The peak period for cricket in County Wicklow was in the 1860s and 70s. The clubs that flourished in that county then were Avondale, Laragh, Rathdrum, Ballyarthur, Mount Kennedy, Glendalough, Coolattin, Bray, Arklow, and Powerscourt. There was also the County C'lub, which played at Avondale, Coolattin, and Mount Kennedy. One of the prominent cricket devotees in Co. Wicklow at that time was Charles Stewart Parnell of Avondale.

Parnell’s interest in cricket was inherited from his father, John Parnell, who had learned the game at Eton. John Parnell was among (he earliest members of Phoenix C.C. Dublin (founded 1830), and in 1835 introduced cricket into Co. Wicklow, starting a club, in beautiful surroundings, on his estate at Avondale.

John Parnell’s wife, Delia, was an American. She was the daughter of Admiral Charles Stewart of the U.S. Navy. They had eleven children, five boys and six girls. Their sixth child, Charles was born in 1846.

In 1859, John Parnell’s doctor, advised him to stop playing cricket but he continued to play. That year, following a match at Phoenix Park, Dublin, he became ill. He died the next day at the Shelbourne Hotel. He was aged forty-eight.

Two of his sons had predeceased him, and so there were then three boys, Charles, John and Henry and their six sisters. At the age of seven Charles was sent to Miss Muirley’s school in Yeovil, Somerset. After an illness in the second term, he was brought home. Back in Avondale, Charles was taught by a tutor, but did not get along well with him. Charles had a habit of making awful faces behind the tutor’s back.

At the age of nine, he was sent to a small school run by Rev. John Barton, at Kirk Langley in Derbyshire. Charles was pleased to discover that the headmaster was a cricket enthusiast, but that was about all they had in common! He spent a year there, and then returned to the tutors in Avondale. Charles was aged thirteen at the lime of his father’s death.

Charles, three years younger than his brother John, and four years older than brother Henry, was a much keener and better cricketer than his brothers. Whenever a man failed to turn up for the Avondale Club, il was invariably Charles who filled the gap. At fifteen he was playing regularly for the Club, and the following year (1862) he scored 26 for South Wicklow against North Wicklow.

In 1863, John and Charles entered an academy, run by Rev. A. Whishaw, at Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire. That school was a crammer for Cambridge. Evidently they did well there, but Charles, who was pushy and assertive, had some difficulties with teachers and students, before he settled down to work. He also played some cricket for a nearby club, and did well as a wicket-keeper batsman. After two years at Chipping Norton, John went to the College of Mining in Dublin, and Charles entered Magdalene College, Cambridge, staying there until 1869.

During his four years at Cambridge, Parnell played in only two matches for Magdalene College. Against Peterhouse, in 1867, he got a duck, and in a match with Trinity Hall in 1869, he scored 19. On vacations, though, in Wicklow, he played a lot of cricket.

When Parnell began to play regularly for Avondale, he often kept wicket but by the time he was seventeen, in 1863, he had become a useful bowler. That year, against Captain Bayley’s side at Ballyarthur, he took four wickets. In 1864, Parnell was on the County team, and also on the County Committee with Honorary F Ponsonby (President), G Booth, F Wright, H Hodgson, and O Simpson. (Parnell stayed on the County Committee for about ten years).

In June, 1864, Wicklow were beaten by Leinster C.C., one of the strongest clubs in Dublin (and they still are), at Avondale. Leinster made 159, with good scores by G. Barry, Barber, Parker, and Hudson. The bowling figures were not given in The Irish Times report, but the wickets were taken by Gaffney (3), Oliver (3), Parnell (2), Wright (1) and one run out. Parnell took the wicket of George Barry, (an outstanding batsman who played many times for Ireland). Wicklow’s chief run-makers were Connell (35 not out) and Parnell (25). The report stated “Mr Parnell played very well indeed, putting his 25 together well”. The report also stated that the ground “was in good order and an excellent wicket was prepared”. On the delicate matter of umpiring we are informed that it was “very indifferent”, and no more.

Two weeks later, at Avondale, Wicklow beat a Military team by 17 runs. For Wicklow, Gaffney was top scorer with 36, and Parnell got 18. Then they ran into a very rough patch. On successive days they played Leinster C.C., again, Sandymount C.C., and Bray C.C. Against Leinster, at Rathmines, Dublin, Wicklow lost by an innings. Only Gaffney and Connell did well for the County against the strong Leinster side. (Parnell’s brother, John played in that match, and went in last, for 0 not out, both innings.)

