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Hurling in Antrim by Seamus Clarke

25th August 2015


HURLING IN ANTRIM by Seamus Clarke

by GOAHS on July 18, 2015 in Heritage, Local History, Social History & Recollections, Sport & Entertainment, VOLUME 3 (1975)

This article first appeared in Volume 3 of The Glynns in 1975. It is presented here with additional photographs and hyperlinks.

“I wandered down by Legge Green”, wrote contributor `Lurigedan’ in the pages of ‘The Glensman’, some forty years ago. “It is peopled by wraiths and all armed with shinneys”.


The changing shape of the camman (shinney)

(Image courtesy: Mc Sparran, J : The History of Gaelic Games in The Glens of Antrim)

Every Christmas Day from after Mass until nightfall crowds gathered on the green to play ‘Shinney’. It was a game unencumbered with rules. As many as a hundred players formed a team; a hundred on each side and as many fields as they required as a playing pitch! One acre, two, three, even four acres, it didn’t matter. If the ball took a notion of wandering, so did the players.

Sides were chosen to represent Ballyeamon and Cushendall. The Ballyeamon captain chose a man, the Cushendall captain chose another, and so on, until ranged behind each of them stood every player on the field. The goal posts were made up of heaps of stones, and the ball, a hard wooden object, had to roll along the ground between the two heaps for a goal. If it went in an inch above the ground it was no goal. The captain who had called the second last kept one eye on the roadway so that he could name the next visitor as ‘his man’ as soon as he hove in sight.


Beginning of Hurling Match, Neil John O’Boyle’s Field, Glenariffe 1906

(Image courtesy: Mc Sparran, J : The History of Gaelic Games in The Glens of Antrim)

Nevertheless it was a serious game. One outstanding enthusiast was John Blue. John came to Mass on Christmas morning with an armful of `shinneys’. These he very carefully deposited in a hiding-place before he entered the Chapel. Mass over, he took his shinneys and beat it for Legge Green, to remain there until dark.


Cushendall 1906 Senior Hurling Match (now 4th Fairway of Golf Course) by Legge Green

(Image courtesy: Mc Sparran, J : The History of Gaelic Games in The Glens of Antrim)

“If Legge” he concluded, “is peopled with ghosts, you may be certain they are playing shinny” . Ireland’s National game — Hurling — is known in the Gaelic tongue by word — iomain — meaning the art of driving, hurling, tossing, whirling, pushing or urging forward.

In southern Gaeltacht areas the word baire is used meaning `goaling’ or driving at goal. In Scotland the game is known as camanachd from the bent stick used, while in Donegal and the Antrim Glens the name caman is general. Other Celtic fringes preserve the words camock, cambae, or camog — all refer to the implement employed; but iomain is the word used in all the Gaelic manuscripts to describe this wonderful game.

Who has not heard of Cuchulainn whom the Seanachies have made a mythical character?


(image: courtesy P. Tuohy)

Their tales bear all the evidence of exagger­ation — Cuchulainn defeating 150 of King Connor’s youths, at the hurling! It is scarcely possible that even he could score a goal alone against such a host, or that 150 moderate hurlers could fail to score against him.

Dubhthnac Mac Eochadha who was, like many of his race, poet to Caomhanach of Wicklow, and is mentioned in the Annals of Ulster (1415 A.D.), sent a poem by messenger to Aodh Bui O’ Neill lord of South Antrim wishing he could be with him as he had been on another occasion….

“A house where I would be made welcome among my dear friends lies to the east beside the harbour where Aodh lives among his learned men.

In the harbour of Carrickfergus is the centre of his chieftainship, the people for whom I would forsake all other houses throughout Ireland.

If I were to ask permission of him to pay a visit sometime, if Aodh were to refuse me where would I turn my face?

I had no journey before me throughout the Springtime further than to go with Aodh from the dwelling enclosure to the strandside to see the hurling.”

The inference is clear–hurling occupied an outstanding place in the lives and affection of the ancient Irish. That it has defied time and opposition is a tribute to the people’s tenacity and devotion, as well as to the game’s intrinsic worth. Nowhere is the game held in higher esteem than in the Glens of Antrim.

