Denis Irwin

Denis IrwinAround ten years ago, Denis Irwin gave an extensive interview to RTÉ as he was about to leave Manchester United after a glittering career there (1 European Cup, 7 Premier League titles and 3 FA Cups, among others), while also being a fixture of the Republic of Ireland team (56 caps).

At one point the topic came up of other games he had played, and he mentioned that he had played chess growing up, for Togher, and in 1978 the team won the Cork and Munster Community Games championships, and made it to Mosney for the national finals.

This account comes from my old team-mate Owen O’Mahony, who was watching the interview, and who immediately said to himself “1978? Community Games?? Togher???” and went and checked his old scorebooks. For believe it or not both Owen and I played Community Games also, and after several years of trying in a very tough Dublin competition, we finally made the breakthrough in 1978, so we were also at those same national finals. And when he checked, there it was: Irwin-O’Mahony, Togher v. St. Laurence’s, Community Games semi-final, board 2, played on September 3, 1978.

Irwin-O'Mahony, Community Games 1978It would be too much to expect a classic, and indeed the game hit a very strange passage from both players from moves 6-8. Irwin, then 12 years old, emerged a piece down with no prospects of complicating. How would you proceed, against a player rated 16-1700 or so? In the sequel he put up about as decent a struggle as could be expected. [Click to play through the full game.]

We won that match 3½-1½ and beat Castlebar in the final, though barely, requiring an adjudication to clinch it. The team: Seán Coffey, Owen O’Mahony, Brendan Lyons, Dermot Kennan, David Lanigan.

These Community Games competitions were enormously enjoyable, more so than any other chess competition I’ve played in. The chess was of variable quality but often highly dramatic, games didn’t take too long, and of course at those ages the joy of winning and the sting of defeat are felt much more keenly. I’m delighted to see from Rory Quinn’s blog that the competition is still going strong. Congratulations to Shannon, this year’s champions!

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8 Responses to Denis Irwin

  1. Pingback: Denis Irwin plays chess | Ennis Chess Club

  2. John McKenna says:

    Hi Sean,

    You mention Castlebar. I have the Connacht Community Games U16 Chess Cup (a very nice Cup too) sitting in my kitchen and Castlebar are down on it as having won it for….wait for it…..25 years in a row!

    • Sean Coffey says:

      Hi John,

      They had quite a strong side, with several of the MacDonnells playing–I think I played Gerard in the final. Though how that translates into 25 years is another matter: you’d have players winning who hadn’t been born when the run started.

      I’ve made a start at putting together records: see Any further details appreciated!

      • John McKenna says:

        Hi Sean,


        2006 Shannon
        2007-12 Ballinasloe

        Will check back further I know Knocknacarra Galway won possibly 2005 or 2004. I think shannon may have won 2005 and maybe Knocknacarra 2004 will check.

        I think Straffan won a few also in eary 2000’s

  3. Pingback: Just When We Thought Denis Irwin Couldn't Get Any More Amazing, We Discover A Fact Like This

  4. Martin Crichton says:

    Dennis was a year behind me in secondary school – Colaiste Chriost Ri in Cork…..A chess “Chriost Ri” team was set up circa 1980 and the top boards were Mel Kennedy (since changed his name to O’Cinneide) and myself on board 2. It is possible / highly likely that Dennis was also on the school chess team (he would have been 13 or 14 at the time) but I didn’t really know Dennis back then…it was only years later that I learned that he was a famous footballer at Manchester united.
    I remember we had one notable win against one of the stronger chess playing schools in Cork at the time – Christian brothers college and that we used to get away early from lessons if we had a chess match against another school.

  5. Martin Crichton says:

    Typo correction – Denis
    a bizzarre bit of info – Denis and I are the same age – Denis was born on 31-10-1965 and I was born 25-06-1965 but because I was born in June I was sent to school a year ahead of other children when I was 4 and most of the other kids in my class were 4 and a half or 5 years old so I actually finished my leaving cert exams when I was still 16 years old! Might have been a record of sorts for Chriost Ri.

  6. Mel Ó Cinnéíde says:

    Funny, I had much the same experience as Martin describes. Denis Irwin was a quiet lad in the Chríost Rí chess club that you wouldn’t really notice, and I never knew his fame as a soccer player until I saw him on TV one day playing for Ireland!

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