The following day, Wicklow played Sandymount C.C., at Sandymount, Dublin, in one of the most remarkable matches ever played in Ireland. (It was July 20 1864) Sandymount were keener on batting records that day, than wining the match. They hit up the staggering total of 524. Sandymount batted from 12 noon until 5.30 and Wicklow got only half an hour’s batting! James Gilligan, at No. 4, hammered the Wicklow bowling for 200, and was the first man to reach that mark in Irish cricket. R. Snow at No. 7, hit up 103, and was run out. Others who did well were J Doran (65), A St Leger (48), L Flanagan (26 not out), and F McKenna (20). The Extras chipped in 47 (with 32 wides). The bowling figures were not given and that could have been some slight relief for the Wicklow bowlers. The wickets were taken by Parnell (3), Fetherston (3), Oliver (2), Galbraith (1), and one run out. Then Wicklow, in their half-an-hour’s batting made 5 runs, and lost three wickets. So after all the fireworks and records they were not beaten. (Four days before that match, there was another remarkable game at that ground. A two-innings match between Sandymount 2nd XI and Powerscourt C.C. ended in a Tie.)

At Bray, that pleasant seaside resort, the Wicklow side were in action again next day. They were short two men who were probably worn out at Sandymount. Wicklow lost by a wide margin, but in their first innings they did quite well. Their best batting was done by Barnes (26) and Parnell, who had an innings of 18. Charles Barton (of Glendalough) bowled well for Wicklow, getting eight wickets. The Irish Times reported “Messrs. Barnes and Parnell played well for their respective scores, and the bowling of Mr Barton was much admired. For Bray, Messrs Croker, Jackson, Murray, Guinness, and Starkey, by steady play, placed double figures to their names, in honour of Bray”. Arthur Dickinson, who was a brother-in-law of Parnell, was on the Wicklow team that day.

Surprisingly, the name J. Gilligan, the Sandymount star was in the Wicklow side for their match with Civil Service C.C. a few days after the game at Bray. Civil Service were a strong club, and Gilligan’s scores were 19 and 16. Wicklow did well, but the match was drawn.

In August 1864, Sandymount were beaten by Leinster C.C. by an innings and 115 runs. James Gilligan scored 3 and 30. Gilligan was not very prominent in Irish cricket, but he had his days. In 1867 he had another big one, getting 161 in a match, for Sandymount. In 1868, Gilligan played for the Irish 22 -vAll England XI, which included (George Parr, J. C. Shaw, and Tarrant. Alas, he got a “pair”.

The Wicklow bowlers must have practised long and hard at the nets m 1865, because in their victory over a Military side that year, they bowled the Military out, in their first innings, for a miserable 9 runs, and three of those runs were extras! In their second innings, though, the Military made near 100.

Parnell was, for a period, a member of Phoenix C.C. Although his involvement with that club was not strong, he was on the Phoenix Committee in 1866. At a Committee meeting in November 1866, from which Parnell was absent, it was reported that he had not paid his subscription.

Many stories have been told concerning Parnell’s captaincy of Wicklow. These stories suggest that Parnell was an autocrat, and a mean cricketer. If Parnell did get involved in disputes, we should know the circumstances before we state he was always wrong. How reliable are these stories? We can be sure that they gained in the telling! We have all heard post-match storytellers, who after a few drinks can tell tall stories. We need not doubt that when Parnell became the most talked of man in Ireland, cricket stories told by cricketers who knew him, and by some who did not, were being inflated fast.

In 1867, to celebrate Parnell’s coming of age, a three-day match was arranged for Avondale, between Wicklow and a team of Dublin Officers. Invitations were sent out, and tents and marquees were erected. Along with the cricket there were arrangements made for music, dancing and champagne. On the second day, many of the cricketers were losing interest in the cricket. The luncheon was very good and there were many ladies present. Parnell tried, but failed to get the players out on to the field, so the afternoon was given over to fun and flirtation.

Parnell played for Lord Fitzwilliam’s 22 v I Zingari at Coolattin in 1868. I Zingari won by 6 wickets. For the visitors, Captain CF Buller scored 24 and 66. Parnell was next with an innings of 17. Honorary F Ponsonby (of Coolattin) was one of the founders of I Zingari, and was President of Na Shuler.

The Co. Wicklow Committee in 1872 was Honorary F Ponsonby, CS Parnell, G Booth (Laragh), C Barton (Glendalough), Honorary H Monck (Charleville), Major Cunningham (Mount Kennedy), Capt. Posnett (Enniskerry) and Captain Bayly (Ballyarthur).

Parnell played little cricket after 1870. His political activities were developing rapidly, and his name was moving from the sports page to the front page. Parnell was elected MP for County Meath in 1875.

Charles Stewart Parnell died on October 6,1891, at the age of 45.