Jim Bennett, March 2021
Early Days: 1898-1927
The earliest references to cricket in the Black Hills are contained in the diaries of Mrs Taylor of Ardgillan. The next reference to cricket in the area is an account of a game between White Hart and Balcunnin which was played on 31 August 1863 and resulted in a win for White Hart by 31 runs.
Every player appeared to have been a member of the gentry because in a very deferential report, it is mentioned that, "all is excellent, and we do not wish to particularise, but cannot refrain from noticing the wicket-keeping of Mr Gibson which was worthy of the highest commendation."
While there are reports of games being played in Skerries, Balbriggan, Malahide and Gormanston from the 1840s to early 1890s, there are no reports of games in the Black Hills' area until after the establishment of the Drogheda Independent in 1894. From this time onwards, and for a limited period, it is possible to gain information about cricketing exploits in the Black Hills and Balcunnin.
In 1898, Gormanstown CC's fixture list includes a game against Shamrocks CC. The Shamrocks CC was based at the Black Hills, and the choice of name is significant because it wished to make clear its identification with the nationalist cause. This espousal of a political ideology flew in the face of the sentiments expressed by Kithougue in the Drogheda Independent of 14 October 1899 when he recommended that clubs not be allowed to adopt party or political names or identify themselves in any way with non-sporting matters because in his words, "some Irishmen would drag politics into pitch and toss".
Not only was this recommendation ignored completely by the Black Hills Shamrocks in 1899, but in 1900, it changed its name to the Cronje CC, Blackhills, and its aspiration for the season was "to make as good a stand against their opponents in cricket as the gallant General did against the British forces in South Africa."
In the only game in 1899 for which there is a report, The Hills Shamrocks played Workmen's CC, Skerries, and the result was a comfortable win for the Workmen's CC. In a two innings per side game, the Hills scored 11 in the first innings and 28 in the second innings, and the Workmen's reply was 34 in the first innings and 14 in the second innings for 4 wickets.
Results were more positive during the 1900 season. At the Black Hills on 19 July, Garristown was beaten on a score of 32 runs to 19, and the bowling honours were taken by Patrick Grimes who "bowled in splendid style for the home team taking seven wickets. Edward Connor batted exceedingly well scoring 15." On 5 August, Corduff was beaten on a score of 49 to 30 in a game played in sunshine and rain on a "very slow wicket". The Cronje's run of success continued on 19 August in "splendid cricket weather" when Oldtown was beaten on a score of 23 runs to 13. The return game against Oldtown in Oldtown ended rather suddenly. The "kind hospitality combined with beautiful weather made the day's outing a pleasant one", but a "singular incident" caused the Cronje team to leave the field. P. Leonard was hit on the head by a full ball, and he was given out LBW: We were completely astounded at the fact and immediately left the field and hurried home to spend the remaining few hours of the evening studying the laws of cricket.
In August 1901, Cronje's Hills CC played Donabate De Wet's CC and the game ended in a draw on a score of 81 runs each, and this seems to have been a very pleasant social occasion: Great respect and thanks to Mr J Smith, Bridge House for his kindness for giving his splendid field and one of his spacious rooms at our disposal which in both we passed a splendid and enjoyable evening's fun. This club had sufficient numbers in this season to field a second team which played against Balcunning Major Mc Bride's CC on 18 August 1901 at the Black Hills. The home side scored 79 runs, and the visitors were dismissed for 46 runs due to the bowling of TC Clinton and L. Casey. In the return game against Corduff at Corduff, Cronje CC was beaten on a score of 35 runs to 13.
The Cronje 1st X1 played Donabate De Wet's at the Black Hills on 1 September 1901, but both teams received an interesting invitation from J. Bissett, for the evening prior to the game: All bona-fide members of both clubs are requested to attend the annual soiree given by the Cronje CC on Saturday night at 9 o'clock sharp, 31st August without fail. At its AGM on 4 May 1902, the Cronje CC reverted to being called The Shamrocks CC, The Hills, the "usual officers" were elected, and teams were invited to communicate with Patrick Daly to arrange fixtures for the coming season. That is the extent of the information available on the 1902 season. The only other report on a team in the locality was a reference to a game between Balcunnin and Ballykay which was played on 9 July 1905 and resulted in a win for Balcunnin on a score of 79 runs to 40. Nothing further is known of the cricketing endeavours of the Blackhills CC or Balcunnin until the establishment of the Fingal League in 1926.
