Jim Bennett (CricketEurope)
Portrane Cricket Club, 1926-1965
The psychiatric hospitals in Ireland have had a long and distinguished involvement in sport, and this stemmed from a belief in the value of sport as a form of therapy, as worthwhile exercise or as an escape from mundane reality.
The Asylum Committee which had overall responsibility for two hospitals, the Richmond (Grangegorman) and Portrane, had a consistently positive attitude to the role which sport played in the well-being of staff and patients.
The annual report on the administration of the Richmond Hospital for 1899 stated that the “beneficial effect on the health of the patients of indulgence in football and cricket, in which games the officers and staff also join, was plainly noticeable”.
The hospital in Portrane which was located on a 460 acres site in North County Dublin, was opened in 1903, and at a cost of £300,000 it was the most expensive building ever commissioned in Ireland by the British Government.
With a fully operational farm and an abundance of labour to work the farm, the hospital was self-sufficient with regard to vegetables and meat. It was deemed equally important for the hospital to be self-sufficient in terms of recreational activities because its relatively remote location deprived the residents and staff of the benefits which the Richmond enjoyed because of its “close proximity to the city and its attractions.”
In 1926, the Management Committee of the hospital sought to introduce a games programme to Portrane which was similar to that which already existed in the Richmond. To facilitate this initiative, there was a proposal to the Committee that a grant of £110 be made available to cover some of the players’ travel expenses to away games because if there were no incentives, the staff would join outside clubs, and this would defeat the purpose of the recreation programmes which were seen “as an invaluable means of diverting the minds of the patients and … also useful in enabling the staff to engage in harmless and health giving outdoor recreation.”
In support of this proposal, it was stressed to the Committee that “most large employers nowadays find it to their advantage to contribute generously to the recreation of their staffs”. This recommendation was accepted, and not only did the Management Committee re-imburse travel expenses, but it also provided the playing equipment.
When it is also factored in that the male patients looked after the preparation of the pitches for games, and the male patients served the teas which were provided at the expense of the Health Board, it can be seen how advantaged the cricketers of Portrane CC were. Unlike other clubs in Fingal which affiliated to the Fingal League prior to joining the Leinster League, Portrane affiliated to the Leinster Cricket League before it played in the Fingal League, and this decision was justified on the basis of the proximity of the hospital to Donabate Railway Station.
In its first season (1926) in the Junior League, Portrane fared reasonably well insofar as it is possible to ascertain based on the results which were published. In one of the early games in the season, Portrane lost to Raheny on a score of 123 to 84, and it was also well-beaten in the return game (113 to 57 runs), but Alfie Pownall was successful with the ball (4 for 35). It beat Sandymont, home and away, with good performances with the ball from Pownall (5 for 16) and the bat (Rudkins, 35 runs). In a low-scoring game against R. S. P. U., Portrane scored 50 and in reply, and R. S. P. U. was restricted to 33 runs, with Pownall again taking wickets (5 for 10 runs). Pownall’s good form with the ball continued when he took 7 wickets for 13 runs against Pembroke Wanderers, and on this occasion, Breen “batted merrily for 45 runs”.
In 1927, there were 10 teams in the A Division of the Junior League, and the other teams in this section were a blend of works’ teams such as Players, Jacobs, St James’s Gate plus Malahide 1, St John’s, and the junior teams of Leinster, Monkstown and Pembroke Wanderers. Portrane’s season commenced with a friendly match against St James’s Gate which it lost on a score of 63 to 37 runs. The team had a slow start to the season and when the league tables were published in mid-June, it had only played 1 game which it had lost. By the end of June, it had still only played 2 games, and lost both of them. On 18 June, Portrane was involved in a strange ending to its game against Pembroke Wanderers. Portrane batted first and scored 152 runs for 7 declared. In reply, Pembroke had scored 139 for 4 when Portrane indicated that it was unable to finish the game because the players had to catch a train. Pembroke, “on appeal to the umpires were awarded the match.
In another game, Portrane lost on a score of 91 runs to 64 its game against Bellshire, the eventual winners of the section, but P. Higgins returned the wonderful figures of 7 wickets for 21 runs for Portrane. At the end of a less than memorable season, Portrane had played 12 games, won three and lost nine for a total of 9 points, and finished second last in the league. Pembroke Wanderers who had claimed a win in controversial circumstances were the only team to finish below them.
In 1928, the Grangegorman Cricket Club (Richmond) and the Portrane Gaelic Football team placed a requisition for seasonal outfits. In a comment which showed how carefully the Management Committee oversaw expenditure, it was noted that this was not an extravagant request because the last time that the football team had been given new jerseys was 10 years previously. The recommendation was accepted with the proviso that the suits “should be of Irish manufacture”.
On the playing front, this was a far better season for Portrane CC. For example, in its game against St James’s Gate, the score was 141 to 98, with Pownall taking 7 wickets for 27 runs. Revenge was also gained for the previous year’s loss against Pembroke Wanderers when Portrane won on a score of 93 runs to 38. On this occasion, the wicket takers were J. Skelton (6 for 17) and Pownall (3 for 21). Portrane finished top of the Division, but in that era, there was a play-off against the winners of the other section so that the overall winners of the league could be decided. In the play-off, Portrane played against Leinster 111, but it was comprehensively beaten on a score of 226 runs to 48. In its review of the season, the Management Committee was exercised by the expenditure on outdoor sports for the year 1928-29 insofar as Grangegorman had spent its allocation of £90 by November and there would be no further funds available until March 1929. Portrane had been allocated £110 because its travel expenses were greater, and it was suggested that the overall grant of £200 was “hardly adequate in view of the number of pastimes which are now provided for the entertainment of the patients.”
