For many years a photo has sat on the top shelf of a press in our kitchen at home. The so-called 'press over the bread bin' has been the chosen repository for old family photos for as long as I can reall. Included among this treasure trove of precious family photos was a photo of the Newcastle cricket team which included my paternal grandfather, Michael Burke.
So begins Wielding the Willow, Adam Burke's deep delve into an almost-vanished history. Beginning with his grandfather's Newcastle team, one team leads to another, from Agher to Ardanew, Gilbertstown to Ginnetts, Rathcore to Rathrone, and beyond. He sets out to solve the mystery of the trophy in the photograph and ends up writing a history of a game which was widely played in his heartland of south Meath for almost a century.
What emerges is a picture of a game that extended beyond the preserve of the elite of Irish society and the British military. The author discovers in south Meath what is true of urban and rural areas throughout Ireland, that cricket was the game of the farm labourer and the general labourer in the decades after the Great Famine of the 1840s, and well into the following century.