Monday, October 08, 2007

Glenurquhart High School in Dublin and Kilcormac : Showcasing the Game of the Highlands.

"Superb ground skills. This is hurling as it used to be” said the venerable spectator as he watched Glenurquhart High School under 16 side take on Drumcullen GAA under 16s under the compromise rules. The local spectator mirrored exactly the very thoughts that the Wing Centre has always had about the unequal merits of the two codes : he has long been comfortable with the thought that shinty ,with its emphasis on the stick and only the stick, shorn of the catching and kicking that dominates the modern game of hurling-is the superior sport in every way.
But this trip was not about simply proving to a passing Irishman the inferiority of his own dear sport of hurling rather it was about introducing the boys of the Glen High School to the massive nature of the sister stick sport and opening their eyes to the potential that lies behind shinty.
Shinty is not revered as it should be in Scotland : even in the very Glens where it should be given its place the sport is slighted and ignored even while it dares to survive.
Which is why at the start of October 2007, twenty six pupils from Glen Urquhart High School crossed the Irish Sea as part of the school’s contribution to Highland 2007.With the group went Depute Head Teacher Mrs Josie Mackenzie, P.E. Teacher and Scottish International lady shinty player Laura McConachie, and three shinty coaches Helen Maclennan (Glen Urquhart), Jimmac Mackintosh (Glen Urquhart) and Donald Fraser (Strathglass)
Of course a trip to Ireland has to be paid for and Edinburgh-based sportscotland , with its money cut back to allow London have an Olympic extravaganza, found itself not obliged to help. Nothing for it but to show a can do attitude and get the cash in. As Mrs M said in the Inverness Courier “The pupils have been involved in fundraising and we have received marvellous support from the wider community in putting together funding for this trip. This is a wonderful example of our community supporting our pupils in showcasing our local sport and all of us are deeply appreciative of this support” These were points that Mrs M was to make to the host clubs on several occasions whilst in the Emerald Isle.
For the record donations came in from :Highland Industrial Supplies (£1500) Loch Ness Angling Competition (£1000), Kilmartin Estate (£500)
Mackintosh Joinery (£500) Councillors Discretionary Budget (£500) Glenurquhart Highland Games (£250) Glenurquhart Shinty Club (£250), Glengarry Shinty Club (£100) Strathglass Shinty Club (£250) Glenurquhart High School (£500) and Runrig (£300). Mr Russell Fraser and Mr Garry Mackintosh generously helped with the provision of helmets and other equipment for the trip.
So what happened?
Here’s the blow by blow account you’ve waited for. Having left Inverness on the morning flight to Dublin, the first highlight of the trip was an afternoon tour of the 80,000 seat National GAA Stadium Croke Park which was arranged for and paid for in a personal capacity by our own Alan Macleod of the Camanachd Association. The lads - and the three lasses- were conducted round the spectacular stadium. The highlight came when after touring the dressing rooms , they were led out of the tunnel on to the edge of the pitch. This was followed up by a visit to the huge GAA store to stock up on hurleys and other souvenirs.
Tuesday saw the action begin but not until the group had enjoyed a visit to a peat bog which was used to extract fuel to power an electricity generating plant. Thereafter it was on to Kilcormac school (Colege Naoimh Cormaic) where the boys put on a demonstration shinty match (Under 16 forwards v Under 16 defence: Under 14 forwards against Under 14 defence) This was followed up by the under 16 side taking on the College under 16s (the Irish recorded a narrow win) and the visit was rounded off with the consumption of vast quantities of food and some Irish dancing (colleens supplied) at which the lads acquitted themselves very well.
The next port of call was down the road to Drumcullen GAA Club where one of the County Offaly coaches introduced the squad to the skills of hurling and then both teams played Drumcullen sides. This time-whether they had been buoyed up by the feasting or merely by close contact with the local girls- the boys won both games and were suitably rewarded with a large trophy depicting two hurlers. More food ensued before the party returned in triumph with their spoils to their accommodation in Dublin.
Wednesday morning found the happy throng in central Dublin for a quick history/singing lesson on Molly Malone and a brisk spot of shopping before the party was whisked off to St Aidan’s College in North Dublin to play against boys who are affiliated to Whitehall Colmcille (the side which the Glen team played against in October 2006). There with the irrepressible Seamus in charge as ref, the Glen School sides won both their matches.
It was a very tired but happy school party that flew home to the Glen on Thursday .
So what was it all about?
It certainly ought to have helped the boys to see the shinty they play in their various clubs in a wider context. It should also have helped make them aware of the community element which is so important in shinty and let them see how much more powerful that element is in the hurling communities of Ireland. A team sport should be all about building communities and have little to do with personal gain : as a social education lesson in school time the trip to Ireland was worth a thousand work sheets. Oh yes, it helped build on stick skills and provided a bit of bonding. No doubt the crack was good as well

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