As part of its ongoing campaign to have the Dublin court restored to play, the IRTA submitted the following appeal.


1.0 Request for Oral Hearing.

1.1 The Appellant requests the consideration of the Board in granting an oral hearing for the following reasons.

1.2 The building is one of "significant architectural, historic and perhaps scientific interest" --- Duchas 30/06/98.

1.3 The building is one of considerable national and international importance by virtue of its original design and use as a Tennis (Real Tennis) court --- just 42 of which are in play in the world.

1.4 The building formed part of a private bequest to the Irish State in 1939. The stated wish of its donor, in respect of the continued use of the court for its original purpose has not been honoured, and this appeal represents the first opportunity for citizens of the State to make a case to an independent national statutory arbiter.

1.5 The applicant (stated on front page) has declined to respond to written requests of the appellant for discussion of the proposed development. It is desired to query the applicant on the propriety of the development.

1.6 A payment of 60 has been made in respect of this request.

2.0 Summary of Grounds of Appeal.

2.1 The appellant objects to the change of use contemplated in the proposed development, because it is not for the original design and use of the building i.e. for playing of the sport of Real Tennis.

The decision of the local authority allows this change of use, which we believe strongly, will, in effect, remove it from play for the foreseeable future if not forever.

2.2 This appeal is comprised of three sections:

  • Historical overview
  • The propriety and necessity of the proposed use.
  • As Real Tennis is the only other, and the only valid use advanced for the building we submit reasons why it is now opportune and viable for the building to be restored to its original design and use.

References are made to Appendices 1--6. [Unfortunately these appendices are not available in this on-line version of the appeal.]

2.3 Explanation / Terminology

  1. We use the descriptions "Guinness Real Tennis Court", "Real Tennis Court" or "Tennis Court" to mean the building referred to by the applicant as "former gymnasium building" - the subject of 0624/98. These are descriptions commonly used by followers of the sport, and those informed of its correct identity.
  2. Tennis is the original and correct name of the sport; the prefix "Real" only adopted when the sport of "Lawn Tennis" largely dropped its own correct prefix.
  3. "We" as used in the text can be taken to mean the committee of the Irish Real Tennis Association, itself abbreviated to I.R.T.A.

3.0 Historical Overview of Court

3.1 The Construction

Sir Edward Cecil Guinness (later 1st Earl of Iveagh) constructed the court in the grounds of his Dublin city residence, 80/81 Stephens Green (Iveagh House) in 1884/85.

It was designed by William Wesley Wilson, engineer at the Guinness family brewery at St. James' Gate, and based on drawings for a court owned by Lord Wimborne at Canford Magna, Dorset U.K. That court survives in play to this day and forms part of the facilities of a public school operated in the former stately home.

The Dublin court therefore has a surviving and thriving twin, and the most obvious physical similarity which links the two is the huge expanse of glazing provided in the roof for natural illumination (refer photograph). What made the Dublin court unique however among all those ever constructed across the world was the choice of material for the playing surfaces (floor and walls).

Black Galway limestone cut into large slab panels was sourced from the Merlin Park quarries near Galway city. These panels were polished to a marble finish producing a remarkable but also highly practical effect in aiding visibility of the speeding white ball.

The floor panels were laid on transverse "trellis-walls", and fitted with a precision which provided a seamless playing surface of standard dimensions 95ft by 30ft.

3.2 The Play

A professional, Frank Jewell, was appointed (as is customary in all Tennis courts), who had trained at the famous Princes Club in Hans Place, London (destroyed in the blitz WW2).

Little is known of the playing activity at the court but many of the great professionals based in the UK are recorded as having come there to play.

In 1890 just five years after its construction a singular honour was bestowed on the Guinness Court - it was awarded the World Championship Challenge Match between defending champion Tom Pettitt (Boston USA) and Charles Saunders (London).

In the last 150 years only 9 courts across the world, of over 60 available in that time, have hosted the World Championship. Only 6 of these now exist, 5 in play??and Dublin

3.3 The Bequest

In the summer of 1937 Eamon de Valera, Taoiseach and Chancellor of the National University of Ireland, initiated inquiries via a Mr. Cox (Solicitor) as to whether the then 2nd Lord Iveagh, Rupert Edward Guinness would sell the Iveagh House and gardens complex.

Lord Iveagh declined by letter on 08/06/1937.

On 04/05/1939 Lord Iveagh wrote to Eamon de Valera offering the Iveagh complex by way of a gift to the Nation.

On 17/05/39 the bequest offer was accepted by Cabinet and de Valera wrote to Iveagh in confirmation.

On 08/07/39 Iveagh invited de Valera to visit Iveagh House for a personal tour of the building, which Mr. de Valera did not attend but sent officials.

On 01/08/39 Mr. Robert McNeile wrote to Mr. de Valera on behalf of players using the Tennis court at that time requesting retention of the court for play, offering a demonstration match, and offering to form a club to run the court as a playing facility. These offers were not accepted.

Concern for the future of the court was expressed in a feature article in the Irish Times, which also published a letter from a Col. Darley in Co Kildare seeking its retention.