Whether the grants were being spent appropriately then became a bone of contention, and it was asserted that “outsiders” were being paid expenses to play for Portrane: Mr Curran: If I come here to play a game – cricket, hockey, or football, would I be entitled to get my train fare? Chairman: If a man is not on the staff of the Institution, he is not entitled to anything. This reply did not satisfy Mr Curran who asserted that the “outsiders” would not be playing for Portrane unless they were being given the train fare. The matter was referred to the Finance Committee for further investigation.
In 1929, the Junior League was re-organised into 3 sections, and Portrane was in Division B along with CYMS, National Bank, Malahide, St John’s and RSPU 111. Portrane was top of the section with 5 wins and 1 defeat on 11 August. It played one other game (against CYMS) and won on a score of 50 for 5 wickets to 34. The wickets were taken by Meade (5 for 22) and Pownall (5 for 8). With three divisions in the league, it was necessary to have a semi-final, and Portrane was drawn against Leinster. The game was played at Civil Service’s Ground in the Phoenix Park, and apart from the opening pair of Rudkins (35) and Neville (13), no other batsman got into double figures. Portrane ended on 72 all out, and Leinster 111 got the required score for the loss of 1 wicket.
The report on the financing of outdoor sports in Grangegorman and Portrane was submitted to the December meeting of the Management Committee, and the gross total of expenses was £118-19s-7d for Association Football, Gaelic, Hockey and Cricket. Mr Curran was still unhappy, and he said that one team, which was possibly Portrane CC, had 9 “outsiders” on it, and “only they had jam on it, they would not be taking part.” On this occasion, the Chairman took a different stance to the position which he had articulated previously, when he argued that “the meaning of the games was to afford recreation to the patients and to them it was immaterial whether the players were officials of not.” No decision was taken other than to have another report drafted for the next meeting.
Despite the queries and implied criticism, Portrane Cricket Club was in an expansionary phase, and at its AGM in February 1930, it reviewed a successful season, and elected Dr P. J. Dwyer, who had been responsible for founding the club, as its President. A prize was presented to P. Neville for having the best batting figures (627 runs) and J. Rudkins (597 runs) also received a favourable mention. The club expressed its appreciation of the Management Committee for the generous grant made by them for the upkeep of outdoor games. A decision was made to form a second team which would play in the Fingal League. However, there was a proviso with this decision because it was hoped that the club would be allowed to play most of its game at home because there were specific difficulties regarding playing away games on Sundays. The problem which the club faced was that Hospital Staff were rostered for a seven-day week, and it would have been both a logistical nightmare and inherently inequitable if cricketers were given every Sunday off to play cricket while their colleagues were obliged to provide cover. Home games were more straightforward because with patients involved in playing, preparing the pitch, preparing, and serving teas, it was possible to argue that the staff members who were playing cricket were involved in the supervision of patients.
For away games, a level of flexibility and goodwill were involved, and if a staff member brought some patients to a game, it was deemed that they were involved in providing an outing for the patients. However, this flexibility could not be overused, and this was the reason for the application to have as many games at home as possible. The other option was for a player to switch shifts if he could find somebody to change with him, but the Hospital Authorities never became involved in these arrangements, and payment was made to the person who was rostered as distinct from the person who actually worked the shift.
In addition to its appeal to the altruistic instincts of the Fingal League Executive, Portrane CC presented what is considered were compelling arguments for all clubs to travel to Portrane: The Portrane Club have (sic) a first-class Crease, surrounded with beautiful scenery, most admirably situated and very convenient to most clubs in the League. There is also a regular train service to Donabate on Sundays, throughout the season, with bus connection to the M. H. (Mental Hospital) Sports Ground. With these facilities, it is certain the visiting teams would enjoy their game, and afterwards appreciate the cool refreshing breezes from the briney (sic) on the splendid stretch of silvery strand which is nearby. It has not been possible to deduce from the results whether this request was successful, but the club was welcomed into the Fingal League, and with the increase in the number of teams, the League was organised into 3 divisions.
The auguries for the 1930 season were positive for Portrane CC. At the novices’ net practice, it was noted that there were “a few new uns (sic) of exceptional merit, and the prospects for success in the Fingal League were “particularly bright”. The first game of the season was a friendly match against Malahide, and this was the opportunity to try out a few of the new recruits. This was a positive occasion for all concerned, with weather on its “best behaviour and pitch in splendid order, with the result that a very pleasing exhibition of cricket was given by both sides.” Malahide won by 36 runs, but the “new ‘uns” acquitted themselves well and it was anticipated that they would be seen to “greater advantage” as the season advances.
The links between Portrane and Malahide CC were strong, and over the years, many players from Malahide CC have played hockey with Portrane. P. A. Neville and John, his brother, played cricket with Malahide when it became a senior club, and the Goodwins (Dougie and Billy), the O’Neills, Billy Behan, Jimmy Connelly and Podge Hughes among many others played hockey with Portrane. Joe Caprani of Clontarf, Leinster and Malahide fame, played hockey with Portrane, and played and coached cricket at the club as well. These links between Malahide CC and Portrane Hockey are still strong and in the recent past, Ronan McGeehan of Malahide CC has captained a Portrane Hockey team and Cameron Shoebridge has featured on the team sheets of Malahide CC and Portrane Hockey Club.
