Jim Bennett (CricketEurope)
Knockbrack CC, 1880-2003
Knockbrack Cricket Club was founded in 1880, but the first available reference to cricket in the area is not to a game, but to an athletics’ meeting in 1883 at which one of the events was throwing a cricket ball. It was won by P. Reynolds with a throw of 105 yards, second was F. Kernan with a throw of 100 yards, and in third place was T. Ludden who threw the ball 99 yards, 2 feet and 2 inches.
This was the sixth annual meeting which was held at Kitchenstown, and despite the “threatening appearance of the morning meteorologically”, there were “fully” five thousand spectators present, with the proceedings being “characterised by order and decorum throughout”.
On 20 October 1884, Knockbrack played the Naul in a closely contested game, and the result was a victory for Knockbrack with a “few runs and two wickets to spare”. The reporter was impressed with the bowling of Messrs Purfield and Dillon, while Messrs J. Gilsenan, J. Bissett and J. Purfield “batted cautiously and displayed admirable judgement and patience at the wicket”. The Naul’s fielding was very good, the batting of Messrs J. Duff, J. Ennis and P. Reilly was “creditable”, but “the peculiar slow bowling took no effect”. The final score after two innings per side was Knockbrack 60 runs and the Naul, 57.
At its AGM in 1885, the previous season was deemed to have been very successful, and the following officers were elected: J. Rock (Captain), C. Gilsenan (Treasurer), P. Gilsenan (Secretary), and T. Lindsay, A. Sherwin, P. Donnelly, E. Lindsay, J. Dillon and J. Purfield (Committee members).
There are only 3 other games for which reports were submitted between 1885 and 1903. In May 1885, Knockbrack beat the Naul on a score of 54 runs to 50; in July 1886, Knockbrack beat Ashbourne by 36 runs (110 runs to 74) and in October 1886, the Naul beat Knockbrack by 7 runs (48 to 41).
The Drogheda Independent has consistently given wonderful coverage to cricket in Fingal and in Meath, with score cards, accounts of games and exchanges of views between club secretaries being published in considerable detail. This archival material demonstrates very clearly the widespread popularity of cricket in these two areas, and it is also a rich source for the social history of this era.
On 26 July 1903, Knockbrack played the Grallagh at Knockbrack, and the result was a comprehensive victory for the Grallagh on a score of 89 runs to 18, with Extras (6) being the highest scorer for Knockbrack. In the return game, Knockbrack gained revenge for the previous defeat when it won on a score of 23 runs to 19. There was an obvious tension between the two clubs because the Secretary of Knockbrack mentioned that this was “a much easier win for Knockbrack than readers of last week’s Independent would anticipate.” It was difficult to ascertain the reason for this comment unless it was reaction to the note from the Secretary of the Grallagh to the effect that the club was “ready to receive a challenge from Meath or Dublin”.
On the first week in September 1903, Knockbrack played Garristown at Knockbrack and won on a score of 64 runs to 32, with the biggest contributions with the bat coming from McDermott (24) and Durnan (15), and Durnan also took 5 wickets. The game between Knockbrack and Oldtown which was played on 27 September resulted in a narrow win for Knockbrack on a score of 43 to 38 runs, with Fitzpatrick batting at no. 3 being 17*.
An edge between Knockbrack and Corduff manifested itself when the Secretary of Knockbrack published his review of the season’s activities: For their season Knockbrack played twelve matches – winning eight and losing four. Their record does not seem so good as that of Corduff; but unlike Corduff, Knockbrack refused no challenge from clubs that were likely to beat them. There was no possibility that this aspersion was going to be left unchallenged, and the Corduff Secretary took aim at two clubs - Knock CC for suggesting that his club picked and chose the teams against which they played and Knockbrack for several reasons: Corduff has played and defeated better teams than they ever were and would not have refused to play (and be sure to defeat them), only on the grounds that we were certain they were inclined to pick a local team whom we have defeated but are very much inclined for rising rows. The Secretary of Knockbrack rose to the bait, and not only did he repeat the allegation regarding Corduff handpicking its opponents, but he also alleged that it was guilty of importing “guest” players for some games: The fact is patent that Corduff refused to play Knockbrack and also Grallagh. The same excuse is hardly applicable to the two teams.
With reference to the charge of picking the local team, of whom they are afraid, we can state a fact they are not able to do, viz., that we had not a picked man playing with us for the season. . The 1903 season ended on that sour note, and based on that exchange of views, it was unlikely that Corduff and Knockbrak would be playing against each other for the foreseeable future.
The 1904 season started with many of the players involved in a different code. Knockbrack played Dunshaughlin in a hurling match, and there is a significant overlap between the players on the hurling team and the members of the cricket club.
Knockbrack had not played hurling before, and the odds were “a pound to a shilling on Dunshaughlin” (20 to 1 in new money). The game was drawn on a score of 5 points to Knockbrack and 1 goal and 2 points for Dunshaughlin. This result was attributed to “the redoubtable Jack McNally, who was ably supported by his brother, Matt, John Rock, Ned Lindsay and the two Macs from Kitchenstown, Johnnie Mac, in particular, doing yeoman service in the goal, in fact his ‘puck out’ was worth going several miles to see.”
On the cricketing front, there are references to 7 games that Knockbrack played during this season, and by all accounts, the games were models of harmony. On 19 June Knockbrack beat St Dominick’s on a score of 63 runs to 50 in a “most pleasant and friendly game”. On 10 July, Knockbrack played Emmets in Skerries and won by 64 runs. The “visitors were most hospitably entertained”, and “the inspiriting strains of the Skerries Brass and Reed Band which attended, contributed not a little to make the visit a thoroughly enjoyable one.” During the same month, there were victories over Balbriggan (49 runs to 29), and Curraha (25 runs to 21). The return game between Knockbrack and Skerries Emmets was played on 8 August, and resulted in another victory for Knockbrack (54 runs to 44). The Skerries Band was again singled out for praise because of the “really first-class programme of music which they contributed on that occasion.”
