Chess Archaeology HomeChess is a scientific game and its literature ought to be placed on the basis of the strictest truthfulness, which is the foundation of all scientific research.W. Steinitz

History of the Early Irish Championships
by David McAlister

    •  The 1865 Dublin Congress
    •  The Irish Chess Association
    •  The Hibernian Chess Association
    •  The Irish Chess Union

The 1865 Dublin Congress
    One of the very earliest international chess tournaments held in Ireland took place in the autumn of 1865 in Dublin.  It was a five man event won by Wilhelm Steinitz, later to become the first official World Champion.
    There is a reasonable body of evidence that a subsidiary tournament was held for the Irish Championship.  When discussing the 1913 match between Porterfield Rynd and J. J. O’Hanlon the Saturday Herald commented:
It was in the year 1865, at a Chess Congress held in Dublin, graced by the presence of Herr Lowenthal, Herr Steinitz, Rev G. A. MacDonnell, Mr Bolt of Dawlish, and many of our home talents — such as Rev Dr Salmon, Messrs George Frith, Sam Barry, Edward Cronhelm, Edmund (afterwards Sir Edmund) Bewley, Malcolm (afterwards Sir Malcolm) Inglis, Robert Collins, Richard Sidney, Thomas Long, and Peter Jones — that the Irish championship was first competed for, and it was then won by the present holder [Porterfield Rynd] with the score of 16 out of 17.  In the intervening 48 years what changes have occurred!  All the distinguished men just mentioned have disappeared.  New men have taken their places.  All the openings, all the methods of problem construction, all the principles, all the art, in fact, of chess will be found to have undergone evolutionary, if not revolutionary, modification.  And yet the winner of that day is expected to be able to make a fight still against the ablest of the moderns in Ireland for the chess championship of the green isle.
    In the obituary of Porterfield Rynd in the Belfast Newsletter of 22nd March 1917 it mentions that “Until recently Mr Rynd conducted a bright and interesting chess column in the Saturday Herald.”
    So it is quite likely that the passage quoted was the personal testimony of Rynd himself.  There is other evidence.  In his book A Century of British Chess (1934) P. W. Sergeant states that Porterfield Rynd was “reckoned amateur champion Of Ireland for about forty years previous to his defeat by J. J. O’Hanlon in 1913.”
    The 1913 Belfast Newletter report of O’Hanlon’s win stated that Rynd had held the title for over 40 years.  A similar statement is made in the Irish Times obituary of Porterfield Rynd.  The Irish Times, reporting the 1892 Hibernian Chess Association Congress, lists all the previous chess congresses in Ireland up to that date and the number of entries for the 1865 Dublin Congress is given as 20.  Finally, the section on the Irish Championships in Chess, the Records (1986) by Ken Whyld states that “A championship in 1865 was run alongside a master tournament and the winner’s name has been given as J. A. Porterfield Rynd, but he was supposedly born in 1855!”
    Chess Personalia, A Biobibliography (1987) by Jeremy Gaige also lists Rynd’s year of birth as 1855.  This would suggest that Rynd would have been too young to win such a tournament.  However these records are incorrect — Rynd was either 18 or 19 at the time of the Dublin congress.  The proof of his real age appears in his death notice in the Irish Times for the 19th March 1917.  It reads:
RYND - March 17, 1917 JAMES ALEXANDER PORTERFIELD RYND, Barrister-at-Law, in his 71st year.

The Irish Chess Association
    The Irish Chess Association was founded in the spring of 1885 and held its first annual meeting in Dublin from the 3rd to the 17th October 1885.  It is reported in the Irish Times that the opening night was in the rooms of St. Patrick’s Chess Club at Byrne’s Restaurant, Nassau Street.
The President, Mr T. Long, BA, occupied the chair, and there was a large attendance of members, among whom were Mr W. W. Mackeson, QC, of London and W. H. K. Pollock, of Bath.  In an able speech Mr Long pointed out the many advantages of the organisation and said that England had its chess association, Scotland had its chess association, and why should not Ireland have its chess association?  The healthy and intellectual pastime should be encouraged and played north, south, east and west, in every county and in every town.  He warmly thanked the promoters of the association, and said that much credit was due to them, particularly to Mr P. Rynd and Mr T. B. Rowland, who were foremost in their exertions to make the meeting a success.
    There were two individual tournaments: the Principal Tournament, open to all members of the ICA, and the Handicap Tournament (play at odds) again open to all members.  In addition there was a club tourney, and various problem and endgame competitions.
