Wicklow People (West Edition) - - INTERVIEW -

THE game of bridge has found the ideal home for its Arklow ad­her­ents in the hall ad­join­ing the Pres­by­te­rian church in the town.

The cards are dealt there four nights each week in a space which is roomy with­out be­ing cav­ernous, and cheer­fully warm through­out the year.

On bright evenings, the ex­ten­sive win­dow of­fers as fine view out across the reed beds over to the church tow­ers of the town.

It was here that the mem­bers of The ’68 Bridge Club gath­ered re­cently in cel­e­bra­tion to re­mind them­selves that it is 50 years since their foun­da­tion.

Yes, the ‘68’ in the ti­tle refers sim­ply to the fact that the club was founded in the year 1968, ex­actly half a cen­tury ago.

The sur­round­ings have changed over the decades be­fore the shuf­flers and deal­ers fi­nally came to roost in these smart, clean sur­round­ings.

Now they gather at 7.30 p.m. sharp each Wed­nes­day evening to prac­tise their skills in

They be­gan in a back room be­hind Paul Doyle’s newsagent shop. Many of the cur­rent mem­ber­ship re­call when their weekly ses­sion was staged at the Arklow Bay ho­tel.

Then there was a stint when they had to climb the stairs to a room above John Joe’s pub.

Cur­rent ’68 Bridge Club pres­i­dent San­dra Hall was to the fore in iden­ti­fy­ing the cur­rent venue be­side the Dublin Road as ideal for the pur­pose.

She is a mem­ber of the Pres­by­te­rian parish, well placed to bro­ker the ar­range­ment about seven years ago.

The church com­plex also hosts a va­ri­ety of ac­tiv­i­ties in­clud­ing the youth club, ‘Women of the World’ meet­ings and a pre-school.

This still leaves space on the ros­ter for the As­gard Bridge Club on Mon­days, the Arklow Bridge Club (long­est es­tab­lished of the lot) on Tues­days, the ’68 Bridge Club on Wed­nes­days and the Apollo Bridge Club on Thursdays.

A Tues­day morn­ing ses­sion has taken root at the town’s golf club, so pop­u­lar that a wait­ing list of those want­ing to join has had to be in­tro­duced.

Many en­thu­si­asts play two or three times a week, of­ten with a dif­fer­ent part­ner on each of the dif­fer­ent days.

None of the orig­i­nals from 1968 are on the books now in 2018, though sev­eral re­main ac­tive bridge play­ers else­where – Lil­ian O’Car­roll, He­len Bar­rett and Al­yse Mc­Carthy

Danny McLough­lin reck­ons that he has been a mem­ber of The ’68 for the past thirty years and he re­tains his en­thu­si­asm for the sport undimmed.

Or is bridge re­ally a sport? Ef­forts to have it recog­nised as such have prompted much de­bate, some­times heated, some­times tech­ni­cal, and some­times philo­soph­i­cal.

One thing cer­tain is that men and women gath­ered in the hall the night your re­porter came to test his skills do not re­ally qual­ify as ath­letes.

They – my­self in­cluded – will not be giv­ing Usain Bolt or Mo Farah a run for their money any time soon, or any time at all.

This was a gath­er­ing where the typ­i­cal par­tic­i­pant was of pen­sion­able age and many of those present were wid­owed and/or re­tired.

Though not in the first flush of youth, they were all sharp as tacks with 13 cards in their fists, ex­ud­ing a wealth of ex­pe­ri­ence and anec­dote and char­ac­ter.

It is no co­in­ci­dence that some of the packs of play­ing cards used by the club carry ad­ver- tise­ments for the Home In­stead se­nior care or­gan­i­sa­tion, where the mar­ket­ing de­part­ment is clearly on the ball.

Mamie Quirke de­clined to state her age but ad­mit­ted be­ing old enough to have chil­dren who have fin­ished col­lege while a third is in fi­nal year.

She was the se­cond youngest per­son par­tic­i­pat-

ing, the youngest be­ing Pauline Louth, Mamie’s kid sis­ter. No teenagers here. No twenty-some­things ei­ther.

With youth so no­tably ab­sent, per­haps bridge needs to take a self-crit­i­cal look at an image which so off-putting to many mem­bers of the younger gen­er­a­tion.

The re­al­ity is that any­one ca­pa­ble of play­ing as hand of whist – tricks and trumps, re­mem­ber – is ca­pa­ble of en­joy­ing bad bridge.

After mas­ter­ing the rudi­ments, it is then sim­ply a ques­tion whether to con­tinue splash­ing around in the shal­lows or to wade into the more com­plex depths of the game.

THOSE who pass by with­out dip­ping their toe into the wa­ter prob­a­bly tend to be put off by talk of con­ven­tions and dis­cards, of ruffs and re­neges.

