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Edward Liddle's Biographies of Irish Cricketers
Ernest Ensor
  • Born 17 December 1870, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire.
  • Died 13 August 1928 at 5 Sydneyville, Bellvue Park, Cork.
  • Educated Darlington Grammar School, Dublin University
  • Occupation Academic also Writer on Sports Subjects.
  • Debut 20 August 1896 v I Zingari at Phoenix Park.
  • Cap Number 233
  • Style Right-hand bat, right arm fast medium.
  • Teams Dublin University; Phoenix; Cork County

Ernest Ensor, tall thin and fair haired, was a good opening bowler, and, as a batsman, could destroy mediocre attacks. He tended however to be somewhat out of his depth against first class bowlers. Though he entered Dublin University in 1889, having been a leading sportsman at Darlington Grammar School in NE England, he did not gain a regular place in the XI until 1894, though he was a distinguished player for the 2nd XI and the A XI, for example for the latter v Haddon Hall Opera Company, in College Park, in April 1893, he made 32 in 20 minutes in a 51 run opening stand, then bowled the visitors out.

However 'The Irish Times' commented, "The Thespians bowling was not very swagger," and one assumes the same could be said for their batting. Ensor did play against Leicestershire and Essex in 1893, both sides were then awaiting first class status. He batted low in the order without distinction and his bowling was not used. He probably owed his place in the University XI the following summer to the enforced departure for South Africa of CL Johnson at the end of the 1893 season. Ensor was a replacement pace bowler, though lacking Johnson's speed. Indeed two of the matches the University played against major opposition in 1894, he, again, did not bowl at all. Thus in June, when the Gloucestershire team, masquerading as WG Grace's XI, came to College Park, Ensor batted at 8, scoring 14, caught by Australian paceman JJ Ferris, one of the seven to fall to fast left armer Fred Roberts, in the first innings in which only Dan Comyn with 76 looked on top of the bowling; and 1 in the second, in which left hander JH Brunskill's 35 was top score, but did not get on to bowl, even though both Comyn and Brunskill, both no more than occasional trundlers at medium pace were used. Later in the summer, he was included in a Past and Present X I against the South African touring team. After an evenly balanced first innings each, the hosts collapsed against Johnson. Again, Ensor, 0* and 3, at 10, did not have a bowl, though not only Brunskill but also Jack Meldon were tried.

However, the following summer, the University played four first class matches, the first played by an Irish side, and Ernest was seen to better advantage. his batting was useful with a highest score of 18, and, his bowling at last being trusted, he took 23 wickets at 20.35, including two 2 "5 fors." He began with 9/118 in the match as The University began its first class history by defeating a rather weak MCC side by 56 runs in College Park. Ernest's most notable scalp was HW Studd, one of the famous brothers, though perhaps the least distinguished cricketer among them. Unlike his siblings Charlie and George he did not devote his life to evangelism, rather he followed a military calling and became a Brigadier.

When the University played two matches in England later in the summer, Ernest had only two wickets v Cambridge, though these included the notable one of Clem Wilson, but then had good match figures against Leicestershire, now first class, at Grace Road, even though his side was heavily defeated. He had 4/60 in the first innings and 3/95 in the second. When Cambridge came to College Park, rain, and a century from Arthur Gwynn, saved the home side from heavy defeat, but Ernest with 5/108, as the visitors totalled 474, had reason to be satisfied. He removed HH Marriott, one of two Cambridge centurions, and Reggie Studd, the youngest of the family. The following summer MCC again visited College Park, though this match was not first class. They were too strong for their hosts for whom only Ernest and his friend Lucius Gwynn showed good form. Ernest had 4-81 in the MCC first innings of 306, including George Hearne caught behind for 45. The home batting crumbled to the speed of Middlesex, and former Yorkshire bowler John Rawlin and followed on. Lucius Gwynn made a brilliant 120. However Ernest was also seen to advantage with a hard hitting 48. Otherwise only Arthur Gwynn and Sep Lambert managed double figures. In all Ensor played in 14 such matches, including the Australian game of 1905, which is described below, and took 54 wickets at 21.31. Only Tom Harvey (60) and Lucius Gwynn (55) took more.

