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Federazione Bridge Irlandese

Irish Bridge Union

Il primo incontro della Federazione di Bridge Irlandese si tenne a Belfast in una sala del Midland Hotel nel 1955.

 Negli anni precedenti vi era una forte divergenza di opinioni tra e la Contract Bridge Association of Ireland (CBAI) che era stata fondata nel 1932, che era associata alla European Bridge League e partecipava ai Campionati Europei fin dal 1948 e la Northern Irish Bridge Union (NIBU) che, invece, non lo era.

 La contrapposizione politica Nord-Sud era molto forte e solo nel 1950 per merito di David Pigot e Noel Mobbs  si uscì dalla riunione con una prima idea di creare una Federazione Irlandese.

 Nel 1954, quando fu eletto Presidente della CBAI, Joseph Brennan dichiarò apertamente che il suo obiettivo era l'unificazione che si celebrò attraverso la creazione di una Confederazione , appunto, nel 1955.

 La prima volta della neonata nazionale irlandese fu a Como e la Squadra era composta salomonicamente di tre giocatori del Sud e di tre del Nord.

 Nel 1958 la IBU introdusse i Master Points per valutare i suoi associati che praticavano il bridge sportivamente.

Oggi la CBAI, che ha sede a Dublino come la NIBU che ha, invece, sede a Belfast, sono membri della IBU e sono affiliati alla Bridge Great Britain (BGB).

Mentre rimane compito della IBU designare le nazionali Irlandesi che partecipano ai Campionati Europei, le due organizzazioni Federate partecipano con proprie Squadre ai Campionati Interbritannici.

The first meeting of the Irish Bridge Union took place at the Midland Hotel, Belfast, on the evening of Good Friday the 8th of April 1955. The Rt. Hon. George B. Hanna, chaired the opening proceedings and referred euphemistically to "difference of opinion existing for some time now" between the NIBU and the CBAI. He set the tone for the new body when he added, "we must remember that this Union was designed for the advancement of the game of bridge, and bridge alone".

The differences arose from the fact that the CBAI had become affiliated to the European Bridge League, the NIBU had not. Since 1948 the CBAI had participated in the European championships. The NIBU questioned the right of the governing body for the Republic to use the name Ireland and tried to raise the matter in the European Bridge League through Sir Noel Mobbs who was not only Chairman of the EBL but also of the British Bridge League. David Pigot, a Dublin solicitor, prevented Mobbs from raising the matter because the NIBU was not a member of the EBL. When Pigot reported back to the CBAI AGM in May 1950 strong feelings surfaced. A proposal was put forward and carried, that the CBAI "should withdraw from any competition in which the NIBU are allowed to compete." Pigot rescued a delicate situation by pointing out that this could only be "an expression of opinion". There had been no notice of motion. Dr Paddy Paul Donovan, the honorary secretary of the CBAI, proposed that efforts should be made to secure unity in Ireland with regards to the European Championships by means of an approach to the NIBU. Thus the genesis of the idea of a union between north and south first appears in an official record.

Relations between North and South deteriorated. The CBAI, at a special general meeting on the 14th October 1950, took a decision that was to keep its players out of Camrose and Lady Milne competition for the next 47 years. The resolution, "that the CBAI take no further part in any competition in which the NIBU take part as a unit", was carried by a large majority. Although on the surface relations were bad, there was communication. At the CBAI AGM in Limerick in May 1952, incoming President, Dr. Frank McMenamin, referred to "correspondence with the NIBU," but no details are recorded. When Dr. Joseph P. Brennan became President of the CBAI in 1954 he declared his aim, "the unification of bridge control in Ireland". In July of that year there is reference in an NIBU record of "informal discussion…regarding the desirability of renewing former relations with the CBAI." Certain it is that off-the-record talks went on for some time. The process culminated in a meeting between representatives of both CBAI and NIBU at Ballymascanlon on the 27th of January 1955 when agreement was reached on a union between North and South and almost five years of division came to an end. The negotiators of the agreement on that winter evening were Dr. Joseph P. Brennan, Dr. Paddy Paul Donovan and Paddy Fitzgerald for the CBAI, Norman H. Douglas, Larry Bradley and George Sloane for the NIBU. Progress was fast. Following some modification to the original proposals, special meetings of both CBAI and NIBU were held simultaneously on the 26th of March with a single item on their respective agendas, "the proposed agreement negotiated between the CBAI and the NIBU". The agreement was ratified at both meetings. The Irish Bridge Union was established, in fact, on that day.

