Saturday 2nd September 2023 will hopefully see a healthy crowd take in our final game of a successful season at Shawbost against a visiting Strathglass team. It will also be 130 years to the day to the first ever mention of Stornoway Shinty Club in the Highland News, dated Saturday 2nd September 1893.
Shinty would initially be organised in Lewis under the auspices of the Stornoway Athletic Association aka Stornoway Athletic Club which was formed on 22 July 1891, it ran both the Highland Gathering in Stornoway as well as the football club of the same name which continues today.
It is obvious from the first mention that the establishment of the club is just a formalisation of the sport which was played at community level already such as was happening in communities across the Gàidhealtachd at the time.
“There has been a proposal mooted by the managing committee of the Stornoway Athletic Club to endeavour to organise a shinty team under their auspices. We have no doubt, after the brilliant issue to which they brought the Highland Gathering, that they will be equally successful in their present undertaking. The want of a club of this kind has been a long-felt want in Stornoway, and the young men of the town will take up the matter heartily if only suitable practising ground can be procured.” Highland News Saturday 2 September 1893.
The Ross-shire Journal also carries news of the advent of the club. The 2006 pioneers would inadvertently borrow a trick from their forebears – basing the 2006 constitution on that of Boleskine Camanachd, jsut as the Stornoway club based theirs on Fort William’s Ben Nevis Association.
“STORNOWAY SHINTY CLUB – A short time ago the members of the Stornoway Athletic Club and others interested held a meeting for the purpose of making arrangements for the formation of a shinty club, when was agreed that if forty members were got to join, a club would be formed. The required number having been enrolled, a meeting was held on Thursday last, for the purpose of forming the club. Mr Æneas M. Mackenzie presided. He intimated that they had the promise of a field to practice in, and that the rent would be nominal. The meeting thereafter elected office-bearers. Mr Æneas Mackenzie being appointed chieftain. It was agreed that the rules be the same as that of the Ben Nevis Association. The Secretary was instructed to secure clubs and balls, and it is expected that the game will start early in November. Seeing that the game of shinty was so popular in the past, we have no doubt a large number of the young folk will join the club.” Ross-shire Journal Friday 27 October 1893
Æneas M. Mackenzie (not to be confused with a younger Æneas Mackenzie who would write the script for The Ten Commandments) was a real man about town. He was chairman of the school board and secretary of the Lifeboat station. He was also chairman of Stornoway Parish Council and Justice of the Peace. He was also involved in boatbuilding, and a couple of boats he built can still be found on registries on line (although they have long been broken up). He built what is now the Tower Guest House, a sandstone building on the corner of James Street and Matheson Road in 1881. He owned the Patent slip, which was demolished when the new ferry terminal was constructed. Æneas had maritime business interests, including shipbuilding and salvage. In fact, some of the wood used in the panelling and staircase for the house was salvaged from the wreck of HMS Lively, which foundered on the Chicken Rock in 1882. No lives were lost on this occasion. The ship had been carrying members of the Napier Commission. The commission was undertaking an investigation into the political and economic situation in the Highlands and Islands and the personal circumstances of the people at that time.
Æneas’ undoubted hustle and connections managed to secure the use of the Royal Naval Reserve drill park, and again the parallels of having resourceful, inventive people working to get shinty a proper foothold in the islands in the modern day is appropriate.
SHINTY – The Stornoway Shinty Club, which was formed a short time ago, have now obtained the use of the park in which the Royal Naval Reserve drill, for practice, and the inauguration of the game will take place on Saturday first if the weather permits. Ross-shire Journal Friday 1 December 1893
Æneas is made Chieftain, and a strong committee seems to be put in place, as well as the first game, played on the second of December. The full listing is mentioned in that shinty paper of record, the Oban Times and shows that the club was starting to be known.
