The Sacred Chain

There I found it. A 22 -yard strip of fine turf, a cut above the scutchy tawny rough grass that surrounded it. I’d have guessed it hadn’t been used for one hundred years but there it was,  in open ground in Dublin’s Phoenix Park, just beyond the Pope’s Cross, not too far from the American Embassy.

There’s a vast open steppe in the middle of the Park that’s harvested every year to provide winter fodder for the Park's deer herd , so the pitch would have been cut every year. And remained unnoticed until I found it.

 There was no sign of a pavilion or railings thereabouts so this chain of land must have been  the long lost Dublin Public Cricket Ground. All manner of teams, office elevens, neighbourhood sides, scout troop teams, would have tossed, shook hands and fought battle here.

This spot must have seen hundreds of games. There were still unrepaired bowlers’ footholds and a little groove where the batsman straightened the blade, looked down the pitch and said, “centre, please umpire”. Cricket and its early travails in Ireland are well documented but there are no scorebooks for matches played here, if indeed a score was kept.  You’d wonder how much fun was had. Dublin back then was an ugly place, as filthy as it was smelly. What a break from the misery these matches must have been for our merry cricketers.

I could particularly picture the works teams, rolling up with a satchel bag with bats and balls and stumps. Lob bowling was the staple diet, the fielding would have been keen to start with but gradually faded. The bosses would probably have purchased the match ball and this entitled them to open the batting, even though a run was often  beyond them. The boss’s  team must have giggled as the boss man loudly intoned “there is no run there” and there was  barely suppressed laughter when he returned blushing to his crew, single digits or less against his name. There would have been blushes too when a junior scout ran out the scout leader and the usual timeless  gripes about umpiring, and grousing about “ringers” – “ I never knew he worked in that glovers”.

I wondered too about burgeoning relationships that floundered on account of the cricket   - a young lad asked his new girlfriend to come up and see him play, she was curious to meet the work crowd and his buddies. She tottered across the Park to the ground, he ignored her for the afternoon and they were both miserable on the tram home. He had dropped a catch and batted awfully. “ I really don’t know what I saw in him”.

The cricket played here must have been of a pretty dreadful standard. At the same time it served its purpose because many of the more established clubs in Dublin grew in this surrounding. There are no surviving scores, no photos, no silverware,  but the cricket here was the simplest and the best kind. Bat and ball, a catch that made someone’s weekend, a four that won the day. Handshakes at the end of the game and memories that brought a smile. I was surrounded by ghosts as I stared at this little plot, but they were friendly ghosts, spirits that looked back on the good and joyous  moments in their lives. Moments that cricket gave me.