In 2017, we connected 10 artists and multiple community groups over 100 workshops through our citywide arts and community programme Engage the City. Communities worked with our team of creative and magic-makers to share their stories, learn new skills and create amazing works of art. In this blog, artist Michelle McMahon reflects on her ‘Engage the City’ experience with members of ‘the Theatrical Cavaliers’, a citywide Dublin cricket club. Together with the guiding light of the National Library, Michelle and the Cavaliers delved into the treasure trove of cricket memorabilia archives and uncovered the coloured history of this social, and often theatrical, sport!
As we tidy the weight of our little lives and land away, a short stretch from the shortest day of the year, the heat of last summer is a fast evaporating memory. But this year, the better lit months of July and August, fizzing full of play, are baked into my senses; afternoons bleeding into evenings, figures of crisp white navigating blankets of short cut, rolled green, the potential threat of swimming and occasional medal pressure. Cooked up, these hook an extraordinary immersion in the community of Cavaliers’ cricket.
I had just shy of one season to digest as much as possible, and as with any community of players, the Theatrical Cavaliers have their own script. The direction was fast. It took multiple forms. There was the fundamentals – legitimate play of batting strokes and bowling tactics (played out in a lukewarm nets audition masquerading as a warm up, quickly quenching Michael’s talk of recruitment). Some of the advice I garnered continues to motivate me in everyday life too:
- How do you get on the boards? Practice, practice, practice
- Do in play what you do in practice
- Be the tallest version of yourself
- Technique (as with all else) begins in the mind
- Try a pas de deux (step of two in ballet) as you step up to bowl
- Cartwheel the arms
But as is often the way, it became obvious that the playing of the sport was where the mastery merely began. My attacking batting wasn’t terrible but I had as yet to navigate boundary etiquette, cricket history, rudimentary score keeping (and the general façade of just keeping up) as well as the the question of Yorkshire cricket. The drill of each required a distinct seasoning.
‘I came up here for some peace and quiet’, was one of the more resounding boundary broadcasts at The Phoenix Club one torrid August afternoon. For any spectator, the boundary is a glorious balcony on the world of cricket. From a different perch on different weeks, I sat for hours on end, cultivating a meditative weightlessness, which cruelly crumbled when I stepped up the sidelines to play (at playing). From there, I watched. I listened and I took notes (warranting my presence far more covert that it really was). I developed my own brand of pitch vision, and a particular barometer for measuring pressure – in competition, of the third wicket, and the effort to put pressure itself to good use. It appears that there is a fine line between sweating and leaking energy, so knowing how to court pressure is an essential skill; the foundations laid well in advance.
I swiftly grasped that the periphery of play is not exempt from the heavy lifting. It is here, in the sacristy of the Club House kitchen, watched over by the stations of the cricket cross, that the ritual of refreshment takes place – infusions of caffeine, sugar, oxygen and (to a lesser extent) protein. Be it a bag of rich tea biscuits, a handful of almonds, a sliver of room temperature cooled Guinness cheese cake, or a swig of tea stewed with several high quality tea bags, the role of replenishing is observed with a kind of porcelain perfection.
The literary history of cricket came later, with autumn in full crunch, Engage the City discovered that the National Library of Ireland had in their possession an extensive collection of cricket literature, pamphlets, images and annals. True enough, treasure abounds in the dusty Maunsell collection, with too many highlights yet to be discovered or covered here.
There are countless books of authority on playing the sport. It seems that 1924 was a seminal year for putting pen to paper. The sport, along with the wider world, was recovering itself from the destruction of war. A C MacLaren’s Cricket Old and New (a straight talk to young players) is urgent in its delivery. Intent on ‘clearing the air’ MacLaren asserts that he is in no mood to apologise.
‘It is not a question of incompetence’ he espouses. ‘If that were all there would be nothing to trouble about, for cricket cannot be expected to recover from the devastating effects of war in a few seasons’.
As ‘the trouble goes deeper’, he sets out his case for technique, tactic and temper across the chapters. The Drive, Square Cut, Late Cut, Short Arm Pull and Hook are meticulously sketched. And he devotes a noteworthy chapter to the experience and duty of a captain, advising:
‘While one does not want to coddle grown men, I think a captain has every right to advise his team very forcibly to keep away from billiard rooms and the bar at the end of a day’s play. Billiard rooms half filled with tobacco smoke are not conducive to good play on the morrow and I have always been under the impression that the less one motors during a cricket season, the better’.
In contrast E T Chapple’s Some Cover Shots takes a far more cerebral (arguably non-committal) tone. The author describes the game as a fine, physical art, nudging and coercing on technique and skill. He is poetic in his praise of this particular wicket keeper:
‘M D Lyon whose calmest in play would have moved even Wordsworth into a deeper stage of tranquillity…he seemed to peer over the wicket just as casually as you might look down the link to see if the train is coming’.
The quest to understand the origins of the Yorkshire cricket calibre is pursued at great length by a great many in this collection. Even the Yorkshire natives themselves. In my chats with Tim and Eric over the summer, one of most vivid images they conjured up was that of soon-to-be parents driving fervently to the north of England, fuelled by pride, intent on their child receiving an opportunity (granted by local birth) to play for the historic county. Here is the familial meaning of playing – where cricket is bred in the marrow, flows through the waters and has its own community shorthand. Among the Maunsell pamphlets (a Yorkshire Post publication) there is a record of an eighteenth century fixture between two Yorkshire clubs from the Quarry Gap, between whom feeling ran very high. The match prize was a lowly Fat Ox – the evening meal for the better team – and the play was fierce. It shares hallmarks of the motivation accompanying The Marlowe Cup battle, gallantly fought by the Cavs towards the end of the season.
Reflecting now, having read more of the history of community and cricket, I can see the value in the flow and fight of a closely played game. I understand why these games burn into the memory; why they are quicker to recall than the easy win, the star play, or a bruising defeat. It stands that what we build with others, for our collective good, will always hold most meaning. There joy is born, pride deepens, laughter rises, home is built and support stretches. It’s these moments that I’ve seen the Cavs play so hard for. Cricket was really just the metaphor for getting there. Michelle McMahon
Engage The City is a new programme by Dublin’s Culture Connects creating connections between artists and Dubliners through a variety of creative endeavours. With a team of artists, we are capturing the experiences of what Dublin is and what it could be; taking the temperature of how Dubliners are feeling and connecting people and place through cultural ideas.