During 1940 Mr de Valera involved himself in the correspondence as to the future use of the Iveagh complex and in particular the decision to convey use of the "Covered Court" (sic), by lease from the OPW to UCD.

Rupert Guinness had been concerned as to the future use of the site, and specified in his letter of offer to Eamon de Valera that the Iveagh Gardens remain "unbuilt on", as a "lung" for Dublin.

He also stated his clear wish for the future of the Tennis Court.

"I am, of course, loath to think of the tennis court being destroyed as it is unique in its way, and might be appreciated by players in Dublin"..

Note: References used above are sourced from files at the National Archives of Ireland.

3.4 The Destruction

Soon after the bequest the destruction began: The marble "battery walls" and the timber penthouses were demolished to clear the full floor area. (Ref. Appendix 1).

Rupert Guinness lived to 93 years of age. Some years after his death in 1967, further intrusions of the most crass and expedient kind were made by the OPW and UCD. Steel beams were driven into the marble walls to support an office structure at the western end of the court, block walls were built on the marble floor, and heavy engineering laboratory equipment placed on it.

The destruction of the court playing area was now complete.

4.0 The Historical Justification for Retention of the Tennis Court

4.1 The building was designed for a very particular, and relatively rare purpose and use - the playing of Real Tennis.

Such courts are relatively expensive to construct in terms of courts for other sports (e.g. squash, handball).

Where they exist throughout the world they are greatly cherished, and very many which fell into disuse through the 20th century have recently been re-opened for play, and indeed thrive in their proper use. (E.g., Newmarket, Suffolk, UK; Jesmond Dene, Newcastle, UK; Bridport, Dorset UK; Fontainebleau, France; Georgian Court, New Jersey USA.)

4.2 No tennis court anywhere in the world has been converted from use for tennis to any other use in the last 50 years. The Dublin court itself would have been one of the last. In fact the trend has been in the completely opposite direction in recent years.

For the court in Dublin to now be further removed from the possibility of play, with the attendant expenditure of a very large sum of money in doing so, is without parallel anywhere else in the world. It has beggared the belief of tennis and many other sports and conservation people.

4.3 The court came into the ownership of the Irish State in a very special way. It was given by bequest by a private citizen, Rupert Guinness, the 2nd Earl of Iveagh.

It formed part of the complex comprised of his residence at 80/81 St. Stephens Green, the Iveagh Gardens, and some other ancillary buildings adjacent to the court.

The two major parts of the bequest, the house and gardens have been used by the State for purposes appropriate to their function and in recognition of Lord Iveagh's stated wishes (refer letter Iveagh to de Valera).

The house is used by the staff of the Department of Foreign Affairs; the reception rooms including the great Ballroom used for reception, and functions involving State guests.

The gardens are maintained as such (and indeed at present undergoing further enhancement by the OPW) and are open to the public to be enjoyed as Lord Iveagh wished, as a 'lung' for Dublin.

The Tennis court, singularly and to any reasoned observer, has suffered the most appalling misuse particularly in the last 25 years.

It has never been made available to the Irish public (as were the gardens) for their enjoyment in its original state and purpose.

Lord Iveagh in the good spirit of a donor, placed few binding restrictions on the Stage in the use of the bequest, and stated many of his wishes in terms which he must have believed would not be disregarded or dishonoured by the State in its subsequent use.

Indeed the paragraph stating his wish to see the Tennis court retained, begins with language which suggests that he could not contemplate any other course of action being taken, so obvious and proper was it to keep it in use for the players of the time (and future generations).

The paragraph states "I am, of course, loath to think of the Tennis court being destroyed, as I think it is unique in its way and might be appreciated by players in Dublin".

With the ease of travel in subsequent years, that use and enjoyment could have indeed been availed of by many players other than those in the Capital.

We believe Lord Iveagh would scarcely have believed that his wish would be summarily disregarded from the outset.

His belief that a State which rightly reconstructed the architectural fabric of its capital city after the ravages of unrest in the 1920's, would likewise respect and value the Tennis court, was sadly misplaced.

We believe the State should act properly, not merely when compelled by the legal strictures of a bequest, but in recognition of the ethically right thing to do, attendant on the wishes of the donor.

4.4 The State has never recognised that responsibility, or responded properly to those who sought to inform it in 1939 or in the present day.

Citizens of the modern Irish society have a much greater awareness of their inheritance; both the natural environment and built heritage.

Indeed voluntary groups have saved and restored a number of important local features with State help e.g. Bealick Mill, Macroom, Stephenstown Pond, Co Louth etc.

The fate of buildings in the control of the State however, has hitherto been subject to the absolute discretion of the Commissioners of Public Works. While this discretion has for the far greater part been exercised to good effect, specialist facilities such as the Tennis court suffer from a lack of appreciation and knowledge of their true worth, which might have saved them.

We now welcome the opportunity to spread that knowledge and to challenge the proposed development of the OPW, arising from recent legislative changes.

5.0 Decision Order No. P5088, Dublin Corporation 11/11/98

5.1 We state at the outset that we disagree with this decision, as it will remove the court from the possibility of play now, and in reality, probably for all time.

5.2 Reversibility (see also 8)

Much emphasis is placed in the 'conditions' of the permission on the concept of 'reversibility' of the conversion for Tennis.

