Northern California Camanachd

Shinty in the Golden State

Shinty 101

  1. What is shinty?
  2. Why haven't I heard of Shinty before?
  3. What does the equipment look like?
  4. How is a shinty pitch (field) laid out?
  5. What are the rules for shinty?
  6. Where did shinty come from?
  7. What are a few fun facts about shinty?
  8. How did shinty come to California?
  9. Where can I find out more about shinty, such as rules, photos, and coaching tips?


What is Shinty?

Shinty (camanachd in Scots Gaelic) is a stick and ball game thought to be a source of Golf and Ice Hockey and a cousin to Field Hockey and Irish Hurling. Historical evidence points to at least 2000 years of shinty in the Scottish Highlands, and stories tell of the mythic heroes Cuchullin and Fionn MacCumhaill playing the game long before that. Traditionally part of New Year's celebrations throughout the Highlands, shinty is older than kilts by far. Today hundreds of teams play the sport, from primary school through to the Premier League.


Why haven't I heard of Shinty before?

The Shinty season has traditionally run from Fall to Spring and so most folks who visit during summer holidays have not had an opportunity to see the game being played. The Camanachd Association shifted the sport to a summer season in 2004, running from March to October, so now tourists will have a chance to catch a game during their visits!

It is also true that Shinty is not played in all parts of Scotland. The game has close ties with the Gaelic culture and has generally flourished in the Gaidhealtachd - the areas in which Gaelic is spoken. A great many teams can be found in close proximity to the Great Glen, from the Inverness area to Fort William and Lochaber, though teams also exist in other locales, including Skye, Argyll, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh.


An overview of the rules

The game is played on a large field (170 yards long and 80 yards wide!) by two teams of twelve players. Players use camans (hooked/curved sticks with a triangular cross section) made of ash or hickory to strike the ball (in the air and on the ground) in order to score goals. The shinty ball is slightly smaller and constructed similarly to a baseball with a leather outer surface and raised seams. Goals, which are 12 feet across by 10 feet high, are guarded by a goal-keeper who is the only player allowed to use his hands - though only with an open handed slap or stop. Shinty matches are 90 minutes in duration, divided into two halves with a short break between. The referee runs the match, with help from side judges and goal judges, calling fouls for illegal and/or dangerous play. Shinty is also played in a six-a-side format with shorter halves and smaller field. For a more detailed description of the rules go here.


A brief history of Shinty

Shinty has been played in the Scottish Highlands for at least 2000 years, according to research. From its earliest days through the 1800's Shinty matches were most often connected with Christmas or, more commonly, New Year celebrations. Traditionally these games pitted one parish, village or district against another. In this way the game has long held an important place in Highland communities, and was played by Scottish Immigrants in the Eastern United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The sport of the Scottish Gaels suffered from the same repression that plagued all Scottish culture after the 1745 Rebellion, and attempts to legislate against it (along with golf) were led both by the Kirk and English authorities. Despite these efforts shinty has endured to the present day.

Camanachd began to transform into its modern form, like many other sports, during the nineteenth century. 1869 saw sporting clubs begin to form and soon District Organizations sprung to life as interest in shinty grew. In 1880 the first set of universal rules was adopted and the foundations of the modern game were firmly laid. The Camanachd Association, the organization that administers the sport in Scotland, was founded in 1893 and the first Camanachd Cup was played in 1896.

In recent decades shinty has enjoyed TV coverage of its major cup matches as well as Premier League games. The sport continues to make inroads into popular culture, in fact in 2006 Gaelic rock group Runrig created a shinty anthem with the song The Clash of the Ash. Currently there are over 100 organized shinty teams in Scotland, and the Camanachd Association oversees a number of leagues and cups for different age groups of both men and women.


Shinty Fun Facts

  • The distinctive sound of two camans meeting, a frequent occurrence during matches, is referred to as the clash of the ash because the sticks have traditionally been made of ash wood.
  • The game was played by the Highland Regiments during both World Wars, and WWII POWs from the famous 51st Highland Division even formed teams while being held in Stalag IX.
  • Kingussie's Ronald Ross is the only Scottish athlete, in any sport, to score over 1000 points.
  • Matches are played between shinty and hurling clubs using hybrid rules. The hurlers use hurlies and the shinty players use camans.


How can I find out more about Shinty?

Besides the Northern California Camanachd site (that's where you are now) there are several websites which provide a lot of information about the sport and even photographs of recent matches. A list of references follows below:

  • The Official Camanachd Association website (Scotland)
    An amazing amount of information including rules, league standings and extensive photo galleries.
  • Not An Orchid & Shinty! by Hugh Dan MacLennan
    Two wonderful books full of history, illustrations and just about anything you'd want to know about shinty.


Shinty in California?

In the 1980s a group of young Californians with an interest in Scottish history and culture happened across a mention of shinty in a book. The description captured their imagination, and so they made some camans, the shinty stick, by hand from curved branches. Without a set of proper rules, the games had a very organic feel, but after a few members returned from Scotland with real camans and a rulebook, the move was on to form a shinty club. Having traversed a circuitous route through two decades, three of the original shinty boys formally founded Northern California Camanachd in 2001.

In the years since its founding, NCC has played in Scotland seven times and hosted two Scottish clubs (Skye Camanachd and SCOTS Camanachd) in California, playing the first ever US-Scotland International matches both in the UK and the US. The list of firsts goes on to include founding the first US shinty league, first US shinty cup winner, and many other historic firsts. The club has worked to foster the development of other American teams and greater awareness of the sport. From 2008 to present, NCC has presented shinty in front of over 30,000 attendees at the Pleasanton Scottish Gathering and Games.

More info about Northern California Camanachd can be found by exploring this website, specifically the About Us page and our library of press clippings.