Today is no ordinary day.
At 3pm, the first Camanachd Association league match to be staged on the Isle of Lewis will get under way at Shawbost, the new team kitted out by sponsors Harris Tweed Hebrides as part of a three year deal.
Harris Tweed Hebrides chairman, Brian Wilson, said: “We are delighted to support Camanachd Leodhais at this crucial stage of their development. Shinty, Gaelic and Harris Tweed are all part of the same culture, so it is a very appropriate sponsorship”.
The company will host a reception for Camanachd Leodhais on May 14th to mark their first-ever league appearance to be played on home soil.
In the book “An Clarsair Dall”, edited by W. Matheson, one can find early evidence of shinty being played in Lewis but the first organised shinty came into being with the Stornoway Shinty Club which was established around 1893. There is a record of game being played at Broadbay on Christmas Day between the Captain’s team and the Vice-Captains team as well as a famous “Geam Challainn” at Tong beach against the tailors of Stornoway. The Stornoway Athletics Club was originally set-up to cater to both Shinty and Football.
It was considered that a young Leodhasach before the Great War would take three things to school, his books, his fad of peat and his caman. Shinty was played on the sands of Uig into the 1920s but slowly died out like many great traditions after the great catastrophes that befell the Island. In an early Shinty Yearbook, shinty writer Martin MacDonald described the thought of shinty in Lewis as being akin to “Snow in the Sahara.”
The great Rubhach poet, Iain Crichton Smith (born in 1928) recalled in a lecture in 1990 being knocked out by a shinty stick the one time he played the sport as a child in the 1930s in Point. He was out cold for a hour! However, this is evidence that the sport was still being played at community level until the second war and was continued to be played at the Lews Castle School until the 1960s due to the island being part of Ross-shire.
Through the work of several individuals, including Neil Ferguson, Boyd MacKenzie and Dr. Alasdair Patrick Barden in the mid-1990s, shinty was resurrected in Lewis under the title Comunn Camanachd Leodhais and it is on these roots that the present Camanachd Leodhais continues to grow.
This winter, the Camanachd Association took the historic step of allowing Lewis Camanachd entry to North Division Three on a one-year trial basis. Today’s first home game, therefore, is a milestone.
Somewhat comically, the team’s official website puts it in perspective, saying: “Shinty, home at last, older than the Lewis Chessmen and a lot more fun to watch.”