1885 ICA Principal Tournament
Pol. Ryn. Mur. Pea. Mac. Nic. _ Score Place
W. H. K. Pollock ••••• 10 11 11 11 11 9 1
J. A. P. Rynd 01 ••••• ½1 11 11 11 2
J. Murphy 00 ½0 ••••• 01 11 11 3
A. S. Peake 00 00 10 ••••• 01 11 4 4
W. W. Mackeson 00 00 00 10 ••••• 11 3 5
W. Nichols 00 00 00 00 00 ••••• 0 6
    In her book, Pollock Memories, Mrs F. F. Rowland, the wife of T. B. Rowland, states that “In 1885 he [Pollock] also played in the Master Tournament of the Irish Chess Association, coming out first with 9 points, thereby winning the Irish Championship.”
    The question that arises from this is whether or not Pollock should be regarded as the Irish national champion.  William Henry Krause Pollock was born in Cheltenham but was of Irish ancestry.  He had been a medical student at Trinity College, Dublin and was a member of Dublin Chess Club in 1880, 1881 and 1882 while pursuing his studies.  By the time of the 1885 congress he was no longer resident in Ireland.  Whether his background was such that he could justifiably claim to be Irish is perhaps a moot point, but this is perhaps unimportant in that it would appear that the promoters of the tournament may not have considered that they were organising a national championship.
    The following year the Irish Chess Association held its congress in Belfast from 20th September to 1st October. The first intimation of this in Belfast chess circles was an article prepared by members of the Belfast Chess Club and appearing on the 18th March 1886 in both the Belfast Newsletter and the Northern Whig newspapers. It stated:
We understand that the Irish Chess Association has been invited to Belfast for its annual autumn meeting.  As a visit from the association would undoubtedly give a great stimulus to the game in Belfast and the Northern counties, we hope the Council [of the ICA] may see their way to accept the invitation.
    Due to the imminent arrival of the congress, a weekly chess column was provided by the Belfast Chess Club for both newspapers, the one in the Belfast Newsletter continuing for a period of 70 years before being discontinued.  The column of the 22nd April confirmed that the ICA had accepted the invitation to Belfast.  There followed an account of how and why the Association had come into being:
Previous to the spring of last year no organisation existed representative of Irish Chess collectively.  There were chess clubs no doubt, the Dublin, the Richmond, and the University in Dublin, the Belfast and the Salvio in Belfast, others probably in the smaller towns, but between these various clubs there was no connecting link, no central organisation drew them together.  To remedy this, the Irish Chess Association was founded last spring.  Already its invigorating influence is felt, most strongly, perhaps in Dublin, to which hitherto its operations have been confined, and to a not inconsiderable extent elsewhere.  By the constitution of the Association it is to hold annual meetings alternately in Dublin and some provincial town.  Of these meetings the first was held in Dublin last October, and proved successful, even beyond the expectation of its promoters.
    However behind the scenes all was not quite so rosy.  T. B. Rowland had resigned from his post of Honorary Secretary and Treasurer of the Association to be replaced by Alfred Peake, who had competed in the 1885 tournament.  That this may not have been a trivial matter can be seen by the statement in the Chess Player’s Annual and Club Directory 1891 edited by Mr and Mrs Rowland that “After the resignation of Mr Rowland and other resignations that followed, the association was not worked on its original lines, and eventually became a thing of nought.”
    Porterfield Rynd had also taken up residence in London, where he had joined the famous City of London Chess Club, and so the two main progenitors of the Association were not involved in its second annual congress.
    If there had been any doubt about who could be described as the Irish champion after the 1885 tournament, the programme for the 1886 event made it quite clear.  There were to be two tournaments, an even tournament and a handicap tournament and the “Championship of Ireland for the year will be won by the Irish resident who in the even tournament scores highest.”
    The 1886 tournament was much stronger that the inaugural congress because Pollock was joined by two formidable English masters Joseph Blackburne and Amos Burn.  It was expected that the winner would come from these three players but it was something of a surprise that Pollock triumphed with a full score in what was undoubtedly the finest achievement of his career.  The International Chess Magazine for November 1886 records that “The highest Irish scorer in the Tourney is Mr R. W. Barnett who thus becomes Irish champion, a post hitherto held by Mr P. Rynd who, however, is now resident in London.”
    Barnett, later Sir Richard Barnett, had been the president of the victorious Oxford team in the 1886 Varsity match with Cambridge.  After the First World War he became a Conservative MP and was president of the House of Commons Chess Circle and played against Capablanca in the latter’s famous simultaneous exhibition in the Houses of Parliament in 1919.  Barnett’s obituary in the Belfast Newsletter for 18th October 1930 said this about his sporting achievements:
From his boyhood days he took a keen interest in markmanship, and at the age of 15 he was the Irish rifle champion.  He was one of the twelve representatives of the UK at the Olympic Games of 1908, and finished fourth, winning the Diploma of Merit for shooting at 1000 yards.  Just as in markmanship so in chess, Sir Richard Barnett distinguished himself in his early boyhood, achieving the remarkable record of being champion chess player of Ulster at the age of twelve, and of Ireland from 1886 to 1889.
