It's history

Jim Bennett of The Hills CC but now in the exalted position of President of Cricket Leinster, published a book last year. He collected and refined the various articles that he had written about Fingal cricket into a weighty tome under the title The Story of Cricket in Fingal - didn't work too hard on the title Jim. Another book celebrating the story of Irish cricket, which is fast becoming a mini industry these days. Long may it continue to be so.

I always enjoy Jim's pieces, they are well written and entertaining, but they touch on the aspect of history that interests me most and from our conversations I know interests Jim also. Simplistically, it is the story of the people who played the game and the environment of the time in which they played. That doesn't matter if we are talking about the early 1900s or the early 2000s. If you want to understand the sport, it helps to understand the circumstances, social and political, of the time.

This is in my mind at the moment as I am cataloging the archive of Clontarf Cricket Club before it is handed over to Jim who is pulling together a Cricket Leinster archive to be hosted in Dublin City Library.

Maintaining an archive requires space, controlled temperatures and an awful lot of time and energy. Clubs or individuals, while they may have the interest, simply do not have the facilities to host the archive so it is the right thing to do.

What goes into an archive, is the big question, I suppose. Well first off are the minute books, big binders of mainly handwritten records. The Clontarf version dates back to 1894. The club is believed to have been founded in 1876 - though that is a movable feast since we know that a Clontarf Cricket Club or at least a team called such, existed before that date.

The minute books are at times exceedingly boring but often show great insights to what we might think is a different world. The club's move from the Howth Road site to Castle Avenue can be traced in 1896 when the club's ground at the bottom of the Howth Road was taken back by the landowner for building and an alternative at Castle Avenue suggested. Building houses on sports fields, maybe some things never change.

The travails with groundsmen, the sub renting of the ground to the local butcher (for grazing) to help pay the rent are the little sub plots that can be found in between the beautifully handwritten lines. Even the occasional disciplinary issue.

Fixture books are another source of information, we find the names of club officers, the number of sides the club put out and the opposition. Some clubs we recognise, many have long since folded. And the lingering question, why did they fold but we survive?

The earliest Clontarf fixture card that I have been able to trace is from 1901. It includes a few extra bits that add some interest too. The member has pasted the newspaper articles from his games into the booklet and an intriguing note on the back of one tells about how he had persuaded two Pembroke young men, John (known as Jack) and Bertie Aston to play a game for Clontarf.

The Aston brothers would become stalwarts of Clontarf, John, the club's second Irish international player and Bertie, one of the three men central to the rebuilding of the club grounds later in the 1950s. A little glimpse that even then, clubs were not adverse to doing a bit of poaching.

The most interesting snippets are always about the people, the characters that make up a club and by extension, the sport.

In January 1922 Thomas Marchant presented a cup in his late son's memory to the leading batsman in Leinster cricket. It was first awarded to Bob Lambert for his exploits in the 1921 season.

Charles Stuart Marchant was a Clontarf cricketer who had been killed in the First World War in 1917, a mere 21 years old. Can his father possibly have thought that 100 years later, the cup to memorialise his son would remain the treasured award for Leinster batsmen? I hope that whoever wins the Cup in 2022, looks at the name on the front of the trophy and the list of recipients and thinks, if only for a moment, of the history that has gone before.

A simple ticket to the Dance, reminds us that above all else, cricket clubs are social clubs, a place for locals to meet, to ease away the worries of 9 to 5 life.

The earliest history of Clontarf CC is found in a brochure for a Summer Fete from 1911. A huge undertaking by both Cricket and Rugby clubs but one which brought an entire community and those from further afield together for an enjoyable weekend.

We do not discover much in this history, beyond confirming the uncertainty as to the original founding date but it does tell us that the original club colours were rose and black rather than the now accepted red and blue.

Cricket more than most other sports, other than perhaps baseball, loves its statistics. While they have a place in the stories of clubs until recently these statistics excluded the majority of playing members, concentrating primarily on the highest team only and alienating the majority of cricketers.

In Clontarf, Tom Byrne was the keeper of the stats and every year from the early 1970s until the 2010s he would update the first team stats for the Club Brochure which was produced during that period. Now if you were riding high in the lists you might be keen to see how you stood but most people read this Brochure for the latest scandal, thinly disguised as Club News. If you had been up to mischief, chances were that your exploits would be mentioned in this brochure which was produced in some years for most first team home games.

A glance through these brochures or programmes immediately brings those of a certain age back to simpler times when the highlight of a season was the appearance of Pat Byrne and his band in the bar. Those nights are burned in our memories, as much a part of the history of a club as a cup final. Of course, a cricket club exists because of the game on the field and not just off it. Sometimes it's more interesting, oftentimes not. Both have a place.

Clontarf won its first ever trophy in 1898, the Junior Cup. Somehow, the scorebook for that year has survived the intervening 124 years. The final is recorded in it but not that you would know. There is no note that the game is a final but it is great to have it nonetheless.

A number of years ago, we received a package which included a medal that the sender had found in their attic and which had been won by their great grandfather. The medal belonged to J.R. Boate who had played in that 1898 final.

Perhaps none of this interests you and that is fine. History is not everyone's cup of tea. But if you win a medal for the club this year, maybe glance into the trophy cabinet in the tea room and have a look at Boate’s medal and wonder if he had the same thrill that you felt.

Or the pioneers of women’s cricket in 1977, when Clontarf won the first Tyler Cup, that medal in your hand traces right back to that day in the Phoenix Park.

What recent publications have shown is that there are people out there who are passionate about Irish cricket history and its story. Travel the island and there are people who can tell you the tale in their area. Jim, of course out in Fingal. Ger Siggins has long been an advocate for the story of the game in his beloved Dublin University and well beyond. North Down’s Clarence Hiles has for many years promoted the history of cricket around Belfast, through his Ulster Cricketer and his history of the North Cricket Union. And in the North West, Billy Platt has helped clubs recount their own histories.

There are others too, Pat Bracken, never played a game of cricket but is devoted to tracing the genealogy of the game, in his own county of Tipperary and into every county in which the game has been played. In 2020, Steve Dolan wrote about the birth, growth and decline of cricket in County Galway. And many others too.

What in common with each of these historians is that it is the clubs and the people of the clubs who are the primary focus. Cricket at the highest level does of course get a mention, statistics and numbers are talked about but they are secondary to those who built the club, often literally.

And there will be more stories to be told. Whether its clubs, or regions. Has Munster been covered yet, Cork County yes but the wider Munster community? Cork County’s pavilion in itself is a throwback to an earlier time, full of history and interest.

Meanwhile the job of cataloging continues, more little gems appear, the past becomes a little clearer.

2023 sees the centenary of the founding of the Irish Cricket Union. Cricket Ireland will no doubt have a series of events lined up to mark the date.

They will, won't they?