Shinty: The Early Days

Shinty is thought to have been played in Scotland since the 5th century, in the days of Columba on Iona and King Brude in Inverness. The first known reference to shinty in Strathglass concerns a match played on January 18th,1826, when “upwards of 150 Chisholms and other natives of Strathglass had their usual match betwixt the Braes and the Strath. The Braes men supported the character for superior activity and expertness, which they are said to possess, and though less numerous they carried the day.” Strathglass were successful in other early matches against Glenmoriston and an Aird team headed by the Master of Lovat at Annat, near Beaufort Castle against Glenmoriston at Kerrow in 1851 attracted a crowd of around 1,000 people.

Matches during the 19th century were traditionally played around Christmas and New Year, with venues including Comar and Guisachan. First reference to shinty being played in Strathglass during the summer months was in 1880 when matches were played during July at Taechuig.

The Great Match of 1887

The date February 13 1887, stands out in shinty history – this was the day that Strathglass and Glenurquhart met in a match which was to play an important role in the shaping of the sport. At that time there was no organised governing body or standardised rules, so officials of the two clubs had met in Drumnadrochit on January 22 1887, to agree on regulations for the match. The game was played on a pitch measuring some 300 yards long and 200 yards wide at the Bught Park, Inverness, on an area which is now bordered by Glenurquhart Road and the Inverness ice rink. Each half of the match lasted 60 minutes and was played 22-a-side. The Strathglass team featured 10 Chisholms and the Glenurquhart side contained 15 MacDonalds. A crowd of around 3,000 people watched the game, in which Glenurquhart’s younger side prevailed. The Strathglass team was noted as wearing “white shirts, ’42nd’ tartan knickers and hose, Prince Charlie Glengarry bonnets with rosettes, and the Chisholm crest and badge.

This was the first match on record where the players wore numbers, and the referee, Mr Gillespie of Tulloch, used a small hand bell rather than a whistle. The teams met again the following year in a furiously-contested game which remained level until near the end when Glenurquhart scored the only hail (goal). The rivalry between the teams was resumed 60 years later in 1948 when they played for the MacDonald Cup, donated by James MacDonald of Tomich, Strathglass, the last survivor from the Strath team of 1887. Strathglass gained a measure of revenge with a 5-2 victory.

The clubs’ first teams now play each year for the MacDonald Cup, usually in February as a curtain-raiser to the new season. The venue for the match alternates annually between Cannich and Drumnadrochit. On the same day the Strathglass and Glenurquhart second teams play for the Ali Bhan Cup, named after Alexander MacDonald who scored the only goal of the 1888 match.