Recollections of the Early days of the Dalkey/ Dun Laoghaire Chess Club

Richard Daly was interested in having something on record concerning the origin of the Dalkey/Dun Laoghaire Chess Club and asked me to record my memories of those earlier days and once these have been put on paper, it will be easier to continue records from contemporary times.

There is little time in most chess clubs for anything but chess; little time for talk, for tea or coffee, for meetings even, and even less time for minutes of meetings. Consequently, this little history will of necessity have to be based on recollections of the formation and the early decades of the club, my own recollections, and hopefully these will be added to by some of the other early members.

It is probably true to say that it all started with Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky. No they were not members of the D/DL chess Club, but they did mental and psychological battle for the world title in Reykjavik in 1972. It is hard to realise now the huge impact that a chess contest could have on the world stage, as the cold war was fought out, not in the trenches, nor with the abundance of nuclear missiles that were stockpiled on each side of the ideological divide, but with chess pieces on an eight by eight board. Could there be a better way to help resolve any conflict? The world’s media was full of the edgy, petulant, suspicious, moody conflict and all round the world people were gripped by the intrigues and challenges of a chess contest; it filled newspapers and radio and TV bulletins, individual games were played out even in the news pages of newspapers. In offices and homes and pubs and cafés, everywhere, people produced chess sets and played at lunch times and night times and in between and they analysed the progress of the games. The whole world knows how the contest played out. The contest ended many decades of USSR chess dominance, and perhaps might have contributed to the gradual erosion of the so called ‘iron curtain’.

Then, in 1974, after a year or two of daily office chess, and being in need of new opposition, I looked for a chess club to join in our area and found none. It was then I decided to start a club in the locality. Quite by chance, I discovered that there had been a previous incarnation of a club in Dalkey, I never found out where it met but I did trace it back to a man called Fintan Delaney, who had lived in Ardbrugh Road, Dalkey. By this time Fintan was dead, but his brother had in his possession some of the sets and boards, and a few antiquated clocks, some of which worked after oiling and some gentle handling; there were even a few books including a great one on the endgame. These were all a great help, as I think equipment was at the time relatively more expensive than nowadays. (I have since learned from John Gibson that there was a chess club in Dalkey that he had helped to found. It survived for a short time in the early 1970s).

Endowed with Fintan Delaney’s venerable equipment and some I had bought myself, I searched for suitable premises. Eventually, through the kindly offices of the well-disposed Parish Priest, Fr. Meagher, we got a very comfortable room in Our Lady’s Hall in the centre of Dalkey village. This was to be our home for a number of years..

Some of the earliest members were Liam Hearns, and the very young John Lane (age 10) [they are by far the longest standing members of the club- and are rightly due long service medals]. There was also John’s (even younger) brother, Conor (age 8). For the first year or so, we, the new-formed members of Dalkey Chess Club, played between ourselves, but gradually there came a realisation that real clubs played in inter-club competitions. One of us, Padraic O Tuathaill, was actually a member of such a club, Eoghan Ruadh, and he arranged for us to play one of their teams. This, to us novices, was ‘the big time’. We, to our amazement, won narrowly, partly because Padraic played for us. So we thought we might face league chess with a modicum of optimism.

Soon, we were joined by Jack Parker, who had a rating of over 1700. We were in awe of him, and for a long time we thought of him almost as our resident Bobby Fischer. And in those times when a fog of smoke was still a distinguishing mark of a chess club, we had to overcome both the smoke from his almost constantly smouldering cigarillos and his vast experience, if we were to hope of getting even a draw against him. For years Jack was our board one, effectively, our campaign manager, as he led us resolutely up through the league divisions.

In our first league year we won promotion from the British Airways Division after finishing a close second to Elm Mount. Elm Mount and Yellow House were clubs formed about the same time as ours and we were close rivals over the next few years and had some contests of epic proportions any time we met. The next year we were promoted again, from the O’Hanlon Division to the Ennis Shield.

Jim Walsh, the chess correspondent of the Irish Times, was very helpful to us in the early years of The Club. He included Dalkey Chess Club notices in his much cherished chess column in that newspaper. As a former Irish chess international, he also kindly performed some simultaneous chess challenges against our members and visitors and this helped to generate further interest in our chess club.
In the course of three or four years the club grew substantially, drawing members from way beyond Dalkey. Other early members that I can readily recall were Seamus Duffy, Guy Lyons, Peter Cafolla, Tom Cleary, Eoghan Ó Bradaigh, Billy Cripps, Wally Sheridan, Dick and Paul Ivory, Briain Macaba, Arthur Rankin, Mr Pugh, Robin Knox and the redoubtable, energetic Phil Smith.

We had by then three or four league teams. Some members were of the opinion that Dalkey was not the best location for a club, it is not that easily accessible, it has a small catchment area and it is served by only one bus line. Robin Knox offered the use of a games-room at the back of his home in Deansgrange. The majority of members did not favour such a move and after a while, Robin, accompanied by one or two other members left to form Deansgrange Chess Club. That club prospered and survived for a few years until it disbanded after Robin’s sad and untimely death.

Our Lady’s Hall was a very pleasant and comfortable venue but it did have a decided disadvantage; there was a noisy youth hall at the rear and, while we members could cope with the music, we felt it was unfair to visiting teams, so we found an alternative home across the road in St. Lawrence’s Hall (behind Hick’s shop).

St Lawrence’s served us well for a few years- it was quiet, but it was cold and, when it was full of highly focussed chess players, condensation dripped indiscriminately from the glass roof on both members and on the visitors alike. That was a little less than satisfactory for a chess club and we had to consider alternatives. No alternative could be found in Dalkey, so we looked further afield and found the Boylan Community Centre in Suffolk Street in Dun Laoghaire.

The Boylan proved to be satisfactory rather than ideal; it was big and, while it might have been fine for badminton or scout groups, it did not have the right atmosphere for chess. We endured there for a few years. Meantime, the Club had retained the name of Dalkey but, when it became clear that Dun Laoghaire was likely to remain its home, it was decided to take the logical step and rename it the Dun Laoghaire Chess Club.

It may be noted there are no ladies listed as members. At one time, must have been around 1985, I wrote a publicity piece for Southside newspaper, inviting lady members. Next week eight women arrived (someone must have told them a chess club is a good place to meet men, but sadly nothing much seemed to come of it, as our men were much too focussed to be easily distracted from the important activities in hand). Within two months only one lady remained, Lorna (forgotten her surname), who remained a few years and played league for the club. Maybe a new crusade would work, as there are now many strong lady players.

Phil Smith had become manager of the Dun Laoghaire Workmen’s Club at 19 Lower Georges St next to the Public Library. (The club no longer exists and No. 19 became Fired Earth Showrooms). Phil offered the use of a large room in the ‘Workmen’s’. So for the next few years the Chess Club operated in the warm and chalky environs of the workmen’s club (chalk was used liberally to chalk billiard cues and mark blackboards). Not all of the men were workmen –some gave the distinct impression of being opposed to any such unwelcome activity, and many looked suspicious and askance at the nerdy chess players, Well, the nerds done well; for by this time they had been promoted to the top flight of Leinster chess leagues, The Armstrong.

As well as being manager of the Workmen’s, Phil became a virtual manager of the Chess Club also. He was a man of great energy, who had a great feeling of responsibility for the club and its members, and what amounted to a reverence for the game of chess itself. With dogged determination he saw the club through the next few years, ensuring that things (and people) were kept in order and that the place was kept clean and tidy (albeit still chalky). Members could call to his apartment just inside the hall door at any time and discuss the finer points of the game and be gladly lent chess books by him from his ample collection.