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Early Irish Board Games

Unfortunately we are not told the exact number of pieces which were used in the game. In a story in the Acallam na Senorach [15] we are told that three men of gold and three men of silver were missing from the board and that Caoilte went off and fetched 150 of gold and 150 of silver. These figures do not tell us much, and are probably of little significance, as the Acallam is a bad source for information on fidchell.

The main object of the game seems to have been the capturing of one's opponent's men, if not his complete annihilation. In Echtrai Nerai [16] Fergus has five captured men in his hand which he hurled at Bricriu's head, causing him permanent injury.

In Eachtra Airt meic Cuind ocus Tochmarc Delbchaime ingine Morgain [17] Art is playing with Becuma and the sid-folk are stealing his men. He then exclaims, "The men are stealing the pieces from me, girl. It is not you who are winning but they."

The same tale has another passage of interest in connection with fidchell. [18] Art was at Tara playing with Cromdes, his father's druid. In the course of the play the druid exclaims, "a move of banishment (bert indarba) on thee my son. Because of the women thy father marries thou art being banished." The teller of the tale has worked in a pun on Art's own banishment and a winning move of some sort in fidchell.

The pieces are described as "smooth, speckled, peaked" in Aislinge Meic Conglinne [19] fidchell . . . cona foirind blaith bricc bendaig. An oft-recurring motif is that of a hero killing his opponent by throwing a fidchell-man at him. [20]



NOTES

15. 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, ll. 29-36.
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16. Irische Texte, ll. 7794-7843.
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17. Eriu, iii, p. 162, #17.
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18. ibid, p. 154, #8.
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19. Ed. Meyer, p. 69, 25-6.
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20. E.g. Fled Bricrend, Ed. Henderson, #61; Oided mac n-Uisnig, Irische Texte, ii, 139 ll. 414-7; etc.
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