Knockbrack commenced the new season with an “easy” victory over Man-O-War (57 runs to 32) and advertised its forthcoming game against Skerries Emmets as a festive occasion because there was going to be a Tug-O-War between “two celebrated teams” and a band in attendance. The ensuing cricket match resulted in an “easy win” for Knockbrack (57 runs to 33 runs). The return game was played in Skerries on 9 July and the period of détente and harmony came to an end as was evidenced by the report which was submitted to the Drogheda Independent by P. Fitzpatrick, Hon. Secretary of Knockbrack: This match was played on the grounds of the latter, on Sunday last, 9th inst., and would undoubtedly result (sic) in an easy win for the visitors, but for the excited element that prevailed amongst the spectators, when the home team had but one wicket to fall by over-ruling the umpire’s decision and refusing to let their last man bat. Score: Knockbrack, 35, Skerries, 21 and 1 wicket to fall.
Another trophy for Knockbrack
M. Armstrong, Secretary of the Emmets would have been derelict in his duty if he had not responded to these allegations, and true to form, there was a riposte in the Drogheda Independent of the following week: I wish to remind the hon. Secretary that he was absolutely wrong in his report. The match was broken off through a wrong decision of the umpire. Therefore, the score stood- Knockbrack, all out, 35 runs; Skerries, 2 wickets to fall, 21 runs. I fail to see where an easy win could be judged on either side. Without an overarching authority to arbitrate on these disagreements, letters to the paper were the only means by which clubs could present their interpretation of events, with the result that diplomatic relations between clubs might be strained for a considerable period.
This was the major contribution which the Fingal League made when it was established because now matters could be discussed, and even if there were disagreements, the clubs would continue to play against each other. The game between Knockbrack and Ratoath was the final game of the 1905 season for which there was a report available, and the result was an “easy win” (the words of Mr Fitzpatrick, Secretary of Knockbrack) on a score of 50 runs to 28. From 1906 to 1925, there are very few references in the local press to cricket being played by Knockbrack. In 1907, the club indicated that it was open to accept challenges to play friendly matches for the season, and the only game for which there is a report was against Curraha which Knockbrack won by “a few runs”. The next games for which there are reports were against Gormanstown which were played in September 1913. The first game resulted in a win for Gormanstown on a score of 50 runs to 26, and there was a more detailed report on the return game which was played on the grounds of Lord Gormanston, “kindly lent for the occasion to Nockbrack (sic).” Gormanstown batted first and scored 31 runs, “principally contributed by T. Reilly (8*) and Vincent Purfield (8). Knockbrack scored 17 runs, “thanks to the splendid batting of P. Hughes”, but the bowling of Reynolds of Balbriggan for the home club was unplayable”.
The lack of references to cricket in Fingal during this period is puzzling because between 1906 and 1914, the Drogheda Independent published 333 reports on cricket, but they were mostly concerned with cricket in Meath. One possible explanation is that preference was given to competitive games in the Meath League as distinct from challenge matches which were being played in Fingal. Cricket was also competing with Gaelic games for players and publishing space, and the close association in some minds between cricket, the gentry, and the R.I.C. may have contributed to the lack of cricket/ reports on cricket in Fingal. The classification of cricket as a foreign game exercised the minds of the members of the Meath GAA County Board in its meeting in June 1905, and Mr P. Daly, who at a later stage was to become a leading figure in Fingal cricket did not mince his words when he referred to the Ban as an example of Coercion: It was Coercion on the part of the Central Council to pass a byelaw preventing the playing of cricket by men that played cricket before the Gaelic Association was started…. If that order came from the Tories, they would try to hound them out of Ireland and would denounce them in all the Nationalist papers in Ireland.
A trophy for Knockbrack Seconds
That was Mr Daly’s perspective in 1905, but by 1913, the criticisms of cricket and cricketers had become more vitriolic in some quarters. In a lengthy article entitled “Language and Pastimes, Seaghan Mac na Midhe, a contributor to the Drogheda Independent gave vent to a whole series of insults/ prejudices. He referred to “shoneen colleges where the sons of the graziers and squireens get a smattering of French and a full course in English pastimes and come back ignorant of the fact that we have pastimes of our own second to none on the face of the globe”. In an either-or argument, he did not see that it was possible to play cricket and football: Our games are played all the year round, and the population is too sparse to allow of a cricket club and a football club in the same parish. Hence the national pastimes have practically wiped-out foreign games, even though the latter were frequently subsidised by the local magnate and made attractive by the half-barrel. The two games are in open competition and it is only natural that sentiment should play some part in the fight. A few still cling to the bat and barrel but they are of the kind that would not reflect great credit upon a Gaelic Association.
This association between cricket and Englishness was reiterated the following month by James Quigley, who also availed of the opportunity to belittle cricket as a game: No other nation ever did, or ever will play such a foolish game. The English themselves are ridiculing it to death…. Irish cricket is funnier than the Connacht French Lord Ashbourne had to tell about. There are many things that we might usefully learn from the English but leave them their cricket and their soccer. In justifying the exclusion of members of the R. I. C. from the G. A. A., P. Ua Uaithne contended that cricket was a more appropriate game for them: We should regard the G. A. A. as the voluntary army of Ireland, and the effort to get policemen into it should be resisted by all means. Let the police learn cricket, or hockey or golf or some other such Dublin Castle game. They are not wanted in Irish Ireland.
With some upholders of public opinion maintaining such extreme views on cricket, it is scarcely credible that cricket began to be played again in Fingal after the events of the period from 1913 to 1922. Politically and socially, it was not expedient to be involved in cricket during troubled times, but the regard for cricket in Fingal ran very deep, and traditionally, Fingallians are “possessed of an independent spirit.” They did not appreciate being dictated to by cultural nationalists or others regarding the games that they might or might not play.
