Story of the Day: The Bar Cricket Club in Season, 1889-90

From the Clonmel Chronicle, 10 July 1880:

The members of the Bar of Ireland sometimes unbend the legal mind in the soft excitement of lawn tennis; but when they do, the learned gentlemen have their little frolic in ‘chamber’ as it were, and not in court.  They had what is called a ‘Lawn Tennis Tournament’ recently on the Earlsfort Terrace Rink, and a member of the Press went up to tell the public how it went on and off, but the notetaking chiel wasn’t admitted.  He says that as he stood at the door, he saw an eminent and amiable judge doing wonders with the ball, and that the learned lot were shouting and tumbling about like so many schoolboys, which shows that they were enjoying themselves.  There is no truth in the statement that wigs and gowns were worn on the occasion.  It is said that there is in full swing a Bar Bicycle Club.  I doubt it; but this is a wonderfully professional age, and I don’t suppose there is any reason why, so far as the Bar is concerned, the line should be arbitrarily drawn at bicycling.”

Now of course we have a plethora of cycling barristers and indeed great new cycle lanes outside the courts!

Any Bar tennis and cycling clubs in existence in the pre-Independence days of the Bar had the good sense to keep their fixtures out of the papers, but the Bar of Ireland Cricket Club had a brief flurry of publicity in the closing decades of the 19th century before golf became the favoured sport of off-duty barristers. 

From the start, the Bar Cricket Club played at the Vice Regal Grounds in the Phoenix Park and their very first reported match – against the Vice Regal Club – took place here in May 1872 as the opening match of the 1872 season.  Another match, against the Army this time, is reported as having taken place in June 1885 at the Garrison Ground.

But it was a series of matches against a Vice Regal Lodge team in 1889 and 1890 that really brought the Bar Cricket Club to public prominence. The first of these matches, which took place in beautifully fine weather on 14 May 1889, in the grounds of the Vice Regal Lodge (now Aras an Uachtarain) was graced by the presence of the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice, the then Lord Lieutenant Lord Londonderry (who went out to bat), the band of the West Surrey Regiment and a large concourse of spectators on horse and foot. 

According to the Dublin Daily Express, the weather was splendid, the assemblage and surroundings of a very striking character and very seldom had s a larger gathering been seen at any cricket match on a Saturday afternoon. Not only did the ladies attend in great numbers but the attendance of members of the Bar was of such a character as to lead one to believe that the interest felt in the match was universal amongst the wearers of the wig and gown. In contrast to the other amenities, the play was merely of a fairly good character but, as the Express kindly pointed out, allowances had to be made on all sides for the early period in the season at which the match took place.  The result was Vice Regal 103, Bar 94.

The return match, which took place on the Vice Regal Ground on Sunday 19th May 1889, was described by Irish Society, Dublin as a red-letter day with everything combining to make it an enormous success, beauty again gracing the field in the form of a large female attendance, and with the weather of a most delightful character for the votaries of the willow.  Judges attended too, on horse and foot, Judge Webb riding up on what was described as ‘a serviceable cob’ and soon-to-be-deceased Lord Justice Naise driving up in a hack which he optimistically discharged in order to walk home alone.

Sadly, although the idea initially prevailed that the Bar would turn the tables on their conquerors at the second time of asking, this second match offered practical demonstration that the previous win of the home team was by no means a fluke, with the overall result being a chastening Bar 127, Vice Regal 185.  According to Irish Society, the only regret expressed was that these matches were not more frequent, possibly because business was so brisk amongst the members of the Junior Bar that they could not afford the time, but perhaps something might be done during the Long Vacation.

Something was indeed done during the Long Vacation, with a third match taking place on 17 August 1889 in the grounds of the Vice Regal Lodge.  According to the Dublin Daily Express, both sides were represented by strong teams with Lord Londonderry again occupying his usual position in the field at slip.  There was a slight shower in the forenoon but the sun prevailed in the afternoon, when the attendance became numerous and the band of the Seaforth Highlanders attended and played a selection of music.  Thankfully, the Bar Cricket Club redeemed its honour by winning on this occasion; though details of the score are not available, its ultimate victory over Vice Regal was described as a stout thrashing.

The next year’s match against Vice Regal in May 1890 was a two-day affair, and according to the Freeman’s Journal, a trial of skill in real earnest.  Once again, the weather was beautiful, with the Dublin Daily Express describing the Lodge gardens, where the match again took place, as a charming glade evidencing the tenderest tons of green relieved by the whiteness of May blossoms bursting into life and fragrance.  

The former Attorney-General , Peter O’Brien, who had organised the matches the previous year, was now Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, and, though he did not play, was described as generalling his team in the most masterly and fatherly fashion, putting them up to some tips of wily procedure which doubtless contributed greatly to their success. Unfortunately, an immense rainfall during the past fortnight meant that the ground was damp and somewhat elastic, the great heat of the day did not aid the players either in scoring or taking wickets, and the first day’s match was won by the Vice Regal with, if the Express is to be believed, the Bar appearing sadly deficient in practice.  Thankfully, by the next day, the Lord Chief Justice had marshalled the troops, so that the Vice Regal was easily defeated. 

This second day’s match took place on the Vice Regal Cricket ground which, as the Express helpfully pointed out, was nearly opposite the spot where Lord Frederick Cavendish and Mr Burke had been assassinated by Invincibles eight years earlier. By this time, Lord Londonderry had been replaced as Lord Lieutenant by Lord Zetland, who may not have had quite the same level of interest in cricket, although he gamely travelled up from his fishing lodge at Kilmurray to bat for the Vice Regal team on this occasion.  Perhaps because of this change, or because the Bar Cricket Club had had enough of taking direction from the Lord Chief Justice in their leisure hours, or because there was a new and exciting alternative in the way of golf, there were to be no more big Bar cricket events to compare in any way with those of the 1889-90 seasons.

However, by lucky stroke of fate, the above news reports of joyous matches beneath the trees of the Phoenix Park in glorious weather survive to give us a brief window into the all-too-limited leisure hours of busy 19th century barristers – and a sense of the newsworthiness of any activity of the Bar and Bench, no matter how slight, in an era in which the Four Courts and the quasi-independent legal system operating out of it stood almost alone as one of the few remaining symbols of distinct and separate Irish identity!

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