The club’s Leinster League campaign opened with a victory of the “much-fancied” Irish Times. It was another of those wonderful days of years gone by with the weather “on its best behaviour and the pitch in first class condition with the result that a fine exhibition was served up to a large attendance.”. A. Pownall was in “wonderful all-round form”, and he took 5 wickets for 30 runs. For good measure, “with the bat he hit up 28 runs”. Breen took 3 wickets for 25, and J. Rudkins “hit up a very useful 40 with some beautiful strokes and P. Greary 28”. The No. 11 bat for Portrane was listed as Neville (jnr) who was 1 not out at the close of the innings. It may have been P. A. Neville who would have been 10 years of age in 1930 or John, his brother. Among other games listed for that season are a cup tie versus CYMS which Portrane won thanks to the fine batting of P. Neville and A. Byrne, and the bowling of A. Pownall who took 5 wickets for 21 runs. Pembroke travelled to Portrane with only nine players short and lost on a score of 104 runs to 30. Pownall took 3 wickets for 11 runs and Meade took 5 for 11, with M Brannagan contributing 21* with the bat.
From this point onwards, the main emphasis will be on Portrane CC’s involvement in Fingal League cricket, and references to Leinster League cricket will only be made if they are relevant to the Fingal League or important personages in the history of Portrane CC. The Fingal League campaign commenced with a victory over Ballymadun in a “rather one-sided affair”. Ballymadun was all-out for 56 because the “bowling and fielding of Portrane on a very fast pitch was deadly accurate, which proved too much for the visiting batsmen”. The second game of the season was against Baldwinstown, and again Portrane was at home. Portrane batted first, but then there was heavy rain, and the game was discontinued. The interruption to the game was unfortunate for Baldwinstown because according to the report, it had the game “well won thanks to their bowlers who got all Portrane’s wickets rather cheaply”. For the third game in a row, Portrane was at home so it appears that the Fingal League teams had acceded to its request for most of its games to be played at Portrane.
In its game against Barnageera, the team resumed its winning ways. Barnageera batted first and compiled a score of 74 runs. Portrane scored 159 for 2 declared, with the partnership of Meade (82) and Rudkins (70*) making a record 2nd wicket stand for the ground. By the end of the season, Portrane had played 10 games in the Fingal League and won 6 of them. Significantly, it had scored 994 runs which was 435 runs more than the team which topped the Division, and this was a positive reflection on the quality of the ground at Portrane. Portrane’s first team finished top of its section in the Leinster League, but its play-off game against Leinster was rained off on 13 September, and the ground Phoenix was deemed unplayable on the second attempt to play the game.
In 1931, Portrane tied for second place in Division A of the Fingal League, with 5 wins and 3 defeats in an eight-match programme. It scored 713 runs in 8 games which was 314 runs more than Skerries which topped the table. The Management Committee of the Fingal League then decided to organise a “the Fingal Cricket Championship” which would be played as a knock-out tournament during the month of September. In the semi-final, Portrane had a comfortable victory over Balbriggan and qualified to meet Baldwinstown in the final which was eagerly awaited because “both sides are evenly matched.” The final was played at Balbriggan on 27 September 1931 between Portrane and Baldwinstown. Unfortunately, it is not possible to give a definitive answer regarding the name of the winning team because two separate reports in the Drogheda Independent gave conflicting accounts. In the first article, it is reported that Mr J. T. Ennis presented Portrane with the championship medals, and Baldwinstown and Knockbrack also received medals as winners of their respective grades. The following week it is reported that at the same function, championship medals were presented to Mr G. Reynolds, Baldwinstown CC. Finally in the Garristown Notes in the Drogheda Independent, it is reported that Baldwinstown won the championship outright so it appears that Baldwinstown were the first winners of the Fingal Championship unless some person can produce evidence to contradict this assertion.
In 1932, Portrane qualified for the play-off stages of the Fingal League and it played Oldtown “under ideal conditions” at Rush. In two-innings per side game, Portrane’s composite total was 131 to Oldtown’s 60 runs, but Oldtown’s second innings was not completed due to the darkness, and the result was based on the first innings’ scores. (Portrane 68 and Oldtown 42). J. Neville featured on the Portrane team sheet, but for some unexplained reason, he did not bat in the second innings. The final of the Fingal Cricket League between Portrane and Balcunnin was played at Balbriggan on 11 September “before a large number of spectators”. Balcunnin batted first and scored 80 runs and in reply, Portrane scored 48 runs. Balcunnin declared in its second innings when its score was 80 runs for 6 wickets down. Portrane could only score 47 in its second innings and this gave Balcunnin its first victory in the Fingal Championship Cup. On this occasion, the Portrane team featured at least 4 players (K. O’Neill, J. O’Hanlon, J. Armstrong, S. Mills) who played regularly for Malahide CC in the Leinster League.
In 1934, Portrane reached the final of the Fingal Cricket League and its opponents were Oldtown. In an exciting, low-scoring game in which “none of the batsmen seemed at home with the bowling”, Portrane won by two wickets to take the Fingal Challenge Cup for the first time. The bowlers for Portrane were A. Griffin and Pownall, and the top-scorer in the game was C. Mc Garvey of Oldtown with 15 runs.
