How did Furnace, a little village in Argyll manage to win the Camanachd Cup in 1923

Furnace no longer has a Shinty team.  However, in the past, Furnace was a leading team in Scotland’s shinty leagues and cups.  Their prominence correlated to how busy the village had become during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries with quarrying, fishing, and farming.  The team’s heyday was after WW1 during the 1920s when Furnace and neighbouring Inverary won the prestigious Camanachd Cup. 

Furnace won the trophy in 1923, a hundred years ago.  They played Newtonmore in the final at Burgh Park in Inverness.  They were comfortable winners 2-0.  Folklore tells of wild celebrations by the players, supporters, and the village inhabitants.  Winning this cup was phenomenal for a village of only 200 inhabitants.  The Furnace Shinty team played home games in the field next to Powdermills Bed & Breakfast.  Alas, the field is now used for sheep grazing and the drainage has failed, so it’s more like a bog these days.  Passing by on the A83, it’s difficult to imagine how important the shinty pitch was to the community.  A sizeable crowd would attend the games every Saturday to cheer on Furnace. 

The shinty field was the focus of a disaster that struck the village in 1883.  Gunpowder was produced from the adjoining land and dried and stored in what was appropriately named the Stove near what is now the entrance to Powdermills Bed and Breakfast.  The inevitable happened on the afternoon of Saturday, 29th September 1883. The factory had closed at 2:00 pm, and a shinty match was due to be played in the adjacent field. Ten workmen and boys were finishing off, but fortunately, no one was within 80 yards of the stove.  At 3:10 pm, there was an enormous explosion. The stove and its boiler house were demolished (the heap of stones is behind the old telephone exchange just on the roadway up to the B&B). The mill manager, Willie Robinson, had been standing outside his house and had crossed the road to speak to his son Robbie. He was hit by a large stone, which took off one of his legs and broke the other; he died shortly afterwards.  There were no other fatalities, although several buildings were damaged. Fortunately, the shinty match had been delayed, as players and spectators had gone to the aid of the occupants of a cart that had overturned. Six cartloads of stones were later removed from the shinty field.

It was in the shadow of this catastrophic event that shinty continued to be played in Furnace.  The explosion closed the Gunpowder mill, but the shinty team continued to thrive.  In 1923, Furnace completed every game without conceding a goal, a feat not repeated until 2013.  Recently, a picture of the victorious team was discovered, with a call out to the local community to ascertain who they were and if any relatives were still living in and around Argyll.

The team lineup has been completed, and her below are the names of the winning team. 

W. Carmichael (secretary); W. Munro (trainer); John S. Ferguson ‘Pennymore’; Duncan Munro; John Montgomery; James ‘Jimmy’ McNab; Donald Campbell; Donald McNab; D. Bell (trainer); Duncan ‘Dochie’ Macqueen (reserve). Duncan McColl; Neil McCallum; Malcolm Munro (captain); Dr. Archie Campbell (president); John McColl; Neil McCallum; Angus Sinclair

What’s Shinty?

Shinty is a team sport played with sticks and a ball. Shinty is now played mainly in the Scottish Highlands. While comparisons are often made with field hockey, the two games have several important differences. In shinty a player is allowed to play the ball in the air and is allowed to use both sides of the stick, called a caman, which is wooden and slanted on both sides. The stick may also be used to block and to tackle, although a player may not come down on an opponent’s stick, a practice called hacking. Players may also tackle using the body as long as it is shoulder-to-shoulder.

The game was derived from the same root as the Irish game of hurling, but has developed unique rules and features. These rules are governed by the Camanachd Association. A  composite rules shinty- hurling games has ben developed, which allows Scotland and Ireland to play annual international matches.

The objective of the game is to play a small ball into a goal, or “hail”, erected at the ends of a 140-to-170-yard-long (128 to 155 m) by 70-to-80-yard-wide (64 to 73 m) pitch.  The game is traditionally played on grass, although as of 2009 the sport may be played on artificial turf.  The pitch also has marks indicating a 10-yard (10 m) area around the goals, the penalty and centre spots (along with their associated arcs/circles of 5 yards or 5 metres radius), and corner arcs at the corners of the rectangular pitch of 2 yards or 2 metres radius.[15] The goals, at opposite ends of the field, measure 12 feet (3.66 m) wide and 10 feet (3.05 m) high and a net is affixed to catch the ball when a goal is scored.

The ball is a hard solid sphere of around half the diameter of a tennis ball, consisting of a cork core covered by two pieces of leather stitched together. The seam is raised. It is very similar to a hurling sliotar in that it resembles an American baseball with more pronounced stitching. The permitted circumference is between seven and a half and eight inches (19 and 20 cm) and weight between two and a half and three ounces (71 and 85 g). The ball is usually white.

The ball is played using a caman, which is a stick about 3+12 feet (1.1 m) long with two slanted faces. The stick has a wedge shaped head, roughly triangular in cross section, which must be able to pass through a ring two and a half inches (6.4 cm) in diameter.  Unlike the Irish camán, it has no blade. The caman is traditionally made of wood, traditionally ash but now more commonly hickory, and must not have any plate or metal attached to it.

A player can play the ball in the air and is allowed to use both sides of the stick. The stick may also be used to block and to tackle, although a player may not bring their stick down on an opponent’s stick, which is defined as hacking. A player may tackle an opponent using the body as long as it is shoulder-to-shoulder.

A player may only stop the ball with the stick, the chest, two feet together or one foot on the ground. Only the goalkeeper may use his hands, but only with an open palm since he is not allowed to catch it. Playing the ball with the head constitutes a foul whether intentional or not, as it is considered dangerous play. Other examples of dangerous play, which will be penalised, are a player, while grounded, playing the ball, or a player recklessly swinging the caman in the air in a way which might endanger another player.

Fouls are penalised by a free-hit, which is indirect unless the foul is committed in the penalty area, commonly referred to as “The D”. This results in a penalty hit from 20 yards (18 m).

A ball played by a team over the opposing bye line results in a goal hit from the edge of the D, while a ball played by a team over their own line results in a corner. A ball hit over the sideline results in a shy: a shinty shy involves the taker tossing the ball above his head and hitting the ball with the shaft of the caman, and the ball must be directly overhead when struck.

The winner of a game is the team that scores the most goals. A team scores a goal “when the whole of the ball has passed over the goal-line and under the cross-bar”. A goal can only be scored with the caman; there is no goal when the ball “has been kicked, carried or propelled by hand or arm by a player of the attacking side.” A goal can not be scored directly from a free-hit.

Teams consist of 12 players (men) or 10 players (women), including a goalkeeper. A match is played over two halves of 45 minutes. With the exception of the goalkeeper, no player is allowed to play the ball with his hands. There are also variants with smaller sides, with some adjustments in the field size and duration of play.

Canadian Gaelic speaking pioneers in Nova Scotia adapted shinty, which was traditionally a winter sport, to the much colder Canadian climate by wearing ice skates while playing on frozen lakes. This led to the creation of ice hockey.