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Early Irish Board Games

There are no other informative passages, to my knowledge, which throw light on the game. There are at least two, investigation of which will prove as unprofitable as the proverbial wild goose chase. One of these is a long poem in the Acallam na Senorach, [21] beginning a mina ailli Fenne Finn, imridhse fein bhur bhfichild, which recounts the story of a quarrel between Finn Ban mac Breasil and Guaire Goll over a fidchell game. It tells nothing positive about the game.

A peculiar allegorical tale is recounted in the Leabhar Breac, and at greater length in the Book of Lismore. [22] The tale concerns a game which, we are told, the youths of Rome were wont to play every Halloween. It was a board game (fidchell) with the figure of a hag at one end and the figure of a girl at the other. The hag releases a dragon towards the girl, and the girl releases a lamb towards the dragon so that the lamb overcomes the dragon. The hag, thereupon, releases a lion towards the girl who releases a ram which conquers the lion. The game is alleged to have been invented by the Sybil as a prophecy of Christ and the devil. Whether the writer of the tale has any real board game in mind is open to doubt, and if he had it is not the normal fidchell. Besides we are explicitly told that it was a game played by the youths of Rome.

BRANDUB (BRANNUMH)

In his Three Shafts of Death [23] Keating makes an allusion to a game which he calls brannamh. He says life is like a brannamh game. Just as the king, queen, and all the other pieces, have their proper places, so also is it with human beings in the brannamh game of life. When Death comes all these distinctions are levelled and a piece when taken is cast into the bag regardless of rank. This, however, is clearly modern chess, and furthermore the morality tale which Keating here recounts is a variant of one of the oldest of chess moralities, the "Innocent Morality," which goes back to the time of Pope Innocent III in the fourteenth century. [24]



NOTES

21. Stokes, Irische Texte, iv, ll. 1381-1447.
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22. Don tsamain beos., The LB text was edited by Windisch in Irische Texte, p. 215; the Lismore text is published by P. O'Neill in Mil na mBeach pp. 57 ff.
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23. Ed. Bergin, ll. 852-883. This work was written in 1631.
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24. Murray, op. cit. pp. 533 ff.
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