Myles na gCopaleen

The last post mentioned that Gerry O’Nolan, member of Dublin C.C. for fifty years, was a brother of the journalist/author Brian O’Nolan, better known as Myles na gCopaleen or Flann O’Brien. As Flann O’Brien he wrote several celebrated novels: At Swim-Two-Birds, The Third Policeman, and The Dalkey Archive. As Myles na gCopaleen he had a long-running column in the Irish Times, Cruiskeen Lawn, a strange mixture of satire and fantasy covering a wide range of stock characters and topics.

He doesn’t seem to have played chess seriously: J. J. Walsh recalls playing one or two offhand games with him, but that’s about it. However chess crops up occasionally in Cruiskeen Lawn. Here is one example. It’s taken from the Irish Times of Saturday, March 25, 1944. And from an actual copy of the newspaper, mind you, which I bought in San Francisco a couple of years ago. It bears the stamp “Office of Strategic Services”: that’s the precursor to the CIA. I wonder what they made of Myles na gCopaleen.

Anyway, on p. 3 we have:

By Myles na gCopaleen

It has been brought to my attention that an unfortunate misprint occurred in the notation of my chess game with Capablanca, recorded in this column a few weeks ago. I give the game again and thank the many anxious souls who have written to me on the matter, wrung up, sent telegrams, and called personally.

White— Black—
M. na gC. Capablanca
1.   P-K4 P-QKt3
2.   B-B4 B-Kt2
3.   P-Q3 P-KB4
4.   P x P B x P
5.   Q-R5 ch. P-Kt3
6.   P x P Kt-KB3
7.   B-7 mate

I would again counsel all serious students of the game to study this great game and commit it to memory. It is among the finer things done in the masterplay of yesterday.

That’s followed by a Keats and Chapman item that I’ve seen in anthologies: “On one occasion he [Chapman] dreamt that he had died and gone to heaven”, if you’re familiar with the genre.

[Click to replay the full game!]

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4 Responses to Myles na gCopaleen

  1. Martin Crichton says:

    quite a story teller beating Capa in 7 moves indeed lol . Ireland has a modern day Myles na gCopaleen in the form of world chess authority (600+ ICU rating) Mark Dennehy, pseudoname Sparks. I think he beat Kasparov in 6 moves? 😉

  2. Oliver Dunne says:

    Splendid discovery! That the greatest Irish satirist since Swift had even a passing interest in chess is real news. Perhaps he ran the details by his chess-playing brother before publishing.

  3. Ciaran Quinn says:

    On a somewhat related note:

    There was a discussion at the ICU AGM of the correct Irish language name of the Irish Chess Union. Currently the constitution specifies “Cumann Fichille na hÉireann” but the suggestion was made that this should be “Aontas Fichille na hÉireann” as suggested by An Coiste Téarmaíochta. I was looking into this this evening and I came across the following link: from the National Library. If you search for the word “chess” there is apparently quite a lot of material relating to the Oireachtas chess tournament dating from the 1940s to the 1980s.

    As regards the name, my thinking is that if you were translating “Irish Chess Union” to Irish today you would use “Aontas Fichille na hÉireann” – but back in 1912 you would probably have used “Cumann Fichille na hÉireann”, similar to Cumann na mBan, Cumann Lúthchleas Gael (GAA), Cumann Múinteoirí Éireann (INTO) etc. So I would vote for leaving it as it is.

  4. I haven’t had the opportunity to look at the entry lists mentioned in the National Library document, but using contemporary newspaper sources, I have compiled a complete list of the winners and additional details about the Oireachtas Championship at

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