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Introduction

THE BOOK

The book evolved from a club story.  What started out, over seven years ago, as a series of articles on the clubs and people associated with tennis in the Sligo area later expanded, in two stages.  Firstly, by including the northwest and then, by including the whole island.

In 3 volumes, with over 1800 pages, this hard back A4, limited edition, contains 42 chapters and sub chapters, over 3000 photographs and illustrations and is probably the most comprehensive book ever written on any nations tennis history.

ORIGINS

The story of Irish tennis is an extensive one and has resulted in the production of a three volume book.  The reader is encouraged to delve beyond the photographs and the personalities of immediate interest and to enjoy learning more about the game that has been played by so many over the decades and in so many different circumstances.  The history is a social as well as a sporting one.

Tennis is now one of the most international sports.  Originally played on grass, the playing surfaces vary considerably throughout the world.  Clay, tarmacadam, wood, concrete, cow dung and artificial grass are among the varients found.  

Lawn tennis was introduced to Ireland shortly after the patenting and sale of lawn tennis sets by Major Walter Clopton Wingfield in 1874.  He called the game ‘sphairistike’ from the Greek word for ball game.  The game spread quickly wherever there was an English influence.  However, it is now known that ‘real tennis’ was being played by the end of the 12th century in Europe and in Ireland in 1609 or earlier.

GOLDEN ERA

The golden era of Irish tennis was the 19th century.  Lena Rice, Joshua Pim, Harold Mahony and Willoughby Hamilton were all Irish and Wimbledon singles champions.  In 1889 Louisa Martin won the first of nine singles titles in Dublin.  Tennis historians will know that William Renshaw (twin of Ernest) was probably the best player in the 1880s, winning three Irish and seven Wimbledon singles titles.  In 1890 Hamilton became the first of four Irish winners in the men’s singles at Wimbledon beating Willie Renshaw in what was his eighth final, and the only one he was to lose.  An English player and writer noted that it was more difficult to win the Irish Championships than Wimbledon.

Time moves on and the ‘Golden Era’ of Irish tennis has passed.  Seeing what has been achieved in the past should give us the energy and enthusiasm to achieve our dreams.  This book documents the efforts of individuals and teams, the key administrators, coaches and referees who have all kept the game of lawn tennis alive and well in Ireland for over 130 years.

GRAND SLAMS

Wimbledon, the Australian, French and US Championships are the four ‘Grand Slam’ events in the sport of tennis, a term first used by American journalist John Kiernan in 1933, while describing Australian Jack Crawford’s attempt that year to add the US Open title to the other three Opens.  He was foiled in a five-set match by Fred Perry of England.  

The Grand Slam has been achieved by Don Budge (USA 1938), twice Irish Open champion Maureen Connolly (USA 1953), Rod Laver (Australia 1962 and 1969), Margaret Smith Court (Australia in 1970) and Steffi Graf (Germany 1988).  Graf also added the Olympic title making her the only winner of the Golden Grand Slam.

The first Wimbledon was held in 1877, followed a few weeks later by the first Open championships in Ireland, not in Dublin but at the Limerick Lawn Tennis Club. Ireland has had a number of Wimbledon Champions.  Less known is the fact that one Mable Cahill from Ballyraggett, Co. Kilkenny, won the singles, doubles and mixed titles at the US Open in 1891 and 1892, she being the first player ever to win three titles in a single year at any of the four ‘Grand Slam’ events.  

In 1890 all three Wimbledon titles were won by Irish players, Lena Rice  from New Inn, Co. Tipperary and Willoughby Hamilton winning the singles and the combination of Joshua Pim and Frank Stoker the top pairing in the world at the time, the doubles.  

ALL ROUNDER PARKE

It is a feature of Irish sport that we have produced many sportsmen and women who were talented in many sports.  Included are Henry Read, George McVeagh, Tony O'Reilly, Geraldine Barniville and Mary Dinan.  

I
n the 1983 book 'The Guinness Book of Tennis Facts and Feats' we find James Cecil Parke (Clones, Co. Monaghan), the best ‘all-rounder’ in lawn tennis (his female equivalent being Lottie Dodd).  Parke’s exploits also included, chess, cricket, athletics, golf and rugby.  
He won 8 Irish singles championships, reached the Wimbledon semi-final (singles) twice, the doubles All-Comer’s final three times and was mixed doubles champion twice.  

However, it was in the Davis Cup that he made world headlines.  He was on the Great Britain team that wrested the Cup from the Australasians in Melbourne in 1912.  They had maintained a firm grip on the cup from 1907 to 1911.  Parke won both his singles but his win over the great Norman Brookes ('the Wizard') stood out.  The media summarised his part in the Cup victory, ‘ Ireland with a little help from England win the Davis Cup’.  He again won his two singles in 1913 but unfortunately the home team lost the other three matches.  