Knockbrack CC, 1925-1980
It took some time after the War of Independence and the Civil War for cricket clubs to be re-formed in Fingal because emotions were still very raw regarding the playing of this most English of games. In July 1925, Skerries Cricket Club was re-organised, and Knockbrack CC also re-commenced its cricketing activities in 1925. The two clubs met at Knockbrack on 6 September, and the Meath Herald in addition to giving the scores, published a detailed account of the journey from Skerries to Knockbrack: Skerries team journeyed to Knockbrack via Balbriggan on Sunday, 6th inst., for their fixture with Knockbrack. Mr Paddy Duff supplying the charabanc and arriving up in time enabling the match to start promptly at 3 o’clock – quite a lot of enthusiasm was displayed, and the visiting team was heartily received especially as the event had been looked forward to on account of the fact that Knockbrack had yet to receive its first defeat. A scorecard is appended to the report, but unfortunately, the scores do not tally. It appears that Knockbrack scored 50 runs and in reply, Skerries got 58 runs for the loss of 8 wickets.
The Knockbrack area
In 1926, there were cricket teams in Balbriggan, Ring Commons, Knightstown, Skerries and Knockbrack, but fixtures for the most part were still being arranged as challenges as distinct from there being any official structures in place. There are conflicting accounts regarding when the Fingal League was established. At the Fingal Cricket League’s First Annual Dance in 1931, Mr J. T. Ennis gave a brief account of the history of the League and he stated that it started in Ring Commons in 1926 with 2 clubs. Skerries was one of the clubs because it was reported in 1928 that Skerries had won the League three years in a row so this suggests that there was some form of competition in place in 1926, and based on circumstantial evidence, the second team was Knockbrack.
This was the commencement of Knockbrack’s involvement in Fingal League cricket, and until the club left cricket at the end of the 2003 season, it was the most loyal of all clubs to the Fingal League. Whatever queries there were about the 1926 season, there is no doubt that the Fingal League was fully operational in 1927 because detailed reports of games were furnished to the Drogheda Independent. The teams which competed in the Fingal League in 1927 were Skerries, Knockbrack, Macraidh (Knockbrack 11), Ballymadun, Knightstown, Black Hills, and Ring Commons. The first fixtures were played on Sunday, 15 May 1927 and the final game was played on 18 September 1927 between Knockbrack and Skerries. The Secretary of Skerries Cricket Club, James Duff, submitted a detailed account of this game to the Drogheda Independent. We are told that there were over 1,000 spectators at the final in Skerries. A cocoanut matting provided “a perfect pitch”, Knockbrack had “numerous followers”, and among the attendance were “those whose chances had been vanquished by the contestants.”
Knockbrack batted first and J. Ennis who played with a “delightful straight bat” had a “splendid innings” of 33 which included 13 boundaries. “The applause from the field emphasised the appreciation of the spectators of his excellent batting skill.” The main contributor to the Skerries’ response was D. Moran “who by drives, cuts and slips made the handsome and useful score of 61 runs.” Crawford made 18 runs, and Skerries won on a score of 125 runs to 63 for Knockbrack. The final commendation from Mr Duff was for the “two independent umpires whose tact and appreciation carried the appreciation of both sides.” The prize for winning the league was a cheque for the purchase of a cricket set. The League Secretary’s report on the final game is very grudging regarding Skerries’ victory, and it can be inferred from his remarks that there were queries regarding the residential qualifications of some of the Skerries team: The League is now finished – Skerries got first prize, Knockbrack second and Ballymadun third. Knockbrack and Ballymadun are to be congratulated as they played in a clean and sportsmanlike manner and had no one their teams but Fingallians.
Bunny Casey, Tom and John The Dot Fanning
By 1929, the number of teams in the League had increased to 15, and the reports on the games are further enlightening examples of sports journalism in a bygone era. When Balbriggan played Knockbrack, the game is disposed of in a single sentence- Balbriggan 52 and Knockbrack 29, but there is then a lyrical account of Knockbrack: The playing pitch is most picturesquely situated on a level plain near the summit of the famous Hill of Knockbrack. From the eminence a panoramic view of great beauty may be obtained. At the foot of the Hill is a lovely valley, whilst in the distance the Dublin mountains, Howth, Ireland’s Eye, Lambay and the sea glimmering beneath a cloudless summer’s sky being prominent features in a delightful picture which was never seen to better advantage than on Sunday last… People who rave about Warrenpoint, Killarney and other beauty spots further afield should visit Knockbrack and see for themselves the delightful scenery that we have at our very doors.
Skerries’ reign as champions was ended when they lost the semi-final to Knockbrack, and in terms of hyperbole, the reporter again excelled himself. The game was played at Balbriggan on a crease that that was laid 24 years ago by the late Terence O’Neill and Patrick Cumiskey and was reckoned to be “one of the finest in Ireland and “still in perfect order.” The correspondent then waxed eloquently on the quality of the cricket. He deemed the game to have been “the finest exhibition of cricket ever witnessed in Fingal, with the game being “up to test standard, with the fielders and bowlers winning the day.” After these comments, it is astonishing to read that Knockbrack only scored 14 runs, with Ennis (6) being the only one to make anything worthwhile. There has always been a tradition of Fingal sides being better bowlers and fielders than batters, but a score of 14 would appear in most circumstances to render the result a foregone conclusion. Not in Fingal. Skerries were dismissed for 13 runs, and Knockbrack went on to play Baldwinstown in the final.
The final was played in Balbriggan on Sunday, 15 September in front of a “large gathering”. The fielding and bowling of both sides were deemed to have been “perfect”. Rock was singled out for special mention due to “two brilliant left-handed catches” in the slips. For Knockbrack, Hughes and Rooney bowled in their “usual capable manner”, and for Baldwinstown, the bowling of Clarke and Rooney was “perfect”. With bowling and fielding of such a high standard, it is reasonable to assume that the scores would be low, and the final result was Knockbrack, 24 runs and Baldwinstown, 16. Knockbrack indicated its intention to sponsor the purchase of a cup which would be presented to the winners of the Fingal League, and it was anticipated that Knockbrack’s name would be inscribed on the cup when it was placed on exhibition. However, the cup was not bought until early in 1930 so Knockbrack’s name was not inscribed on the Cup as the first winners.
