Golf on The Curragh Since 1852
Ireland’s Oldest Golf Course & Golf Club
Colonel William H. Gibson (retd.)
THE FIELD 12th September 1875
This article shows that the game of golf was revived at the Curragh Camp by the 91st (Argyllshire) Highlanders in September 1875. The writer states that “Many years have passed since the national Scottish game of golf has been played on the beautiful plain of the Curragh of Kildare.”
Clearly, “The Caddy in Scarlet” had previous experience of the game being played on the short grass of the Curragh and he gives some vital clues that prove the existence of the game here in 1852. This vital piece of evidence has been akin to the discovery of the Rosetta Stone in helping to trace the story of the development of the game in the area that was to become the major military centre – the Curragh Camp.
Major Alexander Cunningham Bruce was the only officer of the 91st Highlanders, pictured above, who had served in Ireland previously in 1852. Golf was played at the Curragh by the Earl of Eglinton and Colonel William Campbell of the 2nd (Queen’s Bay) Dragoon Guards in that year. The Queen’s Bays regiment was based in Newbridge in 1852. Further evidence for golf on the Curragh in 1852 is given hereafter.
91st (Princess Louise’s Argyllshire) Highlander’s officers in 1874, Major A.C. Bruce (arrowed)
Major Alexander Cunningham Bruce was the only officer of the 91st Highlanders, pictured above, who had served in Ireland previously in 1852, when golf was played at the Curragh by the Earl of Eglinton and Colonel William Campbell. Further evidence for this earlier date is given hereafter.
Golf on the Curragh in 1857
The Irish Field 3rd October 1908
As seen above, E.I. Gray of Naas had written a letter to L.L.H. (Lionel Hewson) in the Irish Field of 3rd October 1908 and stated that that he had a ball, dated 1857, which ‘an old gentleman’ had played at Donnelly’s Hollow, a well known landmark on the Curragh.
E.I. Gray, Naas
Donnelly’Hollow with 15th Tee box in rear (2006)
David Ritchie was a member of the Musselburgh Golf Club (later Royal Musselburgh) since 1845, who migrated to Ireland in 1851. He left a Gutta Percha golf ball, which disappeared ‘mysteriously’ from the Clubhouse at Royal Dublin before 1939.
Attached to the ball was a certificate: “This ball was played by me in a match with the late Mr. Alexander Love, on links near Donnelly’s Hollow, Curragh on 15th July 1857.” Signed: “David Ritchie”
Ritchie laid out the first course on the Curragh in the early 1850s. His son Thomas stated that he often caddied for his father in many of his matches with his friends on the Course. It will be seen later that Ritchie had many eminent golfers playing on the links near Donnelly’s Hollow, including the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and many of the officers of the nearby Curragh Military Camp that was constructed in 1855.
The Golf Match at Donnelly’s Hollow on 15th July 1857
Writing in the Irish Field 11th November 1942, J.P. Rooney incorrectly gives the date on the ball as July 15th 1852. He also states that he ‘naturally’ handed the ball, which had a dated certificate attached, to the Royal Dublin Golf Club (he should ‘naturally’ have returned it to the Curragh Golf Club).
Rooney further stated that he had been contacted by Tom Ritchie, David’s son, who was able to say that he “frequently carried his father’ s clubs on that course, and was delighted when he was rewarded with a ‘ fee’ of a few pence, which he always spent on sweets.”
Earlier in his ‘Irish Golfer’s Blue Book’in 1939 Rooney stated“in 1857 a Mr. David Ritchie played a match with a Mr Alexander Love‘onthe links near Donnelly’s Hollow, Curragh’in July of that year. The ball with which Mr Ritchie played in that match, together with is signed statement, was enshrined in the clubhouse of the RoyalDublin Club at Dollymount until some vandals picked it to bits with penknives. They were, apparently, ‘curious’ as to what it was made of.
Thus, the Gutta Percha ball, played by David Ritchie in a matchwith his friend Alexander Love on the Links at Donnelly’s Hollowin July 1857, was‘naturally’handed over to Royal Dublin. There it was picked to bits by the members!
Curragh Golf Club 125th anniversary of Match at Donnelly’s Hollow
Discovery of David Ritchie’s granddaughter 13th July 1982
To celebrate the 125th anniversary of the match that was played at Donnelly’s Hollow, the Committee of the Curragh Golf Club decided to mark the occasion with a‘ Commemorative Criss-Cross four ball during Open Week on 15th July 1982. A special poster was created by club member Martyn Turner, the eminent cartoonist of the Irish Times, and this was reproduced in Dermot Gilleece’s‘ Golf Log’ in the newspaper’s edition of 13th July. As a result, Mrs. Christina Adams contacted the Curragh Golf Club and, in a conversation with myself, stated that she was David Ritchie’s granddaughter. A shareholder in The Irish Times, she read the paper everyday and was amazed to see the celebration of David Ritchie’ s golf match at Donnelly’s Hollow that was to take place two days later. The accompanyingphotograph shows Christina with the special commemorative trophy that was presented to the winners on 15th July.
