There were forms of cricket played in Ireland as early as the 1600’s with stool ball and other stick ‘n ball games emerging. In the 1730’s Charles and Lord John Sackville played cricket in the Phoenix park but the first recognised match was the Garrison (British army officers) verses an all Ireland team (Irish aristocracy ) in 1792 playing annually. Cricket was and still is the game of the British Empire cementing the ties of the colonies. Although Rugby spread to other countries such as South Africa, Australia, NZ , cricket spread to India largely due to their climate. Carlow CC formed in 1830 as well as Wicklow. The Phoenix which is the longest surviving club formed in 1834. Trinity College in 1835 and Royal school of Armagh 1854. The biggest and most successful sporting celebrity in England in the late 19th century was WC Grace who played regularly at Trinity College grounds. A game that was associated with gentry and the elite quickly became a game of the people, played by all classes across Ireland in the late 1800’s. It was the most popular sport in Ireland. Cricket clubs formed in every county. Even the Irish republicans were playing the most Englishness of games. It was reported that the indigenous game of Hurling was a problem because it was ‘seen as barbaric’ causing excitement thus leading to violence, whereas cricket was seen as disciplined with organisation.
The game went into decline towards the end of the 19th century, a victim of politics and class, as the growth of Gaelic Games became a rallying point for the disaffected and disenfranchised working-class tenants of Ireland against their upper-class, cricket-playing, landlords. Although the game of cricket itself was not anathema to the downtrodden, its affiliation to England was.
Although the game continued in the north of the country and in the heartlands of central and northern Dublin, the GAA introduced the draconian Law 27 in 1902, banning GAA players from either participating or even watching the so-called English sports of football, rugby or cricket. The ban lasted for more than 70 years, ensuring the game became unknown in much of the country. internal issues within cricket didn’t help, such as the failure to organise a governing body which might have unified the sport and helped it maintain its popularity. Anybody who showed an interest in cricket was regarded as a traitor. The success of the Land Acts in reducing the land ownership is indicated by the fact that in 1870, only 3% of Irish farmers owned their own land while 97% were tenants. By 1929, this ratio had been reversed with 97.4% of farmers holding their farms in freehold. So as a result of this (in rural areas) the large estates that were used as cricket pitches were now owned by the tenant farmers who were not interested in giving or letting the land as cricket pitches, as farming to feed themselves took priority .
The departure of the British in 1922 from the new Free State also contributed towards the game losing further ground, while in the north of the country it strengthened where ties to Britain remained strong.
It took until 1923 to attempt the formation of the Irish Cricket Union with a brief to organise the national squad, arranging fixtures against the Scots and the English MCC, with occasional visits by English counties and test teams. But due to internal politics the Irish Cricket Union wasn’t officially formed until 2001 which became Cricket Ireland.
The Irish Cricket team went on to beat the West Indies in 2004 and went on to beat Bangladesh and Pakistan in the 2007 World Cup. Followed by a win over England in the same competition in 2011. Cricket in schools in Ireland is gradually increasing with girls as well as the boys. Women’s cricket has had its own success which I’ll be featuring next season.
As a footnote….. In 1740 during the mid Georgian period , George Smith the leaseholder of the Artillery ground ( London’s main cricket venue ) who was also the landlord of the Pied Horse Pub. To gain access to the ground the spectators had to pass through the pub, so he was able to charge them an entrance fee as well as drink! He then also bought in Hurling teams which although was a success , Hurling didn’t ‘catch on’ in UK. Shame though.