Kinlochshiel celebrate as new home at Rèaraig officially opens

Kinlochsheil players, officials, and supporters raise a cheer to the new pitch.

The menace of storm Dennis couldn’t dampen the spirit of celebration at Kinlochshiel shinty club last Saturday as the new field at Rèaraig was officially opened.

Club stalwart Bert Loades cut the ribbon on the £350,000 development flanked by fellow former player Donnie Gordon and long-serving club official John MacDougall.

Camanachd Association president and Shiel board member Keith Loades said the new field was the culmination of work over many years, but the legacy would be an asset that would serve shinty and the local community for generations to come.

He told the Free Press that a motion to investigate finding a new home for the club had been instigated at an annual general meeting in 2005 by Johnny ‘Ach’ MacRae, just months before his sudden passing

Land next to the Balmacara Hotel was offered by the Grant family, and the club would be helped by gifts from the legacies of two families.

Part of the ground was sold for a four-house development beside the pitch, and as well as local fundraising sportscotland, Highland Council, Eilean Donan Castle and Inverinate and Arnisdale estates all made contributions to the project.

Youngsters from local schools, along with shinty-playing pipers Donald Nixon, Aaron Jack, Eilidh MacInnes, and Callum Coghill played their part in marking the big occasion.

“We did have hurdles to overcome – bad weather, a period of drought when we wanted the grass to grow, and then not long before they were due to complete the project Soutar Sports, the contractors, went into administration,” Loades added.

“It hasn’t been easy. As well as paying for the pitch project, the club has still had to find about £40,000 each year to run all its teams. It is great to see the field now completed.

“The houses are also a boost and have brought young families to live here. All-round it’s an excellent project for the community.”

Bert Loades, flanked by Donnie Gordon and John MacDougall, declares the new pitch open.

As well as the pitch the club has spent an additional £20,000 to install portable changing rooms and toilets, and for the longer term, there is an ambition to build a permanent clubhouse.

After Saturday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony the celebrations continued at a reception in Dornie Hall, and at an evening race night for club funds.

The club’s traditional home at Kirkton, which is owned by the National Trust for Scotland, is being retained as a shinty pitch and is likely to continue to be used for training and to host junior matches.

Keith Loades said investment in facilities continued to be a key ambition for the game’s governing body, adding that the sport would also soon be boosted by similarly new projects at Fort William and Newtonmore as well as planned improvements at the showpiece venues of Bught Park in Inverness and Oban.

Kinlochshiel club chairman Chris Nixon welcomes the new pitch.

As far as attracting cup-finals to the west coast, Loades said there were unlikely to be any in the forthcoming season.

The association has signed sponsorship deals with Liberty BA and Highland Industrial Supplies, which commits to playing the Sutherland and Balliemore finals in Fort William and Drumnadrochit respectively. The Camanachd Cup final of 2020 will be played in Kingussie, while Oban and Inverness are already the long-established hosts for the MacAulay and MacTavish finals.

Dàn beag – A’ Phàirc Ùr aig Rèaraig: a few lines to celebrate the opening of Kinlochshiel’s new shinty pitch at Rèaraig on Saturday 15th February 2020 – Duncan Ferguson with apologies to William McGonagall…

Photographs by Willie Urquhart.