    It is intriguing that the International Chess Magazine should suggest that Barnett had succeeded Rynd as Irish chess champion.  If the rules of the 1886 championship had applied to the 1885 tournament then Rynd as the highest placed Irish resident would have taken the title of Irish champion.  However this may not be the reason that Rynd was regarded as the champion before Barnett.  Instead there is the possibility that Rynd had been the holder of the title of Irish chess champion since the 1865 tournament and that the 1885 ICA event did not affect his status because it was not regarded as determining the national championship.
    The ICA did not hold a congress in the 1887/88 season but it hoped to make up for this by holding two congresses the following season in Limerick and Dublin.  In the end there was only one congress in the 1888/89 season.  It commenced on the 4th March 1889 at the Coffee Palace Hall, Townsend Street, Dublin.  The date had been chosen in the hope of attracting a number of English based masters looking for competitive practice before setting sail for the United States for the imminent Sixth American Chess Congress.  This resulted in three master strength players entering; two of the masters who competed in the 1886 event, Pollock and Burn, were joined by the Irish born James Mason.  Unfortunately a number of strong Irish amateurs did not compete.  As well as the main tournament there was also to be a Handicap event and the championship of Ireland was to go to the highest scorer among those players competing in the Handicap not accepting odds.  The Masters Tournament was won by Burn.
    The Handicap Tournament, originally planned to take place alongside the Masters event, was postponed and only started about a month later and ended towards the end of May.  There were 32 competitors, divided into qualifying pools of eight from which the first two qualified making a final consisting of 8 players.  There were ten players playing off scratch (not accepting odds) and thus eligible for the Irish championship.  Those 10 were Fitzpatrick, Morphy and Woollett, who had all played in the Masters, plus Baker, Drury, Fawcett, Hobson, Middleton, Miley and Soffe.  The title of Irish Champion and the first prize in the Handicap of £4 both went to G. D. Soffe.
    This was to be the last Irish Chess Association congress and its organisational role was taken over by the Hibernian Chess Association.  However this was not to be the end of the story for the ICA because T. B. Rowland returned to its helm and, although he occasionally organised over-the-board events, he concentrated his organisational energies on furthering correspondence chess, establishing the Irish Correspondence Chess Championship.  He was probably recalling past glories when he had this letter published in the Belfast Newsletter on the 2nd December 1926, shortly before that year’s championship began in Belfast:
There is no truth in the statement that the Irish Chess Union is the directing body of chess affairs in Ireland.  The Irish Chess Association, which numbers over 500 members, was founded in 1885, under the patronage of the Right Hon The Earl of Dartrey, KP, General the Right Hon Lord Wolsey, GCB, CGMG, the Right Hon Viscount Bangor, Admiral R. B. Beechey, RHA, and other distinguished chess players, and has since then kept alive chess throughout the whole of Ireland, and is the only organisation that has done so.

The Hibernian Chess Association
    The Irish Chess Union (see below) had recognised that Porterfield Rynd had been Irish chess champion since 1892.  The championship he had won then had been organised by the Hibernian Chess Association.  This body had been set up in the 1891/92 season and was, according to the Belfast Newsletter:
A federation of chess clubs and individual players.  Its object is the promotion of the theory and practice of chess in all the various branches.  The governing body consists of president, vice presidents, council with honorary secretary and treasurer.  In addition to the honorary members, foreign players of distinction may be elected honorary members.
    The first annual congress of the Association commenced on the 3rd January 1892 at the XL Café, Grafton Street.  The honorary secretary and undoubtedly driving force behind the new Association was T. B. Rowland.  There were a considerable number of events; four individual competitions, the most important being the Championship Tournament, open to all first class Irish chess players with the winner to receive £5 and the title of Chess Champion of Ireland.
    Play in all the various tournaments was go-as-you please in that it was for the competitors themselves to make arrangements as to when they would play at the venue but all games had to be played by the 23rd January.  It was possible to enter for a short time after the congress had started and interestingly Porterfield Rynd was one of the additional entrants.  The Irish Times stated that:
It was pleasing to note that a more successful or better managed chess congress has not been hitherto been seen in this country.  It is supported by the heads of all the chess clubs in Dublin, as well as a large number of provincial players, and has been well attended throughout.  The play is of a high order, and the well managed events are attractive and interesting.  On being congratulated on the successful working of the meeting, the hon. Secrertary stated that he was not to be congratulated as “the meeting worked itself.”  Nevertheless, the vast amount of work undertaken by the promoter is recognised and appreciated.