There is a dearth of information for the 1935 season, and the only reference to Portrane CC in the 1936 season is to its “easy defeat of Knockbrack” on a score of 46 for 3 to 35 for Knockbrack. At the AGM in 1937, the club’s prospects appeared to be rather gloomy because it had “lost a number of prominent players for the coming season.”. Despite this, the club decided to enter a team in the Leinster Junior League and the Fingal League. The list of officers is noteworthy because many of the people on the list rendered magnificent service to Portrane CC and to Fingal Cricket over many years: Captain: A. Pownall; Vice-Captain: J. Boyce; Hon. Sec. and Treasurer: G. Skerrett; Ass. Sec.: J. Lea. Selection Committee: A. Pownall, G. Skerrett, S. O’Donnell, J. Ennis, and J. Boyce. Unfortunately, there is no information available for the 1937 season other than a fixture for Portrane versus Leinster 111 which was to be played on 26 June 1937.
The 1938 Fingal Cricket League final between Portrane and Balrothery is enshrined in the folk memory because of the series of events which unfolded. The final was played at Balbriggan and “after a very exciting game, the result was a draw of 60 runs each.” The principal scorers for Portrane were O’Brien (13), J. Boyce (13) and A. Byrne (11*). The reply was scheduled for the following Sunday, and amazingly, there was another draw, with both sides on 57 runs. The only players in double scores for Portrane were P. W. A. Griffin (12) and S. O’Donnell (10). The third game was played at Skerries because the Balbriggan ground was unavailable. P. Neville won the toss, and Portrane batted first. The principal scorers for Portrane were P. Breen (11*) and P. Neville (10) while V. Farrell (14) and H. Russell (10) were the main contributors to Balrothery’s score. On the bowling front, Pownall took 4 wickets for 7 runs, and Griffin took 2 for 7. Portrane’s final total was 47 runs and Balrothery ended up on 34 to give Portrane its second Fingal Championship Cup.
In 1939, Portrane played Santry in the semi-final of the Leinster Junior Cup and had an easy victory thanks to the “accurate and spectacular bowling of Mr A. Pownall who got 6 wickets for 3 runs. It is a record in cricket and being the veteran of the team, showed a good example to the younger members”. Portrane batted first and scored 65 runs, with the principal scorers being P. Neville (16), John Neville (14), Joe Boyce (8) and W. Meade (7). Santry was bowled out for 14 runs, and other successful bowler for Portrane was John Neville who took 3 wickets for 7 runs. On 13 August, Portrane played Balrothery for the second year in a row in the final of the Fingal Cricket Cup. Balrothery batted first and accumulated 58 runs thanks mainly to C. J. Mooney (16 runs) and V. Farrell (11 runs). In reply, Portrane lost early wickets, but the third wicket partnership between W. Meade (20 runs) and P. Neville (15 runs) brought the score up to 32. That was the end of Portrane’s resistance, and it was bowled out for 54 runs. The main bowler for Portrane was Pownall who bowled unchanged and took 5 wickets for 25 runs. P. Neville’s fielding was also mentioned because his three slip catches were adjudged to have been “excellent efforts”.
After the disappointment of the Fingal game, Portrane played Rush in the final of the Leinster Junior Cup. The game was played at Rathmines on 19 August 1939. G. J. Bonass, a leading administrator in Leinster and Irish cricket, reported on the game for the Sunday Independent, and his report was of a patronising nature. He praised the wicket at Rathmines as being a “real cast iron” one, but according to Mr Bonass, Portrane did not appreciate its quality, and were dismissed for 75 ones. In his opinion, “one man might have made that score on that wicket.” He was not impressed with Rush’s approach to chasing the total: Stop ball is the order of the day. Many a wild one goes unpunished to leg. Dull cricket. A stray dog relieves the monotony and by his twelfth man fielding lends at least a canine interest to the game… Rush have now lost 4 wickets. There is little variation in the Portrane bowling. Sling ‘em in appears to be the slogan. A great mistake even on a hard wicket. The only positive element of either side’s display was their fielding which he deemed to be a “headline for some of our somewhat bored Senior cricketers”. Having completed his analysis of the shortcomings of both teams, it is mentioned in passing that Rush won the game. He finished his report by advising the lawn bowlers that the shorter route to the pavilion was behind the sightscreen rather than in front of it because “their passing usually disturbs the batsman at the far end and may or may not bring tears to his eyes”. The report in the Drogheda Independent on the game is less jaundiced and more factual. Rush won by 10 runs because “they played the game in a real earnest way and they have proved themselves by this victory over Portrane to be the best cricket team in Fingal”. Rush is commended for its bowling and fielding while “Portrane bowling and fielding was not up to their usual standard.”
Assessment of the 1939 season for Portrane therefore depends to some extent on one’s perspective on life and the answer to that deep philosophical question, “Is the glass half-full or half-empty?”. The team had played in two finals, and had been beaten in both, but there were many clubs that would love to have been capable of reaching finals so from that viewpoint, the 1939 season was a successful one for Portrane CC. In 1939 also, a Fingal League Selection which was drawn principally from Skerries, Balrothery, Portrane and Knockbrack played Pembroke. Fingal batted first, and scored 90 runs, with P. Neville contributing 20 of this score. Pembroke “never mastered the bowling of A. Quinn and C. Mooney and were all out for 29”.
