Was cricket invented in Ireland?

I was all set to wax lyrical on Ireland's big victory yesterday and simultaneously impress you with my encyclopedic knowledge of cricket. I was ready to put it all in context comparing yesterday's win over England with the 1980 US Olympic hockey team's victory against the USSR.


Unfortunately, two things conspired to stop me. First, I don't have an encyclopedic knowledge of cricket, although I was almost able to explain a 'yorker' to my daughter last night, which impressed her no end. {Cricket has an amazing language all its own. You can get a sense of that here.}

Second, Kevin Cullen of the Boston Globe has done a great job of putting yesterday's win in context, including the 1980 Olympics reference. It's worth a read if you're a sports fan but know nothing about cricket.

What Cullen can't quite convey is just how much this cricket win has caught the imagination of the Irish people, most of whom are as cricket-savvy as I am. To put it mildly, cricket is a minor sport here, but everyone in the country from north to south and east to west is thrilled by the Irish part-timers' success against the English all star team.

The Irish team is a collection of electricians, carpenters and salesmen whereas England fields the stars from their professional cricket league. Beating England at anything is always special here, but particularly in cricket it's extra special because nobody here really understands anything other than "We beat England." The fact the team contains players who have experienced the same troubles as the rest of the country due to the economic downturn has only enhanced the joy people feel.

If you live in America or Canada, cricket is most likely a mystery. That wasn't always the case, however, as cricket was widely played in America before the Civil War, but was eclipsed by baseball after that. Of course some people claim baseball evolved out of cricket, but I'm skeptical of such claims, which ignore the fact that "Base Ball" was being played in Pittsfield, MA in the 1790s (sorry Abner & Alexander, although Alexander Cartwright did lay down the rules we recognize today). Besides, the two games aren't really all that similar.

The origins of cricket are pretty murky and despite some claims that the game was invented in Flanders (now Belgium), most believe it was invented in England many centuries ago. However, I had a friend who believed it was invented in Ireland.

I wish I could ask him about this now, but unfortunately he died some time ago. From what I remember of the conversation (1993) he said the game was played in and around Wexford way back when (c 1250) and that the first English army to set up camp in the area absorbed the game from the locals and over the centuries it spread wherever the English/British Army went. I can't remember why he said it died out, but if it became associated with the English that may have been all that was needed.

I can't assess his claim, but I can tell you he was not just some loon. He worked for the National Museum of Ireland and his working life was devoted to the history of Ireland and protecting and interpreting the archaeological artifacts in the Museum's care.

I really wish I could remember more, such as was this theory based on items found in Wexford, which is what I think he said. It's really annoying me today, but that conversation sort of went out of my head until yesterday when I was suddenly transformed into a die-hard cricket fan along with the 5.5 million other people living here. We cannot wait for the next 'innings' this Sunday.

{Photo from Getty Images: Yesterday's record-breaking hero Kevin O'Brien}

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