FORMATION OF A SHINTY CLUB – At a recent meeting of the Stornoway Athletic Association it was resolved to form a shinty club in connection with the association, when the following office-bearers were appointed, viz.: Chieftain, Mr Æneas A. Mackenzie; president, Dr MacKenzie; vice-president, Mr H. J. Martin; captain, Mr Wm. John MacKenzie; vice-captain Mr Angus Cameron; secretary Mr John MacLennan; treasurer, Mr James Chrystall committee, Messrs Hector MacLean, Rodk. Macrae, John MacLean, K.D. MacKay, and Hugh MacMillan. The first practice for the season took place on Saturday, the 2nd December, when a good number of members turned out to take part in this favourite pastime. Teams were selected by the captain and vice-captain, and after a spirited game resulted in a draw of one goal each. The day was wet and stormy, but on the whole the game was well contested, and is a good augury for the success of the club in the future. We wish the club every success, and trust the members will have a good season, as indeed they deserve to have after efforts to revive this old and favourite game of shinty in the capital of the Lewis.” Oban Times and Argyllshire Advertiser – Saturday 16 December 1893
The festive season was of course when the Gael would play his sport. The Sands of Tong seem to have been considered a great place to play games and so we have mention of both games and practice there over the years.
“Christmas Day was observed as a holiday by the banks and a number of business places in town, as well as at the Royal Naval Reserve Battery. About half-past two o’clock in the afternoon a number of the members of the Stornoway Shinty Club met at Mr Martin’s Manse, and were driven to the Sands at Long (sic), where a few games were placed. The weather was wet, but, notwithstanding, there was some good playing. The company returned before dark, after having thoroughly enjoyed themselves.” – Ross-shire Journal, Friday 29 December 1893
“SHINTY MATCH – About three weeks ago the tailors of Stornoway sent in a challenge to the Stornoway Shinty Club. The challenge was accepted and arrangements made for the match. On Monday forenoon a team from the Shinty Club and the tailors met on the sands at Tong, where the match took place. The day being fine, there was a large number of spectators. The following is a list of those who took part in the match; – Shinty team – A. J. Mackenzie, Allan Macleod, D. Maciver, Hector Maclean, Lewis Bain, Colin Macrae, K. D. Mackay, H. Miller, Wm. Mackenzie, John Morison, H. J. Martin and J. Macleannan. Tailors team – K. Smith, Donald Mackay, John Maclean, M. Gillies, Angus Mackenzie, Alex Macleod, A. Montgomery, R. Montgomery, A. J. Macaskill, Murdo Maciver, N. Mackenzie, and Murdo Macleod. Umpries- Æneas M. Mackenzie, W. J. Mackenzie, and J. Mackenzie, referee. Play was good on both sides, but that of Lewis Bain, Colin Macrae and A. J. Mackenzie, members of the Club, was exceptionally good. After playing for about fifty minutes, the tailors gave in, having been defeated by five goals to none. A match was afterwards played between the Club team and the married men. The married men, who only played for a few minutes, were defeated by two goals to none. The company were driven home after having enjoyed a pleasant forenoon.” – Ross-shire Journal, Friday 12 January 1894
1894 brings mentions of the shinty club trying to get itself some competition with clubs off island – it is known that the club tried to enter the Camanachd Cup but were turned down – but there seems to be no record of them ever playing Cabers or Portree.
At a meeting of the Caberfeidh Shinty Club, Strathpeffer, the other night, it was resolved to accept of a challenge from the Stornoway and Portree Shinty Clubs , to be played on the ground of the latter on the 30th inst. – North Star and Farmers’ Chronicle – Thursday 8 March 1894
SHINTY – The Stornoway Shinty Club commenced practice for the season with a game on the Long Sands on Saturday last. A challenge has been received from the Portree Club, which it is expected will be accepted. – Highland News – Saturday 15 December 1894
Local historian and councillor Malcolm Macdonald, who is a stalwart of the Stornoway Athletic Football Club gives the following supplementary information. “The causes for the shinty club’s demise was the lack of a pitch (which also affected the football club for a year) and the Boer War when all Highland Games were suspended. The Stornoway Athletic Club which ran the Highland Games and was the umbrella organisation for the shinty and football clubs, failed to convene after the war. The football club was the sole survivor and with the Stornoway Cup being played in 1903-04, competition had arrived. It was in the 1908-09 season that a league was played and Stornoway adopted the name Athletic to differentiate the club from other Stornoway teams. The Stornoway Football League ran the League Sports from that year onwards but the Highland Games in Stornoway were never organised again.” Thanks to Malcolm for this information.
A very apt anniversary and hopefully one that can be marked with a good end to a great season this Saturday 2 September – Camanachd Leòdhais gu Bràth Buan!