There was little of note in the 1940 season other than to record that Mr Joe Boyce of Portrane was elected Vice-President of the Fingal League, and Portrane played in the same section as Balrothery, Skerries, Naul Hill and Mulhuddart. In 1941, Portrane was obliged to withdraw from Fingal League cricket due to the foot and mouth epidemic, but the club made a presentation to Dr B. Blake, captain of Portrane hockey and cricket teams, on his appointment to a post in Limerick Hospital. This was the second presentation of the evening because earlier Dr Blake’s father, Dr S. Blake, the RMS of Portrane Hospital, had presented a cup and medals to the Portrane Hockey team which had gone through the season unbeaten. From a cricketing viewpoint, there was a significant overlap between the players on the hockey and cricket teams, and the following players received medals: Dr B. Blake (Captain), Messrs James O’Toole, A. Byrne, B. Dockrell, J. T. Kavanagh, John Neville, Jas. H. Lee, A. Griffin, Edward Ennis, P. Neville, and G. Kemp. Portrane was listed on the league table at the end of the season for the Leinster League, and according to the table, it had played 13 matches and lost 11 but it may just have given walkovers when the foot and mouth restrictions were imposed. Some cricket was played in September, and Mulhuddart played Portrane in the first cricket game after the lifting of restrictions. Mulhuddart batted first and scored 24 runs, and Portrane made 26 runs for 7 wickets in reply. The following week, Portrane travelled to Balbriggan to play against Clonard who were making their debut in the Fingal League. Clonard won on a score of 47 runs to 27 because Portrane were “short of some of their favourite cricketers and had to travel with some real amateurs.” The clubs in Fingal were zealous in ensuring that other clubs complied with the rules and regulations of the League.
In 1943, Walshestown lodged an objection to Portrane, the grounds for which were not specified in the report other than to state that the objection was over-ruled. The two more usual objections were either biased umpiring decisions or queries regarding the eligibility of players to participate in Fingal League games. With Walshestown’s objection being over-ruled, the way was clear for Portrane to play Balrothery in what ended up as a one-sided final of the Fingal League. Balrothery batted first and only scored 15 runs. Portrane made 73 for 6, and of this total, Neville was “over 50, not out”. That season there was also a knock-out competition, but Portrane’s interest in it was ended in the first round when it lost to Rush. In 1943, a Fingal League Selection played a Phoenix Selection at the Clonard Grounds, Balbriggan. The two Portrane representatives were P. A. Neville and Joe Caprani. The Phoenix team contained such illustrious cricketers as J. C. Boucher, F. M. Quinn, P. J. Quinn, K. J. Quinn, G. J. Quinn, and J. N. Brophy (Irish Internationals), and the game which was described as one of the best games seen in North County Dublin for many years was witnessed by a large crowd. Hoare took 5 wickets for 0 runs, and Phoenix ended on a score of 59. The Fingal Selection made 62 for the loss of 7 wickets, with Jim Coleman scoring 10 and Joe Caprani scoring 19*.
In 1946, the Leinster Cricket Club sponsored a Festival week at Rathmines, and a Fingal Selection was invited to play against Leinster 111. The report on this game mentioned that the Fingal selection “looked very clean and neat in their whites which was very necessary for this big occasion.” The two Portrane representatives on the team were J. J. Neville and P. Yourell. Fingal scored 171 for 6 declared, the opening pair of Pa O’ Brien and T. Murphy contributed 46 to the total. Leinster scored 66 in reply because the Fingal attack and fielding were “too good.” In 1946, Joe Boyce was re-elected as President of the Fingal League but unfortunately, his health had begun to fail, and he resigned the following year. His resignation was accepted by the League with regret and “tributes were paid to his great sportsmanship and organising ability during his term of office.”
The loss of a key administrator can have a detrimental effect on a club, and it may have been coincidence but in June 1947, Portrane were unable to field for a cup match against Harding. Portrane dropped out of the Leinster League for a number of seasons but continued to play in the Fingal League. In its first game of the 1950 season, it beat Knockbrack on a score of 64 for 7 to Knockbrack’s 63. The top scorers for Portrane were J. Neville (25) and A. Blake (25). On 16 July, Portrane beat Walshestown by 4 wickets. Walshestown batted first and scored 63 all out. Portrane lost 3 wickets cheaply, but J. Neville and E. Fitzgerald got the necessary runs. There is no query regarding the actual details of the report, but it was stated that this victory made Portrane League Champions, and this has not been corroborated by any other sources. In the Fingal League Archives, it is reported that Balrothery won the Championship in 1950.
When Balrothery won the Championship in 1955, it was stated that this was the 9th time that it had won it, and this was corroborated by another report in 1971 which indicated that Balrothery had won the Championship on 13 occasions. These figures can only be correct if 1950 is included as one of the years that Balrothery won the competition. Portrane returned to Leinster Cricket in 1951 and had immediate success when it beat Civil Service 11 by 5 wickets to win the Minor Cup. Civil Service batted first and scored 117 runs. Both Portrane opening batsmen were out without scoring, but a solid display by the remaining players brought Portrane home with relative ease. The successful batsmen were E. Fitzgerald (22), R. Neville (26, the report says Reville), S. Pownall (33*), J. Byrne (22), and D. Kelly (14*). Fitgerald took 5 wickets for 22 runs, S. Pownall took 2 for 42, A. Pownall took 1 for 29 and Snowe’s figures were 1 for 21. Portrane completed the double that season by winning the Leinster Minor League.
