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Early Irish Board Games

Welsh tawlbwrdd, as Dr. Lewis has recently shown, [41] also belongs to this family. It was played on an 11 x 11 board with the centre square marked. The sides were 16 men against 8 defenders (plus the King) according to the Laws, and 24 against 12 (plus the King) according to the Peniarth MS. This apparent discrepancy Lewis explains by taking tawlbwrdd to have originally consisted of 16 vs. 8 as in the Norse game, and later the number was increased. [42] One should add that an increase in the size of the board must have been concomitant with this.

The Game of the Gospel, [43] described in a MS. in an Irish hand, seems to have been in favour in the Anglo-Saxon court of Athelstan. The game, it is said, was brought to Ireland by Dubinsi, bishop of Bangor, who died in 951 (F.M. 953). The board contained 18 x 18 squares and the men were placed on the intersections of the lines (thus being in fact a 19 x 19 board). There were 48 attacking pieces against a King, defended by 24 men. The early description mentions dukes and knights, presumeably pieces, which is rather puzzling. The fragmentary Vimose board [44] probably belonged to a game of this sort.

A gaming board was discovered in the course of excavations at Ballinderry "I" crannog. [45] This board is shown by its decoration to be of Manx origin and to date c. 950-75 AD. Instead of squares peg-holes were used. It is a 7 x 7 board, with the centre peg-hole surrounded by two concentric circles. The four corners are also marked. Hencken has argued strongly for fox-and-geese as being the game played on the board, but as Lewis has noted it belongs to the tablut series. Fundamentally the only difference between the tablut series and fox-and-geese is that in the tablut series the "fox" is defended by other pieces. If the Ballinderry board was for fox-and-geese it is difficult to see why the corners should be marked. But with a King protected by a number of men, and capture by enclosure, a man could not be captured in a corner, which may explain the marks (Fig. 2).

Brandub likewise seems to belong to the tablut family. There is a King whose proper place is the central square (and perhaps four other squares - ? the corners). Taking the odd man in the side to be the branan, the proportions are the same as in the rest of the series, being four men plus the King against eight.



NOTES

41. op. cit. p. 203.
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42. ibid. p. 204.
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43. Lewis op. cit. p. 197; also J. Armitage Robinson, The Times of St. Dunstan. pp. 69-71, 171 - 181 and frontispiece.
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44. Lewis op. cit. p. 200.
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45. Hencken, "A Gaming Board of the Viking Age", Acta Archaeologica iv, 1933, pp. 85 ff.; PRIA, xliii, C., pp. 175 ff. p. 200.
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