With a valuable trophy for the Fingal League winners, and a continuing increase in the number of teams, the 1930 season was awaited eagerly. Knockbrack fielded two teams, Knockbrack 1 and Knockbrack 11 (An Macraidh), and it was obvious from early in the season that both teams were genuine contenders for the Fingal League Championship Cup. In one of the first games of the season, Knockbrack 1 beat Balbriggan on a score of 41 all out to 42 for 5 wickets in a game which commenced late due to a procession at the Church. The report deemed Knockbrack to have been excellent all-round, and it paid tribute to the quality of Knockbrack’s fielding. Unfortunately, this praise did not apply to Balbriggan: Their fielding was very bad, particularly the younger members of the team. The older players were the better fielders; they were able to runs much faster which is surprising. One of Knockbrack’s next games was at Knightstown, and it adjusted very well to the conditions even though it had only played once before on a mat. In its score of 93, the main contributors for Knockbrack were T. Moore (19), P. Moore (18), J. Casey (16), C. Lindsay (10) and J. Moore, jnr (8). For Knightstown, E. Moore took 4 wickets and C. Gilsenan took 5. The batsmen who contributed most to Knightstown’s total of 74 runs were V. Gallen (16), D. Connor (8), W. Rickard (8), E. Moore (7) and J. Connor (7; father of David O’Connor, former President of Cricket Ireland). J. Moore took 5 wickets, J. Murphy took 2, and was deemed unlucky not to have taken more wickers because his “bowling was very deadly”.
In the meantime, Knockbrack 11 was also going well, and on 20 July, it beat Balrothery on a score of 60 runs to 26 runs. The main batsman for Knockbrack 11 was J. Kierans (21), and there were useful contributions from P. Corr (7) and J. Moore, jnr, (6). By 16 August, the two Knockbrack teams were topping their sections of the league, and the local derby was going to have a major bearing on the destination of the trophy. At that point, Knockbrack had won 8 games out of a possible 10, and the Seconds had won 7 games out of 9. In a preview of the game, it was suggested that “it was an open secret that the second team is going to give their elders a surprise.” The big needle game was played on 17 August, and the Seconds were “superior to their elders in every department”. Knockbrack 1 batted first and scored 45 runs. Farrell and Ennis were the only batsmen to make scores of any consequence. The Seconds appeared to have everything under control, but with four runs required and three wickets in hand, they lost 2 wickets for no runs. Rooney’s bowling was “deadly”, and the main batsman for the Seconds was McGrane. The final score was 54 runs to 45, and the Seconds had earned the right to play Balcunnin in the final on 24 August.
The final was played at Balbriggan, and although the game was of “moderate quality” and had “no brilliant batting as most of the score was made through the medium of byes”, it was not without incident. At the end of the game, the official marker gave the score as 40 runs each, but “at least 100 ” had the score Knockbrack 11 41, Balcunnin 40. The replay was also played at Balbriggan, and in typical Fingal fashion, the bowlers were on top. Knockbrack batted first and lost the first 4 wickets for 7 runs. The final score for Knockbrack was 23 runs, with Johnny Murphy taking 6 wickets and Simon Hoare taking 4 wickets. Nine Balcunnin wickets fell for 14 runs, but the last pair, Tommy Power and John Hoare, brought the score to 22 when Jem Murphy took a miraculous one-handed catch off his own bowling to leave Knockbrack 11 the winners by one run. Knockbrack 11 had the honour of being the first team to have its name inscribed on the Fingal Challenge Cup.
This was the end of a wonderful season for the Fingal League with interest in cricket at an all-time high, the finances of the League in a flourishing position, and an expectation that that there would be a big increase in the number of teams for the next season. Knockbrack CC’s community involvement has always been significant, and it is noticeable that the Seconds appeared to be a club within a club because it organised a dance in the Naul Hall on 30 November, admission was 1s, dancing was from 8 to 2, and there was bus serving Skerries, Lusk, Balrothery and Balbriggan to bring patrons to this event. The Seconds organised another dance on 25 January and held its own Annual Meeting on 16 February 1931.
For the next number of years, Knockbrack CC was competitive, but it did not win another Fingal League trophy until the 1950s. For example, in 1933, it finished joint top of the Division B, but lost the play-off to Oldtown. Despite the lack of success on the playing field, the club continued to make a huge contribution to life in the community with events being organised on a regular basis. On 20 January 1935, it organised a Whist Drive and a Dance. The top score in the Whist Drive was £5, cards were 2s 6d each, and admission to the dance for non-players was 1s 3d. Music on the evening was provided by the Tolan’s Band.
Moving into 1940, Knockbrack beat Ballymadun on a score of 52 runs to 46. The principal scorers for Knockbrack were J. Byrne (18), C. Lindsay (9) and J. Murphy (6), J. Murphy took 5 wickets for 20 runs and J. Byrne took 4 wickets for 18. In the return fixture at Ballymadun, Knockbrack won by 2 runs on a score of 30 runs to 28. The best batsmen for Knockbrack were J. Murphy (12), C. McGrane (11*) and the bowlers were J. Moore, 6 wickets for 6 runs, and J. Murphy, 3 for 19. With this result, Knockbrack qualified to play the Black Hills in the final of Division B. Black Hills won a game that “was well-contested”, a “fine sporting spirit prevailed, and “some fine catches were made by the fielders on both sides while sound judgment and a thorough knowledge of the game was much in evidence”. Knockbrack lost 5 wickets for 15 runs, but the sixth wicket partnership brought to the total to 26. However, when it seemed that victory was assured for Knockbrack, it lost all its wickets and ended on 34 runs, 2 runs short of the Black Hills’ total.
Cricket continued in Fingal during the Emergency and the view was expressed that “notwithstanding the amount of difficulties confronting the Fingal cricket this season, a very high standard of cricket has been witnessed since the season opened.” Knockbrack played Balrothery on 1 June 1941 but lost on a score of 43 runs to 31, with J. Maguire (12) making the top score for Knockbrack. The community involvement also continued, and Knockbrack joined forces with Ring Commons CC to hold a Ceilidhe and Old-Time Waltz in the Town Hall, Balbriggan on 26 January 1941, dancing was from 9 to 1, admission was 1s 6d and the music was provided by Jack Ryan’s Band. The next dance was at the end of the cricket season, and the advertisement started with the words, “Hello! A Dance you are sure to enjoy!” The same band, the same price, the same venue, but now a slow waltz had been added to the old-time waltz.