The Fingal Cup final was not played in 1951 due to “unforeseen difficulties”, but it was agreed that the final between Knockbrack and Portrane would take place on 25 May 1952. The game was played on a “very fast and hard wicket at the Park, Skerries”, and Portrane won by 2 runs. Knockbrack batted first in “glorious sunshine”, but Jim Young took 2 wickets for 7 runs. By the fall of the fifth wicket, Knockbrack had only managed to score 26 runs, and according to the report, many of these runs were byes. The final 5 wickets fell cheaply, and Knockbrack was all out for 36 runs. Portrane was circumspect in chasing this target and needed only 4 runs with 2 wickets left. Another wicket fell when 3 runs had been scored, and the last man went to the wicket with one run required. The winning run was made, with “one extra for good measure”, and Portrane had won the Cup “midst much excitement and applause from the large number of spectators.”
In 1952, Portrane struggled in its defence of the Cup. It was well-beaten by Knockbrack on a score of 128 runs to 32, and later in the season, it also lost to Skerries. For the game against Skerries, Portrane batted first on a “perfect wicket” at Portrane, but the team was soon in “dire straits” against the bowling of R. Byrne who ended up with the wonderful figures of 8 wickets for 32 runs. The only resistance came from Liam Tolan who scored 34 runs out of a Portrane total of 62 runs. The necessary runs were obtained with consummate ease, with W. Beggs (25) giving an “exhibition of hitting. One of his shots went over the pavilion, and the last hit over the bowler’s head for four gave Skerries the victory.
In 1953, Walshestown and Portrane featured in a quintessential Fingal final. Walshetown batted first, but the “hard wicket” suited the bowlers, and Walshestown was bowled out for 18 runs. Fitzgerald and Pownall were the successful bowlers for Portrane. However, the game was ended when “T. and J. Murphy skittled the Portrane batsmen for 11 runs. T. Murphy took 6 wickets for 8 runs, and Jim, his brother, took 3 wickets for 1 run. There is no reference to Portrane playing Fingal League cricket in 1954, but it was involved in Fingal cricket in 1955 because it was drawn against Knockbrack in the first game of the season.
There is no evidence of Portrane playing Fingal cricket in 1954, but it played a full programme of fixtures in the Leinster League. During this season, it played against Leinster 1V, North Kildare, Clontarf, Old Belvedere. On 27 June, it beat Leinster on a score of 110 for 4 to 109; it lost to CYMS on a score of 145 to 102, and in early May, it had a decisive victory over Clontarf when it scored 96 runs for the loss of 6 wickets, and then dismissed Clontarf for 14 runs. In 1955, it was one of 6 teams in the Fingal League when the fixtures for the first games of the season were announced. It was scheduled to play against Knockbrack. The other games were Balrothery v The Hills and Walshestown v Cottrellstown.
Ronan McGeehan and Pascal Henchey
That is the extent of the information which is available on Portrane’s involvement in Fingal cricket during that season, but it featured in two noteworthy games in Leinster competitions. In its game against Old Belvedere, Portrane was in the news because Lloyd, the Old Belvedere bowler, took 8 wickets for 8 runs – all clean-bowled, and the other two wickets were run-outs. Portrane eventually finished on 32 all out, and Old Belvedere got the required total for the loss of 4 wickets. In the cup, Portrane was drawn against Longford, and the reports on cricket in the Longford Leader were always good value. In the report, it is asserted that Longford “made a present of the match to Portrane who were well and truly beaten but for lax fielding midway through the latter’s innings. A lesson that should be long remembered by fielders”. Longford batted first and scored 132 runs. The outstanding feature of the match was “Ian Cox’s innings of 64 during which he was lauded for the ease and grace in dealing with the bowling. Truly a class batsman lost in junior ranks”. There was praise for the bowling of Cox and Shaw, but “most of the fielders lent little or no assistance to their efforts. Without a doubt Portrane should have been out for not more than 50 runs”. In addition to being unhappy with the fielding, he was also unimpressed with the field placings, and at the end of this tale of woe, Portrane got 135 runs for seven wickets. The main contributors to Portrane’s score were D. Kelly (40) and S. Pownall (41).
1956 was a significant year for Portrane CC. It played Bellew in the final of the Leinster Junior Cup at the Civil Service Grounds. Bellew batted first and only scored 57 runs. Portrane reached the required target for the loss of 3 wickets, with D. Kelly (27*) being the top scorer. At international level, a momentum had been building up for P. A. Neville to be capped for Ireland in view of his exploits for Malahide CC in Leinster Senior competitions. In June 1956, he provided more evidence of his right to an international cap when he scored 110 for Leinster when playing against Munster. When Noel Cantwell, another dual player cried off the Irish team, Paddy Neville was called up for the team to play against the British Combined Services in Belfast on 17 and 18 August 1956.
Just a summary of his achievements gives an indication of not just his versatility, but the high level at which Paddy performed. He played hockey for Ireland for three seasons and was on a Triple Crown winning team. He played in goal for Drumcondra and was awarded representative honours when he played for the League of Ireland team. He played Gaelic football for Parnells, and was on a Dublin Championship winning team, but this achievement went under the radar because of the GAA’s ban on foreign games. In addition to all this talent, his temperament and sportsmanship were legendary. When his brother, Dick, was asked about Paddy’s greatest moment, he said that it was during a cup final when Paddy told an umpire that a goal that had been credited to him, had gone into the goal through a hole at the side of the net.
