Irish fairies and Chess

Mar 17, 2009, 11:51 AM |

Today being St. Patrick's Day I wanted to write more about Chess in Irish Legend. I am still researching about the fairies and their claims to being great chess players. If anyone knows any stories please share.

The ancient oriental game of chess came into Celtic Britain at a very early date, and was much esteemed as the Game of Kings, who learned tactics and strategy from it, and the art of hiding their thoughts when they were in conflicts. It was a game at which the aristocratic fairies, the Daoine Sidhe of Ireland and the Sidh of Scotland, had great skill, and it was the habit of wandering members of the sidhe to win great contests against mortals by challenging them to three games, at each of which the winner was to choose his stake. Invariably the mortal won the first two games and chose rich prizes, but the supernatural stranger won the third, and imposed some almost fatal task or asked for some next-to-impossible gift. It was by such a game that Midhir won Etain from Eochaid. This motif is also common in Highland folktales, as, for instance, in one of McKay's MORE WEST HIGHLAND TALES, 'How the Great Tuairisgeal was Put to Death', in which the Young Tuairisgeal, winning the third game of chess, puts the Young King of Erin under binding spells to find out how the Great Tuairisgeal was put to death and to bring back with him the Sword of Light by which he was slain. The young king succeeds in the quest by the help of the woman and the horse which he won in the first two games. This is a standard pattern in both Highland and Irish tales.

The Hero Finn demonstrates that Chess is the sport of kings, in the episode when Young Finn, serving his stepfather, the King of Carraighe, incognito, displays both his ingenuousness and his royal blood by winning seven games in succession against the king, who guessed his paternity and sent him quickly away.

Click here to see the blog I did about Finn playing Chess as written in the The Fenian Cycle, Part 6