At its AGM in 1942, there were familiar names among the officers – the President was P. Moore, P. Corr was Captain, the Vice-Captain was M. Brogan, J. Casey was Treasurer, O. C. Lindsay, and Committee was comprised of C. McGrane, J. McNally and G. McNally. A significant note was appended to the end of the report – “a vote of thanks was also passed to Mr Michael Reilly for the use of his ground for many years.”
For the 1942 season, the Fingal League was divided into two divisions because of transport difficulties, and Knockbrack was placed in the West Division along with Naul Hill, Ballymadun, Tubbergregan. Transport continued to be an issue during the 1943 season, and although Knockbrack fulfilled its fixtures, it was noted on one weekend that Oldtown and Portrane failed to travel to Ring Commons and Black Hills respectively. There was little of note from a Knockbrack perspective for the next two seasons, except that its rivalry with near neighbours, Tubbergregan, began to assume epic proportions. When Knockbrack journeyed to Tubbergregan for one of the first games of the 1946 season, it won the toss and elected to field. P. O’Brien and T. Tiernan opened the batting to the bowling of J. Magrane (sic) and M. Ayres. The report mentioned both batsmen giving chances, but they were still there on 23 runs when O’Brien had a “strange hit to leg for 2 which hopped across three fields – the actual playing field, the corner of a second and well into the third one”! Based on this report, it seems that Mr O’Brien may have had reason to be aggrieved to be only given two runs for a shot that ended up two fields away from the cricket ground. He was bowled by Ayres when the score was 25, and then the rain came to end play for the day.
The game was replayed on 23 June at Tubbergregan, and Knockbrack won by 6 runs on a score of 43 to 37 runs. The stars on this occasion for Knockbrack were M. Ayres, the ex-Walshestown player, who took 6 wickets for 21 runs, and C. Lindsay (15) and C. McGrane (13) who got the lion’s share of the runs. The return game was played at the “celebrated Hill of Knockbrack” in “lovely sunshine and a refreshing air” in front of a very large crowd of spectators. In the words of the reporter, the visitors had all the luck, “while Knockbrack could do nothing right, even their fielding failed, which is usually their strongest point”. Knockbrack won the toss and elected to field, and the “visitors tail wagged very well to make the fine score of 49”. Knockbrack had a bad start, never looked like winning and were all out for 35, “of which John Maguire (10*) and J. Byrne (7) were the best batsmen”. This result meant that the two teams would have to meet again in “a test match for division honours”.
The test match was played in “brilliant sunshine” at Balbriggan on 25 August. Knockbrack won the toss and elected to field first. Tubbergregan lost its first six batsmen for 7 runs, but “the tail wagged very well”, and the last four batsmen brought the score up to 32 runs. The main contributors were P. Ennis (9), T. Tiernan (6) and T. Moore (6). The main bowlers for Knockbrack were J. McGrane, 4 wickets for 9 runs, and M. Ayres, 3 wickets for 13 runs. The reporter was critical of the decision not to allow Ayres to continue bowling. In chasing this “moderate score”. Knockbrack had 21 runs for the loss of 3 wickets, but the other wickets fell for 7 runs to leave Knockbrack all out on 28 runs. The turning point of the match came towards the end when M. Kiernan of Tubber “caught a lightning catch hit by J. Byrne”. The top scorers for Knockbrack were C. Lindsay (10) and T. McGrane (6), and the best bowlers for Tubber were M. Morgan, 5 for 12 and P. Ennis, 4 for 4.
Having been beaten in the semi-final in 1946, Knockbrack went one better in 1947 when it reached the final and played against Walshestown at the Market Green, Balbriggan. On the day, Knockbrack was well-beaten and only one batsman, M. Ayres (17) got runs of any consequence with Extras (7) being the next highest contributor to a total of 34 runs. Walshestown’s final score was 94 runs, with significant scores from J. McNally (25), J. Murphy (19) and Extras (19). Knockbrack was back in the final in 1948, and this time it was against the mighty Balrothery. There was another unfortunate batting collapse and Knockbrack only managed to sore 21 runs. Balrothery had batted first and in a “very polished display”, its stars were Simon Hoare (40), John Mooney (20) and Val Farrell (17).
In the early 1950s, cricket in Fingal was at a low ebb, with only 4 teams competing for the Fingal Cup. It is always an indication of problems if an organisation does not manage to get its competitions completed during the current year, and in 1951, “due to unforeseen difficulties”, the final between Knockbrack and Portrane was not played. The final was played eventually in Skerries on 25 May 1952, and for the third time in five years, Knockbrack was beaten in a final. The game was played “in brilliant sunshine”, Knockbrack lost early wickets and by the fall of the fifth wicket, had only scored 26 runs, and most of these runs had been byes. The other batsmen came and went rapidly, and Knockbrack’s total was 36 runs all out. Potrane set about its task methodically, but with 8 wickets down, it needed four runs to win. Three more runs were scored when another wicket fell, but the last pair managed to obtain not just the necessary single “but one extra for good measure” to leave Portrane the winners on 38 runs.
Knockbrack’s commendable community involvement continued apace. In August 1952, it organised a Fancy Dress Ball in the Grand Hotel, Malahide and admission was 5s. There was another dance in the Grand Hotel on 12 October 1952 and there was a Ceili in the Town Hall, Balbriggan on 17 October with admission, 3s 6d. Whist Drives were another popular fund-raiser and “there was a fairly large gathering” in the Town Hall, Balbriggan on 28 March 1954 for the Whist Drive which was sponsored by the Knockbrack Cricket Club.