There was opposition to the Union on both sides of the border. Attitudes of leading players of the day is interesting. In the south, international players, Desmond A. Houlihan (Birr), Joe MacHale, David Pigot and Jack O’Sullivan opposed the formation of the Union. In the north, Tom McAfee, Larry Bradley, George B. Hanna and Col. Walshe were in favour.

From the southern players’ point of view, the eligibility of northern players to compete for places on an All-Ireland team lessened their own chances of winning places on the team. Northern players, excluded from the European Bridge League, saw in the Union a hope of playing in European championships.

The Right Honorable George Boyle Hanna, Minister for Home Affairs in Northern Ireland at the time, seems an unlikely person to preside over the formation of an all-Ireland organisation. Dr. Joseph P. Brennan was an unlikely ally of Hanna. He had been elected to the Dáil in the 1948 General Election, as a member of the new Clann na Poblachta party. Many in his party including its leader, Sean McBride, were identified with extreme republicanism. Indeed Brennan was thought to be close to the leadership having been McBride’s proposer for the 1948 election. Hanna was against much of what Brennan overtly stood for. But they had a common passion, Bridge, and they used their influence to bring about the Union. The honorary secretary of the CBAI, Dr. Paddy Paul Donovan, was another unlikely corroborator of Hanna. He openly displayed his nationalism and once submitted entries for the European championships in the Irish language. Hanna abhorred the waste of resources that the Dublin Government poured into that language. That these men could work together in the formation of the new body says much for their commitment to the game of bridge and for their desire to establish bonds between those who played it.

Hanna’s stature in the NIBU was such that had he not been wholeheartedly committed there would have been no Union. Brennan acknowledged that at the inaugural meeting. His words are recorded in the minutes, "had it not been for Mr. Hanna it is quite probable that this meeting would never have come about." Brennan also referred to "the great pleasure which Col. Walshe, President of the NIBU, has expressed at the formation of the Union." Colonel G.G.J.Walshe, too, was an important figure. His Cup, donated in 1945 for a contest between the team champions of the NIBU and CBAI, is now awarded annually to the winners of the Camrose match between North and South. Walshe’s support for the Union was as crucial as Hanna’s. Hanna came south to the second meeting of the IBU in Dublin on the 23rd of July but in a non-delegate capacity. Thereafter he disappears from the records. Brennan’s name disappears shortly after that too, but the two men were to make one further and lasting gesture.

At an IBU Council meeting Sunday 29th June 1958 it was announced that "a new trophy, The Friendship Trophy, had been presented to the Union by Judge George B. Hanna and Dr. Brennan for competition amongst Irish Universities." It was first contested in February 1960 at Queens University, with Prof. Alan McKinnon as tournament director. Queens, UCD and Trinity each had two teams and it resulted in a win for UCD. The President of Queen’s, F.H.Newark, C.B.E., presided at a dinner in the great hall. Among the guests were Dr.Brennan and Judge Hanna.

The complete minutes of the inaugural meeting of fifty years ago have survived. Six delegates from each side attended: CBAI: Dr. Joseph Brennan, Dun Laoghaire; Mr.P.Fitzgerald, Cork; Dr. P.Donovan, Dublin; Alderman Stephen Bergin, Sligo; Noel Byrne, Carlow; Brian D. O’Kennedy, Dun Laoghaire. NIBU: T.J.McAfee; George Sloane, Portadown; Norman.H.Douglas, L.Bradley, Belfast; W.Robb, Portadown; J.E.Arnott, Belfast. Also in attendance were Major George Jackson and Michael Dorgan from the South as well as the Rt. Hon. George B. Hanna.

Amongst the items of business on the first agenda was an invitation from the Italian Bridge Federation to take part in an international event at Lake Como from the 9th to the 13th of June. The invitation was accepted and a team of six travelled, three players each from the CBAI and NIBU, G.B.Hanna, Mrs. Linehan, A.McKinnon, R.McLennan, J.O’Gorman, W.H.Smyth.

