Ireland’s Cricket Heritage

This weekend sees the start of Heritage Week in Ireland, running from 13 to 21 August. It also coincides with the 230th anniversary of what has long been regarded as the first documented account of a cricket match played in Ireland, at the Phoenix Park, Dublin between an All-Ireland XI and the Garrison of Dublin, on August 1, 1792.

The likelihood is, that there were other matches played on the island of Ireland before this, which have gone undocumented. To, in a sense, tie in with Heritage Week 2022, this brief overview of the cricket heritage of Ireland is also prompted by a recent article by Deryck Vincent on the cataloguing of the game in Ireland.

When I was asked to provide details on teams which played cricket in Co. Tipperary for a forthcoming ‘Atlas of Sport in Ireland’ by the editors involved at University College Cork, I posed the question, ‘what about cricket in the rest of Ireland?’

While requests for similar information on cricket in other counties were also in train, I just got an uneasy feeling that an incomplete map would somewhat distort the true extent of the game on the island.

In attempting to avoid this scenario, I volunteered to try and record as many teams as I could and submit them for consideration for any proposed maps, which might be generated by the geographers, for this landmark study of sport in Ireland.

I was in no way naïve as to the task I had put myself in for, but in truth it was no less wonderful for the results it produced. Indeed, but for the work of David Penney towards the latter end of the research, the total number would have been poorer but for his contribution.

Scorebooks, scorecards, fixture cards, brochures, handbooks, yearbooks, many books and countless newspapers were researched to try and identify as many teams as possible. Throughout it all, they provided a wonderful vista into the rich cricket heritage of Ireland.

The word teams as opposed to clubs was used, as from a Tipperary perspective, such were the fleeting references to some teams, that it can be safely stated that they were only a team by name, and not a formal club with officers and a club constitution.

To differentiate between the two terms, teams as opposed to clubs, across the whole island over the course of 230 years would be a nigh on impossible task, hence this categorisation process.

On the research carried out so far, 5,303 cricket teams have been identified across the whole island, which are represented in the following table.

The high figures in Galway, Donegal, Derry/Londonderry, Kilkenny, Meath, Westmeath and Tipperary are attributable to research carried out on cricket in these counties by Steve Dolan, Billy Platt, Michael O’Dwyer, Jim Gilligan, Tom Hunt and yours truly.

As Deryck Vincent also noted, with further research, the cricketing heritage of other counties in Munster can also be expanded upon, as with other locations around Ireland. As the cricketing calendar becomes increasingly crowded globally, there is still scope to grow the game in Ireland.

Compared to several other sports, such as rugby, soccer, lawn tennis, hockey, and even Gaelic football as played today, each with their own rich sporting heritage, it is clearly seen from the foundation dates of these sports, that the heritage of cricket in Ireland is much older.

The influence of the Big House, the military, the various railway companies, schools and business interests cannot be underestimated in the growth and development of cricket across the island.

While many teams were very ephemeral in nature, their relevance cannot be overlooked. In the mid to late 1800s, during an era of low literacy levels, and obviously, no radio or television coverage, the growth of the game is all the more remarkable, especially in the 1870s.

This can be attributable in many respects to emulation and a lack of sporting recreation. While there is evidence from the 1840s of some players receiving payment to play cricket, as with Ashbrook Union CC, in Co. Laois, this cannot be inferred for the later periods, even though some of the more important clubs did engage the services of a professional.

Men and boys (and it was only men and boys) at this time played sport for sports sake, and for many the only team sport on offer was cricket. A social hierarchy did also exist, as teams of likeminded individuals played against their social equals.

In this respect the estate network fostered many of these teams, while the military were often in competition against other military and rural/urban teams. All of this added to the rich mix which continued to facilitate the growth of the game.

The Gaelic revival and the demise of the estate system throughout much of Ireland in the first decades of the twentieth century led to a decline in numbers, especially in rural Ireland, though there were still significant strongholds where the game continued to be played and in some cases develop further into local leagues, as for instance in East Down, as shown in this fixture card from 1946.

Though I have a lifelong interest in cricket, I knew nothing of the rich heritage which the game had in Tipperary, until I stumbled across match reports from the 19th century press in my local library.


I subsequently discovered that my great grandfather played on the Glashare CC team, in Co. Kilkenny, in the 1870s/80s (aka Mr Haughton XI), something which my father was also unware of. It is this type of historical amnesia which has hindered, to my mind, an acceptance of cricket in much or rural Ireland.

Many people have had ancestors who played cricket, but who know nothing of their past deeds, as the game was whitewashed out of memory. As a collector of all things cricket related to any part of Ireland, I often trade others sports items with collectors. When asked ‘What do you collect?’ the one word which regularly arises is ‘Oh!’, when I say anything to do with cricket in Ireland.

I know it is a reply which was not expected, and I’m more than ok with that. For once that conversation is over, I have been tipped off about various items which I would not have otherwise known about.

But cricket is as relevant to sporting landscape of Ireland as much as rugby, soccer, and all other sports are. This can be seen with the recent allocation of grant aid from the Irish government to many sports. While much has been written and researched about the heritage of cricket in Ireland, there is still room for much more work to be done.

For example, from 1843 to July 1914 there were a minimum of 1,732 cricket matches played, which involved a team from Tipperary. This is just based on records identified. To use that well-worn historical cliché, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, in respect of matches played which are not recorded, not alone for Tipperary teams, but all teams across the whole island.

Similar trends across the island for all matches, including ladies games, would allow for even greater analysis of trends.

A failure to establish an overall body to oversee the growth of the game in the latter half of the 19th century, in a way that rugby and soccer organised their sports and leagues, is one reason why the game became somewhat left behind in the sporting landscape of Ireland.

With the centenary of the foundation of the Irish Cricket Union fast approaching, perhaps there may be many windows of opportunity to showcase the heritage of cricket in Ireland to an even wider audience.

Perhaps a series of T20 matches between cricketers and hurlers, as part of the centenary celebrations, maybe even on TG4 or some terrestrial network, could attract or unearth some new players and fan base.

If nothing else, it would be something different and coupled with other centenary events and games, there is a great opportunity to grow the game.