The promotion of 'reversibility' is in reality a clear recognition that the building is, in fact, something else entirely other than a Recital Hall, which represents an intrusion on its true character.

We believe that recognition should be carried to a logical conclusion, and the court restored now.

Given that a key rationale advanced by the OPW on behalf of the National Concert Hall Committee is that the Recital Hall facility should be adjacent to the main Concert Hall, itself a permanent feature on the Earlsfort Terrace site, there is clearly no reason or motivation for it to be abandoned as a Recital Hall in the foreseeable future, or indeed forever.

The concept of 'reversibility' therefore, we feel, remains just that, a concept; never to see execution.

While the local authority has, in fairness, been meticulous and persistent in ensuring that reversibility is "possible" (though entirely unlikely in our opinion), there is an air of tokenism about the whole thing when what is required is a decision of greater vision.

5.3 Discussion of Conditions (as numbered)

2 (III) We are concerned that unsympathetic application of fire protection measures, and utility fixtures associated with the Recital Hall will intrude on the integrity of the limestone panelling.

3 We are relieved to see that the OPW was not allowed to remove the 'Tambour' wall feature, which did not appear on any of its drawings until pointed out in the submission of the I.R.T.A. dated 05/11/98!

That it should be overlooked by the designers of the OPW despite its commitment to retain "all existing features of the court", is less than reassuring. It is even more ironic when one considers that the 18inch deep projection was clearly evident within offices constructed and occupied by the OPW itself at the western end of the court!

5(b) We believe that for correct 'identical' matching of replacement limestone panels the only source is the original one - Merlin Park quarries, Co Galway. This is the only solution which will preserve the original design integrity of the building

7 We believe that the distinctive timber panelled ceiling in the original toilet and locker room area should also be preserved, along with the staircase, as suggested by Duchas in its report dated 30/06/98 (signed Paul Connolly).

Such original ancillary features of a Tennis court are very rare, and their removal would rob the court of an integral part of its overall design.

Where they exist elsewhere, such as at the recently restored and re-opened Georgian Court, in Lakewood,New Jersey USA, they add considerably to its authenticity.

6.0 The Rationale for a Recital Hall in the Tennis Court

6.1 At the outset, we totally respect the objective of the committee of the National Concert Hall to acquire extra performance space for its activities.

We have no argument with its remit to promote music, or the value of music to the community.

We do object to the fact that it is proposed to undertake this development in Ireland's only covered Real Tennis court.

6.2 The NCH wishes to have a second performance / rehearsal space adjacent to the main Concert Hall on the Earlsfort Terrace site. This we accept has obvious logistical benefits.

We do not however accept that this necessity is sufficient in itself to justify the 'hi-jacking' of a rare and distinctive Tennis court building simply by virtue of its convenient proximate location.

6.3 Alternatives

We do not believe sufficient investigation has been undertaken as to the provision of the second performance space elsewhere on the site. We suggest two.

(a) There exists a significantly large site footprint at the rear of the existing main building, bounding the wall of the Iveagh Gardens, which could, if developed, amply accommodate a purpose-built Recital Hall.

This would, by virtue of its location, be immune to street traffic noise, and might even avail of some pleasing views of the Iveagh Gardens from a circulation/ viewing balcony.

(b) There exists within the main Earlsfort Terrace building occupied by UCD and NCH a second small Concert Hall or Recital Hall built for the purpose in 1865,but at present used as a library by UCD.

We suggest it would be entirely appropriate, in terms of the proper use of this facility, that it be converted back to its original purpose, a music venue.

This would be a far more thematic solution for music, than usurping the proper use of the Tennis court at great cost, and we suspect, providing a less than satisfactory acoustic result, judging by the ever increasing amount of sound attenuation fittings being incorporated (a third layer of roof glazing and acoustic baffles!). Ref. Ian Fox, Music Critic Sunday Tribune. (Ref. Appendix 3).

The John Field Room at present in use as the second performance space is stated to be 'totally unsuitable' by virtue of its design (OPW additional information).

The UCD library (the original small Concert Hall) is compromised by NCH activities in the Carolan Room (OPW additional information).

We suggest a little ingenuity and imagination in alternating the present occupancies of the UCD library, and the NCH John Field room would provide a perfectly satisfactory outcome for both parties.

It will also reinstate the integrated use of the original main Concert Hall and secondary Concert Hall which are recognised by the OPW as "a national asset of considerable architectural, historical, and cultural interest". We believe this is the objective the NCH and the OPW should properly champion.

At the present time we submit that a major motivation for this project to be seriously investigated by all concerned is for the upholding of this appeal to the grant of permission by Dublin Corporation, for conversion of the Tennis court.

On completion of the above alternative project, and in due course the restoration of the Tennis court which we actively pursue with Government, we believe two objectives will be realised.

  • The recreation of the fully integrated Concert Hall facilities as originally designed in the main Earlsfort Terrace Building, as the basis for a National Conservatoire.
  • The saving of the Tennis court to remain as part of the complex forming the Iveagh bequest (House, Gardens and Tennis court).

