The Women's Leinster Cricket Team from 1951
Thanks to Judy Cohen for unearthing this article, written I presume by Clarissa Pilkington, from the WCA News [Volume 1/3: Autumn 1985]. Obviously it recounts a story of a very different world from today but contains lessons about the challenges faced in maintaining and growing women's cricket in this country.
Women's Cricket in Ireland is currently governed by the I.W.C.U. which has jurisdiction over the four provinces of Ulster, Munster, Leinster and Connaught. There is only one club, Galway, in Connaught, and for administrative and competitive purposes this is included with Munster. Ulster, Munster and Leinster have their own Unions with constitutions and committees to run their domestic affairs; these are the Northern Women's Cricket Union of Ireland, the Munster Women's Cricket Union and the Leinster Women's Cricket Union.
Leinster is the parent body and much the largest, and for competitions it is divided into two sections, North and South Leinster. Ulster and Munster send two representatives to the I.W.C.U. executive committee and Leinster sends four, two from North Leinster and two from South Leinster. The office of President of the I.W.C.U. is held in turn for two years by the Provinces thus: North Leinster, Ulster, South Leinster, Munster. The President Elect is nominated one year in advance of holding office and serves on the committee during that year, while the outgoing President serves for the year after holding office, thus ensuring continuity.
The Hon Sec and Hon Treasurer may be from any province and both are currently from Leinster. But things were not always like this. Long long ago, ladies in Ireland played cricket much as they did in any other country. That is, sisters would play with their brothers: Mothers would be coerced into trundling balls at their small sons ("Pitch 'em up, Mummy"). Schoolgirls might seek to emulate the boys at a neighbouring male academy.
The first recorded all-women's match took place in 1936, but the seeds were sown some years earlier — in fact when the founder of the Leinster Women's Cricket Union, lsolda Howard, was three years old. When she was three, Isolda was taken to tea with a small cousin named Joseph. It was not a successful party, for the children did not take to one another but Joseph had a toy cricket bat and from that bat Isolda could not be parted. She carried it around all afternoon, and when the time came for her mother to take her home, the bat went too. It was an omen.
Years passed. The three-year-old grew to a sturdy schoolgirl, and then came the day when an unsung hero called George Bonass wrote to the newspaper to say that he had seen an excellent women's cricket match in England, and where were the women cricketers of Ireland? That did it. Isolda wrote to Mr Bonass and volunteered to produce two teams to play a cricket match if he would arrange a date and ground. Thus it came about that Miss Deidre Ennis's XI defeated Miss I Howard's XI at Pembroke CC one historic afternoon in 1936. (lsolda's team bowled underarm, and mostly wides at that!).
More girls started to play, and two years later the L.W.C.U. was founded. Initially there were six clubs, all but one connected with established mens clubs, and matches were played in the evenings. Some clubs fell by the wayside, but others took their place, and there was keen competition for a League Cup presented by Miss Betty Magee.
1947 was another memorable year, for that was when the Northern Women's Cricket Union of Ireland was formed. The moving spirit here was Pauline Furniss who had learned her cricket during her student days at Trinity College, Dublin (Dublin Univ) where she had been bullied into playing by the current President of the Irish Women's Cricket Union, Clarissa Crawford. When she returned to her native Ulster, she started the Belfast Women's Cricket Club, which was loosely connected with Cliftonville C.C. Four other clubs sprang up, and they too, played evening matches for a league cup. There were also two clubs in the North-West and the Northern Unions joined to field an Ulster side to play annually against Leinster.
At about this time the Irish began descending on Cricket Week, Here again the intrepid explorer was lsolda, but in succeeding years she was joined by players mostly from Belfast and Dublin Univ, and several tours to England were made by both provincial sides, while teams from Yo r k s h i r e , Northumberland and Durham, Derbyshire and Leicestershire as well as English Clubs visited Ireland.
None of these games featured a "Woman of the Match" but some are best remembered in that way. There was Pat Cooke's match for Ulster v Civil Service in London, Heather Smith's match for Leinster v Ulster at Pembroke, lsolda's and Una Curley's match against a touring side at Donnybrook (a stolid hold-out for a draw). What fun it all was' In the early 50's a set of verses was published in 'TCD' (a student magazine) which was scarcely flattering, but alas, all too true.
Here is the final stanza:
Yes, every position is filled by a lass
Even third man may set a cute cap.
But though things have come to so pretty a pass-
Well, it isn't quite cricket, old chap.
Perhaps that is what went wrong. The standard just wasn't high enough and interest waned. Was it matrimony? You can't get your husband's evening meal and play evening matches at the same time — much less put the kids to bed. (Marie Coffey to the contrary— her son says she left her photograph on the hall table in May so that they would recognise her when she reappeared at the end of the season).
Or was it that the schools didn't play so there was no feed to the clubs? Was the onset of the 'swinging sixties' too much? Whatever the reason, the last attempt to field an Irish XI in 1966 against New Zealand ended, (mercifully, one feels on the Home Side) in a thunderstorm in Belfast when not a ball was bowled; and club cricket finally petered out in 1970.
Throughout all this time, lsolda had either held office or served on the committee of the L.W.C.U, and when she had no players left, she continued to make her annual pilgrimage to Colwell, keeping in touch with the cricket scene in England. So it was no surprise that she was in at the Revival, In 1973 one Barbara Schmidt, an American (of all things) student at Trinity, got up an exhibition game during Trinity Week. Interest was re-awakened and a few cricketers emerged to play friendly matches. Within a couple of years the L.W.C.U. was revived and there was even a visit from a Scottish Representative XI when the Irish girls triumphed.