In 1956, in addition to playing Fingal League cricket, Knockbrack decided to enter the Dunsany Cup Competition which was for teams in Meath or on Dublin/Meath border. It was drawn against Addinstown in the first round, and on winning the toss, Knockbrack elected to field first. Addinstown was dismissed for 27 runs, but Knockbrack was dismissed for 12 runs, with E. Shaw taking 7 wickets for 6 runs, and P. Browne taking 3 wickets for 6. After many years of endeavour, Knockbrack eventually won the Fingal Championship Cup in 1956. This information has been derived from the Fingal League Archives rather than a first-hand account from the local newspapers.
Cricket in Fingal was in such a parlous state in 1956 that a meeting was held with a view to winding-up the League, but the majority perspective was that every effort should be made to ensure its continuation. At this meeting, Eddie Dunne, the long-serving Secretary, resigned and he was replaced by Thomas McGrane of Knockbrack who was to give a lifetime of service to cricket in Fingal.
Thomas McGrane and Martin Russell
In addition to taking on this post, Thomas was also Secretary of Knockbrack CC. Knockbrack played Mounthanover in the Dunsany Cup in 1957, but the first game was rain-affected, and later results showed that Mounthanover played in the semi-final so it can be inferred that Knockbrack was beaten in the replayed game. Knockbrack played Portrane in the final of the Fingal League at Kenure Park, Rush. Portrane batted first and was dismissed for 43 runs. In the words of the report, “at this stage an easy win for Knockbrack was anticipated”, but superb bowling by J. Neville, J. Young and O. Meenan put paid to that prediction and Knockbrack was dismissed for 33 runs, with its best batsmen being S. Moore (10) and Kit Lindsay (9).
For the second time in this decade, the championships were not completed during the season, and the 1958 final was not played until June 1959, with Knockbrack and Portrane in opposition. Knockbrack won by 11 runs on a score of 59 to 48, with Sean Moore of Knockbrack taking 4 wickets for 4 runs. Knockbrack retained the Championship in 1959 and it also played in the Dunsany Cup competition, but this competition had an unsatisfactory ending because the team on the bottom of the league conceded the points of their games with Knockbrack and Addinstown, and this meant that Addinstown retained the Cup. The 1959 Fingal final was not played until 1960, and Knockbrack completed its three in a row by beating Portrane on a score of 97 runs to 68. The same two teams were due to play the 1960 final in May 1961, but Portrane withdrew from the League for an unspecified reason to leave Knockbrack winning its four in a row in an unsatisfactory manner.
In place of a final, Knockbrack played a challenge game against Ring Commons which had only recently re-formed after a lapse of 20 years. Knockbrack scored 56 runs, and Ring Commons declared when it had scored 56 runs, with only 2 wickets down.
In 1962, Balbriggan re-formed with the result that the seven teams in the Fingal League were Ring Commons, Balbriggan, Skerries, the Black Hills, Man-O-War, Balrothery and Knockbrack. It was now decided to put the second competition on a more formal footing and to purchase a cup. Balrothery CC beat Knockbrack to be the first winners of this cup, and earlier in the season, it also ended Knockbrack’s quest for five in a row when it won the Fingal Championship.
Richard Dunne, Michael Gavin and Patsy Harford
The revival of cricket in Fingal gathered pace and in 1963, there were 10 teams in the area – Man-O-War, Portrane, Knockbrack, Balrothery, Skerries, Black Hills, Naul, Rush, Ring Commons and Balbriggan. The Fingal Championship final was played at the Nevitt between Balrothery, the holders, and Knockbrack. The game was attended by over 200 hundred spectators, and Balrothery batting first was in trouble immediately against the “fiery bowling attack of Seán Donnelly who took 5 wickets for 10 runs, and Seán Moore who captured 4 for 11.” John Mooney (11) was the only batsman to reach double figures and Balrothery was dismissed for 36 runs. In reply, Knockbrack did not fare much better, and it lost 6 wickets for 7 runs, but the seventh wicket partnership of 17 runs between George McNally (3) and Thomas McGrane (15) brought Knockbrack back into the game. The eighth wicket fell when the score was 31 and the ninth wicket fell at 32 runs.
The last man in, Noel Masterson, joined Seán Donnelly at the wicket with 5 runs needed for victory. The first delivery struck Donnelly on the knee and he went down injured, but he recovered sufficiently to carry on, and with Masterson, hit the required runs in singles to give Knockbrack victory by one wicket. “The two players were chaired off the field by their supporters and there was sustained applause for the gallant losers”. Two of the Balrothery bowlers, Bunny Casey and Jemmie Bissett were singled out for honourable mention because Casey’s figures were 27 overs bowled, 15 maidens and 3 wickets for 19 runs, while Bissett took 5 wickets for 12 runs in the 17 overs that he bowled. Knockbrack celebrated the victory in the Naul that evening, and the celebrations were continued a fortnight later at a second social event, again in the Naul. To round off a wonderful season for Knockbrack, it also won the Fingal League, and further celebrations were held in the Naul in February 1964.
Knockbrack won the Fingal double again in 1964. It beat the Black Hills by 1 run with eight wickets in hand to win the Fingal Cricket Cup with E. Moore (13) being the main contributor to the score. In the play-off for the Championship, Knockbrack beat Man-O-War on a score of 105 runs to 37. The turning point of this game was the “brilliant catch” by Eamonn Moore to dismiss James Murphy, and shortly after, Tom Murphy was “well-caught” by Thomas McGrane. The other members of the Man-O-War team offered “no resistance” to the bowling of Seán Moore and G. McNally and they were all out for 37. In the 1964 season Knockbrack entered the Leinster Cricket, and although the secretary referred to the club having only had “limited success” in its first season in the League, it had still done sufficiently well to be promoted from the Minor League to the Junior League for the 1965 season.
In many respects, at this stage, the club was back to the “good old days” of the late 1920s and early 1930s, because it had such an increase in membership, it decided to enter a second team in the Fingal League in addition to having a team in the Leinster League. 1964 was the last year in which Knockbrack won any title at Fingal League level until the early 1990s, but it was very successful in Leinster League competitions.