The CBAI would continue to officially select teams for European championships until such time as it’s affiliation was superseded by that of the IBU. However it was agreed that the CBAI should nominate two pairs and the NIBU one, for each team with each association providing a non-playing captain for the championships in Amsterdam. So, the first All-Ireland teams in major events in 1955 were, Open: G.F. Read, Dr. M. Shrage; F.W. and M.F. O’Connell; L. Bradley and M.Gabbey with P.Fitzgerald NPC. Women: R. Giddings, M. McNulty, M. McCarthy, E. Spiro, N. Bradley, B. Hooper. NPC Prof. A. McKinnon. It is interesting to note that whilst it had been agreed that the NIBU would have a pair on each team, the women’s team had only one Northern player, Norah Bradley.

The following year, 1956, when the Moylan Cup was used for the first and only time as the trials for selecting the teams, Norah and Larry Bradley won but did not take their place on the Irish team. Twenty five years later, Norah’s daughter, Moyna, became the only woman in the history of the Irish Bridge Union to win a place on an Irish open team. (Geraldine McConkey, Flora McLoone, 1949 and Elvina Spiro, 1954, played on open teams but before the formation of the IBU).

It was at that inaugural meeting of the IBU that Master Points are first mentioned. They arose in the context of a discussion on raising funds for the new Union. After the idea of a capitation levy on clubs was dismissed, Larry Bradley suggested a Master Points system similar to that obtaining in America. Indeed Bradley, Sloane and Robb, were appointed to the first sub-committee of the IBU and asked to submit a suitable scheme. However it was not until 1958 that master points were introduced in this country.

Officialdom North and South was keen to show good will towards the new Union. Led by T.J.(Tom) McAfee and supported by the other delegates to the IBU, the NIBU on the 19th of May, felt it was "only fitting that at that first meeting the CBAI representatives should be our guests". So, the expenses of the Southern delegates to the inaugural meeting, were met from NIBU funds. The CBAI Executive could hardly do less when the second meeting was held in Dublin in July, so it authorized the President to entertain the Council of the IBU to lunch, but "not to exceed £30." Incoming President, George Sloane, at the first annual meeting, offered to stand aside to allow Dr. Brennan continue as President. However Brennan was no longer a delegate from the CBAI. Sloane’s gesture, of course, was an expression of his and the NIBU’s regard for Brennan. Douglas and Denis Jackson, the new joint honorary secretary from the south, were elected joint honorary secretaries and also elected joint honorary treasurers. Those early pioneers of the IBU took no chances with their limited financial resources. For auditors, they chose Charlie O’Neill and Jack Kelly, both senior men in the office of the Auditor and Comptroller General in Dublin.

The first disagreement between northern and southern delegates concerned mixed partnerships. The CBAI discouraged mixed pairs in trials, the NIBU encouraged. Northern common sense prevailed as evidenced by Larry and Norah Bradley winning the trials in 1956. A more serious disagreement arose over the venue for the second European Junior teams Championship in 1970. When a vote was taken at Ballymascanlon on 24th of August 1969 there was a tie. Desmond Deery, who had proposed Belfast, withdrew his motion in order to spare the President, Moreen McCarthy from Wexford, "the invidious duty of using her casting vote." The Belfast Telegraph carried a story that the two constituent bodies were in conflict on a political issue. The CBAI Executive made provisional plans for the Moylan in the event of the NIBU seceding from the IBU. However once the venue, the Royal Marine Hotel, Dun Laoghaire, was fixed, there was an air of appeasement. NIBU delegates proposed that the President’s term of office be extended to include the period of the championship, so the annual meeting was put back until after the event. Ten countries participated.

Mrs. McCarthy in her inaugural address as President in August 1969 expressed the sadness felt by all members at the recent outbreak of violence in Northern Ireland. Indeed events in the North over the next few years cast occasional shadows over bridge affairs. There were times when southern players were reluctant to cross the border, to play in the Egan, for example. John Grummit in April 1974 appealed that "in the present circumstances the NIBU needed all the support it could get from its partner." In March 1976 Monty Rosenberg expressed appreciation of southern support. In a difficult time, there was solidarity.

There was frequent unease at IBU Council meeting about the presence of press representatives. George Ryan of The Irish Times, and Mairéad O’Neill of the Irish Independent, often turned up at meetings and they would be asked to wait outside while a debate ensued as to whether they should be admitted or not. For example, at the annual meeting in July 1971 at Ballymascanlon, following the usual drill, they were admitted but asked "not to publish inadvertently disputatious remarks that might do harm to bridge." The irony of the request seems to have escaped the Council members and as to how the journalists might publish such remarks inadvertently it is difficult to imagine.

The Irish Bridge Union celebrates its Golden Jubilee in 2005.

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