County Dublin Championships
THE CHAMPIONSHIPS AND SPORTING ORIGINS
The County Dublin Championships provide a fascinating insight into the social, cultural and sporting history of Irish and international sport over the last century and a half.
Mainstream sports including Football, Rugby, Golf and Cricket were all well established by the time “Sphairstrike” (subsequently renamed Lawn Tennis) was first played in 1874. The All England Club (Wimbledon) adopted tennis and hosted its first Championships in 1877. By then, tennis had spread to Ireland and was probably played first in Trinity College, shortly after in 1875 at the All Ireland Club (later to become Lansdowne LTC), and then at Fitzwilliam and Monkstown Lawn Tennis Clubs (both 1877). The first Irish Championships was played in Fitzwilliam Square in 1879 and was soon followed by the County Dublin Championships a few years later.
Tennis was very much a sport for the elite and many people were excluded from entering tournaments on spurious grounds. In the first modern Olympic Games, in Athens in 1886, Dublin-born John Pius Boland won both tennis events (Singles & Doubles). Boland represented the United Kingdom but defiantly caused a major controversy when he insisted that an Irish flag (a harp on a green cloth) and not the Union flag be raised at the ceremony. The organisers agreed to his request. He was from a privileged background. His father, Patrick was the founder of Boland’s Biscuits, the largest bakery in Ireland at the time.
Boland subsequently became a Nationalist MP and represented the Irish Parliamentary Party at Westminster. There appears to be no record of him playing against the top players of his day including Wimbledon and County Dublin Champions of that era – Pim, Hamilton and Stoker.
John P Boland winning Gold at Athens Olympics 1886 for tennis
Carrickmines Honorary Member, Ronnie Delany also won Olympic Gold in the Melbourne Olympics, 60 years later. Ronnie was a regular competitor in the County Dublin Tennis Championships. Interestingly both John P Boland and Ronnie Delany attended the same small school in Dublin, Catholic University School, (CUS) in Leeson Street.
Ronnie Delany on the right alongside Grand Slam legends Frank Sedgman and Rod Laver in the front.
Coaches and Club professionals including George Kerr (Fitzwilliam LTC) and Thomas Burke (Lansdowne LTC) were not allowed to compete in the tournaments. It was only in 1968 with the advent of the Open Era that tennis truly opened up and allowed professional players to compete at the major Championships. Shortly afterwards, in 1972 the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) was set up and a year later the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) followed suit. The WTA, driven by Billie Jean King, saw the need to be independent from the Men’s Association in order to get their fair share of prize money. The emergence of the two tours diluted control of the sport from the International Tennis Federation (ITF).
The County Dublin Championships were played at Carrickmines for the first time in 1908 and have been held there every year since, except during the years of the two World Wars and again in 2020 due to the Covid 19 pandemic.