The establishment of the Fingal League was a catalyst for a revival of cricketing activity in the area. The Black Hills Cricket Club held its AGM on 15 March 1927 and entered a team in the league for the 1927 season. It was not too successful in 1927, but it entered a team again for the 1928 season, and there was also a team from Barnageera in the League. By 8 August 1927, Barnageera had won 6 out of 8 games played, and the Black Hills had won 2 games. The other teams in the section were Balrothery, Baldwinstown, Macraidh Knockbrack 11. There were three teams, Barnageera, Black Hills and Balcunnin, from the area in the Fingal League in 1929.
Black Hills continued to struggle and only won 3 games out of 14; Balcunnin won 5 out of 14 games, and Barnageera won 5 out of 10 games. Black Hills was involved in a very controversial game against Balbriggan which was played at Black Hills on Sunday, 9 June 1929. The report was submitted by the Balbriggan correspondent, so it is necessary to allow for elements of bias in its contents.
The report commenced with a reference to an "unsatisfactory termination and ebullitions of temper not usually associated with cricket." Details of the game are then outlined as follows: Victor Vernon was given out "lbw" by a ball which hit at least one foot wide of his leg stump. Worse was to follow for Balbriggan. W. Cumisky was hit "high up on the body" by a "rising ball". "Leg before" was the same umpire's decision, and this ruling was greeted with "ironical cheers and laughter from all parts of the ground. As a result of a temporary brain wave and protests from some of the home players who were obviously ashamed of his glaring partiality, the Umpire reconsidered his decision and allowed the batsman to continue his innings." Balbriggan was dismissed for 24 runs.
Black Hills were in trouble from the start, but when the 6th wicket (P. Pollis) was clean bowled by Vernon, "a scene unprecedented on a cricket ground was witnessed. Many of the local players rushed to the pitch protesting that the bails had been dislodged by the wicketkeeper before the ball hit the stumps." The home team abused the Umpire, Mr John Reynolds, "one of the oldest and best-known cricketers in County Dublin, whose knowledge of the game and integrity as an umpire are very widely recognised." The home side refused to continue and pulled the stumps. The Balbriggan Correspondent expressed the hope that the Management Committee of the Fingal League would deal appropriately with the "offending club" because such conduct would have a "deleterious effect on the Fingal League and perhaps do serious injury generally to cricket in North County Dublin."
A report such as this was never going to be left unchallenged, and a spectator at the game suggested that the original report contained "intemperate criticism of the game" and was not "calculated to further the interests of cricket in the district." He was very critical of "vituperative comment", and he deemed the correspondent's attitude to the umpire as being prejudiced. He expressed the opinion that a sportsman would never denigrate the actions of an umpire, and he was confident that the Management Committee was well-capable of dealing with the matter because it would take the "sane and proper view of such incidents". The parting shot from the person who signed himself, Fair Play, was that the previous report was not exactly "cricket". There is no account of the decision of the Management Committee and both teams played their full quota of games (14), but they had one draw each so it is possible that the game was declared a draw.
There is no evidence that the Black Hills played in 1930 season, but Balcunnin was involved in an exciting final against Knockbrack 11 on 24 August. The official result of the game was a draw with each team scoring 40 runs, but the correspondent in the Drogheda Independent and "a vast number of spectators" were in no doubt that the official marker had got the score wrong and Knockbrack had scored 41 runs. In addition to being unhappy with the marking, the reporter was not impressed by the standard of the cricket which was played. There was "no brilliant batting and "most of the score was made through the medium of byes."
The replay was held on the Sunday, 31 August, and one legendary feat was talked about for years after the event. Knockbrack scored 23 runs, with Murphy taking 6 wickets and Hoare taking 4 wickets. The best batsman for Knockbrack was P. Moore who scored 7 runs. Hoare and Gosson opened the batting for Balcunnin, and 9 wickets fell for 14 runs. Hoare (there were 3 Hoares playing) and Power brought the score to 22 when "Murphy send up a fast ball and racing forward made a beautiful one-handed catch to gain victory for his side."
Knockbrack 11 became the first winners of the Fingal Cricket League Perpetual Challenge Cup. Barnageera played Fingal League cricket in 1931 and won 5 out of 5 games, but Ballymadun, the team which topped the section, won 8 games. Balcunnin returned to the league in 1932, and resumed its role as a force in Fingal cricket. A report of a game on 17 July 1932 encapsulates the main ingredients of Fingal cricket – a low score and brilliant bowling. Balcunnin batted first and scored 13 runs, but in a wonderful response, the opposition was bowled out for 3 runs due to the bowling of Hoare and Murphy. Balcunnin played Portrane in the Fingal League Final of 1932, and in a two innings per side game, won the Fingal Cricket Cup for the first time.