6.4 NCH and New Musical Ventures

We wonder at the necessity of the NCH to promote traditional and jazz music in its new proposed facility (stated as part of the rationale for its development).

We would have considered that both these forms of music have established a viable circuit of performance venues throughout the capital city.

Even a cursory review of press advertisements in Dublin publications revealed close to 50 venues staging Traditional music at the time of preparation of this appeal.

The intrusion of the NCH into this market (and away from its core genre) may serve merely to distort the existing traditional and jazz scene in Dublin. The NCH's estimate of 30,000 tourists being attracted to the new venue for traditional music alone, cannot we suggest be 'music' to the ears of existing venue promoters. It would I feel be optimistic to suggest that the traditional market would grow to accommodate an extra 30,000 seat spaces.

6.5 Dual Usage of a Restored Real Tennis Court

In our very earliest submission to government, we suggested that a restored and fully standard playable Real Tennis court would, by virtue of its considerable free floor area within the penthouses (30ft x 95ft), be able to accommodate a variety of secondary artistic uses, in off peak times or as judged necessary. (Ref. Appendix 5)

This would include art, photographic or floral exhibitions (as originally suggested) or indeed acoustic music with loose seating arrangements for performers and audience (as suggested in our submission to Dublin Corporation).

This proposal is still available as a further use for the NCH, to supplement our suggested development of the original small Concert Hall as its second performance space.

Let it be understood that, the above suggestion is not at all what the OPW proposes for the court building, which will bear not the remotest resemblance to a Real Tennis court if executed.

Our further proposal above involves the secondary use for music, in a standard, functioning Real Tennis court where the primacy of play of the sport is not compromised by extraneous musical / acoustic apparatus, and service utilities. It could well provide a useful facility for the NCH, pending our suggestion outlined in 6.3.

6.6 The views of a number of respected members of the music community are worth noting, and are not necessarily in conflict with our own wish to promote Tennis in the Tennis Court and music in the Concert Hall complex. (Ref. Appendix 3).

Michael Dervan (Music Critic Irish Times 30/06/98)
He questions strongly the correctness of putting a Recital Hall in "a rare and historic Tennis court". The headline "do the right thing" which at first glance one would assume to mean the OPW plan, is anything but. He queries the likely acoustic properties of the building, and suggests that users (National Symphony Orchestra and RTE broadcasters) were less than enamoured with the proposal.
Ian Fox (Music Critic Sunday Tribune)
While very hostile to the idea of the court being restored for Tennis, (based on a huge knowledge deficit about the game and its supporters) he does state a wish that the original small Concert Hall in the UCD building be handed back to music, as its most appropriate use.
Dr. John O'Conor - Director, Royal Irish Academy of Music
Commenting in a radio interview with Mike Murphy RTE on the establishment of a National Conservatoire, broadcast summer '98, again states the wish that the network of facilities originally built around the Main Concert Hall be vacated by UCD's medical facility, and made available to music.

7.0 The OPW's design approach relative to retention and recognition of identifying features of a Tennis court.

7.1 The OPW seeks to suggest that the unique features of a Tennis court will somehow be on display, evident and understood by people attending the proposed Recital Hall.

Ref. Design brochure of March 1998 "New Recital Hall for the National Concert Hall".

Submission of further information to Dublin Corporation of 21/08/98 signed Mr. K. Connolly, Project Management Division.

Letter of Mr. Brian (Barry) Murphy, Chairman, Commissioner of Public Works in Ireland, of 15/05/98.

7.2 These suggestions are inaccurate and are designed to convey the misleading impression that the Tennis court is somehow being recreated around the Recital Hall.

Further comments by OPW spokespersons to the media have wandered even further from credibility. "In fact we are planning to restore it (Tennis Court) pretty much as it was". - unnamed OPW spokesperson, "Ireland on Sunday" 07/06/98. (Ref. Appendix 3).

"It (OPW) will be retaining the limestone floor walls and skylight roof as they are what give it its character". Angela Rolfe OPW architect, "Ireland on Sunday".

Approximately 1/4 of the area of the Tennis court is at present occupied by offices, and will continue to be lost in the proposed store and changing area.

Of the remaining 3/4, some more is to be taken over by proposed further storage at the eastern end.

What remains visible is 2/3 of the floor and the walls. We suggest that these are hardly dispensable features of any building and to claim that retaining them is somehow to "expose again for wide public enjoyment the main features of this former private Real Tennis court" (Brian 'Barry' Murphy) is a disingenuous delusion. (Ref. Appendix 3).

We list briefly what it actually is that gives a Real Tennis court its character, and what is missing in the proposed plan. (Ref. Appendix 1).

  • The penthouses, battery walls and galleries (which surround 3 sides).
  • The tambour wall projection (hidden in the storage/ changing rooms at the west end).
  • The chase lines marked on the floors and side walls ('gridiron' pattern).

It would require a feat of supreme detection to discern the remotest evidence that one were sitting in a Tennis court after the proposed conversion.

Judith Woodward, Director National Concert Hall suggests that "it would be a unique Recital Hall, the only one in a Real Tennis court, which is rather fascinating" (Irish Times 15/10/98).

