“A’ toirt sneachd dhan t-Sahara”
Tha eachdraidh fhada aig iomain ann an Leodhas agus na Hearadh ged a chaidh e a bith as deidh an dara chogaidh sa mhor-chuid, bha e fhathast ga cluich aig Sgoil a’ Chaisteil gu meadhan na 1960an.
The book “An Clarsair Dall”, edited by W. Matheson, has early evidence of shinty being played in Lewis bu 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 club in Sandwick was famous for the level of its play due to the access to quality wood from the boatyards there.
The Stornoway Athletics Club was originally set-up to cater to both Shinty and Football. The club had intentions of entering the Camanachd Cup but the problems of travel to the mainland were to make all good intentions fall by the way side. It would be over a hundred years before a team from Lewis would compete in national competition.
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.
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.
However, shinty was still played at the Lews Castle School until the 1960s due to the island being part of Ross-shire and the school being attended by boys from Lochcarron and Wester Ross, and the school won the Harrow Cup at the Ross-shire Sixes in June 1959.
In an early Shinty Yearbook, shinty writer Martin MacDonald described the thought of shinty in Lewis as being akin to “Snow in the Sahara.” before giving an account of the famed game between the Stornoway Club and the tailors.
Shinty was distinctly moribund by the 1980s however, and in 1989 Skye Camanachd and Beauly Shinty Club were imported to compete for the Mod Cup.
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.
Having read about the old traditions, Dr. Barden and his wife Donna decided to hold a shinty match on the 2nd of January 1995 at Tong Pitch. This was to be the catalyst for the revitalisation of the sport in the islands.
Eventually, there were clubs in Stornoway, Tong, Back and Sandwick and they competed for the Lord of the Isles trophy against teams from other islands also.
In 1996, Comunn Camanachd Leodhais was awarded the Shinty Yearbook Trophy for endeavour. They played for the Cuach nan Dusan (The Dozen Cup) once a month.
The Lord of the Isles Tournament was started in 1997 and the trophy was gifted by Prince Charles. This youth tournament was for children under the age of 12.
You can hear more about these the following recordings at Tobar an Dualchais.http://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/en/fullrecord/10748/25
In 1998, Dr. Barden was tragically lost in an accident. The loss of this important figure in the revitalisation of the sport in the islands had an obvious effect on the sport, and with other volunteers moving away, steadily the number of clubs declined until only Back remained, under the tutelage of Boyd MacKenzie.
In 2001, Back Camanachd competed for the Mod Cup against Kyleakin from Skye at Tarbert, Harris. A report can be read in the shinty yearbook for that year.
In 2005, the Mod Cup was competed for between Lewis and Uist. There were a few friendlies with Uist and Lochbroom around this time as well and information about these games can be read at the following link.http://www.freewebs.com/overthehillsandfaraway/lewiscamanachd.htm
These games in 2005 and 2006 were the first games to be played by a “Lewis” team as opposed to Back and were to lay the foundations for what would happen next.
The club was re-constituted on Thursday 7th December 2006 and entered into national Cup competition for the first time in 2007.
In preparation for this, the club established the Cuach a’ Chuain Sgith for competition with Lochbroom. Lewis have not yet won this trophy, although 2010 was technically a walkover to Lewis.
During this time, the club struggled to compete with sides receiving a regular diet of shinty receiving some heavy beatings in the Sutherland and Strathdearn Cups.
The club established the Hebridean Celtic Festival Trophy in 2007, played initially against Hebrides All-Stars, and in subsequent years against Uist. The club has won the trophy four times in all.
In 2010, the club also won the Far North Sixes at Scourie.
In 2011, the club applied for and was granted entry to the Camanachd Association’s league system. This was intially on a trial basis for the 2011 season.
Lewis played their first ever league match at Beauly on March 5th 2011. Although they lost 5-1, they opened the scoring in the first minute of the game and held the lead for an hour.
The first ever official game in Lewis was played against Lochbroom at Sgoil Shiaboist on Saturday 14th May 2011. Although the score was 7-1 to Lochbroom, the game was attended by over 200 people who saw history being made.
Snow had finally fallen on the Sahara.
There are many more years of history to come. This we can be sure of as upon the 7th of December 2011 in Fort William, the Board of Directors of the Camanachd Association voted unanimously to grant Camanachd Leòdhais permanent entry into the league system. Bu chas am bruathach ach ‘s boidheach am mullach.
(Sourced from Hugh Dan’s Ph.D, Roger Hutchison’s Camanachd and several shinty yearbooks)