The style of bridge on Wed­nes­day nights, the mem­bers tell you earnestly, is ‘five card ma­jors, with vari­able no trump’ – the sort of jar­gon which sets off alarm bells in the unini­ti­ated.

Sug­gest­ing that the Tues­day night game is the best bet for any­one who might pre­fer to play ACOL as an al­ter­na­tive does noth­ing to sup­press in­cip­i­ent panic.

Then there is the im­pos­si­bly com­pli­cated scor­ing sys­tem which looks to novice eyes as eas­ily mem­o­rised as a log­a­rith­mic ta­ble or cal­cu­la­tions of pi to 17 places of dec­i­mals.

Also in­tim­i­dat­ing is the fact that bridge must be the only card game which peo­ple feel they must first take les­sons be­fore tak­ing their place at the ta­ble with any con­fi­dence.

At least Arklow has been lucky in hav­ing the very best of teach­ers, as a quick word with some of he ’68’s stal­warts soon re­vealed.

Danny McLough­lin: ‘I started play­ing in Arklow. A lady called Mar­garet Cahill was very much into bridge….’

Tadhg Gar­vey: ‘I am play­ing for twenty years. I started when I re­tired. Mar­garet Cahill was the teacher – and a very kind teacher she was.’

Pauline Louth: I am play­ing for 13 or 14 years. I started at the As­gard be­cause it was known as a be­gin­ners’ club. I got les­sons from Mar­garet Cahill.’ Mamie Quirke: ‘Mar­garet Cahill – she is great.’ Sean Crow­ley: ‘I was too busy as a young man in Cork play­ing Gaelic and soc­cer. I have been in­volved in bridge for 25 years. I learned the game from Mar­garet Cahill.’

Mar­garet re­mains very ac­tive as an ac­com­plished player of the game but nowa­days, any­one seek­ing les­sons may have to travel as far as Gorey. So, what is the ap­peal?

Tadhg Gar­vey: ‘Tak­ing up bridge was the best thing I did for my re­tire­ment.’

El­iz­a­beth O’Brien: ‘I would be dead only for bridge. It gets me out two nights a week.’

Sean Crow­ley: ‘I was go­ing to re­tire and was told I needed a hobby. Learn­ing bridge was a good move. The ap­peal of the game is meet­ing peo­ple and get­ting out. I never drank, you see.’

Mamie Quirke: ‘I love the game. It’s the best value there is for a fiver.’

San­dra Hall: ‘It is such a so­cial night.’ Eli­nor Byrne: ‘I could be out drink­ing – bet- ter to be play­ing bridge in­stead. You get to meet peo­ple.’

Eli­nor is 20 years a mem­ber here, though her hus­band Des does not play any­more. He dis­cov­ered that Arklow bridge is far too noisy, with con­ver­sa­tion break­ing out be­tween hands.

He comes from a sterner tra­di­tion where the game was played in ab­so­lute si­lence, al­low­ing to­tal con­cen­tra­tion on the cards.

Eli­nor, with her swash­buck­ling style of play, does not mind the chat.

Be­sides, she does not feel it is a good idea for hus­bands to team up with wives, so she is happy to take the vis­it­ing re­porter un­der her wing for the evening.

To­gether we bluffed our way through 18 hands of cards and met six other pairs over the course of two and a half most en­joy­able hours.

She re­ported that, while she lived in Mullingar, a school there taught bridge to fifth and sixth year stu­dents, giv­ing them a skill they can use just about any­where in the world.

MAYBE the time has come for the or­gan­is­ers of the game in County Wick­low to con­sider a sim­i­lar youth-friendly ini­tia­tive.

‘We should have brought bridge into the schools years ago,’ she opined. ‘We need some young blood.’

They could also ben­e­fit from a few more men, with only three males among the field that night, plus the vis­i­tor.

These days at The ’68, the re­sults of the weekly com­pe­ti­tion are cal­cu­lated on a com­puter pro­gramme, since Sean Crow­ley re­tired from the job of mak­ing the re­turns up in his im­mac­u­late hand­writ­ing.

The tour­na­ment di­rec­tor, hus­tling every­one to hurry up and re­lay­ing the right cards to the right ta­bles, is usu­ally PJ Sheehy but Mamie Quirke filled in as he was ab­sent this evening.

There is no bar in the Pres­by­te­rian hall, but the ket­tle is avail­able in the kitchen for any­one who wants to make a cup of tea.

The club is all set to stage a char­ity night late this month when the money raised will be passed on to Aware – card play­ers like a good cause.

‘Bridge is a su­per game,’ mused pres­i­dent San­dra Hall. ‘It should be taught to tran­si­tion years – but the screens have taken over!’

MAIN PIC­TURE: San­dra Hall, Pa­trice Joyce, Mamie Quirke and Tadhg Gar­vey. LEFT: San­dra Hall’s hand.

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