CricketEurope Irish Cricket History logo
Edward Liddle's Biographies of Irish Cricketers
Robert Algernon Persse
  • Born 14 June 1845 Roxborough, Loughrea, Co Galway
  • Died 25 May 1911 Ardrahan, Co Galway
  • Educated Mr Vincent's School; Dublin University
  • Debut 11 May 1865 v United South of England XI at Rathmines
  • Cap Number 81
  • Style Right-hand bat
  • Teams Dublin University, Phoenix, Gort, Roxborough, Ballinasloe, Co Galway

Algernon Persse was a good upper order batsman and useful bowler whose record suggests that, had he been able to appear in Dublin cricket more often, would probably have progressed further in the Irish game.

Entering Dublin University in 1862, he won his colours the following year and again in 1865 but does not seem to have played in the intervening season. He topped the batting averages in his last year, it being a commentary more on the state of the College Park wicket than his ability that his figures were 197 runs at 19.40, with a highest score of 44. His contemporaries in the University XIs he played for included William Hone, snr, Robert Trail, l Tom Casey and WM Morgan.

His sole appearance for Ireland came against the United South of England XI at Rathmines in May 1865, two weeks before his 21st birthday, Ireland having 22 players. This was, in some ways, a historic match, as it was not only the first played at Observatory Lane, but also the first ever played by the USE XI. It was, however, ruined by the rain and further time was lost by the late arrival on the ground of most of the home side which included no fewer than 17 new caps, 12 of whom were never to play again. Perhaps the delayed start was helpful to the visitors, most of whom had been badly sea sick on their crossing. The rain also kept the Prince of Wales away from the game though; it is highly likely that Bertie welcomed the chance to pursue other diversions for which he was well known!

The visitors were bowled out for 55 with William Ashton and the Leinster professional P Smith doing the damage, but then the famous pair of Edgar Willsher and James Lillywhite, jnr ran through the Irish side, dismissing them for 86 with only three batsmen making a double figure score. One of them was Algernon, batting at No 13, who made the second top score 17, before being run out. His innings was seen as the best played for Ireland, being especially noted for leg side shots. Smith again bowled well in the USE's second innings talking 6 wickets to dismiss them for 171 but there was no time for Ireland to bat again, the wet and cold, that only Dublin in early May can produce, intervening again.

Thereafter almost all Algernon's cricket was played in Co Galway where the game flourished drawing its players from far beyond the Anglo-Irish elite - to which class he belonged - and "Castle Catholics." For some 10 years he was probably the best player in the county, and was much in demand not only for his own side, Roxborough, and the Co Galway team but also for clubs such as Gort and Ballinasloe. He had first come to prominence as a Co Galway player in 1863 when with a second innings of 58 he helped the County XI defeat his University team-mates in College Park, while in 1868 playing for Co Galway against Athlone he top scored in both innings with 21 and 27* as well as taking two top order wickets to secure a notable victory.

Two years later, playing for Ballinasloe against the Athlone Garrison he made 58 paving the way for victory by 158 runs. In this match he was joined by the 15 year old Frank Kempster, soon to take over the mantle of the best cricketer west of the Shannon. Algernon's highest score of which a record has been found came in 1871 when on Galway's Midlands' tour, he made an undefeated 73 against the 15th Regiment at Birr, having, in the previous match, made 35 against the 98th at Athlone. We may also note a match for Gort against Co Clare when, according to a local newspaper, "He scored as many runs as Co Clare and broke their hearts time and time again."

Algernon came from a well-known Galway landed family - his father being Dudley Persse DL - of which the best known member was probably his younger sister Augusta who, having married Sir William Gregory of Coole Park, Co Galway, a former Governor of Ceylon, became as Lady Gregory a key figure in the Irish Literary Revival and close friend of WB Yeats. Her son, Robert, a young man of many talents, was a fine bowler of medium pace leg breaks and cutters who had sensational debut for Ireland against Scotland in 1912, taking 8/80 in the first innings. He was killed on the Italian Front in 1917, immortalised by Yeats in "An Irish Airman Foresees His Death."

Algernon married Elinor Laura Jane Gough, daughter of the Second Viscount Gough. Their son Rodolph Algernon Persse was also a talented cricketer, being in the Eton side of 1911 when his bowling had much to do with them defeating Winchester, who lost after forcing Eton to follow on. Among Rodolph's team-mates in that side was George Llewellyn - Davies, one of three brothers, befriended at an early age by literary figure JM Barrie and possible models for Peter Pan. George played some matches for Barrie's own, rather strange cricket team which included such names as Arthur Conan Doyle and AA Milne. Tragically both George and Rodolph failed to survive the First World War, both being killed in France in 1915, the latter falling on New Year's Day.

Elinor was left to face the sadness of her son's death alone, Robert Algernon Persse having died in Galway almost four years previously. His will shows that his properties in England were worth over 17000 at the time of his death. It may also be noticed that his date of death differs from that previously given. The one shown above is most certainly correct.