Paddy Neville was one of three brothers, John and Richard (Dick) being the others who starred for Portrane in hockey and cricket, but it would be remiss of me not to mention some of the other families whose members have contributed so much to Portrane over the years. Alf Pownall who had a wonderfully long career and his sons, Stan and Alfie, Junior. Andy Byrne was a wonderful full back, and his sons, Tommy and Ando, were regular members of the cricket and hockey teams. The Breens, John and Ted, played both sports with distinction, and Dr Blake’s two sons, Bertram and Adrian captained the hockey and cricket teams. In more recent times, Paschal Henchy ensured that Portrane played Fingal League cricket for many years after Portrane (St Ita’s) left Leinster cricket.
In 1957, Portrane reached the final of the Fingal League when it played against Knockbrack at Kenure. Portrane batted first, and only managed to score 43 runs, with the main contributions coming from T. Byrne (14) and R. Neville (9). In keeping with the theory that a winning score is never known until the second team bats, Knockbrack was dismissed for 33 runs due to superb bowling from J. Neville, J. Young, and O. Meenan. The 1958 final was not played until 1959 and the same two teams contested it. On this occasion, Knockbrack won by 11 runs on a score of 59 to 48. Seán Moore took 4 wickets for 4 runs for Knockbrack, while J. Neville took 5 for 29 for Portrane.
Knockbrack again beat Portrane in the final which was played at the Ballast Pit in Skerries on 22 June 1960, and the same two teams were scheduled to meet in a final on 28 June 1961, but Portrane withdrew from the League. No reason was given for this decision, but the club continued to play cricket in Leinster, albeit with the different name which had been adopted in 1959.
The Health Board had insisted that the hospitals be known by specific names with Mental Hospital being removed from the name, and Portrane CC became known as St Ita’s.
St Ita’s played in the Intermediate League of Leinster Cricket until 1965, and there were still local derbies because Balrothery CC was also in the Intermediate League. The two teams met in the Intermediate Cup in 1961, and Balrothery batting first was dismissed for 51 runs, the main wicket takers being Bates (4 for 25) and Young (6 for 22). St Ita’s lost 3 quick wickets for 17 runs, but McMorrow (24*) and Bates (4) ensured that they were into the semi-final of the Cup. There are no further details available, but the Cup run was ended at the semi-final stage because the final was between Royal College of Surgeons and Leinster 111.
On the weekend of the victory over Balrothery, St Ita’s beat Old Belvedere at Cabra. St Ita’s batted first and scored 93 runs, with contributions from Kelly (29), P. Neville (23) and Henchy (20). Belvedere looked to be in the pole position while Delaney (57) was batting but he was caught at square leg by Fenlon off the bowling of Henchy. The other successful bowlers for St Ita’s were Young (4 for 16) and Bates (4 for 50).
St Ita’s was well in contention to win the league in 1961, but a weekend of mixed fortunes damaged its hopes of a league victory. On 15 July, St Ita’s lost to St James’s Gate by 15 runs. However, on 16 July, St Ita’s beat Railway Union 111 on a score of 124 to 111. The main contributors for St Ita’s were D. Kelly (27), Byrne (25), Ryan, (12), Young (18).
The 1962 season was a more difficult one for St Ita’s, and one of the few games for which it was possible to obtain a result was a game against YMCA on 2 June, and a score of 18 runs all out did not augur well for the season. By 9 August, it had played 13 games, won 2, drawn 2, lost 9, and was second last on the league table with a 21% total. It looked as if the 1963 was going to be equally difficult because St Ita’s was knocked out in the first round of the Intermediate Cup by Harding on a score of 59 to 63 for the loss of 3 wickets. After this setback, there was a resurgence, and the team was involved in some good victories during the rest of the season. On 1 June, St Ita’s dismissed Railway for 56 runs with Henchy (5 for 13) and Bates (3 for 9) being responsible for the rout. The required runs were obtained for the loss of 3 wickets by T. Byrne (16) and Henchy (10*). On 8 June, St Ita’s batted first against St James’s Gate, and accumulated 152 runs, with solid contributions from D. Kelly (47), P. Henchy (41*) and J. Neville (22), but St James’s Gate scored the winning run off the second last ball of the game. The following day, St Ita’s batted first and scored 113, with T. Byrne (22), P. Henchy (20), P. Neville (20) and J. Neville (17) getting the lion’s share of the runs. In reply, Civil Service only got 41 runs, with Henchy taking 4 wickets for 18 runs.
Pascal Henchy, Peter Byrne, Pat McCann, Andy Byrne, and James Neville.