SOCIAL GAME

Tennis has always been a social game.  The tennis club often being the sole social centre in small communities.  Many marriages started with their first steps at the tennis ‘dance’, ‘hop’ or ‘disco’.  

Today, availability of tennis for the young has increased dramatically, with children as young as six taking their first steps into a game for life.  'Parks Tennis' plays an important role here.  Veterans tennis has also grown dramatically.  At one time it was parents who introduced the game to the rest of the family, now many grandparents are actively involved. 

There is a small chapter dealing with the progress of the game in secondary schools and universities.  Schools and Parks tennis continue to play an important role in promoting the sport among the young.  

TENNIS WRITINGS

'Where man is active so too are scribes'.

A small chapter deals with a range of writings, from the longest poem ever written on the sport of tennis (in 1877 at Monkstown LTC) to lines penned by Percy French a keen player and on to more recent entertaining stories.  These include the words of Sir Basil Goulding, Terry Wogan and Pat Boran.

Co Cavan LTC c.1895, 
Percy French is on the right of the photo

ORGANISATION

Tennis Clubs of Ireland form a significant chapter in Volume I. It was not possible to detail the history of every club.  Readily available club histories were the basis for many entries here.  What was difficult to identify were details on clubs that no longer exist. 

Tennis Ireland became the modern title for the national organisation in 1990.  It was previously called the Irish Lawn Tennis Association (ILTA) when founded in 1908.

The Dublin Lawn Tennis Council (DLTC) predates the ILTA by six years.  The DLTC organises probably the biggest tennis leagues in any country catering for both summer and winter graded leagues for junior, senior and veteran players.  Similar leagus are run by the the Belfast and District council.  

Harry Maunsell (Glenageary LTC)
ILTA Secretary 1920-1948

Not to be forgotten are the many voluntary committee members on the national organisation, as well as provincial councils/branches and those promoting the sport within their own clubs.  Tennis Ireland now has a salaried staff  dealing with much of the workload.  

COMPETITION

Volume 2 has two distinct elements, the competitions and the people.  It was impossible to track down all the results one would like to include, however, some important tables have been prepared including Senior Interprovincial results, the South, East, West and Ulster Championships, the County Dublin and the Irish Open Championships.  

The Irish Open is a key championship that attracted the best players in the world for many decades.  Since the professional (‘Open’) era kick-started at the end of the 1960s it has been difficult to attract the best players to Ireland, finance being the major obstacle.  However, it and many other tournaments dating back to the 1880s have survived.  

WHO'S WHO

Profiles of over 1,100 people are included in the book.  Some are brief.  Much research has enabled details on long-forgotten heroes to be published in a way I hope brings them to life again.  Volume 3 starts with a few small apparently random, sub-chapters.  These include modes of transport, changes in fashions, equipment and costs which have been dramatic in a century and a quarter of Irish tennis.

Lastly, the players and people of the North-West are dealt with in chapter 8.  As already mentioned the book commenced its life in this region and much of the original script has been retained.  Practical and loyalty factors lead to this approach. 

SUMMARY

Rather than have an overly lengthy introduction to 'The History of Irish Tennis' this web site concisely introduces all elements of the book. 

If the reader can learn more about the sport and its past through this book, then, like the writer, he or she can consolidate their passion for tennis, or begin to love the game in a wholly different manner.  If this is achieved then it will have been worth the effort.


Printed by Turner's Printing Co Ltd,
Earl Street, Longford, Ireland.

Original sketches by Stephanie Paxton (Sligo), the late Des O'Brien  (Kenilworth, Fitzwilliam, Cardiff Castle & Dyvours LTCs) & John Tormey (St Mel's & Shankill LTCs).

Jacket designs by Tom Higgins & Noel Strange.

Tom Higgins, Sligo Tennis Club, Ireland.
Copyright ©the author.

 

Maureen Connolly

Maureen Connolly ('Little Mo'), 
twice Irish Open winner

Yvonne Doyle
2001 Irish Open winner

Rod Laver pictured 
at Fitzwilliam

Joshua Pim

Joshua Pim
Irish & Wimbledon Champion

Lena Rice
Wimbledon Champion 1890

James Cecil Parke

James Cecil Parke
"the best all rounder in 
lawn tennis"

Peter Clarke
Irish No1 in '99,'01,'02,'03 & '05

Kelly Liggan
Irish No1 in 1998 & 2000 - 2005

Louk Sorensen
Made his Davis Cup debut in 2005

Matt Doyle won the Irish Open six times

Matt Doyle won the
Irish Open six times
between 1980 & 1986