This well-known Gaelic song, dating from the end of the 18th century, also refers to camanacht on County Antrim’s coast, and the title, Aird Ti Chuain, indicates the place of the same name near Cushendall.

“Is lomai Nollaig a bha again fein

Nuair a bha me ar bheagan ceili

Ag rith ag iomain chun na tra

Is mo chaman ban in mo dhoirne”

“Many is the Christmas-time I spent

When I was of little sense

Running hurling to the strand

With my fair caman in my hand”.

Thus the tradition of sea-side camanacht, whether on the strand or on the grassy ground just above high water seems to have a fairly ancient background as attested by the above quoted poems.


Scottish Shinty – etching circa 1835

Scotland also provides many examples of play on the sea-shore or on a grassy mound by the sea, and it is noteworthy that wherever in Ireland to-day such ground is available a golf-links is almost certain to be found.


“The Rigs”, Cushendun Hurling Field c193. Note – the field runs parallel with the beach

(Image courtesy: Mc Sparran, J : The History of Gaelic Games in The Glens of Antrim)

Of the parish of Ballintoy on the north coast of County Antrim Shaw Mason’s Parochial Survey of Ireland (1819) relates: “We have no patrons nor patron-day, nor any particular customs except those on Christmas Day and on the first day of the year, a great concourse of people assemble on the strand at White-Park to play cammonor shinny. This formerly was frequented by old and young, and the amusement generally ended by drinking whiskey and broken heads; but of late years, only young people appear on these occasions, and the day concludes without drunkenness or riot.”

No mention, is made of camanacht by the Ordnance Survey In its report on Ballintoy some twenty years later. The following references to camanacht are found under the heading “Amusements” in the Ordnance Survey parish memoirs for County Antrim compiled in the 1830’s.

Ballymoney : They have few amusements or recreations varying from what is common everywhere else. Ball playing, hurling and such like is what they commonly resort to.

Carrickfergus: Within, a few years the game of cammon or shinny which was formerly very energetically kept up among the men at Christmas has almost disappeared being now confined to children.

Derryaghy : Bullet play, common play, handball play, cock-fighting, bull beating and leaping etc. prevailed to a great extent in the parish at some former period. Bullet and handball playing and cock­fighting still prevail to some extent but all the other amusements are relinquished many years back.

Finvoy: They have almost quite given up the amusements of which they were at one time very fond—such as dancing, cammon playing (a sort of hurling) at Christmas.

Loughguile: Their principal amusements are dancing, cards and cock-fighting. The latter are on the decline. A sort of hurling or ‘cammon playing’ as it is called in the North is still kept up here chiefly among the Catholics.

Magheragall: Cammon play which consists in playing or throwing a round wooden ball on the surface and striking at it with long sticks crooked in one end and forcing it away from the opposing party, was also practised here years back, and practised now by little boys only, as was dancing, leaping and jumping contests. All these are relinquished.

The late Canon Charles Frizell, Rector of Dunluce from 1879 to 1893, in a letter dated at Dunluce Rectory, 7th November 1890 states: –

“Fifty years ago, at Christmas time, the game of cammogie (a sort of hurling) used to be played by the country people who were wont to assemble in large numbers for that purpose on the strand at the mouth of the River Bush. It represented a survival of the old custom which gave part of the parish its name in early days” (A reference to the name Portcammon, now Bushmills).

Thus it would seem that hurling of some type was played in Antrim for centuriesbefore the establishment of the G.A.A. The natives had inherited the game from their ancestors and ‘colonists’ who were Scots, in speech and habits much closer to the Irish than Englishmen, brought with them memories of their Scottish game. So it is that a game called ‘shinny’ was, as we have seen, common in Antrim in the middle of the last century. Tales are still told of stirring games in the Glens and by the shores of Laugh Neagh.