This is a fiction. We could accept that recitals in an actual Real Tennis court might be fascinating as we submit in our proposal of dual usage (6.5).

All the above obfuscation and insincere "fascination" with the Tennis court location does not stand up to analysis, and is used as a hollow token of concern for the Tennis court.

In reality the Tennis court building is treated as a convenient piece of real estate, to be chopped up in an unrecognisable fashion.

8.0 Reversibility of the Conversion for Future Play of Tennis.

We wish to develop further (refer 4.2) the distinction between "possibility" or "feasibility" of reversibility, as opposed to the actual 'reality' of this taking place.

8.1 Cost

The cost of reversibility has not been stated by the OPW. It is likely to be quite significant and questioned intensively.

On top of the 2m already expended on the Recital Hall, this further cost would likely be judged unacceptable.

8.2 Motivation or Impetus

We ask what future circumstance would initiate an abandonment of the Recital Hall by the NCH, allowing access for Tennis.

It is stated by the OPW/NCH that it must be near the main Concert Hall, which is a permanent feature, thereby making it entirely strategic to the NCH's ongoing plans.

8.3 Does the NHC have a strategy to develop a Recital Hall somewhere else on the Earlsfort Terrace site? It certainly has not stated such.

We have to ask what would cause the NCH to leave its 2m facility at any point in the future. Nothing above suggests that it would (or even be allowed to).

The actual reality, we submit, is that once the Recital Hall is constructed, Tennis will never be played in its historic home again, a loss to Ireland's built heritage, and its sportspeople. The concept of reversibility will remain just that - a planners' concept (however well intentioned)

9.0 Approval of Dublin Civic Trust - letter 17/04/98 signed Ian Lumley, Project Manager. (Ref. Appendix 6).

We strongly suspect that this approval after "viewing the plans", was obtained at a time when little (if any) information was available to the author on the real identity and nature of the building as a rare and historic Tennis court. His sole use of the term 'former gymnasium building' supports this view.

Our opinion as expressed above is founded on subsequent investigation. We must ask that this opinion as it stands is not treated as an "imprimatur" even if a subsequent modified "observation" does not follow. In deference to the position of the author, we refrain from further comment on our reservations.

10.0 Opinion of Duchas - The Heritage Service 30/06/98 signed Paul Connolly (Ref. Appendix 6)

10.1 We disagree with the minimalist application of heritage conservation philosophy in this opinion.

The Victorian staircase and timbered panelled ceilings are suggested for retention (with which we agree - refer 4.3 condition7) though only the former is required by Dublin Corporation.

Yet the Tennis court space itself, the real 'jewel in the crown' is given no support or protection from conversion to another use.

We have to raise a concern as to the degree of objectivity that could be exercised and expressed by Duchas in this situation.

Duchas and the National Concert Hall committee, the proposed users of the conversion both come under the aegis of the Department of Arts, Heritage, Culture and the Islands.

It is clearly the policy of that Department as expressed by Minister de Valera's private secretary Sheila Clifford 20/11/98, to support the development of the Recital Hall (and declining our requests for a meeting). (Ref. Appendix 5).

We feel that Duchas was placed in an invidious position, and feel that its opinion was susceptible to compromise.

We suggest that the request for an opinion on heritage made by Dublin Corporation, might have been better addressed to the independent statutory body The Heritage Council.

11.0 The Use of the Court Building for Real Tennis.

11.1 We submit that a major and compelling reason for upholding the appeal of the I.R.T.A., is the recognition of the use and purpose for which this building was designed. Its value is intrinsically linked to its use for Tennis.

We submit it is the only actual valid use of the facility, all others requiring alterations and modifications which greatly intrude on its "significant, architectural, historic and perhaps scientific interest" (Duchas). (Ref. Appendix 6)

11.2 Brief History of the game of Tennis

Tennis is a very old sport which evolved to its present court form and pattern of play in the 1500's.

Two courts in use in the United Kingdom date from that period, at Hampton Court, London, and Falkland Palace, Edinburgh. The London court is in use from 8am to 11pm every day of the year. The Scottish court, which is open-roofed being similarly booked out in summer months.

Tennis has a recorded history of World Champions dating back to 1740, the longest lineage of any sport. (Ref. Appendix 1).

At one time there were courts in most of the great European capitals; London, Paris (both extant), Vienna, Prague, Stockholm, and St. Petersburg / Leningrad where there is interest in having the building now occupied by the University of Leningrad restored for play. Dublin now a capital of an independent State, seeks the opportunity to re-join the listing.

Lawn Tennis evolved in 1874 as an inexpensive form of the game which could be played outdoors.

Tennis was played at the Olympic Games in London 1908.

11.3 History of Tennis in Ireland

Tennis has a long history of play in this country, it could be argued that it is as long as hurling or archery in terms of sports which are practiced in the country at the present time. (Ref. Appendix 3, letter A. Steven).

Courts are recorded from the 1600's in:

  • Galway City
  • Kilkenny City (St. James' Street)
  • Waterford City
  • Dublin City:
    • St. Thomas' Street
    • Dame Street
    • Two near Trinity College / Townsend Street

These latter two ceased to exist in the early 1800's.

All these courts were popular, public playing venues and were roofless.

