Posted May 1, 2014
Early on Good Friday morning, 18 players and 4 mentors set out by coach on the long journey to the Highlands for a 4 day tour to Scotland. The bus journey to the ferry in Belfast passed quickly amid the excitement of all new journeys and in no time at all we were docking in Stranraer, Scotland, for the next stage of our journey. We then motored up the scenic west coast of Ayrshire, passing nearby the world famous golf courses of Turnberry and Royal Troon, skirted around Glasgow and headed north for the mystical Highlands.
We were met on arrival in Newtomore by Russell Jones, Shinty Development Officer for the Highlands, and officials from the Newtonmore and Kingussie clubs who make up the Badenoch district team. After making us most welcome, we enjoyed a well earned dinner and then journeyed to our lodgings at the Lough Insh Water Sports and Activity Centre in nearby Aviemore.
Breakfast next morning was at 8am and afterwards out onto the beautiful Lough Insh for some kayaking. We then returned to Newtonmore for a light training session and shinty demonstration at their famous pitch, The Eilan. This was led by Ronald Ross, all time record shinty goalscorer who also refereed the game on Sunday. We visited the nearby Highland Folk museum for a little bit of culture which was enjoyed by all and after lunch attended the McTavish Cup Shinty quarter final at The Eilan between Newtonmore and Beauly. After dinner we returned to Lough Insh where we enjoyed some fun team games and of course the nightly court to try offenders who had broken the many tour rules. Offences included wearing a fringe longer than 1 inch, wearing Abercrombie clothes, not being within 10 metres of your hurl at all times or simply being called Cian ! Punishments varied from egg roulette, singing/dancing in front of the group to reciting Oscar Wilde poems in a Scottish accent!
Breakfast was again early on Sunday and then out onto the dry ski slope at Lough Insh, with varying degrees of success! Another session of canoeing and we think we have hit on the perfect match preparation for our teams! We then travelled the short distance onto Kingussie for the match v Badenoch. Beside the clear waters of the River Spey and under the shadow of the still snowcapped Cairngorms, the match took place at The Dell, Kingussie, where shinty has been played for nearly 150 years. As temperatures hit a balmy 18 degrees, battle commenced with Badenoch registering the first score. Mearnogs gradually found their feet, and in an entertaining game that ebbed and flowed, eventually won by a few scores. One thing we learned is that hickory coated shinty sticks are much more durable than ash hurls and as the pile of broken timber mounted at our feet, we were even forced to throw on the new hurl we had brought to present to our hosts!.
A post match dinner was then enjoyed by both teams and we presented our hosts with a commerative plaque, Mearnog jersey and the said hurl which we had to clean up in the toilet! In return we were presented with a plaque, shinty stick and jerseys from the Newtonmore and Kingussie clubs to remember our visit.
We met great people with a similar love for their native games as us and were welcomed warmly and hospitibably everywhere we went. It must also be said that the players we brought with us, in their attitude and behaviour, were a credit to Naomh Mearnog and great ambassadors for their country. We look forward to the return visit and seeing hurling/shinty demonstrated in Portmarnock.