|Midir and Etain
Early Irish Board Games
by Eoin Mac White
|Quiz #452 Results
|Answer to Quiz #452 - October 26, 2014
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Janice M. Sellers Cynthia Costigan
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The Fabulous Fletchers!
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|Clues in the Picture
|Celtic braids and patterns
|A woman awaiting the outcome
of the game
|Owing to the
meagre and vague
character of the
student who would
elucidate the nature
of the various board
games mentioned in
early Irish literature
must tread warily.
Not only is the
|So Close and Yet So Far...
|Ok! I am stumped.
Picture of an old(er) man wearing a gold crown dressed in voluminous
robes sitting on a chair/throne. Beside the throne are boxes containing
objects that could be treasures/property.
A younger man is seated across from the older man with a board game
using three columns and six rows, the younger man is dressed more
lightly, is well built and has a light beard. He is holding a game piece and
showing it to the older man.
Both men have a cup on the floor with a vessel that may hold a beverage.
A young woman with long blond hair is watching the men. She is dressed
in robes, wearing sandals, and sitting on a rug or fur skin.
On the wall is a tapestry with a circle enclosing eight circles.
There are blue draperies pulled back framing the tapestry.
On the floor in front of the woman is a brazier with fire. Behind the older
man is an elevated brazier with fire.
1. the room is cold.
2. The younger man is of a lower status than the older man.
3. The woman is the daughter of the older man.
4. The older man is a king.
5. The woman is a princess.
6. The princess has a vital interest in the outcome of the game.
7. The younger man is playing a game with the king, if he wins, he will
marry the princess.
8. The younger man is either explaining the game to the king, not very
likely since it is most likely that the game board belongs to the king.
Most likely the younger man is claiming the game by capturing the
critical piece ( The king in chess. )
9. The tableau presented in this picture could be from a fantasy story, or,
an illustration of a long ago moment in history.
Problems in solving this quiz.
1. I could not find the picture, so I have no context to work from.
2. In the history of chess I could not find an example of a 6 by 3 board
So, maybe a clue from you would help!
G'job Tom! You've figured out everything except the answers to the
three questions. Hint: What is the ethnic background of these people?
- Q. Gen.
|evidence slight and ambiguous but it is sometimes contradictory.
However some possibilities and probabilities can be shown, and a
few impossibilities likewise. One of the latter is the popular fallacy
that fidchell and brandub were chess or draughts.
Both fidchell and brandub are frequently mentioned in the saga
literature of the Ulster cycle, and fidchell is mentioned in the
Laws, which would bring us back to the seventh century at least.
The etymological identity of Old Irish fidchell with Old Welsh
gwyddbwyll might well bring us into prehistoric times. H.J.R.
Murray in his monumental History of Chess has demonstrated that
"European chess is a direct descendant of an Indian game played
in the seventh century with substantially the same arrangements
and methods as in Europe five centuries later, the game having
been adopted first by the Persians, then handed on by the Persians
to the Muslim world, and finally borrowed from Islam by
Draughts, whatever its exact origin was, cannot be traced back
beyond the thirteenth century, and some of its characteristics (viz.
the board and the idea of promotion) seem to have been borrowed
from chess. Thus both brandub and fidchell were current in
Ireland some five centuries before the introduction of chess into
Europe, and for a longer period before the invention of draughts.
What is probably the most valuable reference to the game [of
fidchell], is to be found in the tale of Mac da Cherda and
"Good," says Guaire, "Let's play fidchell." "How are the men
slain?" says Cummaine. "Not hard, a black pair of mine about one
white man of yours on the same line, disputing the approach on
the far side (?)" "My conscience, indeed!" said Cummaine, "I
cannot do the other thing (?), but I shall not slay (your men), you
will not slay my men." For a whole day Guaire was pursuing him
and he could not slay one of his men. "That is champion-like, o
cleric," said Guaire.
1. The identification of fidchell with chess goes back to the 15th
century in Ireland, as is shown by a gloss incorporated in the text
of a 15th century MS. of the Battle of Moyturra (Rev. Celt., xii, p.
79,#69). "But if chess (fidcheall) was invented at the epoch (?) of
the Trojan war, it had not reached Ireland then, for the Battle of
Moyturra and the destruction of Troy occurred at the same time."
The idea of chess as a Trojan invention gained currency from
Guido de Columna's Historia Troiana, a 13th century work which
was twice translated into English, once by John Lydgate (c.
2. The Cennchaom Conchobair ("the Fair-head of Connor") is not
a distinct board game but merely the proper name of Conchobar's
|Note that this week's quiz image is the creation of noted Irish artist Jim Fitzpatirck.
(No known relation of the Quizmaster General).