The shinty players of Lewis Camanachd could be forgiving at despairing at the vagaries of the West Coast weather as their season opener against Strathspey was scuppered by bad weather which forced all sailings on Saturday to be cancelled.
Whilst the Iain Sinclair’s troops have been on a rather unwelcome hiatus, the club’s website has been refreshed with content designed to ensure that the long and vibrant, but often obscured, history of the sport of the Gael in the Western Isles is made known. Eòghan Stewart, who has taken on the role of the club’s unofficial archivist, has set out to increase the availability of resources concerning Leòdhasach and Hearach shinty history through the website.
Eòghan said, “The present club was re-constituted in December 2006, and there has been a lot of events happen in the 7 to 8 years since and most of these are recorded on the website in reasonable detail. It’s very important that we mark the work done by the individuals who battled to resurrect the sport in the mid 90s. Without their inspiration and perspiration we wouldn’t have a club to play with today.”
“We found an old blog that ex-player Ally “Fro” MacLeod used to keep when he was a pupil in the Nicolson which looked at some pre-Camanachd Leòdhais games as well as some Program Choinnich from 1997 featuring the late Dr.Alasdair Barden. Shinty is a sport which creates great tales to be told and if we can archive these, then all the better. We’d also like to have any photos or hear any stories from the early days.”
However, the main part of the project has been to collate all the recordings held by the South Uist and Edinburgh based Tobar an Dualchais project concerning shinty in Lewis and Harris. These Gaelic recordings, produced by folklorists speaking to native speakers, give a picture of the prominent place that shinty was given in the sporting pursuits of islanders, especially to mark the New Year, up until the early years of the 20th century.
One recording from 1965 has John Norman Macdonald (1913-1987) sub-postmaster at Miavaig discussing with Dr John MacInnes about the game played between the men of Cnip and Riof on Tràigh na Beirigh, and that shinty was played in the school in Uig into the 1920s. Others talk about the sport in Lochs, Steinis and Tong. Simply put, Lewis was a shinty island.
For an island not connected in people’s minds with shinty, as for example the Isle of Skye is, it shows that the absence of the stick sport from these shores is a mere blip in historical terms. However, Eòghan believes that it shows how quickly a culture can change, if not irreparably, but significantly.
“The disappearance of shinty from Lewis was really rather quick between the wars, but what is quite striking is the swiftness with which it seemed to disappear from the collective consciousness. It’s really a warning from history, the same could happen to the Gaelic language if people aren’t careful. 120 years ago places like Badenoch were Gaelic heartland but now it’s only the Gaelic medium Unit in Newtonmore which keeps the flame alive there. It’s not rare to hear people in other parts of the Highlands claiming Gaelic was never spoken there.”
“We can just be thankful for the efforts that people have made to bring shinty back to Lewis and Harris in the present day and that the Club can continue to develop the sport among young people. We hope the new archive pages will be of interest.”
Lewis face Lochbroom in Ullapool this Saturday and will be hoping that the weather settles to allow them to continue to make some new history which you can read all about in next week’s Gazette. The recordings archive and much more can be found at camanachdleodhais.com.