Shinty: The best stick-and-ball sport you’ve never heard of

Ever heard of shinty? Not to be confused with “shinny,” which is sort of an antiquated variety of street hockey, shinty is a traditional stick-and-ball game of the domain of so many singular sports: the Scottish Highlands.

The sport is thought to be at least 2,000 years old, and its early origins are interwoven with a similar game: Irish hurling. Stories of Cúchulainn, a figure from Celtic mythology, mention some variety of shinny/hurling.

Shinty is similar to field hockey. However, in shinty, the player can hit the ball while it’s in the air. He may also use both sides of the stick, which is called a caman. In addition, the stick can be used to tackle other players. It may not, however, be used to hit an opponent’s caman. Tackling is also part of the game, as long as it’s done shoulder-to-shoulder.

If you’ve ever tried reading the instructions to your favorite board game, you know sometimes it’s just better to see things in action. So, here’s a bit of action.

Like similar sports, players try to play a small ball into a 10-foot high goal (hail). The pitch is 140 to 170 yards wide by 70 to 80 yards wide and is usually made of grass, as you’d expect, although matches have been contested (probably grudgingly) on turf.

The shinty ball is about the size of a tennis ball. It’s a cork sphere covered by two pieces of leather, which are stitched together—something like a baseball. The caman, which is generally 3.5 feet long, is traditionally made of wood. It has two slanted faces and a wedge-shaped head. The slant varies according to a player’s position. The length can vary according to a player’s height.

Up until the 1800s, Shinty matches were played primarily in accordance with village celebrations. New Year’s Day was often a popular shinty day. Not surprisingly, as with the spread of many games, Scottish immigrants brought the sport with them to the United States, Canada, and Australia. At one point, following the 1745 Rebellion, the sport was banned in Scotland.

During the mid-1800s shinty clubs and district organizations became popular. The first set of universal rules was written in 1880. It has existed as both formal sport and traditional pastime since.

The most coveted trophies in the men’s game are the Camanachd Cup, which was first played for in 1895. Women play shinty as well, and the most significant trophy in women’s shinty is the Valerie Fraser Cup.

Reportedly, the greatest shinty player is one Ronald Ross.The Scottish-born Ross is now retired. However, he remains the only man to ever score more than 1,000 goals in the sport. He was the lynchpin of Kingussie’s dominant first team. The Guinness Book of World Records even named Kingussie the most successful sporting team of all time. Ross’ nickname is the “Ronaldo of the Glens.”

Similar games have developed less formally in other areas of the world, sometimes on ice with the players wearing skates, which is an interesting twist.