In 1965, it won the Leinster Junior Cup by beating Leinster CC at the Civil Service Grounds. Knockbrack batted first and scored 70 runs and then bowled Leinster out for 49 runs. The Knockbrack squad on this auspicious occasion was Sean and Eamonn Moore (the Drogheda Independent said Morris), Noel Masterson, John Fanning, George McNally, Tom Hunt, Eddie, Chris and Loughlin Lindsay, Tom McGrane, and Seán Donnelly. This season in addition to a Social at the Naul Hall in August, the club organised its First Annual Dinner Dance at the Holmpatrick House Hotel.
The club continued to develop and in 1966, it moved to its “newly-acquired grounds”. It intended to play in the Leinster Minor and Junior Leagues, and to fulfil its engagements in the Fingal League. At Leinster level, it had another successful season because the Leinster Junior League and Cup were retained, and it finished runners-up in the Fingal Championship. In 1968, Knockbrack played in the Intermediate and Minor Leinster competitions, and in the Fingal League and Championship, but it was some time before it won another title. In July 1968, Knockbrack played a friendly game against Cooke Selection, Belfast and rounded off the day with a social at the Naul Hall.
In April 1973, Knockbrack opened the season with a friendly against Balrothery, and this game coincided with the opening of a new pavilion which had “ample dining space” and provided “a clear view of the playing field for indoor spectators. In 1975, Knockbrack won the Intermediate B League for the first time when it played 13 games, won 10 of them, drew 1, lost 2 and finished with 80%. The team which came second was 13 percentage points behind Knockbrack. Wonderful bowling feats are often highlighted in the reports of games, and one of these examples came in 1976 in a game versus Mullingar at Mount Murray when Seán Moore took 6 wickets for 10 runs, and Mullingar was bowled out for 40 runs. In 1977, the Intermediate A League was won, and another Knockbrack bowler, Seán Donnelly, received special mention in the Evening Herald’s review of Junior Cricket for “being virtually unplayable” by taking 9 wickets for 11 runs when Knockbrack played Leinster 1V at Knockbrack.
Knockbrack retained the Intermediate A League and reached the final of the Whelan Cup in 1978 when it played against Man-O-War in a Fingal derby. It scored 61 runs in its 20 overs with Tom Murphy taking 3 wickets for 7 runs, and Albert Harper taking 2 wickets for 16. Man-O-War got the required score for the loss of 3 wickets, and the main contributor to its score was Jody Morgan, father of Eoin, with 17*. In 1979, Knockbrack won the Middle Cup by beating Leinster at Rush, and thus qualified for the Irish Junior Cup competition for the following year. Unfortunately, Ballyarton from Derry was too strong on the day, and it won by 6 wickets with Knockbrack being dismissed for 44 runs.
The successful 1987 team
Prior to this, Knockbrack celebrated its 100th anniversary season by hosting a game between a Leinster Cricket Union Selection and a Knockbrack X1. The players on the Leinster side were M. McDevitt, D. Goodwin, J. Caprani, S. Oakes, S. Mitchell, J. B. Bunworth, N. Grier, R. Waters. D. Robinson, F. Malin, and N. Seale. There are very few details available regarding the actual cricket, but the wonderful singsong after the game is still remembered fondly over 40 years later by one of the players on the Knockbrack Selection.
There was another pleasant function at the end of the season which marked the 50th Anniversary of the Fingal Cup, and Knockbrack had the unique distinction of having competed in the Fingal League competitions every year since the inception of the League in 1926.
It is beyond the scope of this article to review the final twenty-three years of Knockbrack CC’s existence other than to give a summary of events during that period.
In 1984, Knockbrack won the Intermediate Cup, and in 1987, Knockbrack and Ring Commons CC amalgamated to form KBRC. The team was captained by Thomas Bertram and strengthened by the return of George McNally who had played senior cricket with Malahide. This amalgamation produced instant success and in the first year, KBRC won the Intermediate B League and the Second X1 won the Junior B League. In the final of the Middle Cup, KBRC played Balbriggan and won on a score of 137 to 136. This year also, KBRC played Dundalk Crusaders in the final of the George McNally Cup. Appropriately, George McNally Jnr, scored 100*, and the opening pair scored over 200 runs before a wicket was lost. KBRC ended up on 247 runs in 40 overs, and although the Crusaders made their highest ever 40 overs score, 176, they were never in with a chance of winning the game.
Knockbrack’s arrangement with Ring Commons ended at the end of the 1989 season, and the two clubs again became separate entities. In the early 1990s, Knockbrack had an informal arrangement with Dundalk CC, and this produced instant dividends in terms of player numbers and trophies won. In 1992, Knockbrack 1 won the Leinster Intermediate C League and the Second X1 finished as runners-up in the Junior League. Among the Dundalk players was Dr Hamid Ali Khan who was described as a “colossus in the side [because he] consistently produced match-winning contributions with both bat and ball”. Bob Shackleton was another Dundalk player singled out for praise, and there was a reference to the “terrific century” which he had scored in Greystones which according to the Drogheda Argus was the first for the club in 112 years. This assertion is open to correction because it already has been noted that George McNally had scored at least two centuries prior to Bob Shackleton’s achievement, albeit if one of the centuries was for KBRC as distinct from Knockbrack.
The following season, Knockbrack clinched the Intermediate A League when it secured the draw against Malahide which it required to win the title. Knockbrack batted first in difficult conditions and made 142 for 9 in 45 overs, with the openers, Jimmy Mc Quillan (20) and Patsy Harford (25) putting on 45 runs for the first wicket. There was then a collapse in which 5 wickets were lost for 30 runs, but Hamid Ali Khan came to the rescue with 61*, again according to the Argus, “displaying his exceptional talent”. He also picked up 2 wickets and with Paddy O’Connor taking 4 wickets, Malahide was restricted to 102 runs for 6 wickets down. To round off a wonderful season for the club, Knockbrack 11 won the Junior A League.
In the 1994 season, the club was able to field three teams in the Leinster Leagues, but it was the Second X1 which took pride of place. On its route to the final of the Junior Cup, Knockbrack 11 beat North Kildare on a score of 216 runs to 39. The architects of this big win were 2 members of the Dundalk contingent, Jimmy McQuillan (106*) and Neil O’Callaghan who took 7 wickets for 19 runs. The Argus referred to McQuillan’s feat as being the second player in the club to score a century, but the validity of this assertion is open to correction. Knockbrack played Leinster in Rathmines in the Junior Cup Final in what was the club’s first appearance in the Final since 1965.
