A History of Croquet in Ireland

A History of Croquet in Ireland

Clive Martin & Simon Williams (2004)

Few people realise the strength of the influence of Ireland on croquet during the early nineteenth Century. In fact, if you ask most people how they thought croquet came to Ireland, they would probably guess that it came with the Regiments and was played in the stately homes of the Ascendancy. In fact the reverse is correct. The origins of the game are obscure and it may well have had ancient beginnings and passed down through the Middle Ages; but it is clear that wherever it came from, it was developed in Ireland in the early part of the nineteenth Century. The Field of 1858 (quoted by Betty Prichard in The Croquet Gazette of April 1976) mentions "meetings of the County Meath Croquet Cracks. They were mostly young and met at each other's houses, and the reporter was George Annesley Pollok of Oatlands and Newcastle, Co Meath. Later that year he sent a copy of his rules under the pseudonym of "Corncrake" and called them "The Rules of the Oatlands Club". That is the first mention of a croquet club." The noted croquet historian Dr Prior, in his book of 1872, makes the categoric statement "One thing only is certain: it is from Ireland that croquet came to England and it was on the lawn of the late Lord Lonsdale that it was first played in this country". This was about 1851.

In addition there are records that show that the game was played at Greenmount near Castlebellingham, Co Louth about 1834 and then introduced into Galway to be played at the Bishop of Tuam's palace and at Castlehacket, Tuam by a Mr Kirwan. The Kirwan family owned Chateau Kirwan producing the famous third growth clarets. In The Reader of 29th October 1864 it says "It was a positive fact that in the year 1834/35 the game was played in Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire) near Dublin under the name of Croquet with implements similar to those now used". So it can be seen that the game was played here quite extensively for almost twenty years before it ever reached England.

The first Irish Croquet Championship is recorded from 1871, and it was played again in 1873 and 1874 before seemingly lapsing. Indeed croquet did not prosper in England during the next 25 years, although there is patchy evidence that it may have in America and possibly also here, although the new craze of Lawn Tennis stole its thunder in the sporting press. The oldest existing club in Ireland is Rushbrooke Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, founded in 1882.

Although croquet flourished in Ireland after its early days, most of the clubs were in the provinces and there were few in Dublin. The Irish Championships, resurrected in 1900, and the Gold Medals were held in Belfast, Cork or Fitzwilliam LTC in Dublin, on adapted or borrowed courts. Athenry could muster 12 courts for its tournament! Prichard records that there were clubs in Athenry, Athlone, Belfast, Birr, Carrickmines, Cork, Galway, Kennilworth Square in Dublin, Lismore, Malahide, Mallow, Mullingar, Muskerry, Newcastle (Co Down), Rushbrooke, Tullamore and Youghal. Home Rule was not yet won, but there was for a time a separate Irish branch of the Croquet Association. This was the heyday of croquet in Ireland, when players like Cyril Corbally, his brother Herbert, C.L. O Callaghan, Nina Coote and Peter Duff Mathews bore all before them both at home and in England. Carrickmines Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club became the home of the Championship in 1909.

So it can be seen that 70 years after the game had been introduced into England from Ireland, a small band of Irishmen were to return to England, capture all the honours and rejuvenate the game. they introduced a totally new style, gripping the mallet in what became known as the Irish style and for the first time swinging it between the legs instead of outside the feet or across the body.

After the First World War and in the 1920's croquet sadly went into a decline and many of the clubs mentioned above collapsed. Carrickmines continued to be the only club that kept in the main stream, and the Irish Championship has continued to attract visiting players from among the strongest in the world, including Arthur Ross, Jean Jarden, Roger Murfitt and Aaron Westerby from New Zealand, Keith Wylie, John Solomon and Stephen Mulliner from England. As host to Ireland's international matches, it has welcomed England, Scotland, Wales, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Australia, The USA, South Africa and Canada. Dublin University Croquet Club was founded in 1981 and held its first open tournament the following year. The lavish support of the distributors of Pimm's No 1 helped to make this tournament one of the highlights of the year, but it has recently lapsed to the dismay of all.

The Croquet Association of Ireland was formed in 1985 on a wave of enthusiasm following the victory of an Irish team against the USA in Palm Beach, Florida. Among the leading figures were Terence Read, 11-times Irish Champion, Gerard P. Healy, the new Champion, newly arrived from England, who had galvanised the local players into new life with his flamboyant play. The C.A.I. has done its best to encourage new clubs and expanded activities. Since 1985, Herbert Park C.C., Newcastle C.C. and Kells C.C. have become permanent partners of Carrickmines and Dublin University, and all have introduced new events to the Calendar. The C.A.I. Silver Medal, for the eight strongest available players, was first played at Rushbrooke in 1987, and has become a fiercely contested title. The Irish Doubles Championship started in 1990, and the Golf Croquet Championship in 1998.

In recent years Ireland has achieved some impressive international results, as you can see from the record elsewhere on this site. In addition, Irish players have taken some prestigious titles overseas, notably European Championship (S.Williams 1996), European Golf Croquet Championship (M.J. McInerney 1999) and the English C.A.'s President's Cup (A.E. Cunningham 2000). Irish players compete annually in the Sonoma-Cutrer World Croquet Championship, and in the official W.C.F. World Championships. Ireland has played host to the European Championship in 1995, the European Golf Croquet Championship in 2003, and held the Home International Championship in 2001 and 2003. In the past we have received generous help form Axa Insurances (formerly Guardian Royal Exchange), as well as the Irish Sports Council (and formerly An Cospoir).

Feature Image
Croquet in 1903