Ireland’s Curling History

Last week we brought you news of the Irish Curling team taking part in the European Senior Championships in Denmark but for many of our readers, little is known about the sport, its history and future aims.

As we said then it is an all Ireland team, though several of the team reside in Scotland. Here the ICA provide a brief history of the game in Ireland and its long established links with Scotland. In our third and final
article we will tell you more about the history of Curling in Scotland where stars like 21 years old Eve Muirhead are household names – as indeed she is throughout the world.

The Irish Curling Association (ICA) was formed in 1994 by a group of Irish expatriates living in Scotland. Since then, it has been granted recognition by, first the Scottish Royal Caledonian Curling Club (RCCC)), then the Irish Olympic Council (and after ten years finally the European Curling Federation and the World Curling Federation. The ICC participates in a variety of events from club games to RCCC competitions, Four Nation friendlies and most importantly at international level representing our country.

Curling was well established in Ireland in the 1800s – the Belfast Curling Club was a founder member of the RCCC in 1841, and played friendly matches against Ardrossan Castle Curling Club. There were also clubs at Clandeboye and at Kiltonga (Newtownards). All of these clubs played on outdoor ice, but none managed to continue curling after 1904. So in 1994 the ICA re-introduced curling to Ireland after a gap of almost a century.

ICA re-established the fixture between Belfast and Ardrossan Castle Curling club , which is possibly the world’s oldest international inter-club fixture in any sport! It was first played in the 1850s, and revived in 1995 at Harvie’s Ice Rink in Ayrshire. The original medal was found in the Ardrossan trophy cabinet and now forms part of a new trophy. The new millennium saw Ardrossan curlers return to Belfast for the first time since 1861, and the ICA curlers won the trophy.

Although the ICA is open to all curlers with an Irish connection, only those who meet World Curling Federation criteria (birth, parentage, grandparents or residence) qualify to curl for Ireland at international level. The ICA has six member clubs:
* Belfast (for those with Belfast connections)
* Clandeboye and Kiltonga (for those from County Down)
* Bann (for those from Counties Antrim, Armagh and Derry)
* Leinster (for curlers from and with connections to the Province of Leinster)
* Atlantic (for curlers from Munster and Connacht,plus Fermanagh and Donegal)
* Ailsa Craig (for Scottish residents whose parents passed Ailsa Craig island en route for Scotland!)

Annual club fixtures include various Bonspiels and the Irish Playdowns. All are mostly played at Hamilton in Scotland (the most central rink for most current ICA members) but the ICA are currently looking at several new initiatives e.g:.

1) the establishment of regular club curling in Ireland
2) involvement in any new ice rinks opened in Ireland to encourage curling facilities.
3) greater participation in the World and European championships, and in the Winter Olympics

So that is where the sport of curling is at now insofar as Irish participation is concerned – where now?

Like any sporting organisation the ICA needs additional support from Government and/or additional sponsors. Whilst the Irish team is required to play almost all of its fixtures in Scotland there is also a need to recruit more young – and not so young – recruits with Irish qualifications. With a huge Irish support in Scotland, particularly in Glasgow and surrounding regions there must be considerable scope to attract new recruits to the Irish cause . But that of course means more funds and above all facilities are needed in Ireland.

The first (albeit unofficial) international event was in the Ford World Curling Championships held in April 2000 in Glasgow, Scotland. Running alongside the main event were the World Seniors, a competition open to curlers aged 50 and over. A very successful adjunct to the main competition. Although Ireland did not win the event, the teams enjoyed competing and our goal to participate fully in international curling was one step closer.

Ireland has now competed in a number of international events and performed extremely well. In 2004, in our first season eligible for competing in International events, our men’s team gained unprecedented success by winning the silver medal in the ‘B’ League at the European Championships held in Sofia, Bulgaria. This earned us a place in the A section in the 2005 European Championships in Germany competing against Europe’s elite teams.Since those early internationals the men’s team has had some good international wins whilst the women’s side is also on the up despite having had a few defeats in 2011.

There is also a need for many young women to participate in the sport. A look through the archives of any major reference library or museum will show just how difficult it was for women to breakthrough the barriers in years gone by.
The extracts here are from archives of Dumfries Museum and local media.

The earliest recorded womens’ match occurs in the Dumfries Weekly Journal of 7th January 1823. It recounts a game at Sanquhar in which,

“the sides were pretty numerous, and composed exclusively of women – the wives against the lasses. After the match the women curlers followed tradition and retired to the local inn, How the husbands relished this unusual display of masculine prowess, and convivial dispositions, on the part of their wives, need not be enquired into. A similar occurrence has not happened since”.

“Despite the early pioneers, in 1890 the Rev John Kerr of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club commented :
“Ladies do not curl – on the ice. The Rational Dress Association has not yet secured for them the freedom that is necessary to fling the channel stane”.

However he was to be surprised during the first Scottish curling tour to Canada in 1902 when the team he captained not only met with women curlers but were beaten by them on three occasions!

And finally this extract also from the ‘Dumfries Weekly Journal of 1826:

“On Tuesday last, 28 blooming damsels met on Dalpeddar loch, in the parish of Sanquhar, to play a friendly bonspiel. They formed themselves into two rinks, and although wading up to the ancles(sic) in water, seemed to enter into the spirit of the game, and to contest it with as much intense anxiety as if the question that the losing party should all die old maids had depended upon the issue… and as the ladies, like true curlers, had resolved to adjourn to the toll-house, where a het pint (literally a ‘hot pint’) had been ordered, …our heroines resorted to whisky toddy. It may be true that there is no good reason why females should not have their hours of recreation as well as men, but it seems advisable that these recreations which they do engage in should be of a character befitting their sex.
Ice playing is certainly not a game of this description – it has nothing feminine pertaining to it either in theory or practice. If, therefore, prudence and propriety are to be consulted, the fair maidens of the lower end of Sanquhar parish will not again resort to the same expedient for obtaining a day’s relaxation and enjoyment”

Quite what the Rev Kerr and his congregation would have said about the introduction of women’s boxing in the 2012 London Games is but a matter for conjecture whilst it is seems safe to say he would not have approved of how the women are attired for Beach Volleyball on

Horseguards Parade.


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