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The Game of Draughts in Ireland

The "Celts" first came to Ireland around 600 BC from central Europe, bringing with them new customs, skills, and language. They had two board games called Brandub and Fidchell which we believe may have been played in Ireland about the 7th century. As Ireland never became part of the Roman Empire it’s unlikely that the Roman game of Latrunaili ever reached these shores.

The "Vikings" raided Ireland during the 8th Century, and may have brought their version of a draughts game with them. We know from the Icelandic saga of Grettir the Strong that the Norsemen played such a game, as the board and men are mentioned more than once in that story.

The discovery of a chequered board of 7x7 squares (dated c850-1000AD) on a Cranog at Ballinkerry, Co. Westmeath, during excavations there in 1932 clearly demonstrates a game similiar to draughts was played here during that period.

Archaeological excavations in Dublin’s Christchurch area during the period 1961-1975 unearthed many chequered gaming boards with conical playing pieces dating from the 10th and 11th century. These boards were made of wood and stone, and the playing pieces made of various woods, bone, stone, jet, and walrus’s ivory. The bottom of the playing pieces had metal pegs inserted into them to hold the pieces into position on the board, in the same fashion as we use magnetic sets today. The large number of such artefacts found demonstrate the popularity of board games during this period. Draughts pieces dating from around the 1600’s were also found in excavations at Cashel, in Co. Tipperary.

Records of modern draughts playing in Ireland date from around 1800 when we know the game was already popular in Dublin and Belfast. Regular competitions at draughts were played at the Dublin Mechanics’ Institute and also at public houses along the City Quay where the ship captains' from Scotland and England played there on a regular basis. In Belfast a stake-match at draughts took place in 1831 between a local Belfast expert and Andrew Blair from Glasgow, for the sum of £50 a-side, winner take all!

Dr. T. J. Brown, the celebrated problemist was born at Glentworth Street, Limerick, in the late 1830's and studied at Trinity College Dublin during which time he composed "La Pucelle", one of the game's most difficult problem settings. The publication of "Gould's Book of Problems, Critical Positions and Games" in 1884 contained no less than fifty four of his compositions, many of them arising during the course of games he played here.

World Champion James Wyllie of Scotland was a frequent visitor to the City of Belfast in the 1860’s and was made an honorary member of the Belfast club in 1872. Since that time World Champions Robert Stewart (Scotland), Marion Tinsley (USA), Tom Wiswell (USA), Derek Oldbury (England), Ronald King (Barbados), and Alex Moiseyev (USA) have all played in Ireland.

Today, the Irish people can take great pride in their own World Champion - Patricia Breen of Carlow (World Champion 1993-present) who is the highest rated female draughts player of all time.

The Irish Draughts Association (IDA) formed in 1975 is the national governing body of draughts playing in Ireland today. They do much to promote the game, encourage its development, and organise events. You can find out more about the Irish Draughts Association by contacting Sean Phillips at the following e-mail address: seanphil@gofree.indigo.ie

© NorthWest Draughts Federation 2002