In one quiet corner of west Waterford, the game survives.
There was a time when cricket was the sport of choice across broad swathes of Ireland, and there are still pockets here and there. Lismore Cricket Club is one such outpost, with a tradition in the sport that goes back a century and a half: club official Ben Huskinson says they’re “off the beaten path, off the beaten track, both in terms of geography and in terms of the sport itself”, and it’s a fair description.
How does a small club in a minority sport ride out a pandemic, though?
Is it tougher for the likes of Lismore CC than it is for bigger outfits in bigger sports?
For all its remoteness, the club’s good health before the virus even landed in Ireland meant it was strong enough to face the shock.
“In the last few years we were struggling a bit as a club,” says Huskinson.
“We were struggling to stay open, not just in getting players for the teams, but also in getting volunteers involved in the club.
“Obviously cricket isn’t a hugely popular sport locally - this part of west Waterford is dominated by hurling, Gaelic football and soccer, but one thing we’ve benefited from has been an influx of outsiders, particularly Indian players.
“A lot of them drive down from Clonmel to play, and we have some other nationalities who fall in with us as well - South Africans, Australians, New Zealanders in addition to a core from Lismore and the area who are interested.
“As a result we have about 50 players on our books, which in playing numbers is probably the strongest the club has been in membership in a long time - certainly in the last ten years.”
That’s where remoteness becomes a virtue. As a rare cricketing oasis in the region Lismore draws members from far and near: “We have enough players for two teams and the membership of those teams is pretty diverse - we have players coming to us from Fermoy, Clonmel, Waterford, Ardmore, Midleton . . . we have lads travelling distances to play for us, which is great.
“Because we’re one of only a couple of clubs in the locality, we’re obviously drawing in whatever number of people with an interest in the game there are in the locality. They’re so keen on the game, when they see an opportunity they’ll take it no matter what.
“And all of those new players are a great boost to the club. The Indian lads would be very passionate about the game and their commitment isn’t just about playing, they’re very good to keep the club up and running.”
The challenge of the lockdown takes different forms. Games are one issue, but another problem is even more basic.
“We haven’t been able to get into the ground for ages, so it looks like a bloody mess at the moment,” says Huskinson.
“There are weeds everywhere, which is one of the reasons we had a club day over the weekend - with members on hand to help out tidying it up and getting it ready.
“In fairness, the community spirit is strong in the club, a good mix of local and international members, and everyone mixes well. A good thing, too, because the playing area needs that attention.”
It’s their pride and joy. For every club playing an outdoor sport their ground is at the centre of everything, but for Lismore theirs is even more special.
“Our ground is different in that it’s not an artificial crease,” says Huskinson. “It’s an all-grass square, and I don’t know of another club in Munster which has that.
“We put a lot of effort into the ground, into maintaining the surface, and it’s a big part of the reason people come from all over to play here - because it’s a different experience.
“The plastic pitches are fine but they’re far more predictable than the grass pitch, there’s a bit more character and tradition involved in a surface like ours and players love it.”
Clubs are there to play sports, and the virus has had a big impact on their season.
“We’re seeing that in a couple of different ways. Our playing season would normally start in April and run through to September, which was something we weren’t able to do this year, obviously.
“As a province we’ve lost our league, so we don’t have our normal league and cup fixtures this year.
“We’ve gotten our protocols for return to play, and one thing is the limiting of contact with other teams - you can only play once over the weekend.
“As with other sports, players have to book slots for training, to be checked before being approved for play, all of that.
“But because cricket can go on for over five hours in its traditional form, the games have been shortened - we’ll be playing the T20 format, which is quicker.”
Another challenge is distance. The spread of clubs means local derbies aren’t an option in Munster cricket.
“All the clubs are dispersed across the province, and for distancing purposes we can’t travel together - every player has to travel in single cars as opposed to car-pooling, which we’d normally do.
“And that’s had an impact on who we can play against - Midleton, two of the Cork clubs, and that’s it.
“Other clubs are finding it tougher again - Waterford & District, who are based near the WIT Sports Campus in Carriganore, are going to shut down for the season, while we’re at least looking at playing a couple of games. It’s a very curtailed league but at least we’re playing.”
The encouragement also comes from the attitude of the membership: like every club, Lismore’s members recognise these are extraordinary times and have responded accordingly.
“People have been very good - we’ve had them paying their membership fees, and we’ve had a fifty per cent cut in fees to reflect what’s happened, but everyone has put their hands in their pockets to keep everything going - on and off the field.
“For instance, we could field three teams this year if we really wanted to, and that’s something we’ve never been in a position to do that before - and again, it’s down to people’s willingness to join and to travel fair distances to play.
“We were meant to be doing renovation work in the club and we’ll still be able to do that - the members haven’t walked away from that, they’ve stuck with it, which is great.
“That’s largely down to the newer players, too - the people who’ve become involved in recent years have been hugely enthusiastic about keeping everything going, which is great.”
Keeping going isn’t a vague notion for Lismore. Officially the club was founded in 1872 but history isn’t a matter of dusty records - it’s a vital part of its present and future.
Take the new logo recently launched by the club - it incorporates The Lismore Blue, a flower with a strong link to the locality and to the club in particular.
The Lismore Blue is a particular type of wood anemone that flowers in springtime in the glens north of the town: the blue colour variant of the flower is rare in the wild and was first collected and cultivated by Frances W. Currey back in the nineteenth century.
She was founder of the Water Colour Society of Ireland, and a noted botanist but her family lived in Lismore, and in the 1860s and 1870s Frances’ father F.E. Curry helped establish the cricket ground on the Castle Farm.
Her brother ‘Chet’ Currey was recorded as Hon. Secretary of the Club in 1872 and the family link to the town - and the club - survived through to 2016 with the death of their grandnephew Dermot Edwards at the age of 86.
Edwards joined Lismore CC in 1978 when he returned to the old family home in Bushfield, Lismore, and for the next 30 years dedicated much of his time to the maintenance of the grounds: he was elected Club President in the early 1990s and held that position until his passing.
Add in a new club jersey, and the tenacity of the club is in full evidence.
“We have minutes from meetings held in the 1870s, we’re very aware of the history of the club,” says Huskinson.
“Getting to 150 years old in two years’ time - that’s one of the reasons we’re renovating the club, and why we’re working so hard on getting through this and continuing. It’s very important to us.”