Work to commemorate the centenary of the Leinster Senior League got a great boost this week when the news filtered down that the Ashbrook Union Cricket Club journal had been purchased by Laois Cricket Club with Castle Durrow Country House Hotel. Despite considerable international interst these important records have been kept in Ireland and will be on permanent display at Castle Durrow Country House Hotel.
Roland Bradley of Laois CC explained. 'This journal is the oldest known Irish Sports Club records in existence(except horse-racing and sailing) and covers the Famine period in Ireland, during which time Laois was badly affected.
Peter & Shelly Stokes(owners of Castle Durrow) are organising a permanent display of cricket memorabilia and after the necessary restoration work (only minor as the manuscript is in good condition) the Ashrook journal will be the centre piece. Members of Laois Cricket Club have a considerable number of items which will be included.
The Stokes' would also like, during the summer, to organise a cricket match at Castle Durrow, in conjunction with the local Club and including descendents of the original players mentioned in the journal. The securing of this document locally has been well noted by Laois Heritage Society and the local press and radio.'
The auction of the records became an event in itself with local and national media coverage as well as from the BBC World Service. The intriguing aspect of the story was the payment of players to play and practice cricket at two shillings a day. A sum which during the Famine would have been enough to feed a person for two weeks.
Some intersting details were contained in the description of the journal by auctioneer Philip Sheppard. The period covered is 1846 - 1848. The records list the full names of the founding members and provide scorecards [with batting details only] for 70 matches. These include one against Phoenix / Garrison where the father of Charles Stewart Parnell was on the Phoenix team.
While major clubs were being founded in Dublin [some of which survive to the present day] what the records show is the extent to which the playing of cricket was so closely bound up with the rural life of nineteenth centrury Ireland, especially in the hotbeds of cricket such as Kilkenny, Offaly and Laois.
For anyone intersted in researching further Roland Bradley advises as follows: 'I would highly recommend anyone who has an interest in the history of Cricket in this part of Ireland to read the following books: The History of Cricket in County Kilkenny - The Forgotten Game by Michael O'Dwyer which also covers South Laois and The GAA - A People's History by Mike Cronin.'