The Monkstown Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club is located in the village of Monkstown in Cork harbour about 15kms from Cork city. It is situated on the grounds of the old vicarage which was part of the De Vesci Estate. The first Ordnance Survey map of Ireland (1840s) indicates the location of the vicarage on what is now the croquet lawn. In the second OS map (revised 1890s) the tennis grounds are clearly designated. While there is no firm date for the foundation of the club, a newspaper report in 1880 refers to a tournament taking place 'under the auspices of the newly formed Club'.
Monkstown can be proud that it was part of an early group of tennis clubs set up in Ireland. That annual tournaments took place in the club up to the 1900s can be seen from many newspaper articles of the period. These accounts, while giving the match results, also included a commentary on the weather which was an important factor due to the court surfaces of the time. A report in 1891 noted that the Monkstown courts were composed of puddled clay. In that tournament play was suspended due to bad weather and matches were completed on a private cinder court. A game of living chess was played in 1897 'on the green sward of the tennis court'.
A feature of the tournaments was the interesting handicap system in operation. While people might be familiar with the handicaps of (plus or minus 15 etc.) they may not be as conversant with (minus 1/2 15), (minus 15.5) or (plus 1/2 15 and a bisque)!
In the absence of the club minutes from the earlier years it is difficult to construct a concise narrative of the organization, but undoubtedly it continued to function as a tennis and croquet facility. The involvement of the club in the wider tennis family is apparent from a meeting held in the Imperial Hotel in 1907. Monkstown had a representative, W Cave, at that gathering convened to set up an inter-club Munster competition. Further activity was noted over the years, for example, a garden fete was held in 1918 in aid of the Red Cross. A fete and tennis tournament was held in 1926 and another in 1927. The club continued to take part in competitions as shown in a report in 1938, when the club was defeated by Bandon in the Day Cup.
The grounds were transferred in 1959 from the De Vesci Estate to the club trustees for a fee simple of 90 pounds. The Exham name was prominent in the administration of the club from the 1880s, and in 1965, in appreciation of her work over the previous thirty years a presentation was made to Miss Exham. With the renewed interest in tennis and increased membership a third court was opened in 1980. This was followed in due course by all-weather surfaces and lights. A new clubhouse was opened in 1988 by the President of the Munster Council of the ILTA, Mrs Pauline Daly. The club also participated again in inter-club competitions and members participated enthusiastically in open competitions.
That the club survived since 1880 is testament to the commitment of many individuals over the years and their legacy is a thriving family-friendly amenity. The minutes from the 1950s are available and await future scrutiny to fill the gaps in our knowledge.
Our thanks to Maurice Ahern, who has has compiled the historical information briefly summarised here.