Chess in Irish Folklore

Chess in Irish Folklore

Jan 8, 2009, 9:46 AM |

As a folklorist and a chess player I am always looking for stories that pertain to chess. As one of Irish decent I am very happy to have found the following story.

The Fenian Cycle
Diarmuid and Grainne

Part 6 the Game of Chess

After sending away the children of Morna Finn sets out himself to go to the quicken tree.

After that he caused the seven battalions of the standing fian to assemble in one place, and he went his way to Dubros of Ui Fiachbrach; and followed Diarmuid’s track to the food to the quicken tree, and found the berries without any watch upon them, so that they all ate their fill of them. The great heat of the noon day then overtook them, and Finn said that he would stay at the foot of the quicken tree till that heat should be past:” for I know that Diarmuid is in the top of the tree.”

“It is a great sign of envy in thee, O Finn, to suppose that Diarmuid would abide in the top of the quicken tree, and he knowing that thou art intent on slaying him,” said Oisin.

After this Finn asked for a chessboard to play, and he said to Oisin, “I would play a game with thee upon this chessboard.” They sat down at either side of the board; namely Oisin and Oscar and the son of Lugaid and Diorruing the son of Dobar O’Baoiscene on one side, and Finn upon the other side.

Thus they were playing that game of chess with skill and exceeding cunning, and Finn so played the game against Oisin that he had but one move alone to make, and Finn said:”One move there is to win thee the game, O Oisin, but I am not there to teach thee that move.”

“It is worse for thee that thou art thyself,” said Grainne, “in the bed of the Searban Lochlannach, in the top of the quicken tree, with the seven battalions of the standing fian round about thee intent upon thy destruction, than that Oisin should lack that move.” Then Diarmuid plucked one of the berries, and aimed at the man that should be moved; and Oisin moved that man and thus turned the game against Finn. They began to play again and Oisin was again worsted. When Diarmuid beheld that, he cast a second berry upon the man that should be moved; and Oisin moved that man and turned the game against Finn as before. Finn was about to win the game against Oisin the third time, Diarmuid struck a third berry upon the man that would give Oisin the game, and the fian raised a mighty shout at that game. Finn spoke, and what he said was: “I marvel not at thy winning that game, O Oisin, seeing that Oscar is doing is best for thee, and that thou hast with thee the zeal of Diorruing, the skilled knowledge of the son of Luagid, and the prompting of Diarmuid.”

“It shows great envy in thee, O Finn,” said Oscar, “to think that Diarmuid O’ Duibne would stay in the top of this tree with thee in wait for him.”

“With which of us is the truth, O O’Duibne, ” said Finn, “with me or with Oscar?” …