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Not a lot of people know this, but chess goes back a long way with the Irish. The Irish equivalent of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table were Fionn MacCumhaill ( pronounced Feeyun MacCool) and the Fianna. Each of these warriors was expected to perfect his chess as much as his swordplay, as many disputes were settled by a game of chess rather than by violence. Fionn frequently was caught in situations where his chess came in very handy, though if that didn't fix it, he was perfectly capable of seeing off his enemies in a more bloody fashion. The Fianna supposedly flourished shortly after the time of Jesus Christ, so the game must have entered the Irish psyche even earlier.

The Celtic languages of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall and Britanny, in North-Western France, belong to the Indo-European group of languages, so this may explain how a game with its roots in India had found its way to the outermost settlements of Europe by the beginning of the Christian era.

Chess was also popular with the fairies (not leipreachans) of Ireland, as they frequently used it to trap mortals into selling their souls.

So, with that headstart, why are the Irish so weak at the game now? If only FIDE would allow fairies into the World Championship! 





  • 7 years ago


    The Irish are weak at chess? Did you know that the average FIDE rating of Irish players is 2388?
  • 7 years ago


    I would like to ask you if you have played any Tournament in Ireland in recent years? The masters section is in good order and youth level has accelerated. I dont accept the knock on Irish Chess. Sorry.
  • 8 years ago


    My grandfather came from Kerry, and didn't speak a word of English until he started school. It was only in 2005 that I set foot in that county for the first time, when I went to Dingle for a cousin's funeral. I agree the leipreachhans were never all that hot at Chess. Too busy mending shoes and protecting their gold.
  • 8 years ago


    Ah ... the fairies (not leipreachans) of Ireland ...


    Their like will not be seen again!


    Small factoid; I won the Pan Celtic Chess Championship (Youth Division) played in Killarney circa 1979. Fortunately no fairies entered. Only Kerrymen and me. 

  • 8 years ago


    I agree wholeheartedly.

    I love legends and recognize them as intrinsically truthful in ways I can't even begin to comprehend.

  • 8 years ago


    If we're going to delve more deeply into it, it may be that cross-polination of legends with fact occurs across many cultures, so that when the Celtic legends were translated into English in the 18th-19th centuries, the translators hunted for a name to describe the strange game mentioned in the ancient, mainly oral, tradition and approximated it to chess, which tied in with the later, mediaeval,  discipline. ...or maybe, just maybe, the celts came up with a game closer to the present form of chess than chatarunga. Whichever way, I'm not going to pick a fight with Fionn. If he calls it chess, I value my life too much to argue otherwise.
  • 8 years ago


    I've always thought the Irish had uniquely colorful legends. In many ways they sound more foreign to my ears than some of those from countries whose languages are far more alien.  I'm not sure, however, whether the game that the Fionn MacCumhaill were required to master was actually chess, even if it came from India, there is no direct evidence that chess came from India. We know the Indians played a game called chatarunga which had some minor similarities to chess, but those same similarities extended to other board games too. Even if chess developed from Chatarunga, the Indian game itself bore only an extremely superficial resemblance to our game. Also, the first known recorded mention of Chaturanga, despite what is often professed, wasn't until the 6th century. The Arabian, or Persian game of Shatranj, which was much, much closer to chess and from which chess did develop, was known to be played around the same time and spread with the flow of Islam to the west.


    But it's interesting that the Fionn MacCumhaill had to learn a game, whether that game was chess or some similar strategic, martial game. Medieval knights were required (or at least highly encouraged) to learn Chess:

    The Disciplina Clericalis had been adapted over the years as a model for knights, as well as clerics, and within are listed the Seven Virtuous Disciplines: (De septem artibus, probitatibus, industriis)

    Probitates haec sunt, equitare, natare, sagittare, cestibus certare, aucupari, scaccis ludere, versificare.

    This translates:

    These things are advisable, riding, swimming, archery, fencing, hunting (or falconry), chess playing,  poetry (or music).

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