The Gaelic Athletic Association was founded in Thurles in 1884 and from small beginnings soon spread to almost every parish in the land. The first attempt to establish the association in Co. Antrim was a failure. Two hurling clubs, Divis Rangers and Red Branch Knights were established in 1889 but the seed fell on stony ground and soon withered. The coming of Michael Cusack, the Association’s founder, to Belfast led to the inauguration of the Association in Co. Antrim.

“Sometime about the year 1894″, wrote ‘Benmore’, who was one of those instrumental in bringing Cusack North, “the spirit of the Gael had asserted itself in Belfast through the agency of one or two literary societies whose objects were to concentrate on Irish customs, history, language and pastimes . . . . Michael Cusack was on the field that day, the figure which caught the eye of everyone. He was the spirit that seemed to move and give life and touch, and Gaelic dash to the whole day’s proceedings. Out of that day’s efforts sprang the G.A.A. in Belfast. The launching of such clubs as the Shauns, the Peter O’Neill Crowleys, the John Mitchels, the Brian Ogs, the Tir na nOgs and others followed. Soon the movement spread to the Glens and the G.A.A. in Co. Antrim became a reality”.


John ‘Benmore’ Clarke 1868 –1934

(Image courtesy: Mc Sparran, J : The History of Gaelic Games in The Glens of Antrim)

About 1903 the first clubs in the Glens were started notably Glenarm Shaunsand Carey Faughs. The Association spread to various other districts and before long Ballycastle MacQuillans, Glenariffe Ossians, Cushendall Rory Ogs, Cushendun Emmetts, Loughguile Shamrocks and Dunloy Cuchullians boasted of teams which could more than hold their own with those from Belfast. In recent years Glen Rovers Armoy, Glenravel and Larne have joined the ranks of Antrim hurling.

In the year 1904 Feis na nGleann was held for the first time in Glenariffe, and among the attractionsimage

(Image courtesy: Mc Sparran, J : The History of Gaelic Games in The Glens of Antrim)

of that June day was a challenge hurling match between Glenarm Shauns and Carey Faughs which the latter won gaining the magnificent trophy “The Shield of the Heroes”. It it interesting to record that on that occasion one of the umpires was Roger Casement.


(Image courtesy: Mc Sparran, J : The History of Gaelic Games in The Glens of Antrim)

Carey Faugh’s 1906imageBack Row L-R: Alex McBride, John McBride, Alex McKinley, Dan McCarry, John McDonnell, Dan Lamont, John Lynn

Middle Row L-R: James McAllister, Hugh McCormick, paddy Butler, James McCarry, Paddy Lynn, Dan Gillan, Neil McNaughton

Front Row L-R: Pat McCarry, Frank Black, Pat Moore

(Image courtesy: Mc Sparran, J : The History of Gaelic Games in The Glens of Antrim)

Very soon the games were on a sound footing and in 1906 Carey Faughs had the honour of bringing the County title to North Antrim for the first time. To gain this honour the Faughs had to meet the Crowleys (Belfast) twice, the first game having ended in a draw. Thus were the Championships under the control of the County Antrim Board begun.


(image courtesy: Mc Sparran, J : The History of Gaelic Games in The Glens of Antrim)

For nearly three-quarters of a century the Glensmen have remained attached to the games of the G.A.A. The great games and players of the past are as much talked of and assessed as the games and players of the current season’schampionships. There is one thing the exile often remarks upon when he returns home, the fine grounds and conditions now provided for the players. He remembers when their changing facilities were provided by a friendly hedge.


(image courtesy: Mc Sparran, J : The History of Gaelic Games in The Glens of Antrim)

All that is changed as improvements have been effected. Standards too have been raised and in recent years Antrim won an All-Ireland Intermediate Hurling Championship and Division II of the National Hurling League. The ambition to win Senior honours remains. They remember that when they went down to an awful defeat in 1943, Dr. Mageean, Bishop of Down and Connor, expressed what was in the heart of every Antrim man on that evening. “The North has always taken hard knocks, we have taken one to-day, but remember we will recover and came back again”.


(Image courtesy: Mc Sparran, J : The History of Gaelic Games in The Glens of Antrim)

Northern dourness and determination and the keenness of the Glensmen for their ancient game will ensure the realisation of his prophecy.

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