P.J. Laracy, Philip Baker and the 1927 Leinster Championship

When compiling the Roll of Honour for the Leinster Championship, there was a particularly tricky decision to make about the 1927 renewal. There was evidence pointing towards two possible candidates. They were Philip Baker, champion the previous year (and also in 1922) and P.J. Laracy.

The evidence for Baker was that he was referred to as the “present holder” in a 17 January 1928 Irish Independent preview of that year’s Championship, while the evidence for Laracy came from his 1960 obituary.

So initially for 1927 the winner was given as “P. Baker or P.J. Laracy”. However, having discussed the pros and cons of each candidate with Sean, I decided to give the matter some further anxious consideration.

The evidence for Laracy was weaker. The obituary only mentioned him winning in 1927 but he had in fact “also” won in 1929 and 1931. The likelihood therefore was that about 30 years after the event the compiler of the obituary knew that Laracy had won the Leinster Championship but was wrong about the date.

Trawling through the sources again produced strong contemporary evidence to rule out Laracy. In particular the Irish Independent for 10 March 1928 gave the entrants for the 1928 Leinster Championship (which included Laracy) and specifically stated that the only previous champion in the entry list was J.T. Gerrard.

So that seemed to leave Baker. However, a third possibility then suggested itself. That item in the Irish Independent had stated that Baker was the “present holder” rather than last year’s winner. While these two things are not mutually exclusive, it does at least leave open the possibility that Baker continued to hold the title which he had won in 1926, rather than having won it in 1926 and again in 1927.

What contemporary evidence is there from 1927? Actually very little. On 14 February 1927 both the Irish Independent and the Irish Times gave the information that the closing date for entries to the Leinster Championship was 1 March, but neither paper then carried any reports on the championship. When the Irish Times for 30 April 1927 disclosed in a short article that the competitive Dublin chess season has ended, it referred to the winners of the two Leinster team competitions but there was no mention of the individual championship.

Of course, the Leinster individual may have taken place between the beginning of March and the end of April but it was simply not reported in the press; in those days chess coverage in the Dublin papers was somewhat patchy. However we could speculate that there may not have been enough time left in the season to fit in the Leinster Championship. The final and deciding match of the Armstrong Cup between the Dublin and Sackville Clubs was played on 14 March and it is unlikely that the Leinster Championship would have commenced before this vital encounter. Of the eight games in the match four were adjourned and the last of these only finished on 4 April. In that game two former Leinster champions Norman H. Wallace (Dublin) and Charles J. Barry (Sackville) faced each other with Wallace finally winning after three sessions and ten hours play. Wallace’s win produced a four-all draw in the match and this was enough to secure the Armstrong Cup for Dublin but if Barry had managed at least half-a-point, this would have required the two teams to play a tie-match for the Cup, further encroaching on the available time until the end of the season.

So with all these developments, it is at least plausible that the Leinster Chess Union decided not to proceed with its individual championship. By now another hurdle was potentially in the way. The LCU had to organise the Irish Championship Congress (comprising the championship itself and a Major Open Tourney) in Dublin over the Easter holiday. On 28 March the LCU Council met to finalize arrangements with the dates set for 19 to 23 April. Again it is at least plausible that the LCU would want to concentrate on the major occasion in the Irish chess year and decide to set aside arrangements for the Leinster individual. One other point to make is that all the eventual entrants for the Irish Championship (the disappointingly small total of four, all from Leinster, from whom Baker emerged the winner) had all featured in the adjourned games from the Dublin-Sackville match.

So, on the evidence currently available, the balance seems to tip in favour of a verdict that there was no Leinster championship in 1927. However, further evidence may yet appear (the most likely place – and one I have not been able to consult – is in the Dublin Evening Herald which had a chess correspondent at that time).

So for now, in the Roll of Honour for the Leinster Championship, the listing for 1927 will have to read “Philip Baker or no championship held”.

After this rather lengthy speculation, P.J. Laracy has faded from view. However I mentioned his obituary and it actually makes very interesting reading: we learn his first name (reports on chess events always seemed to refer to him merely by his initials), his own eventful life is well if briefly chronicled and we find out he had a very interesting son-in-law. So here it is: (from the Irish Independent for 12 November 1960)

Mr. Patrick J. Laracy, M.B.E. Highfield Road, Rathgar, who has died, aged 78, was a former Assistant Accountant in the G.P.O. He retired in April 1947. During the first World War he served with the Third Royal Irish Regiment, with the rank of Lieutenant, in Flanders and fought on the Somme. He was wounded in March, 1917, and lost a leg.

A brilliant chess player, he was champion of Leinster in 1927 [this should read 1929 and 1931] and reached the final of the Irish championship on a number of occasions. [In fact only once would this apply – in 1929 he played in the Irish Championship qualifying tournament to decide who was to be the challenger to the title-holder Baker] He was a member of the Dublin Chess Club and also of the Rathmines club.

He is survived by his daughters – Mrs Ignazio Silone, Rome (whose husband is the well-known writer). Miss Cecily Laracy, Dr. Moira Quinlan and Mrs. Eithne Kavanagh, Dublin.”

One final point that should be added to the record: Laracy was undoubtedly at his most brilliant when he won the 1931 Leinster Championship: the Irish Independent reported that in his final game he beat Philip Baker to finish well clear of his seven opponents “with the remarkable high score of seven points.” It was an extremely strong renewal with his opponents including Baker (four times Irish champion), T.G. Cranston (who went on later than year to win the Irish title for the second time), C.J. Barry (many times Leinster champion) and two other previous Leinster champions, J.T. Gerrard and R.T. Varian.

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One Response to P.J. Laracy, Philip Baker and the 1927 Leinster Championship

  1. Pingback: A MacGuffin, a play-off and a foreshadowing | IRLchess

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