The trend towards covered courts in the 1800's with the attendant increase in cost made the sport less accessible to its former devotees.

It can be seen therefore that Tennis is anything but a foreign or alien activity in Irish sporting history. Indeed the very fact of a distinctive Gaelic term for the sport "Leadog" testifies to its long established status.

11.4 Modern Courts in Ireland

The court which is the subject of this appeal was built by Sir Edward Cecil Guinness in 1884, part of a worldwide boom in covered court construction that took place in the UK, USA, and Australia, mostly for private users, but also a number of club courts.

11.5 Court building worldwide however ceased completely after World War One, apart from a very distinctive court built on Lambay Island, Dublin Bay, by Lord Revelstoke in 1922.

Curiously this court was a throwback to earlier times, being roofless, and had a non-standard main-wall layout which it is said owed its existence to the brilliant but eccentric architect Sir Edward Lutyens who rebuilt and remodelled the manor house on the island (Lambay Castle).

This court has lain derelict for many decades, and remains in the private ownership of the Lambay Trust, following on the death of the last Lord Revelstoke in 1994.

It is fondly regarded as a "folly-court", and indeed a few hardy souls have visited with permission in recent years to play.

This involves the installation of a temporary centre net, sweeping away the winter storm debris of seashells, stones and seagull droppings, and a "disciplined" style of play to avoid loss of balls through the un-netted cliffside penthouse!

It is considered unviable to restore it by the Lambay Trust (estimate 50,000).

As a playing venue it has obvious logistical limitations.

  • Its private status
  • Its island location
  • It is roofless, and as one of only two such courts in the world, should properly remain so.
  • Being of non-standard layout, its style of play is different to courts everywhere else.

This would obviously render its players at a considerable disadvantage in external competition.

12.0 The Modern Tennis Revival

The game entered a slump after World War One, reflecting the changed social position of the aristocracy which gave it patronage in their private courts.

The club courts in the UK, Australia, and the USA remained in demand and provided a steady stream of players for championship play.

The game retained its organisational and coaching structure through qualified professionals employed at the courts.

In 1970 there were 29 courts in play worldwide and about 3,000 players (source Guinness Book of Records).

12.1 Since 1970 there has been continuous growth.

In 1998 there are 42 courts in play and an estimated 8,000 players.

The first new courts in 80 years have been built.

In the UK, at Harbour Club and Oratory School (two more are in construction).

In the USA at Washington D.C.

In Australia at Macquarie University, Sydney.

Many former private courts in the UK are now run as public clubs.

One of the significant growth areas is the women's game which has its own World Championship since 1985.

Modern television technology using a number of on-court mini-cameras allows the game to be seen by an audience hitherto unaware of its existence.

This it is believed, will act as a major impetus for the sport in the coming years such as for sports like snooker in the 1970's, golf and others.

12.2 Tennis has emerged through another cycle in its long history.

The common street game of Europe in the 15th - 17th centuries.

The game of Royalty and the Nobility in the 18th and 19th centuries.

A game of huge growth and potential in the late 20th century among modern players with increased leisure time, and mobility.

Tennis therefore, the most enduring of sports is poised to launch itself into a new millennium.

12.3 Cost of Play

Tennis is no more expensive to play than many activities now considered accessible to a large section of the population.

Typical club membership in the UK varies from 200 - 300, equivalent to a very cheap golf club or health club / gymnasium!

Coaching tuition is typically 10/hour from a trained professional.

The elitist image that some attach to the sport arising from its limited accessibility in the middle 20th century has now given way in reality to a vibrant, modern, and affordable pastime for men, women and those past their "first-wind" where the subtlety of the game's tactics can compensate for pure speed.

A standardised handicapping system allows competitive play between players of differing standards - one need never be without a partner on turning up at a Tennis court.

The only limiting factor to its present rate of expansion is the availability of courts.

The UK is fortunate in its "stockpile" of old courts, which though many fell into alternative use, or semi-dereliction, have been restored for play, with support from local authorities and National Lottery funding.

Ireland has its own court, and seeks access to it.

12.4 Access to Tennis from other Racquet Sports

It has been the experience of the newer and expanding clubs in the UK and elsewhere that there is a significant capture of players from Lawn Tennis, Squash Rackets, Badminton and possibly the recent advent of American Racquetball.

13.0 Viability of a Tennis Revival in Ireland

13.1 Disadvantages

Ireland at the present time is at a disadvantage in terms of a native playing population for Real Tennis.

This is scarcely surprising, given that the only accessible court for its players was never put into public use in 1939 as its donor hoped.

Nevertheless a small number of enthusiasts comprised of natives who have played abroad, players from the UK resident in this country and indeed those who have neither background, forms the nucleus for the re-launching of the game in this country.

We do not have commitment of government to invest money at the present time.

13.2 General Advantages for re-launching Tennis at this time

13.3 Ireland is fortunate in lying adjacent to the largest concentration of clubs and players in the world, the UK.

Players in that country, experiencing crowded court schedules and very much longing to play a long-lost famous court on their doorstep, have stated their intention to travel and play in Dublin (Ref. Appendix 2).

