From The Shan Van Vocht, 3rd January, 1898.
By Patrick J. Devlin, Hon. Sec. Celtic Hurling Club, Dublin.
It is pleasant, indeed, amid the hurly-burly of our modern existence, produced by the iniquitous sway of the mercenary Saxon and his imitators, to see that, unconscious of his impatience as they were formerly contemptuous of his wrath, the Celtic races pursue with a perseverance worthy of the cause, the work of conserving their Celtic heritage, and the cultivation of the Celtic spirit and ideas. The Oireachtas and Feis Ceoil in Ireland, the Eistedfodd in Wales, the Mod and Sexcentenary Celebration of the Battle of Stirling in Scotland – each giving new life to the racial traditions and new impulse to the national feelings – make a record that must be gratifying to the heart of the most exacting enthusiast, not for intrinsic merits alone, but as a promise of greater efforts to come.
There is one particularly edifying and singularly pleasant incident attaching to these festivals, and it is this – in itself more eloquent of a glorious future for Celticism than all else – the presence at each other’s assemblies of representatives of the sister branches of the common race. Thus are the bonds of union drawn closer, the disastrous results of misunderstanding removed, and the ties of friendship strengthened.
In addition to all these we have had reunions of brother Gaels in honour and furtherance of the Gaelic pastime – the ancient and splendid game of Camanacht, and the auspicious coming together, initiated in London, was continued in Glasgow, and most happily concluded for the present in Dublin. What a bright omen, and what a lesson in wisdom is it not, that in the heart of Saxondom the exiles of two hundred races should first cement a friendship between the people at home, and that this union should have for its aim the preservation of some of the strangest traits, marking the distinctive nationality of the race – the time-honoured game of their ancestors. It is a sign of the times to be hailed with undisguised pleasure and approval.
It is not my purpose to deal with the bonds of union which bind the three Celtic peoples – the Scotch, the Welsh, and the Irish – in the community of kindred language, music and origin. That feeling of kindred was most eloquently given expression to at the great Gaelic gathering of the Highlands recently held at Inverness, and we may rest assured now that the representatives of these races have met and witnessed each other’s earnestness in the preservation of the customs and heritages common to both, they will not allow any lapse of time, or still worse, insidious attacks of enemies to undermine that friendship intensified by similarity of sentiments, origin, interests and aims.
I would, however, crave permission to bring before Irish readers, through the medium of your journal, another tie – equally recognisable and equally worth of development – which may not, under present circumstances, find an advocate of its importance. I refer to the common pastime of the Gael here and in the Highlands. That such a bond of union exists has been clearly demonstrated by the reunions before alluded to, but it will require a more complete and perfect scheme to be laid before the full and undoubted benefits to be derived from such international contests can be advantageously reaped. I do not intend to discuss here the details of the difference between the game as played in Albain and Eire; suffice it to indicate the indisputable points which prove the similarity of the two games. It is but proper, too, to add that the followers of Shinty in the Highlands are likewise the staunchest supporters of the Gaelic tongue, literature and music, and are eager for the time when friendly interchanges between the youth of Ireland and Scotland can be of frequent occurrence.
I would at this point greatly like to say a word to the Gael of Ulster – the native and the exiled Scot – on the singular and unpatriotic position they occupy in regard to the Gaelic movement. You, the native Celt, are at variance with the entire of your brothers in the three provinces by your boycotting of the Gaelic games of your ancestors; and you, too, sons and grandsons of the exiles from Albain, are equally remiss in your duty to the customs and traditions of your race and your country. Be up, be stirring, and let the caman, at least be a bond of union between ye Celts, descendants of a common parentage whom the bullets of fortune have exiled and expatriated, and whom the slanders of a race, your common oppressors, have embittered against each other. Here you may unite all creeds, all classes, all callings, and united in this, the well-springs of patriotism will refresh the parched heart long barren in love for your country and her glory. Scots of Ulster, Irish of Ulster, Gaels all, which of you will end this apathy and shameful neglect?
It must be borne in mind that “hurling,” as the game is styled here, and “shinty,” as our Scotch Gaels call it, are but modern English terms for the one Gaelic and Irish word – Camanacht, and they will serve excellently to designate the game as played in both countries. That the game should be known to both Gaelic speakers by the one name is a strong initial proof of identity.
But it is a very easy task to trace the further similarity between Shinty and Hurling, and we may sum up the progress made in the years of evolution which each endured by saying that in Shinty the older form of the game is clearly retained, and that Hurling, having a larger following, has developed more. Those wall acquainted with the mode of playing Hurling, and the circumstances surrounding the game in Ireland before the institution of rules, will appreciate this fact when they know that among the Highland clans it is customary to assemble on festival occasions, and in commemoration of some historic event hold games on the shore of the loch or forth. On such occasions among all the other attractions – stone casting, sledge throwing, jumping, wrestling, dancing and pipe-playing – the Shinty match held pride of place. Here on a wide expanse of shore – the natural arena for Celtic men, with clan against clan, or sept against sept – the flower of the Highland Gael pursued the ancient pastime to the cheers of their assembled kinsmen, the stirring music of the piob more and the shouts of encouragement in the Gaelic tongue. “A barbarous scene, wanting only a Pagan ritual to complete the picture,” some effeminate West British or dull Teutonic clod will say. So be it; but a scene which, multiplied all over the land, preserved the physique of the race and saved from premature decay all that to-day is honoured and cherished as the best inheritance of the Celt.
Starting, then, at the stage of the evolution of Shinty in Scotland, no one acquainted with the game of Hurling preceding the establishment of the G.A.A. can fail to note the similarity in the stages of development; and it is from this starting point, and viewing the game from the standard of what it must logically have been in the natural and pre-artificial state, we can more readily appreciate the conservatism of our Scotch kinsmen in retaining the shape and proportions of the natural caman, the rude root of the ash, oak or other wood in the modern shinty stick. Here, at least, Shinty more closely approximates to my conception of the primitive game than hurling as at present played here. The variation in either is, however, so slight as to present no obstacles to any close observer in tracing the olden game of our race in the present one, and I have no doubt the dash so inherent in the Celtic character is almost as conspicuous a mark of our Gaels to-day as when Gráinne gave her heart to Diarmuid for his prowess on the hurling field at Tara.
Therefore, it is that in tracing the similarity between Hurling and Shinty, and bearing in mind the intercourse which obtained between Eire and Albain in the ages of Celtic power, we must disregard the modern garb in the forms of rules which the games assumed, and picture the pastime bereft of those later-day restrictions which, while eminently justifiable, would tend to differentiate between the one and identical game in Ireland and Scotland. That such a happy result should attend the labour of one desirous of the union of Celt with Celt is very satisfactory as forming another great link in the chain of identity of interests which binds the people of these two countries together, and I consider it the most important and endurable of all after that of language, for it is essentially a popular one. Music and literature are ties of infinite worth, but appeal only to the more cultured classes of a nation; the popular pastime of the race, aided by the language of the hearth alone, can give us an enduring means of re-uniting the two branches. That the full significance of this fact may be known and appreciated, and give birth to a living community of feeling and interchange of ideas, resulting in a permanent treaty of mutual trust is sincerely to be desired. And, when the full circle of these ties has been completed, and the Celtic world has been rallied to the defence of its heritage against the arrogance of Teutonic sway a brighter day will have dawned for the nations which yield to Christianity most of what is brave, noble, and freedom-loving.