On 7 July 1963, St Ita’s played an exciting game with Clontarf. Batting first, St Ita’s went from 33 runs for 1 wicket to 78 all out, with only T. Byrne (38) and Noel Bates (20) making any runs. Clontarf were 70 for 8 in the second last over, but Noel Bates took 2 wickets to give St Ita’s a thrilling victory which owed a lot to accurate bowling from Bates (3 for 26), P. Neville (3 for 32) and P. Henchy (3 for 9). The top scorers for Clontarf were D. Lee (16), and a future Irish International, Enda McDermott (17). By mid-July, St Ita’s was third in the table, but a poor weekend ended any hopes it had of winning the League. On Saturday, 13 July, St Ita’s was fortunate to escape with a draw in its game with Phoenix who batted first and declared at 194 for 5. In reply, St Ita’s scored 130 for 8 wickets. On Sunday 14 July, St Ita’s was set a target of 150 by Railway Union, but there was then a complete batting collapse, and they were all out for 35 runs. All hopes of a League title finally disappeared a fortnight later when St Ita’s was well-beaten by St James’s Gate on a score of 109 runs to 66, with D. Kelly (23) and Sean Hannon (14), the only batmen to make any impression on the bowling. The wickets were taken by S. Neville (5 for 18), P. Henchy (3 for 27) and Noel Bates (3 for 32).
In June 1964, St Ita’s lost to St James’s Gate in a low-scoring game. St Ita’s batted first and scored 98 runs and St James’s Gate reached the target for the loss of 7 wickets. The main batsmen for St Ita’s were T. Riordan (22) and A. McCann (16). In the return game at Portrane, St James’s Gate won by 5 wickets. St Ita’s had scored 40 runs before the fall of the first wicket, but ended all out for 86 runs, and the only significant contributions were from Thomas Byrne (15) and Dermot Kelly (20). By mid-July, the League Table showed that St Ita’s had played 8 games, won 3, lost 5, and was on 38%. In late July, St Ita’s lost to Clontarf by 1 wicket. Batting first, St Ita’s scored 68 runs, with T. Byrne (15) being the top scorer and S. Ryan and J. Coll also in double figures. N. Bates (4 for 31) and P. Henchy (5 for 36) bowled for the entire innings, and Clontarf only scraped home on a score of 70 for 9 wickets. On 25 July, St Ita’s welcomed Civil Service to Portrane, and the home team had a nine-wicket victory. Civil Service was restricted to 87 runs due to the excellent bowling of Pat (sic) Henchy who took 6 wickets “at a very low personal cost”. In reply, T. Riordan and J. Kelly had no bother in reaching the target against a “Service attack which was devoid of any great thrust”.
Information on the last season (1965) that St Ita’s played in Leinster Cricket is very sparse, and for the most part, all that is available are details of fixtures rather than results. There were league fixtures against YMCA and Phoenix. The League game against Trinity was not played for some reason, and St Ita’s was drawn in the preliminary round of the Intermediate Cup against Clontarf but lost. The one positive element in the entire season is that Portrane was back in Fingal cricket and it was drawn against Knockbrack 11 in the Cup.
Portrane played Fingal cricket intermittently for the next 35 years and it was represented at a Fingal League meeting which was held in 2001. Why did cricket die in Portrane when hockey, the complementary sport continued to thrive in the peninsula?
In addressing this question, we will leave aside the more general arguments regarding cricket as a sport vis-à-vis other sports and concentrate on issues specific to Portrane. As the salaries of staff improved, there was no longer any necessity for them to live in hospital-owned accommodation, and many of them bought houses in other areas.
The tendency then was to gravitate towards recreational facilities close to one’s residence rather than the workplace. It was noticeable that when Portrane ceased playing cricket, very few players transferred to other clubs because once the convenience of a ground near home was lost, interest in playing cricket dissipated. Secondly, a hospital team would have players of different abilities and in the later years, Portrane could field only one team which meant that the ambitious cricketers joined some of the bigger clubs in the area, and this was also applicable to novice cricketers.
As the number of cricketers declined, the difficulties caused by the inflexibility of work rotas exacerbated the problems involved in fielding teams. Thirdly, there was no youth programme in place and therefore as players retired, there was not a stream of young players ready to take their places.
The Hockey club has had a thriving youth programme in place for many years, and this has enabled it to become one of the most successful hockey clubs in the country. There may have been undue dependence on the hospital for institutional support, and as changes began to occur in the treatment of persons with psychiatric illnesses, there were less people available to prepare and maintain pitches whereas the hockey had a greater level of input from the people living in Portrane and Donabate.
Fourthly, over the years, Portrane CC was fortunate to have some wonderful administrators such as Joe Boyce, Stephen O’Donnell, and Tim Riordan, and often the work of these administrators is only noticed when they are no longer available.
The comments above are of a conjectural nature but it is more important to reference the contribution which Portrane CC made to the life of the community, and to commend the visionaries who were years ahead of their time in seeing the value which sport served in engendering a sense of well-being in patients and staff. It enabled members of the community of St Ita’s Hospital to enjoy a leisure time activity together, and it was invaluable in inculcating a sense of self-worth for people who might have been struggling with low self-esteem.
Over the years, some magnificent cricketers such as Paddy and John Neville, the Pownalls, Dermot Kelly and Noel Bates among many others played with Portrane, and they were an adornment to the game, not just because of their sporting prowess, but the spirit with which they played cricket.
Portrane CC more than fulfilled the aspirations of the Management Committee of 1926 who saw sports “as an invaluable means of diverting the minds of the patients and… useful in enabling the staff to engage in harmless and health-giving outdoor recreation.”
1. I acknowledge with gratitude the assistance and photographs which Paschal (Percy) Henchy has given to me during the preparation of this article. However, errors in fact or omissions and the opinions expressed are my responsibility.
2. Joe Curtis provided the photograph of Portrane F. C., 1908