This will provide a spring-board to launch the game, maintain court utilisation, generate revenue and act as a motivation for a new generation of Irish players to take up the sport.

It is very much a tradition in Tennis for players to visit other courts given the relatively small family network of clubs (much as golfers holiday to play famous courses).

13.4 General Government Policy

Ireland is a sports playing Nation and very much a ball-playing Nation. It is stated policy of Government that sport for both recreation and competitive purposes be funded and supported.

A dedicated portion of revenue generated from the National Lottery is specifically earmarked for sport.

There is at present, for the first time, a Minister at Cabinet with the responsibility for sport.

An independent National Sports Council with statutory function will be created in 1999 under the terms of the National Sports Council Act.

13.5 All the related Racquet sports, which would include among their membership many who would wish to try Real Tennis, are represented and thriving in Ireland.

  • Lawn Tennis (45,000 players)
  • Squash Rackets
  • Badminton
  • Racquetball

The Irish Real Tennis Association has initiated contact with the governing bodies of these sports.

13.6 Ireland is enjoying economic growth and prosperity which enables the State to fund capital investments, and its citizens to enjoy increased opportunities for sport and leisure.

13.7 Tourism

Ireland and particularly Dublin has become a major international tourist destination.

The presence in its city centre of a famous and distinctive Real Tennis court, is material for tourist interest.

In other courts (e.g. Hampton Court and Oxford) some revenue is generated by either a nominal entry charge or purchase of souvenir gifts, and club clothing.

The layout of a Tennis court allows the casual visitor or groups to circulate within the penthouses on two sides of the court and view the play. Sitting in the "dedans" with the speeding ball crashing into the net in front of one's nose gives a sensation of involvement second only to play.

13.8 Usage and Cost Viability

[For this online version, we have left the figures as in the original submission, in Irish punts.]

If just 100 players using court 1/week, (with some doubles play). Usage 40hrs.

If just 20% take coaching from professionals (incl. Pairs). Usage 15hrs.

Total usage 55hrs / week, i.e. average 8hrs / day.

Income (120 player hours / week) @ 10 / hour = 1,200.

Professional earns 200 directly and derives further income from equipment sales, racquet repairs and sales of club merchandise.

The balance of 1,000 funds court upkeep, marketting, and organisational expenses of Tennis governing body.

Costings of 10/hr are based on UK average. There may well be scope to lower this figure, dependant on outgoings which I.R.T.A. cannot estimate at this time.

14.0 Experiences of New Court Launches

14.1 The most valid comparative model by which to judge the potential of Real Tennis in a new court environment exists in the UK.

Three courts in particular which are located in areas well removed from existing courts provide a comparable example to Dublin: Viz. Newmarket, Suffolk; Bristol and Bath; Bridport, Dorset.

The latter named court has a curious similarity to Dublin; built in the same year 1885, and given by the terms of a will by a descendent of its builder to local Tennis players. The only unfortunate difference in Ireland was the intervention of State government in the logical progress of events! (Ref. Appendix 4).

14.2 Newmarket, Suffolk (1995) (Ref. Appendix 4)

A court with a similar low-trussed roof support as in Dublin.

The old court building in other use was purchased with assistance of a grant from the Foundation for Sports and the Arts (appropriate we think that the two should work in harmony).

The court is self-supporting and provides playing facilities for 90 hours per week.

14.3 Bristol and Bath (1997) (Ref. Appendix 4)

In just one year of activity this court, the first in the area for more than 150 years has grown to 300 members generating a profit of 1,000 per month.

15.0 Promotional Measures undertaken by Irish Real Tennis Association

15.1 The I.R.T.A. itself was formed from a planned meager of locally based enthusiasts who operated as "Cairde na Leadoige - Friends of Tennis" and an American based support group Real Tennis Ireland.

15.2 Its efforts to date on behalf of the Guinness court and the game of Tennis in Ireland, have received the overwhelming support of the National governing bodies of the sport worldwide as evidenced to date in their unanimous endorsement of our objections to Dublin Corporation. (I.e., Tennis and Rackets Association (GB); United States Court Tennis Association; Australian Royal Tennis Association; Comite Francais du Jeu de Courte Paume.)

Their willing and expert counsel will support our own local enthusiasm to make the court a source of National pride and success.

15.3 I.R.T.A. has recruited the services of a qualified Real Tennis professional who is available to begin coaching of the game once the court restoration is signalled (Mr. Tony Scratchley).

Tennis professionals tend to be internationally mobile, and we have little doubt that as a posting it will always attract professionals of calibre, anxious to be associated with the famous World Championship venue.

We have also established contact with the National Sports Coaching Centre at Limerick University.

15.4 We have commissioned promotional literature on the court and the sport of Real Tennis.

We have secured the goodwill of UK based professionals to come to this country to promote the sport.

As our available time to date has been devoted of necessity to political and planning submission activities, we have had little time as yet to actively promote our principal interest - the sport itself and the Dublin court. 1999 will see that work begin in earnest.

That enthusiasm and the increased national profile which the sport has gained, when channeled solely into promotion of the sport, will, we are confident, ensure a solid foundation for growth.