This gave just the filip that was needed. The standard left a lot to be desired, but obviously cricket was still fun — league matches began again, but now on a limited over basis, and there was a knock-out Cup competition sponsored by Tylers Shoes. Coaching was introduced and girls began to discover that the better they played the more they enjoyed it.
Every year since then has seen some new development, and probably the most important has been the School Competition. Here again Barbara Schmidt, now teaching, played a major part, together with Robert Whiteside of 'The King's Hospital' and from small beginnings there are now 18 schools affiliated to the LW. C . U . , playing in a League Competition, at senior and junior levels, and this year saw the start of an Under 15 competition.
Unfortunately the school term ends at the beginning of June, so bad weather in early summer is almost catastrophic. The schools have their own president and committee who do tremendous work and many of the schoolgirls join clubs as schoolgirl members.
The Irish Women's Cricket Union
Another important development was the foundation in 1982 of the Irish Women's Cricket Union. This was Clarissa Pilkington's brain-child, born of the invitation from Holland to take part in a Tournament. One can't send an official Irish Touring Side unless there is an official governing body to send it, and so it came about. Naturally, the honour (and hard work) of being the first president of the I.W.C.U., went to Isolda who, as usual, did a sterling job.
Our trip to Holland in 1983 proved very successful for our very young and very inexperienced team. Having beaten Denmark and Young Holland, we finished runners-up to Holland with Stella Owens taking home the "Player of the Tournament" award. But a tougher challenge was yet to come with the arrival of the Yo u n g England Team in 1984. Our best performance of the tournament was that of the Young Ireland Team at Mullingar when it was only off the second last ball of the final over that we lost our last wicket, and the match, to Yo u n g England by 67 runs.
To day in the Provinces
Cricket in Ulster has not really re-established itself, though Donna Armstrong and Lesley Spence are making valiant efforts. The Belfast WCC was revived in 1980, but the most viable prospect is Muckamore CC where girls have been welcomed. It is our earnest hope that many of the NCU clubs will soon encourage women members.
This year Munster has entered wholeheartedly into the scheme of things under the direction of Anne O'Herlihy. Girls have played for the past few years in a desultory way in Cork, but now there are Clubs in Limerick, Cork and Wexford playing regularly, while several other centres are showing interest. Five schools are also competing for a newly-presented Schoolsgirls' Cup.
Each province organises its own competitions and in addition, there are also Inter Provincial Competitions. For this purpose Leinster is divided into North and South Leinster and home and away matches are played with Ulster and Munster.
As regards finance, the IWCU qualifies for a government grant from Cospoir to cover administration, equipment and coaching. But the grant hardly begins to meet requirements and, in addition to paying affiliation fees to their Provinces and capitation fees to the IWCU, each club is expected to run some special function to raise money. We also rely heavily on sponsorship and the Senior Inter-provincial Cup is sponsored by Te t r a Pak Ltd; while Leinster is particularly fortunate in having sponsorship for the Senior Cup (Marigold Housegloves have replaced Tylers) and the Junior Cup (K&E). These sponsored competitions, with memento medals for "Woman of the Match" are of tremendous importance in arousing and maintaining interest amongst both players and the general public. This year Satzenbrau have undertaken to sponsor the Senior 40 over league, formerly the Pilkington League. The junion leagues are 20-over games and the Cup matches are 25-overs).
There are many friends in the business world who assisted to send our Touring Team to Holland in 1983 and helped with the Young England tour last year (no doubt players will remember at least the Nappy Match!). This year the touring team to Malvernis also receiving generous help from many friends in business and commerce. While acknowledging the generosity of State and sponsors and the self-help of the players, we must make it clear that the I.W.C.U. depends for its existence almost entirely on the Cricket Union of Ireland and its affiliated Clubs throughout the Provinces.
With the exception of Belfast, still loosely connected to Cliftonville, each and everyone of our women's clubs is a part of an established cricket club. In somecases, women are admitted to full membership, in others they are associate members, but in all of them women are allotted their own practice nights and playing times, and all the Club facilities are available to them. Without the goodwill of the male cricketers of Ireland we would scarcely survive, and wehave been supremely fortunate in the help and coaching we get in the clubs.
This being International Youth Year, special emphasis is being placed on juniors. In each province, special 6-a-side competitions will be run for girls, the Leinster effort, ably directed by Phillis Spence of Clontarf being particularly ambitious with teams from Munster and Ulster included. At a higher level, eight players are going to Coaching Week and one senior Munster player to the coaches course at Harrow, all largely financed by the I.W.C.U.
Of course we look forward to renewing friendships already made when our National Team travels to Malvern in August. Future plans include a Tournament in Dublin next year as well as a short tour in 1987 and hopefully a visit from the Australians. None of this could happen without a lot of hard work and the I.W.C.U. has been blessed since its inception in its officers, particularly its secretary, Eileen Byrne. It may be of interest to note that in 1984 the l.W.C.U. and the L.W.C.U. both nominated lsolda Howard for the Cospoir "Women in Sport Administrator of the Year" award, and we were all delighted when the nomination was successful and lsolda was summoned to receive public recognition for her many years of service to Women's Cricket in Ireland.
Special mention must be made of our own coach, Noel Mahony, former Irish international cricketer. Noel is National Director of N.C.A. coaching in Ireland and he has given endlessly of his time and expertise in looking after our Senior "A" Panel, while Stan Oakes of Phoenix has charge of the "B" Squad. Noel also gives generous help to anyone who approaches him and words cannot express how much we owe to him.
This progress augurs well for the future of Women's Cricket in Ireland with over 600 players involved and without recent acceptance into the International Women's Cricket -Council, the prospect of continuing visits from top class overseas teams now seems assured.