The real tennis court features in a book about sports venues in Ireland. The book, Places We Play — Ireland’s Sporting Heritage (Mike Cronin & Roisín Higgins), was launched at the tennis court on Tuesday 25th October — and the IRTA was present, with some pictures and other information on a noticeboard, as well as some rackets and balls, all of which attracted a good deal of attention.
Indeed, the lead author made some very positive comments about the court and the hopes for its return to play — significant particularly given that the next speaker was the Minister for Arts, Culture, and the Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenihan (formerly holder of Fine Gael briefs on the OPW, and on Sport, and clearly interested in sport generally — as well as the GAA).
The book opens as follows. (Reproduced here with kind permission from the authors.)
Just off St Stephen's Green in Dublin, on Earlsfort Terrace, is the National Concert Hall. This building, and those surrounding it, were the original home of University College, Dublin. The university as a whole moved to its current site at Belfield from 1964, and closed its few remaining offices at Earlsfort Terrace in 2007. Despite this, the site has not been fully redeveloped, and many buildings retain the look and feel of a university campus. One building in particular seems more overtly abandoned since its former university use. This large brick building, with a pitched glass roof, and standing directly opposite the Conrad Hotel. It is not a particularly pleasing building, and it does not seem to have, at first glance, any aesthetic or architectural value. Inside it lies largely empty, having been used by the University, at various times, as a gymnasium and a chemistry laboratory. There are various lines and markings on the floor and walls of the building, and these, along with the excellent light that pours through the glass roof, give a few clues as to why the building was constructed, and why it remains, to this day, significant to Irish heritage. This building, constructed in 1885 by Edward Guinness, was, and remains, Ireland's only covered Real Tennis court. Guinness lived at 80 St Stephen's Green, and built the court in his back garden (the remainder of which, Iveagh Gardens, was given to University College, Dublin, in 1908). The solid-looking building was constructed with a brick facade, a marble-lined interior and vaulted skylight roof in glass. The court was held in such high regard that the 1890 Real Tennis world championship was played there, and won by British-born American Tom Pettit. In 1939, Rupert Edward Cecil Lee Guinness donated the court to the nation in the expectation that the court would remain in use. Unfortunately, University College, Dublin moved in and the court was used for other purposes. After the University's departure to Belfield, the Office of Public Works eventually indicated that they would assist the Irish Real Tennis Association in restoring the building and its court to a playable state. However, at the time of writing, the renovations have still not begun.
The book’s launch was covered in the national press (emphasis added):
From the Irish Times article, October 26, 2011:
From Ireland’s only real tennis venue, sitting unused and unloved on Earlsfort Terrace, to the country lanes of Cork and Armagh where road bowling still thrives, this is a book that takes us around the highways and byways of Irish sport.
From the Irish Independent article, October 16, 2011:
It’s a history of Ireland's sporting venues which manages to become a de facto history of Irish sport in all its manifestations, bringing us from the Aviva, Croke Park and the National Stadium to the bowling roads of Cork and Armagh, Ireland's only real tennis court, hunting lodges, swimming baths and handball courts.
— Roland Budd