Lord Dunsany

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Christopher Kreuzer
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Lord Dunsany

Post by Christopher Kreuzer » Fri Jan 22, 2021 9:39 pm

I was reading recently about Lord Dunsany (Wikipedia article) and I have also just read the excellent collection of quotes and similar cuttings at Edward Winter's site:

https://www.chesshistory.com/winter/extra/dunsany.html

The questions I have are:

(1) Does anyone here have living memories of Lord Dunsany and his chess?
(2) How good a chess player was he?

The Wikipedia article has the claim that he was "chess [...] champion of Ireland", but I can't really find any justification for this in any sources after a quick look. Can anyone help?

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Christopher Kreuzer
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Re: Lord Dunsany

Post by Christopher Kreuzer » Fri Jan 22, 2021 11:02 pm

After a bit of digging, I found a 1979 publication that has this and other dubious claims.

In Irish Masters of Fantasy: An Anthology (ed. Peter Tremayne, Merlin Publishing, Dublin, 1979), page 208:
He became shooting champion of Ireland. But he was also a reflexive man and a chess enthusiast who won the chess championship of Ireland and even managed to take the world chess championship.
I would normally stop there, and just discount the claims as bogus having originated from this publication. But Peter Tremayne is the pseudonym of Peter Berresford Ellis, who if his Wikipedia article is correct does have a background in academic writing, so you would think he wouldn't make such a silly claim that Dunsany took "the world chess championship".

Bit puzzling, really.

Digging a bit further, the slightly more accurate account in Literary Swordsmen and Sorcerers: The Makers of Heroic Fantasy by Leon Sprague de Camp, on page 58 says:
In 1924, Dunsany won the chess championship of Ireland. He once played the invincible Capablanca to a draw.
So that is probably the right year to look into.

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Re: Lord Dunsany

Post by Christopher Kreuzer » Fri Jan 22, 2021 11:15 pm

Sport and Ireland: A History by Paul Rouse is much more reassuring (Rouse is "a lecturer in the School of History and Archives at University College Dublin. He has written extensively on the history of sport in Ireland for more than twenty years.") and it is published by OUP.

On page 252 we have the intriguing:
And finally, there were three chess tournaments, the most important of which was won by Lord Dunsany; the myth was still being peddled that the Irish invented chess.

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Christopher Kreuzer
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Re: Lord Dunsany

Post by Christopher Kreuzer » Fri Jan 22, 2021 11:23 pm

Disappointingly, it may have been the 'Major' tournament he won:

"The chess tournament was one of the tournaments held in Dublin in the summer of 1924 in connection with what were called the Tailteann Games, and the one that I entered for was the Major Tournament."

(This is a direct quote from While the Sirens Slept, the 1944 autobiography by Lord Dunsany.)

I wonder if he entered chess tournaments under the name Edward Plunkett?

Nothing on the irlchess.com site, though there is a reference to a "Dunsany Premier" in 1941.

The list here (which I should have consulted first):

http://www.irlchess.com/tournaments/iri ... pionships/

...says Philip Baker won in 1924.

(Btw, these Tailteann Games were part of promoting the new Irish Free State.)

From here:

https://irishchesshistory.wordpress.com ... y-premier/
In 1941 the Irish Chess Union organised the Dunsany Premier Tourney as a replacement tournament for the Irish Championship when Ulster players had difficulties in travelling during World War 2. It was only held once.
I presume it was named after Lord Dunsany (sponsored by him?) but there are no further details.

Does anyone know if David McAlister (who maintains that site) reads or posts here?
(I looked this up and sent him a PM.)

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Re: Lord Dunsany

Post by Leonard Barden » Fri Jan 22, 2021 11:38 pm

In reply to 1) above, I played in the Hastings Premier in 1950-51 when Dunsany at the opening ceremony read his poem which began "Silence. And Silence still" and ended "the chessboard, like the sea, has untold mysteries".

At least, that's the official version. But I was troubled by it because my personal memory, which may be faulty, of the occasion is that Dunsany did not read out his own poem-maybe a throat ailment- and had it read for him by the congress organiser Arthur Rider, who produced a inspiring verbal peroration for the final line.

Didn't do me much good, though, as I lost my first two games tamely to Rossolimo and O'Kelly.

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Re: Lord Dunsany

Post by Christopher Kreuzer » Fri Jan 22, 2021 11:43 pm

That's a great anecdote Leonard. Can you remember what he was like as a chess player - was he treated as someone famous outside of chess, or just as a chess player, if you know what I mean (or a bit of both)?

You have reminded me that his poems (there are several on Winter's webpage) are much more inspiring than trying to uncover snippets of chess history (it turns out what I needed was on the Wikipedia page for the Tailteann Games).

EDIT: The page on Winter's website has a photo of Dunsany at the Hastings tournament Leonard mentioned.
Last edited by Christopher Kreuzer on Sat Jan 23, 2021 12:23 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Lord Dunsany

Post by Christopher Kreuzer » Fri Jan 22, 2021 11:53 pm

Just to finish off the '1924 champion' bit, from the Tailteann Games (Irish Free State) (Wikipedia article):
Run in conjunction with the Irish Chess Union, there were three competitions, the overall competition was won by the reigning Irish Champion Philip Baker, the Major Competition was won by Lord Dunsany, with Aaron Sayers as runner-up. Dublin Chess Club provided its premises and equipment for use for the Competitions.
Note that Rouse (see above) is the source for part of this, from a 2016 article in The Irish Examiner - there will probably be more over the next few years as Ireland celebrates the centenary of its, um, founding (I shouldn't go too much into this, but something called the 'decade of centenaries' is how Ireland is handling commemoration of the events between 1913 and 1923, or maybe 1916 to 1926, I forget which. It is interesting, though sometimes depressing to see how this is panning out, especially in light of Brexit and so on).