Balcunnin defended the trophy successfully in 1933 by defeating Ring Commons in a very one-sided game. From 1934 onwards, there is no mention of either Barnageera or Balcunnin as playing in the Fingal League, and the Black Hills became the only team in the area. Some of the Barnageera and Balcunnin players such as Hoare, Murphy and Thornton were now playing for the Black Hills, and this may have been because the cricket field was in the Black Hills.
The Fingal League Final of 1935 between The Naul and the Black Hills resulted in a win for The Naul. The Naul batted first and scored 33 runs. In reply, The Hills were all out for 27. In the second innings, the Naul scored 47, and the Hills lost 6 wickets for 8 runs in the last 15 minutes of the game. The best batsmen for The Hills were Hoare, Murphy and Thornton, with Murphy and Hoare being the best bowlers. The "outstanding batsmen" for the winners were Hughes, O'Brien, and Rock, with Hughes and Mangan being the best bowlers.
The Black Hills reached the final again in 1936, with Balrothery being the opponents on this occasion. The Black Hills scored 38 runs, with the main contributors being J. Murphy 17, J. Shanley 7 and J. Russell 5. In reply, Balrothery only managed 16 runs, with S. Hoare taking 6 wickets for 9 runs, and J. Murphy, 4 for 3. C. Mooney made the top score for Balrothery and he took 6 wickets for 16 runs. These two great rivals met again in the final in 1940, and Balrothery won by 10 runs on a score of 76 to 66 runs.
In 1941, the same teams met when Balrothery CC was attempting to win the trophy for the third year in succession. This game was described as "the most interesting Fingal Cricket League for some years". The Black Hills won by 10 runs, and the victory was attributed to "excellent fielding and bowling. No opportunity was lost by the fielders in making a catch even at times when it seemed impossible". The Hills Captain was M. P. Gosson who "inspired confidence", and the other member of the Hills team "who distinguished himself was Dick Byrne both with ball and bat". This was the last occasion that the Black Hills won a trophy in the Fingal League until it was re-named The Hills and obtained permission from the Wentges family to use the Vineyard as its home ground.
The Black Hills played in the Fingal League during the 1942, 1943 and 1944 seasons, but in the absence of complete records, it is not possible to state with certainty that the club was involved in the Fingal League every year from 1945 to 1947 inclusive. During this period, some prominent Black Hills players such as Mick Gosson, Eddie Dunne, Richard Byrne, Gerry Byrne, and Simon Hoare played Leinster and Fingal League cricket with Skerries at different times.
In 1945, Mick Gosson 31 and Dick Byrne 11* starred for Skerries in a victory over Walshestown. In 1946, Gosson, Eddie Dunne and Simon Hoare made important contributions in a win for Skerries over Clontarf in the Leinster League. Skerries CC was still involved in Leinster cricket in 1947 but was forced to opt out of Leinster League in 1948 when issues arose regarding the Recreation Park. The Black Hills CC was back in the Fingal League in 1948 and 1949. Eddie Dunne succeeded Tom Murphy as Secretary of the Fingal League, and he was to serve in this position for a very lengthy period.
It appears that the Black Hills did not play in the Fingal League in 1950, 1951 and 1952 and former Black Hills players such as Dick Byrne and Eddie Dunne went back to play with Skerries in 1952 when it resumed playing cricket. The Black Hills returned to the Fingal League in 1953, and remained in the League under that name until the end of the 1969 season.
From a playing perspective, the club was not too successful during this period, and it only made one appearance in a Fingal league final when it was defeated by Knockbrack in 1964. At an administrative level, the Black Hills members were pro-active in ensuring the continuation of the Fingal League and were always very generous with their time.
With the Fingal League providing a structure in terms of fixture-making, and landowners such as the Clintons and the Murtaghs providing fields in which to play, cricket was kept alive in the townlands of the Black Hills, Baltrasna, Strifeland, Margaretstown, Milverton, Balcunnin, Barnageera and the Grange until the 1969 generation was ready to take the next step with the establishment of The Hills CC at the Holmpatrick House Hotel in Skerries.
I am grateful to Joe Curtis, pictured above and Martin Russell for their help in researching this article and for the photographs supplied.