented: “It is hard to believe that twenty years have gone by since the resurrection of shinty came to the islands. We’ll be taking the opportunity to look back at all that and examine the roots of Hebridean Shinty.
“The anniversary of the Great War has given us the chance to meditate on another world and we use shinty as the backbone of the night to examine how the War destroyed our communities and their sports hand in hand.
“Although there are sad stories, we try to educate people in a fun and interesting way to send them home happy, we’re happy to be connected with both twentieth year festivals and a warm mealaibh an naidheachd to the Dubh is Gorm.”
The night before on Wednesday night, there will be the first shinty action of the week at Bayhead – The Craig Morrison Stornoway Sixes.
This event will be open to all-comers and is an annual celebration of the life of Craig Morrison, an enthusiastic and committed Lewis player who passed away tragically at the age of 20 in 2009.
This event will start at 6.30pm and run until around 9pm, with teams for the island and guests from away also involved.
The youth will be catered for as well with the annual Camanachd Leòdhais Summer Camp at the Smith Avenue Astro from Monday 13th July to Friday 17th July – run in conjunction with the Comhairle’s Motiv8 programme.
The 20th Anniversary Week will culminate with the renowned HebCelt Cup between Lewis and Uist. With it being a prestigious week for their Northern rivals, the Uibhistich will be desperate to put a spanner in the works and stop the North Division Two side claiming the Cup for the third time in a row.
Gaelic actor and Lewis Camanachd stalwart, Sean Macleod, who helped organise the first ever HebCelt Cup in 2007 said: “It’s a fabulous way to mark an important anniversary for the sport in the Islands – the club’s tenth anniversary will be marked in 2017 – but the milestone of the revitalisation of our native game is too important to miss.”
“It’s also very apt that this year, the Shinty Heroes concert will be taking place, marking the Centenary Commemorations of the First World War.
“Through my own role in Sequamur recently, I saw the great well of emotion that still affects people to this day and I’m sure it will be a touching and fitting tribute to all those who went away, many of whom paid the ultimate sacrifice.”
Despite missing much of the early season thanks to his drama commitments, Sean is also hoping to be playing his part on the park.
“The Sixes are always great craic, and are a great fun opportunity for people to play, but I’m also hoping to force my way into the squad for the Uist game. It’s the match of the year but also a nice break from league action, especially playing in Stornoway in front of a large crowd.”
The new ladies team will also get their day in the sun. after the successful attendance of Saskia Wilson and Anna MacRae at the WCA development camp last week, they kick off the whole festival this Saturday with a visit of Skye Camanachd for a development game, and then on HebCelt Saturday they will play after the HebCelt Cup in a competitive exhibition match against Glengarry hopefully.
“These will be the first ever women’s games played in Lewis,” said Anna.
They will have to hope for better luck that their male conunterparts who succumbed 9-1 to Inverness at Shawbost.
They were outclassed by an excellent Sgitheanach side.
Iain Sinclair needs his men to return to winning ways against fellow strugglers Inverness away this weekend.