Speakers’ Corner – Always Argyll

I’m not familiar with Shinty.  I never played it, far less watched it live.  Perhaps I might have watched a game on telly in my youth if no other sport was available.  I only gained an appreciation for trying to hit a ball with a stick when my daughters played hockey at school.  However, when my eldest daughter told us a couple of years ago that she was playing Shinty in the summer while studying in London, I still had little interest in or understanding of Shinty. 

However, after five years of living in Argyll, I’ve realised how central Shinty is to the community, past and present.  The game thrives as a summer sport, and two teams straddle Powdermills, Inveraray to the North and Kilmory (Lochgilphead) to the South. The Furnace Shinty Club no longer exists, but it has a long and winning history.  On Friday, Sue and I attended the ceilidh to celebrate the Camanachd Cup winning side of 1923.   The centenary of the victory over Newtonmore was celebrated in the Furnace Village Hall on Friday, which was packed with locals, some of whom were related and connected with the players. 

The journey the players took to the match in Inverness was an expedition. Starting in the wee hours of the Friday morning, they took a fishing boat over Loch Fyne to Strachur, hopped on a bus, took a train for Glasgow and then to Inverness.  Only six supporters made the trip by hired car, and news of the famous win was related to the village by a telegram to the post office—a truly different world.

While the game and the stories were unfamiliar, the celebrations were very familiar.  The Ceilidh band, Gunna Sound (accordion and guitar) had us all up dancing: the Gay Gordons, Dashing White Sergeant, Canadian Barn Dance, and an Orcadian Reel. It made me remember family gatherings, Christmas or New Year celebrations where my Uncle Jackie would play his accordion with a can of MacEwan’s Export, whisky chaser by his side, and a fag perched out his mouth puffing away, his fingers never leaving the instrument, only the movement of the accordion dropping the ash wherever it pleased.  In my family, everyone had to take a turn, a song or a poem, and my Uncle Dodd always gave his rendition of Pete the Piddling Pup.  These warm memories came flooding back when I burled Sue through a reel.

But that sense of kinship, belonging, of community was there in the Village Hall.  It didn’t matter if you were a Sassenach from Cheshire, or frae Edinburgh; I felt connected to Furnace.  And as if to underscore that feeling, Gunna Sound gave a rendition of Always Argyll.  The web page has a link to the Clydesiders singing it, but I’ll read the words for the podcast.

Always Argyll

I’ve seen the red sunset glow gold on Loch Fyne
Have I seen these strange wonders for the very last time
The bright lights of Tarbert are beckoning bright
In the shivering coldness of a dark winter’s night.
The Kyles in their glory are spread out below
The high hills of Arran are white-capped with snow
I’ll soon have to think of Australia as home
But the truth will always be Argyll.


Always Argyll, always Argyll
Long will the memory linger
I’ll soon have to think of Australia as home
But the truth will be always Argyll

And maybe in time, I’ll be happy somehow.
The thoughts of my childhood spin round in my mind
As I think of the beauty I’m leaving behind
When they ask where I come from, Australia I’ll say
But the truth will be always Argyll.

  So, here’s to the team of 1923, a phenomenal sporting achievement for a small village in Argyll.  A team of the community, still being celebrated 100 years on, in the satisfyingly familiar Scottish way of a ceilidh.  The last word goes to the players, commemorated in the Furnace Shinty song.  Again, there is a recording on the web page, but I provide the lyrics for the podcast.

Furnace Shinty Song

Good Old Harry do not tarry, hasten o’er the brine
And drop me by the Quarry on the shores of Loch Fyne
From there I shall not wander, nor shall I ever stray
When I meet with Dr. Campbell and the boys won the day

The grand old game of camanachd our fathers played of yore
How can he claim his father’s name who can’t his fame uphold
With greatness, fleetness, stamina and keenness to the fore
The grand old game of camanachd shall live for evermore

The first round old Oban found that they were on the run
And after all they saw the ball and was all they won
Ballachulish sons with their great guns were next held in the trap
The Furnace boys caused a great surprise with an easy going ‘nap’.

The country cheered when Kyles appeared to damp the Furnace roar
But there inspired the Furnace fired and four times did they score
‘Twas very sad if Kyles were had and with their great success
The boys went forth up to north to win in Inverness,

Now let us sup we’ve won the cup, we’ve vanquished Newtonmore
With sterling play they won the day, we’ll toast them o’er and o’er
They’ve heads with sense in their defence I just record the fact
In all their ties with many byes they kept their goal in tact.

J. Kaid Maclean