One hundred and twenty years ago, in the last week of May 1890, two athletes in their prime stepped into a marble-clad court in the centre of Dublin to play for the oldest World Championship in all of sport — that of Real Tennis. The court, which had been built just five years earlier by Sir Edward Guinness at his city residence Iveagh House, (now Dept. Foreign Affairs), was chosen as a neutral venue between Tom Pettitt (Boston) — the champion, and Charles Saunders (London). They played to packed galleries over three days before the former prevailed in a match that is chronicled as one of the greatest in the annals. Details and an artist's sketch can be seen elsewhere on this site (see Related articles below).

That famous court building still stands forlorn and empty — probably modern Dublin's least known sporting and architectural gem, though having suffered many vicissitudes in its chequered history. It was presented as a gift to the Irish State in 1939 in full playing condition with the cherished wish of its donor, Rupert Guinness, that it be available for play for the people of Dublin. Sadly that hope was never realised. Despite offers by players to maintain the court without burden to the state, its internal features were demolished, rendering it unplayable to this day. It is indeed ironic that in a year in which Dublin is feted as European Capital of Sport, it is without a playable Real Tennis court for the first time in 400 years since its first-mentioned court at Thomas Street in 1610.

Real Tennis is currently played in about fifty courts world-wide, and its current world-champion is the supreme Tasmanian native Robert Fahey, whose great-great-grandfather left Co. Galway in the post-famine years. What a pity that he cannot come to play in the land of his ancestors — to display the skills of his sixteen-year reign, and perhaps inspire a new generation of Irish players to excel in a sport they have been denied. Great stadia have risen on the Dublin skyline in the last decade aided by hundreds of millions in State subvention — would it be too great a vision that a small niche sport could have the comparative pittance needed to have its day in the sun once more?

— Ted Neville, 2010-06-10

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