Christina Adams knew her grandfather well, as she was 17 years old when he died in 1910. On seeing the commemorative poster, she remarked that“None of them look like David Ritchie!” She then produced this wonderful picture of the Musselburgh golfer who had laid out the first course at Donnelly’s Hollow in 1852.Mrs. Adams then handed over David Ritchie’s portrait, which is now displayed in the Royal Curragh Golf Club’s clubhouse.
Mrs Christina Adams with the Commemorative Trophy 1982
David Ritchie (1823 -1910) laid out links at Donnelly’s Hollow
Eminent golfers on the Curragh in 1852
Archibald William Montgomerie, Earl of Eglinton, Captain North Berwick G.C. 1838, Founder Captain Prestwick G.C. 1851, Captain R&A 1853, Co-founder British Open Championship at Prestwick G.C. 1860
Campbell and his Queen’s Bays Regiment moved to India in July 1857 , as a consequence of the Indian Mutiny. Thus , he was not in Ireland when Eglinton returned as Lord Lieutenant in March 1858. They could only have played on “The Links at Donnelly’s Hollow” in 1852.
Lt Col William Campbell 2nd (Queen’s Bays) Dragoon Guards Captain Prestwick G.C. 1854
Earl of Eglinton plays golf again on Curragh in 1858
Earl of Eglinton plays golf again on Curragh in 1858
The article above appeared in the periodical The Irish Golfer 9th September 1903, when Arthur Beatty of Portmarnock Golf Club wrote of a meeting with Andrew Smith Maxwell, who had been on the Curragh with the Lanarkshire Militia in 1858. He recorded the fact that the new Lord Lieutenant, the Earl of Eglinton, had come often to play golf on the Curragh with military colleagues. John Gourlay, one of the most famous golf professionals in Scotland, was brought over to lay out a course (not for the first time, as asserted by Lieutenant Maxwell) and the golfers went to the nearby Curragh racecourse for refreshments after their game of golf. It is obvious that Lieutenant Maxwell was unaware of the Earl of Eglinton’ s earlier golf activities at the Curragh. He mentions Gourlay in the context of ‘ The introduction of the Game into Ireland’ , which is incorrect and Eglinton must surely have mentioned this at the time.
Stand House at Curragh race course 1853
The Earl of Eglinton was provided with lunch at the Stand House on the nearby Curragh Race course after his games of golf on the links near Donnelly’s Hollow. It is interesting to note that he preferred the traditional ‘golfer’s luncheon’ of bread, cheese and a bottle of stout.
The Curragh Golf Club 1858
Major W.F. Hamilton Captain Prestwick G.C. 1855, A.D.C. to Earl of Eglinton 1858/9
john Gourlay. Professional golfer, Musselburgh, Edinburgh
Archibald William Montgomerie Lord Lieutenant Ireland 1852 & 1858/1859
2nd Battalion, Royal Lanarkshire Militia
Founders of the Curragh Golf Club July 1858
Belfast Newsletter 1st July 1858
Despite the best efforts of Andrew Smith Maxwell, he failed to mention the founding of a golf club at the Curragh in 1858.crest A digital search of newspapers in the British Library’s website in 2010 gave a hit for the Belfast Newsletter 1st July 1858, which showed that the regiment had established a golf club at the Curragh Camp. They had arrived to Ireland in late 1857 and they were in Dublin and Kilkenny before arriving to the Curragh in early 1858. For over two years before coming to Ireland they had been based on the grounds of Lanark Golf Club, in Lanarkshire, where a hutted camp had been built for them. Unfortunately, the early records of that club (founded in 1851) are missing. There is little doubt that there must have been a sizeable number of golfers among the military fraternity on the Curragh in 1858/59; there were a total of 115 officers of all regiments at the camp at the time. The Earl of Eglinton must have felt very much at home here. One year later, he would be the prime mover in founding the Open Championship in October 1860 at Prestwick Golf Club; he donated the Champion’s Belt for the winner, Willie Park of Musselburgh
Militia Camp at Lanark G.C (John Smart 1893)
This print shows the Militia Camp that was constructed for the 2nd battalion Lanark Militia on Lanark golf Club in 1856. They occupied this camp until late 1857, when they moved to Ireland. The battalion arrived to the Curragh camp in April 1858.
The first British Open Championship at Prestwick G.C. 1860
llustrations on the panel above are set against a background of the Eglinton (Montgomery) Clan Tartan, which was worn by all the professionals who competed in the first Open Championship in 1860. On the first picture the Earl of Eglinton is on the left side wearing the green Montgomery tartan jacket. This is a detail from the famous painting “The Golfers” by Charles Lees (1847) set at the Ginger Beer Hole in St. Andrews. The second picture is a photograph of Tom Morris, the famous St. Andrews professional, and fellow competitors dressed in Eglinton (Montgomery) tartan jackets at Prestwick Golf Club in 1860.