Anyway, just as a warning, even entries in something like the Dictionary of Irish Biography for Dunsany:

https://dib.cambridge.org/viewFullScree ... name=a7381

...get this slightly wrong, but it is a nice coda to this (bolded bit my emphasis):
he was a hunter, a storyteller, a chess player, and a maker of puzzles – all activities requiring the ability to anticipate and manipulate the opponent's response. Dunsany acquired a love of chess at school, and at times found it so intense that he feared it would absorb his life. He was president of the Kent Chess Association and won the chess tournament at the 1924 Tailteann games.

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Re: Lord Dunsany

Post by Christopher Kreuzer » Sat Jan 23, 2021 12:05 am

The promised Dunsany chess poem, that Winter calls "perhaps the finest chess poem ever written". In Winter's words "It marked the death of R.H.S. Stevenson and was published on page 74 of the April 1943 BCM":
Lord Dunsany wrote:One art they say is of no use;
The mellow evenings spent at chess,
The thrill, the triumph, and the truce
To every care, are valueless.

And yet, if all whose hopes were set
On harming man played chess instead,
We should have cities standing yet
Which now are dust upon the dead.
For a good summary of Rufus Henry Streatfeild Stevenson and his connections, see the account here by John Saunders on Britbase.

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Re: Lord Dunsany

Post by Christopher Kreuzer » Sat Jan 23, 2021 12:31 am

Have found that Hastings chess poem:
Lord Dunsany wrote:
The Sea and Chess

Silence. And silence still.
Then one long roller breaks,
And Hastings' houses fill
With the wild sound it makes.

Silence again. The sea,
Though it may seem to sleep,
Is still the vast and free
Inscrutable old deep.

Who shall entirely scan
All its mysteriousness?
Even the mind of man
Has deeps beyond our guess.

So, when a move has brought
Some strategy in sight,
We cannot plumb the thought
That brought that move to light.

And, small although it be,
And missed by careless eyes,
A chessboard, like the sea,
Has unplumbed mysteries.

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Gerard Killoran
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Re: Lord Dunsany

Post by Gerard Killoran » Sat Jan 23, 2021 4:09 pm

Here's the press report for 1924

Sport (Dublin) - Saturday 23 August 1924 p3.png
Sport (Dublin) - Saturday 23 August 1924 p3.png (279.75 KiB) Viewed 773 times

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Re: Lord Dunsany

Post by SeanCoffey » Sat Jan 23, 2021 4:20 pm

Lord Dunsany never won an Irish championship, and never seems even to have played in one. (Cf. http://www.irlchess.com/irish-champions ... habetical/)

He was President of the Irish Chess Union for many years (I don't have exact dates) and he indeed won the Major tournament (second section out of three) at the Tailteann Games in 1924, with the Irish champion Philip Baker winning the Championship (top) section. (Contemporary source: Freeman's Journal, August 18, 1924 p. 7.)

I thought he would have an Edo historical rating, but no, he doesn't seem to be listed.

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Re: Lord Dunsany

Post by David McAlister » Sun Jan 24, 2021 11:11 pm

Regarding the 1924 Tailteann Games Major Championship, there were two preliminary groups of 8 players each. Lord Dunsany qualified from section A despite losing twice. In winning the six-player final, he only dropped a half-point to Orr.

He played on Board 8 in the 1929 Dublin v Belfast Inter-City match. My article on that match (which includes both a game and a short speech from Dunsany) can be found at the Ulster Chess Union website: https://www.ulsterchess.org/archives/ti ... lfast-1929

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Re: Lord Dunsany

Post by Leonard Barden » Sun Jan 24, 2021 11:28 pm

Dunsany seems around a 130-140 player judging by this game.

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Re: Lord Dunsany

Post by Christopher Kreuzer » Mon Jan 25, 2021 4:03 am

Thank you, David, for the article (fascinating!). Maybe there are other games of his around (but maybe not if only games between stronger players tended to get published)? I wonder if it would be OK to post the moves of the game here in this thread? Chessgames only have the Capablanca simul display game. Dunsany was about 21 when he succeeded to the title - not sure what he was called before then (I don't think there would have been a subsidiary title). We know he acquired his love of chess at school, but was that at Cheam (preparatory) School (in Headley, Hampshire), or was it at Eton? Maybe Eton have records of him playing chess?

EDIT: The 1972 biography of Dunsany by Mark Amory (possibly the same Mark Amory that was literary editor of The Spectator) has some tantalising hints. The index has an entry for when he started chess. And a page on the Capablanca simul arranged by Selfridges. Amory gives a comment by Dunsany's uncle, the prominent politician Horace Plunkett, where Uncle Horace is said to have said "my criticisms of his mistakes will I expect greatly improve his game". Uncle Horace was, in all likelihood, a much better player, as he played in the Varsity matches of his time (board 1 for Oxford way back in 1876), see here on BritBase and here at the Irish chess history blog. Uncle Horace played in the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th Varsity matches.

(Of course, the Dunsany autobiography will also have lots more.)

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Matt Mackenzie
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Re: Lord Dunsany

Post by Matt Mackenzie » Mon Jan 25, 2021 3:42 pm

The question of whether he was ever *really* chess champion of Ireland could of course be raised on his Wikipedia page.

(I assume somebody here will be a registered user there)
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