Episode 27: The glorious social and cultural heritage of Irish cricket with Charles Lysaght

Cricket authors (and obsessives) Peter Oborne and Richard Heller have launched a new podcast to help deprived listeners endure a world without cricket. They chat regularly about cricket topics – hoping to keep a good line and length but with occasional wides into other subjects.

Besides being a celebrated student debater, who replaced Ken Clarke and handily defeated Vince Cable in 1964 as President of the Cambridge Union, then one of Ireland’s leading constitutional and administrative lawyers, a biographer, obituarist and a man of letters Charles Lysaght has been a noted cricketer and host of cricketers in Ireland for over sixty years. (For the curious, he is a distant kinsman of Cornelius Lysaght, the racing commentator.) He shares his deep love and knowledge of the history of Irish cricket and its literary heritage with Peter Oborne and Richard Heller as the latest guest in their cricket-themed podcast.


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Delving into the early history of Irish cricket, Charles Lysaght reveals the score made by the future Duke of Wellington in the match in 1792 between the Dublin Garrison and All Ireland – and the other future duke who dismissed him with an underarm delivery.  2-4 minutes

He explains how cricket became popular in rural Ireland after Waterloo, often but not exclusively through teams raised by landlords for their tenants, and also in Dublin. One cricketing landlord was Charles Stewart Parnell. Charles Lysaght says that he was not a popular captain and once led his team off in a sulk over an umpire’s decision. Parnell gave up cricket when he entered the House of Commons and led the campaign for Home Rule – but his onfield behaviour might have inspired his successful obstructive Parliamentary tactics. 5-8 minutes

He mentions another surprising  Irish politician to have played cricket – Eamonn De Valera, at Blackrock school. De Valera enjoyed watching cricket, and even more so rugby, but had to conceal this from the powerful Gaelic Athletic Association, which for nearly a hundred years tried to ban Irish people from playing or even watching so-called English “garrison games.” 9-12 minutes

Charles Lysaght describes two nineteenth-century Irish cricketers who played for England, Leland Hone, from a celebrated artistic and literary family, and an irascible but talented baronet, Sir Tom O’Brien (no relation of Ireland’s recent batting hero Kevin O’Brien). 13-15 minutes He is surprised to learn of a third: J E P McMaster (born in County Down) accompanied England’s first organized tour of South Africa and played in a match later given Test status. He was out for a golden duck, did not bowl and did not take a catch. This represented his entire first-class career. 17-19 minutes

He explores the rich links between Irish cricket and literature, particularly those forged by Clongowes School, in county Kildare. He reads James Joyce’s beautiful short description of cricket there in Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man, although noting that Joyce was forced to leave the school at the age of ten. He is sceptical about the feat later ascribed by Joyce in Ulysses to Captain Buller – hitting a six on the Trinity College ground through the window of the Kildare Street Club at square leg. 25-27 minutes

Another Clongowes cricket-lover was the barrister and Home Rule MP Tom Kettle (who once said that the only legal briefs he ever received were from cricket friends). Charles Lysaght reads Kettle’s beautiful sonnet to his infant daughter, composed before his death on the Somme in the Great War. He explains its political and moral context and contrasts this with Yeats’ celebrated poem An Irish Airman Forsees His Death (whose subject, Robert Gregory, was also an Irish cricketer.) 21-25 minutes

He speaks of Samuel Beckett’s distinguished cricket career with Trinity College (which would make him the only Nobel Prize winner to have played first-class cricket.) Beckett was not a very sociable cricketer (he wrote later that he did not join his team-mates when they went drinking and whoring). But he did enjoy meeting them at Lord’s when he made regular journeys on the night train from Paris to watch matches. 30-32 minutes

Still another Irish cricket-loving writer was the whimsical Lord Dunsany, a notable host of visiting teams.  Charles Lysaght reveals that he used to send a wind-up duck onto the pitch to greet a batsman dismissed for nought, until one irate recipient smashed the creature to fragments. 39-40 minutes

Peter Oborne & Richard Heller

Peter Oborne has been the chief political commentator for the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, a maker of several documentaries and written and broadcast for many different media. He is the author of a biography of Basil D’Oliveira and of Wounded Tiger, a history of Pakistan cricket, both of which won major awards.

Richard Heller was a long-serving humorous columnist on The Mail on Sunday and more briefly, on The Times. He worked in the movie business in the United States and the UK, including a brief engagement on a motion picture called Cycle Sluts Versus The Zombie Ghouls. He is the author of two cricket-themed novels A Tale of Ten Wickets and The Network. He appeared in two Mastermind finals: in the first his special subject was the life of Sir Gary Sobers.

Jointly, he and Peter produced White On Green, celebrating the drama of Pakistan cricket, including the true story of the team which lost a first-class match by an innings and 851 runs.

Peter and Richard have played cricket with and against each other for a variety of social sides, including Parliament’s team, the Lords and Commons, and in over twenty countries including India, Pakistan, the United States, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, France, Greece, Australia, Zimbabwe, New Zealand and Morocco.

The Podcast is produced by Bridget Osborne and James Willcocks at The Chiswick Calendar.