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Early Irish Board Games

A hint as to the ordinary move of the game is possibly hidden in the verses of a poem in Serlige Con Chulaind [10] : 'Behold his chariots, they climb the valley; behold their courses, (like) men in fidchell'. The logical ideal for a number of chariots proceeding up a valley would be a continuous straight course, and such might well gain a poet's admiration. A continuous straight course would suggest a move like that of the Rook in chess, and this agrees well with the statement above that "its rowa are straight". Furthermore, experiment has shown that such a move is the only one that will give a playable game in conjunction with capture by enclosure as above. [11]

Descriptions of the board are not uncommon, but are rarely of real value. The description given in Tain Bo Fraich [12] will suffice as an example.

Medb and Aillil play fidchell. Froech then begins to play fidchell with one of his men. The fidchell was lovely. A board of tinned bronze [13] with four corners (lit. ears and elbows) of gold. A candle (made) of a precious stone shining for them. The men on the board were of gold and silver.

It seems that the sides consisted of an equal number of pieces of different colours or materials:

Crimthann Nia Nar's fidchell, a small boy could not lift it with one hand. Half of its men were of yellow gold, the other half of tinned bronze. [14]




NOTES

10. Ed. Myles Dillon, 1942, 11. 405-6.
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11. R.G.Austin, "Greek Board Games," Antiquity, xiv, 1940, p. 264.
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12. Ed. M. Byrne and Myles Dillon, ll. 88-93.
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13. findruine, is hardly a suitable substance for a gaming board. It was metal or alloy of some sort, very probably tinned bronze which occurs occasionally on Early Christian sites e.g. Ballinderry II (PRIA, C. 47, p. 37), Garranes (PRIA, C. 47, p. 89). The etymology for findruine suggested by Dr O'Brien is not against this identification (Eriu xi, p. 170). Cf. Raftery, Christian Art in Ancient Ireland ii, p. 104n.
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14. Amra Columcille, Rev. Celt, xx, p. 283. Other descriptions of boards will be found in Tochmarc Etaine, Eriu xii, p; 174, #2; K. Meyer, Fianaigecht, p. 14, ii. 29-36.
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