THE first batsmen to take the field in an "international" at the Mardyke were no less than WG Grace and WL Murdoch Both of course had captained their countries-England and Australia-at Test Level. Both were opening for London County and the opposition was Ireland; it was the only Ireland game of the 1903 season. A future and former England captain were also playing in that game; JWHT Douglas was with the visitors. Sir TC O'Brien was captaining the Ireland XI.

Timothy Cardew O'Brien was by then attached to Cork County and other County men on the Ireland XI were Hugh French and Pascoe William Grenfell Stuart. Ireland had a first innings lead of 54, helped in no small way by 50's from Stuart and O'Brien. However with Grace coming in for London County on 73 for five he duly held the Irish attack, scoring 24 runs in the second innings. Ireland were set a target of 140 in 45 minutes-the game ended with Ireland on 42 for five. Two days were insufficient for the game!

A view of the Mardyke during the 1993 Munster SeniorCup Final, with Sunday's Well in the background.

WG's contribution with the bat was 1 and 24 and it is said that he excused his relative failure by remarking "How could anyone be expected to play cricket in such beautiful surroundings". It would seem that the great man was occasionally concentrating on the cricket as when fielding at his usual spot, point, he appealed for an LBW decision. The umpire on hearing his appeal gave the batsman out. But not all present were impressed by the appeal: the then County President, Sir George St. J. Colthurst duly protested to WG, who tendered his apologies for the misdemeanour. Sir George had been both President and Captain of the Club since 1878. Some four years earlier Cork County Cricket Club had been formed at the Imperial Hotel. Of course the Cork Cricket Club had long since existed and the Mardyke had been home to cricket for a quarter of a century before County was formed.

Laurence postcard of the Mardyke, circa 1900.

It was during Sir George's tenure of office that the ground assumed the features associated with The Mardyke. Croquet and tennis were other games played on the premises but it was the Queen's College Athletic Club that assisted with ground improvements; many of the Queen's College cricketers subsequently played with County and many were athletes of note. The College Sports at the turn of the century were the most popular in Ireland with many Olympians competing and upwards of 20,000 spectators, each paying one shilling at the `gate'. Cork County cricketers who did well included John Henry Lambkin who regularly won the `cricket ball throw' in the 1870s with distances in excess of 90 yards. Likewise, College athletics personnel who played for County included CWL Alexander (IRFU President in 1909/10) and WA Cummins. Among the better known images of the Mardyke at the turn of the century actually shows the Mardyke during College Sport's Day. The elm trees, now sadly gone, were regularly pruned; the local climate it seems assisted rapid growth as many pictures show the trees in luxuriant foliage. Many newspaper accounts relate of spectators-"the Great Unwashed" as the Cork Constitution noted-securing the best vantage point from such heights.

What is now a hedge to the north, east and south of the ground is recent. A wooden fence was erected in the 1890's-this according to contemporary accounts to stop constant winds and associated cooling conditions. The Mardyke stream too has since been covered over.

The present `long room' dates from the International Exhibition of 1902, and of course is now a feature of the ground. Its very uniqueness adding charm to an already charming ground.

The 1900 Ordnance Survey Map shows a similar plan to what is the current situation; a portion of the ground to the east lies nowadays outside the confines of the grounds. Still that portion was used for hammer throwing and shot putting by Queen's College athletes so was unlikely to be part of the ground at the turn of the century! Likewise a section of the ground to the north is now used for practice nets. Still, the plan is remarkably similar to the present.

Few grounds can lay claim to have been used for cricket for 150 years; less can claim such outstanding natural features. Batsmen nowadays have more to contend with when facing the bowler; the sights of St. Vincent's when on the `Dyke Walk' end or the imposing features of University College Cork when on the `River' end, is more than sufficient to distract the most intense batsmen. The wicket ran the `other way' formerly-one wonders who thought up this extra distraction to batsmen?