These performances saw him gain selection for Ireland v I Zingari in 1896. This match played at Phoenix Park in late August was dominated by two splendid Innings for Ireland; 157 from Dan Comyn, and 93 from Drummond Hamilton. Ensor hardly got on to bowl as the visitors batting collapsed twice to the spin of Bill Harrington, Bob Lambert and Bud Hamilton. Ernest's 0/16 was to prove his only spell for Ireland as he was never to play again.

After leaving University, he played most of his cricket in Munster, for example having a distinguished all round game for Cork County against his former team mates in 1897. However he was a rather surprising choice for the University Past and Present XI v the Australians, a match which was only on the fixture list because the University authorities would not allow College Park be used for an Irish match. He did not get a bowl in the first innings, Philip Meldon's leg breaks caused the tourists enough problems and the pace bowling was entrusted to John Lynch, fresh from destroying Cork County.. Then Ensor, normally a lower order batsman, found he opening the innings against the sheer pace and unpredictable bounce of 'Tibby Cotter', in poor light. It seems a strange decision, when the hosts had two seasoned openers in Jack Gwynn and Frank Browning. Both were soon in as Ernest was yorked for 1, and his partner Robin Gwynn, another more used to batting lower down, being even less successful. Browning ensured that a fight was made but though Ernest got a brief and wicketless bowl in the visitors second innings, he failed again with the bat. 'Tibby' had developed a side strain, possibly to ensure that gate money could be taken on the third day, and leg spinner Warwick Armstrong opened the bowling together with the gentle medium pace of opening bat Reggie Duff. The latter had Ernest caught behind for a further solitary single, while Robin managed 5 before being stumped off Armstrong.

Ensor played little more serious cricket, though kept in touch with the game through his writing. He tended to be somewhat critical, and, for one who was still a comparatively young man, a gloomy forecaster of the future. This is well shown in his chapter on Irish cricket in Pelham Warner's 'Imperial Cricket', published in 1913. While paying due tribute to his former team mates such as the Gwynn and Meldons and realising the achievements of Bob Lambert, Bill Harrington and Tom Ross, he forecast the demise of cricket in Ireland, not perhaps in so many words but his inference is clear. People in Ireland would not, he thought, watch cricket, they would rather watch polo. The last comment is, perhaps indicative of the world in which he moved. He also wrote in stringent terms about football and Northern Union Rugby (Rugby League). The latter was full of cheats and spies while the former was ruined by, again the inference is clear, by the lower orders being unable to behave while they watched it. He devoutly hoped that the same fate would not befall cricket!

Five years earlier, in a letter to The Times reproduced by The Irish Times and recently (October 2013) unearthed by Ger Siggins, he had also forecast the imminent demise of Irish cricket, though on this occasion golf was the enemy. The letter also tells us much about his social values revealing what might be described as the less attractive side of his nature. Cricket he believed was the preserve of the Anglo-Irish elite, nobody else in Ireland had ever played it. That was, of course, simply untrue. As recent works by historians such as Tom Hunt and Pat Bracken - to name but two - have revealed cricket was still, despite the foundation of the GAA and the influence of the Gaelic Revival - being played in the Irish countryside, by men far removed from the Ensor social circle. The thought occurs that, as he must surely have been aware of this, Ernesr simply did not regard their games as "proper". The letter also offers a clue as the why Pelham Warner asked him to write the chapter on Ireland in "Imperial Cricket", when there were several better equiped to do so. The two men clearly shared many social values and opinions of those whom Warner once described as "the lower orders".

He was also a classical scholar. His commentary on the Odes of Horace is still in vogue today, though the present writer, lacks the expertise to comment on it. It seems as well that Ernest Ensor could not when he died, short of his 58th birthday, have had any concept of modern cricket or of what was to become of the classics.