Squash – like Cricket, Golf, Rowing, Rugby and Tennis – was an avidly middle-class sport in Ireland for most, if not all, of the twentieth century. These sports were reserved almost exclusively for middle-class men who had the leisure time and spare cash to fund such pastimes.
Squash evolved out of an older game called rackets and was first played at the prestigious Harrow School in England around 1830. The world’s first squash courts were built there in 1864. From the outset, the game was “exclusive to the well-to-do and upper middle classes ; squash players either belonged to an athletic club or had private courts built on their estates” according to historian Robert Crego.
I recently came across an annual report for the year 1969-70 from the Leinster Squash Rackets Association. There were fifteen clubs in the association of which fourteen were based in Dublin. Seven are still active today.
As expected, nearly all of the clubs were located on the Southside and were based around traditional white-collar industries (Aer Lingus, Bankers and Guinness), hospitals (Coombe, Mater and Rotunda), existing exclusive sports clubs (tennis, cricket, rugby) and city’s two universities.
The clubs were:
Aer Lingus, made up of employees of the airline, who used squash courts at Baldonnel Aerodrome. The club is still in existence, is a member of the Leinster association and now plays at the Airport Leisure Social Athletic Association (ALSAA) grounds beside Dublin Airport.
Baldonnel, made up of members of the Irish Air Corps, also used courts at Baldonnel Aerodrome. An Irish Press article (18 January 1961) noted that the Defence Forces “has at its disposal nearly as many squash courts as the Irish Squash Association”. They were Curragh (3), Baldonnel (2), Gormanstown (2), Spike Island (1) and Collins Barracks, Cork (1). Their squash club was founded in 1935 and seemed to have wound down in the mid 2000s.
Bankers, made up of those employed in the banking profession, had their own squash court at the Bankers Club, 92-93 St. Stephen’s Green. The Irish Bank Officials’ Association and their social club were based on Stephen’s Green from 1921 to 2006 when they moved to a modern premises on Upper Stephen’s Street. The Bankers squash club does not seem to be active anymore.
Coombe Hospital, made up of employees in the hospital, had their own courts on the premises. As late as the mid 2000s, Coombe had a team in the Leinster Veterans League.
Fitzwilliam Lawn Tennis Club had their own courts at Wilton Place where they were based from 1880. In 1969 they moved to a four and a half acre site bounded by Winton Road and Appian Way. The club is still active and is a member of the Leinster Squash league.
Guinness, made up of employees of the Brewery, had their own courts at St. James Gate. Employers built a sports ground in front of the brewery providing a cricket pitch, bowls green, tennis courts and net ball facilities. Employees also had access to a swimming pool and a gym. Their squash club does not seem to be still active.
Leinster Cricket Club had their own court at their club in Rathmines. Founded in 1852, they also have tennis, squash, table tennis, bowls and cricket facilities. Their squash club an active member of the Leinster league.
Mater Hospital, made up of employees of the hotel, had their own courts on the premises. The club is still an active member of the Leinster League.
Old Belvedere Rugby Club had courts at their grounds on Anglesea Road. Founded in 1930 as an exclusive club for past pupils of Belvedere College, the club became ‘open’ to all players in 1976. The club is still an active member of the Leinster League.
Rotunda Hospital, made up of employees of the hotel, had their own courts on the premises. The club is no longer an active member of the Leinster League.
Triflers were a second team of Guinness employees and were also based at the St. James Gate Brewery. The club was active from at least the 1930s to the 1970s.
Trinity College had courts on campus and is still an active member of the Leinster League. The Dublin University Squash Rackets Club was founded in the 1930s.
University Club had courts at their premises at 17 Stephen’s Green. The private members club merged with the Kildare Street Club in 1976 and appears to have wound down its squash club in the 1980s.