If the team required a boost in confidence, it was provided by the preview which was published in the Argus. The team had a “powerful batting line-up” with Mc Quillan having scored 500 runs for the season at an average of 74, and his opening partner, Eddie Lindsay had scored over 300 runs at an average of 50. The middle-order batsmen, Shackleton, O’Callaghan, and Carson, were “equally strong,” and O’Boyle “has the knack of saving his best innings for tight situations.” The bowlers, Seán Moore, O’Callaghan, Rooney, Barry Grimes, Stephen Rushe and Mc Quillan “rarely give much away”, and “the team’s ground fielding is second to none”. In addition to all this talent, Colman Rushe was a “top-class keeper who has pulled off some breath-taking stops this season along with many excellent catches”, and John Carson possessed “one of the longest throws in Leinster cricket”.
In the final Leinster won the toss and batted first on a “superb wicket”. They were restricted to 143 runs for 6 wickets by the bowling of Seán Moore and Neil O’Callaghan. Despite having lots of other bowlers, Moore and O’Callaghan bowled unchanged throughout the innings, and “they hardly bowled a bad ball between them.” Sean Moore ended up with figures of 2 for 66 in 25 overs, and O’Callaghan’s figures were 3 for 73 runs. Carson excelled in the field, and he was responsible for a key run-out. In reply, McQuillan (62) and Eddie Lindsay (32*) put on 84 runs for the first wicket, and although 3 quick wickets were lost, Carson removed any doubts regarding the eventual winners with an “ice-cool innings full of class”. The winning runs were hit by Eddie Lindsay, and the victory “was celebrated well into the night by the team and the army of supporters who had travelled to the final”.
Thomas McGrane's 80th birthday party
To finish off a perfect season, the Second X1 completed the double by winning the Junior A League. After the highs of the 1994 season, the following season was somewhat fallow in terms of title successes, but a Fingal League trophy was won for the first time in years when Knockbrack annexed the B League title. In 1996, Knockbrack played Pembroke 1V in the final of the Whelan Cup, and restricted Pembroke to 131 for 4, with Seán Moore taking 2 wickets for 14 runs. In reply, Knockbrack reached the required target for the loss of only two wickets. Chris Lindsay was 71* and Jim McQuillan scored 40 runs.
Knockbrack also won the Minor Cup, and it was the focus of a wonderful documentary which was written by Conor O’Callaghan, a Knockbrack member, and broadcast on RTE radio on 25 October 1996. In 1997, Knockbrack won the Brian Southam Cup, a T20 competition which was established in memory of a much-loved member of the Man-O-War CC who had died suddenly in 1992. It played against Mullingar in the final of the Leinster Intermediate Cup but fell 43 runs short of Mullingar’s total of 177 runs.
The following season, Knockbrack won the Intermediate and the Junior B Leagues, and a review of the cricketing year on the Argus mentioned the batting of Chris Lindsay who got 35 runs in the local derby against North County, and Sean Moore Senior and Junior and Dermot Keelan as “being explosive with the ball.” Unfortunately, in its list of the players who had played for the Firsts, it only gave 7 names – Jimmy McQuillan, Neil Callaghan, Hamid Khan, Riaan Vorster, Bob Shackleton, Paddy Connor, and Martin Moore (Capt). At a celebratory event in early 1999, the Argus published a photograph of 3 club stalwarts, Thomas McGrane, Martin Russell and Eamonn Moore who had marked the book for many years after his retirement as a player.
In 1999, Mullingar played Knockbrack at Belgee, and during the game, Mullingar broke several club records. A second wicket unbeaten partnership between Woody O’Neill (156*) and Sammy Murphy (117*) put on 295 runs, and in the words of the Westmeath Examiner, “the pair inflicted such a devastating onslaught on the Knockbrack bowling that one nearly felt sorry for them”. Undaunted, Knockbrack set about the huge target in style, and the opening batsman who is not named, but was possibly George McNally, hit 14 off the first over. That was as good as it got for Knockbrack, and it was finally dismissed for 130 after 36.4 overs.
By 2000, interest in the Fingal League competitions had waned to such an extent that the Executive issued a questionnaire to ascertain the steps which might be taken to arrest the decline. Knockbrack continued to support the League’s competitions, and it won the Fingal B League in 2000 and 2001. It also played in Leinster until 2003, but before the start of the new season, it has lost access to its ground, and after 123 years, Knockbrack CC ceased to exist.
Knockbrack CC was a quintessential Fingal cricket club, with dogged batsmen, canny bowlers, and eager fielders. Its players were willing to fight for every run and to ensure that every run that the opposition got was hard-earned. Its hospitality was legendary, and it was contended by many that its teas were the best in Leinster.
Its loyalty to the Fingal League was unequalled and it was the only club that during its existence played Fingal cricket every year from 1926. Among its membership were some wonderful characters whose approach to cricket and to life in general provided the basis for hundreds of anecdotes.
In Thomas McGrane, it had a wonderful administrator, and the debt which cricket in Fingal and Leinster owe to him is incalculable. The entire cricketing community in Leinster was diminished by the loss of Knockbrack CC, and it is only fitting that the huge contribution which the club made to cricket and to social life in the community is honoured and recorded.
Note 1: This article is dedicated to Thomas McGrane whose 1st Anniversary occurs on 15 March 2021.
Note 2: Knockbrack is in the Electoral Division of Hollywood, in Civil Parish of Hollywood, in the Barony of Balrothery West, in the County of Dublin. The LCU Handbook gave the following directions to the cricket club: “Near Balrothery, 2nd left after Murtagh’s Pub on the Balbriggan Road.”
Note 3: The assistance of Martin Russell and Michael Gavin is acknowledged for their assistance in the preparation of this article. Errors and omissions are my responsibility.
Note 4: Photographs have been provided by Joe Curtis and Michael Gavin.