The summer of 1890 saw Ireland produce the winner of the men’s singles (Willoughby Hamilton), women’s singles (Lena Rice) and the men’s doubles (Joshua Pim and Frank Stoker) at the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis championships. In the ensuing decade, Irish tennis players won five Wimbledon singles and two men’s doubles titles.
Perhaps Hamilton, Rice, Pim and Stoker inspired lawn tennis players around the country. On 6 October 1890, ‘a preliminary meeting for the purpose of organizing a Lawn Tennis Club in Enniscorthy,’ chaired by Dr Furlong and attended by Dr Dower, G.H. Lett, E. Cookman, G.H. Peel, T. Rea, E. Robinson, W. Armstrong, [?], and A.E. Lamont, was held. Those present were
of the opinion that a Lawn Tennis Club be formed, and suggest that circulars be sent to those likely to join, requesting them to signify their intention as to whether they will join.
The proposed subscription was ‘£1, entrance fee 5/- for gentlemen.’ The report of the committee formed to select grounds for the club notes that Dr Furlong
had kindly placed at the disposal of the club a plot of ground which the Committee considered very suitable as it afforded space for four courts and was very convenient to the town being at the top of New St.
The minute book of the Enniscorthy Lawn Tennis Club (1890–1919) records the activities of the club, the rules of membership, names of members, subscription fees, the maintenance of the pavilion and grounds and are often routine in nature. The minute books give evidence of co-operation with other sporting clubs. For example, it was agreed that ‘if the Hockey Club should apply for the use of Pavilion for the winter, they can have it for a rent of £2 until 15th March’. (30 September 1905).
However, the committee ‘decided that it would be injudicious to lend the mower promiscuously’ in response to a request by the Secretary of the Enniscorthy Cricket Club for a loan of their lawn mower (13 May 1919).
The minutes from 1917 and 1918 document a long-running dispute concerning perceived procedural irregularities in the election of members, culminating in a letter from Mr H.W. Franck, 16 July 1918, in which he writes
‘If there are persons in the Club who object to us, they were quite entitled to give effect to their objection by the ballot. There is now little doubt in my mind who these persons are, and if I am correct in placing them, one of them actually had the effrontery to ask my wife to play tennis with him on the same day upon which he black-beaned (sic) her out of the Club. … I and my friends are the topic of conversation at the street corners, and not doubt the scandal will find its way around the country and from club to club, so that one never can feel free from being faced with it at any moment and without the power of denying it or explaining how it occurred.’
Mr Franck states that he cannot accept membership unless an apology is recorded in the minutes, and that his wife and Miss Stoker are in agreement with him.
The minutes of 19 July 1916 record:
‘That we apologise to those members who were irregularly put up for election on 13th July 1918: that we regret the annoyance and odium caused by this action and that we hope that those members will consider themselves as regularly elected members of the Club, as we think that no personal insult was intended by the action which was taken by some members.’
The meeting of 23 April 1919 includes a letter from Mr Franck accepting the apology and that ‘we have pleasure in accepting the invitation of the meeting to consider ourselves duly elected and to continue as members of the Club…’.
The minutes taken during World War I illustrate simply and poignantly the impact of the war on a small town in rural Ireland. For example, on 20 April 1915 a motion was proposed by Canon Lyster seconded by F.K. Pounder & passed unanimously, and read:
‘That Mseers N. Gore Hickman & P.M. Harte-Maxwell, having gone to the war, be elected Hon. Members during its continuation.’
Bad news followed however, and an entry in the minutes from 12 May 1916, records a motion proposed by F.K. Pounder seconded by Rev Canon Lyster & passed in silence:
‘That we have heard with the deepest regret of the death of one of our own members, an an Hon Member since he joined the Kings Army 2nd Lieutenant P.M. Harte Maxwell, who fell while bravely fighting for his country, and we desire to express our deep sympathy with his relatives in their bereavement.’
Entries from 1917 continue this theme, and hint at some of the other wartime activities in Enniscorthy during these years, including the billeting of army troops. On 27 April 1917, the minute book notes a letter was read
From Major Biddulph, Connaught Rangers, thanking the General Meeting held in 1916 for making the Officers of H.M.’s Army Hon. Members of the Club during their stay in Enniscorthy.
Two letters suggest some of the fundraising activities in the town. On 4 August 1917:
It was unanimously decided to grant Mrs Esmonde the use of the Club Grounds on 30th August for a Gymkana for the Prisoners of War Fund & to give 1 doz new Tennis Balls for the purpose.
The following year, another event took place with a motion proposed by Mr Wheeler, seconded by Mr Pounder and passed unanimously, on the 2 July 1918 that:
Mrs Esmonde be granted the use of the Club Grounds on the 4th & 5th July for the purpose of holding a Fete on behalf of the Prisoners of War Fund. It was agreed that a subscription of £1 be sent to Mrs Esmonde for the Prisoners of War Fund.
The Minute Book of the Enniscorthy Lawn Tennis Club (UCDA P321) will be available for consultation from August 2023. It was given to Paul Rouse by David Hasslacher and deposited in UCD Archives in February 2020.
This post was written by Kate Manning, Principal Archivist, UCD Archives.
Featured image: John Lavery (1856–1941), The Tennis Party, Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums, (CC BY-NC).