ONE hundred years ago this month one of the most audacious sporting coups was attempted by an Irishman as he bid to host a crucial England v Australia cricket test – in his back garden in the north Wicklow town of Bray.

It was just one episode in the life of one of the most enthusiastic philanthropists of the 20th century, whose failure to pull off his cricket stroke led him to totally abandon the game and set up an Opera House and golf course instead.

Sir Stanley Cochrane inherited millions from his family's mineral water business. His father Henry had joined up Dr Thomas Cantrell of Belfast to form C&C which took off when they invented ginger ale and began exporting it to US in 1866.

One of its adverts declared: 'The popping of Cantrell and Cochrane's corks is heard in the bungalows of the British cantonment in the Far East, and its sparkle is familiar to the Vice-Regal entourage up in the hot season refuge of the Anglo-Indians at Simla. Dons and seignorinas quaff this liquid boon in the tropical climes of South America; the West Indies welcome it as a treasure: Afric's ‘sunny fountains' are out-rivaled in their very habitat by its gleam; the Antipodes have taken this gift of the Mother Empire with gratitude.'

Stanley thus grew up in great wealth in Woodbrook as the youngest of seven children. He was born in 1877, and after school at St Columba's he travelled and learnt the family trade. In the early days of motoring he bought a Mercedes and built up fleet of cars, including two Rolls Royces.

Aged 24, he went up to Trinity, where he returned to cricket, which he had played at school. He was a poor player, certainly not good enough for the student first team, and spent three years flitting between the 2nd and 3rd XIs.

But, despite miserable results for those teams, in 1904 he found himself selected for the plum fixture against South Africa. He didn't rise the occasion however, scoring 1 and 2.

Cochrane was a generous soul, and the death of his father later that year meant he inherited Woodbrook – and many millions. He stumped up the enormous sum of £300 (equivalent to £28,000 today) to entice the Australians to play against the students in 1905.

Cochrane didn't play in that game, but his plans for cricket were already taking shape. He levelled a suitable field at Woodbrook and spent £1,000 on shipping hundreds of tons of clay from Nottingham to ensure a top-class playing surface. He also built an indoor practice school and hired half-a-dozen English professionals.

With money no object, he paid for many of the best players in the world, such as Prince Ranjitsinjhi, to come to play against his team. The national sides of Australia, South Africa and India came, as did many English counties.

Cochrane built a railway station, Woodbrook Halt, which linked both the Harcourt Street and Dublin-Bray lines, and organised excursions from the city for spectators. For six summers he indulged his passion, and usually picked himself to play, but the sporting public weren't convinced.

The Dublin clubs soon tired of being used as whipping boys, and the audiences for the big games were disappointing. Cochrane needed a marquee fixture, and he saw the opportunity to stage the biggest of all.

The summer of 1912 was a landmark one for the sport in England, with the first Triangular Tournament between England, Australia and South Africa. During a break in competition, the South Africans came to Bray to play both Woodbrook and Ireland, and Cochrane also contracted the Australians to visit before they returned home.

By early August, the Test Board of Control realised that England and Australia were likely to finish joint-top of the round-robin tournament, so they resolved to have a playoff at The Oval. But the only date available was 12 September, when Australia were due to play a selection led by the England captain CB Fry – at Woodbrook.

The board sent Cochrane a telegram asking him to waive his claim on the Australians, to which he replied ‘Will give up date if you play match here. Every facility and would do a lot of good for cricket in Ireland. Cochrane.'

The officials didn't reply, so next morning Cochrane telegrammed again: ‘Put my proposal before full Board of Control.'

The English officials consulted the two captains, and told the Irishman that their unanimous decision was the game could not be played outside England, and asked him again to consent to their request. Cochrane sent a brief reply: ‘Will give way'.

The playoff wasn't needed and the Australians came, but lost to a strong team for which Fry recruited perhaps the greatest ever English batsman, Jack Hobbs, and bowler, Sydney Barnes.

With Cochrane disillusioned by local indifference and international intransigence, it was the last big game at Woodbrook. He converted the indoor school into an Opera House, which hosted the likes of the singer Dame Nellie Melba and the London Symphony Orchestra, and where the great pianist Alfred Cortot made his performing debut.

Cochrane became active in the war effort, raising huge sums for prisoners, and rose to the rank of captain of the 7th Battalion, Dublin Fusiliers, seeing action in Serbia. He was created first Baronet Cochrane in 1915 for services to music, sport and the welfare of POWs.

At the end of the war he switched his sporting allegiances to golf, and set about building a course at Woodbrook.

He promoted monthly competitions for professionals, who were a down-trodden group at the time. He invited several top US and British golfers to play at his course, and set the foundations for the Irish Open which began in 1927. Ironically, that event fell into abeyance for more than 20 years before it was revived at in 1975 at Woodbrook.

Diagnosed as diabetic in the 1920s, Cochrane was one of the first in Europe to be treated with insulin, which had been produced by two Canadian doctors and, he admitted, cost ‘a mint of money'.

There were many more chapters to come in his extraordinary life, such as when he represented Ireland at the first World Scouting Jamboree in London. He also became president of the Rathmines & Rathgar musical society and linked up with the Dublin-based Italian composer Michele Esposito to found the music publishing firm C&E Editions. It went through a lot of Cochrane's money until it folded on Esposito's death in 1929.

Cochrane himself died 20 years later, but there still echoes of his grand dream around the Woodbrook estate. The remnants of the railway platform can still be seen on the Dart line, while the bell that called cricketers to play now hangs in the golf club bar.

By coincidence, Ireland's cricketers returned to play in Co. Wicklow earlier this month, a century after their last visit. Again they played South Africa – albeit their ‘A' team – at a private ground built by the successful racehorse breeder Peter Savill at Oakhill.

And as supporters topped up their picnic basket gin and tonics this month, perhaps they noticed the words ‘C&C' on their mixer bottles and toasted the ambitious vision of Sir Stanley.