16.0 The Suitability of Dublin as a Location for Tennis

16.1 Dublin has a critical mass of population capable of supporting sports with a minority following (indeed minority interests of all kinds).

It is one of the great advantages of a capital city which otherwise suffers the infrastructural difficulties of rapid growth.

It supports a successful Ice-Hockey Team, American Football Team, and has sent representatives to Olympic and World Championships in serious minority pursuits such as Weight Lifting and Wrestling (dare I say "Real" Wrestling!).

While little of this might be apparent in the saturation mass-coverage of commercial sport, it nonetheless consists of genuine and usually selfless participants and administrators, a natural home of Real Tennis.

16.2 Our campaign has received the unequivocal support of the board of the Dublin International Sports Council (D.I.S.C.), which is chaired by Mr. Tony Hanahoe.

This organisation which is privately funded, promotes the provision of modern and previously unavailable facilities in the capital.

Real Tennis is clearly recognised as a sport worthy of a valued place in the future sporting development of Dublin. (Ref. Appendix 2).

16.3 University City

Real Tennis has a definite association with, and thrives in University cities elsewhere.

Oxford and Cambridge have thriving clubs (the re-opening of an old second court at the latter is mooted). (Ref. Appendix 2).

A new court has been built in Sydney at the Macquarie University, where indeed a major tournament will be held at the time of the Sydney Olympics. (Ref. Appendix 2).

A court is planned for Stirling University in Scotland.

The dictum "mens sana in corporae sano" is held to be true.

Dublin has three University Colleges, and a fourth affiliate, the College of Surgeons. Three of these campuses are within walking distance of the Earlsfort Terrace court. This does not include the Dublin Colleges of Technology and many other such institutions.

We believe there exists a fertile, and ever-rejuvenating catchment of potential players in these institutions.

We have written to the Tennis / Sports Club secretaries of the three Universities to explore these plans.

That University College Dublin never had the wish, or government support to allow it avail of the Tennis court as a playing facility, is one of the great losses of the last couple of generations.

Their funding however of the restoration of the glazed roof of the court in 1995 is to be greatly commended. We understand from correspondence with College President, Dr. Art Cosgrove that this involved considerable saving to amass the necessary 250,000.

17.0 Breaking the cycle

We are stuck in a chicken and egg situation as a sport. Without a court we have few players - without players the planners feel we do not deserve a court.

We do not make false claims of the present Tennis playing population in Ireland. If Portmarnock were the only golf course in Ireland and were left overgrown with rushes for 60 years, there would not be many golfers either.

It is unreasonable and we say unfair to expect us to materialise a hundred or more players in the capital, right now, to justify the future viability of the court.

Two hundred players is the average number per club around the world. We suggest Dublin would be viable with even a lower number by virtue of the great interest of foreign club members to come play as visitors (primarily from Great Britain).

We have put forward strong evidential information from the sport and clubs throughout the world, to support the proposition that the opening of a Real Tennis court means the blossoming of the game among an eager population of players. There is no reason to suggest Dublin would be any different.

The circumstances have never been so right for Ireland to make its re-entry to the world of Real Tennis.

18.0 Conservation in Dublin

18.1 Dublin has in some respects paid dearly for its economic success in the last 30 years.

Many beautiful buildings, distinctive streetscapes and crafted interiors have disappeared (St. Ann's Schools, Molesworth Street, Frascati House, Kildare St. Club hallway etc.).

Dublin as a Capital City has a responsibility more than just to itself, it has a responsibility to the whole country. Many facilities naturally gravitated to Dublin by virtue of its status as main city / capital of Ireland in past years. The Guinness Real Tennis court was given to Ireland, not just Dublin.

Each time there is hand-wrenching after another lamented loss "it won't happen again".

We appeal to An Bord Pleanála not to allow the Guinness Real Tennis court to be added to that sorry list.

18.2 It is doubtful if there is another building in public ownership in this country that has suffered such appalling, and inappropriate use.

That it should have occurred in the ownership / lease of the Commissioners of Public Works and University College Dublin, is all the more regrettable.

We feel the OPW has made an ill-informed and inappropriate decision in promoting use of the facility for the alternative use of the N.C.H. We have put forward clear and appropriate alternatives.

We have above all put forward reasons why Ireland's National Real Tennis court deserves to be re-opened in its own right after an enforced closure of 60 years.

Is le Bord Pleanála an rogha sin anois.

19.0 Summary

We appeal to An bord Pleanála to reject the development of the Tennis court buildings proposed by the commissioners of Public Works.

1. It will rob Ireland and her sports people of a rare and world renowned sports facility.

2. It dishonours the generosity of the donor, to disregard his expressed wish that the court not be destroyed, and be made available to players of Real Tennis.

3. There exist viable alternatives for the creation of a Recital Hall on the desired location of the Earlsfort Terraec site. There is no other Tennis court in Ireland, and it cannot be recreated.

4. The Tennis court may be the only public sports facility in the country actually owned by the State (apart from Defence and Educational facilities). It is clearly in contradiction of stated government thinking on the promotion of sport among the population to remove this facility from play now.

We, on behalf of the committee of Cumann Leadoige na h-Eireann (The Irish Real Tennis Association), approve of the appeal stated in this submission.