    The tournament was won by Porterfield Rynd and his son, K. A. Rynd, made it a family double by sharing first place in the Class 1 event.
    The Association held its second annual meeting commencing 2nd January 1893 again at the XL Café.  Among the events there was again there was to be a tournament for the Irish Championship open to all first-class Irish players.  Unfortunately the only entrant was Porterfield Rynd and he therefore retained his championship without a contest.
    However the Belfast Newsletter reported on the 23rd March that in a match for the Irish Championship:
A close contest is proceeding between Messrs E. L. Harvey and Porterfield Rynd, the Irish chess champion.  Eight games have been decided, and so far the score is three each and two draws.  Our townsman is to be congratulated on making so good a fight with such a formidable foe, and it is to be hoped that he may succeed in bringing the championship to Belfast.  The player who scores the first five games wins the match.
    The paper reported two weeks later that the match had been temporarily suspended and unfortunately there is no record of it ever having been recommenced.  Ernest Harvey was, like Porterfield Rynd, a barrister.
    The Hibernian Chess Association never held another congress and it seems to have fairly quickly faded from the Irish chess scene.  It was to be another 20 years before a further Irish Championship was to be held.  By then Porterfield Rynd was in his mid-sixties and his powers waning but by putting up the championship he won in 1892 he conferred extra legitimacy on the fledgling Irish Chess Union and its first championship.
The Irish Chess Union
    The Irish Chess Union was founded in 1912 and held its first Championship in the following year.  The details of the conditions for the contest appeared in the Irish Times:
The Irish Chess Union has arranged for a series of matches to decide the Irish Championship for the year 1913, to be held in Dublin during the present season.  The first match will take place at the rooms of the Dublin Chess Club, commencing Monday 10th February at 10.30pm.  The following — with Mr Porterfield Rynd, the present champion — are eligible to compete: the chess champions of the four provinces.  All such players to have been born within the province which they represent, or to have been resident therein for the past two years.  The challenging players are to compete among themselves in an American tourney.  The winner to play the present champion a match of five games.  All games to be played under the rules of the British Chess Code.  Number of moves per hour to be 20.  Entries:— J. A. Porterfield Rynd, chess champion of Ireland; C. J. Barry, chess champion of Leinster; J. J. O’Hanlon, chess champion of Ulster; and a player representing the Cork Chess Association.
    No representative of the Cork Chess Association came forward for the preliminary tournament and instead a match of five games was arranged between Barry and O’Hanlon, won by the latter.  The chess column in the Belfast Newsletter for the 17th July 1913 provided news of the imminent commencement of the championship contest:
Owing to various causes, among which was the illness of Mr Rynd, no meeting has taken place between the champion and the challenger.  We have just been informed, however, that Mr Rynd has now intimated to Mr O’Hanlon that he will be prepared to begin the match to defend his title on Monday 4th August.  This, we believe is the first time Mr Rynd has had to defend the title, which he won many years ago.
    The Irish Times for the 4th August carried further details about the match:
A match to decide the Irish Chess Championship has been arranged to take place under the auspices of the Irish Chess Union on Monday to Friday this week, at the rooms of the Dublin Chess Club in Lincoln Place.  The last contest for the title took place so far back as the year 1892, when the present holder of the championship, Mr J. A. Porterfield Rynd, scored an easy win in a large field of competitors, truly representative of the best play of the time in Ireland.  The Irish Chess Union took the matter in hand last year, with a view to bringing on a match with the host of younger players, who have been trained in the more modern views of the game.  It will be a crucial test which the old-time champion is called on to face.  Apart from the fact of Mr Rynd being more or less divorced from serious chess for some years past, his opponent, Mr J. J. O’Hanlon, the Ulster champion and winner of the running up competition in February last, has wide experience in modern chess tourney play, and the contest should prove most interesting and productive of chess of the highest class.
    The match turned out to be a comfortable victory for the challenger.  The chess column of the Belfast Newsletter for the 7th August reported on the progress of the match:
The third, and as it proved, the deciding game was played yesterday morning, the challenger again having the move.  The champion played rather rapidly, and after about 20 moves sacrificed a Rook for a Knight.  The result was disastrous, for his opponent maintained his advantage, and after about a dozen more moves forced Mr Rynd to resign.  Mr O’Hanlon thus secures the title of chess champion of Ireland, which has been held by Mr Rynd for over forty years.  We heartily congratulate him on his success.
    O’Hanlon went on to become the dominant figure in Irish Chamionships for a generation, winning the title a further eight times.  His last title was in 1940 but he continued to compete regularly until his last appearance in 1956.
© David McAlister 1999
Originally published at The Irish Chess Archive

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