The Ancient Game of Fidchell
Fidchell literally translates as ‘Wood Wisdom’. Legend has it that the ancient Irish game of Fidchell was invented in the 9th century by Lugh. Lugh was the Irish god of light, a master druid and warrior. This Irish game played an important role in the celebrations at the Festival of Lughnasa, which was held in honour of Lugh each August. The ancient game of Fidchell predates the game of chess as we know it by 300 years.
Fidchell was played by and indeed tested the gods, royalty and druids. Those who had the ability to play and win at Fidchell where held in great esteem. Warrior Champions were required to become masters of the game. It is said that the famous Cúchulainn, the hero son of Lugh, was very skillful in playing Fidchell.
Ancient Irish legends describe Fidchell having a mystical notion and could magically play by itself. It is said that great events were often decided on the result of a Fidchell game. As these sets were made for noblemen they were a quality item. The board would have been crafted from oak and it is probable that the pieces were of made gold and silver with precious stones and decorated with swirls of Celtic art.
Fidchell was played by two players moving ‘men’ across a board. The playing board is a seven by seven square grid and the four corners of the board represent the four provinces of Ireland – Leinster, Munster, Ulster and Connaught. The centre square represents the fifth province, as there was in Ireland in ancient times – Meath, the ruling home of the High King at the Hill of Tara.
Fidchell was strongly connected to Druidism. It is likely that the game nearly died out due to the emergence of the early Celtic Church in Ireland. Although the Irish word ‘ficheall’ for ‘chess’ is still used.
Celtic Chess Set
This ceramic Fidchell set, known as the ‘Celtic Chess Set’. It is a reproduction of a playing board that is housed in the National History Museum in Dublin, believed to be made of bog oak and dates from the 9th century.
This Celtic Chess Set is handmade by O’Gowna Studios, Dublin, Ireland. It is made from cold cast porcelain, i.e. a porcelain powder that is bonded so that they are both decorative and functional, which means they don’t break easily. O’Gowna was taught this process over twenty five years ago by Royal Doulton master craftsmen.
Play ‘Fidchell’ with the
Handmade in Ireland
Stocked at Totally Irish Gifts
The Celtic Chess Set has 21 pieces:
- The dark pieces are the High King, in the middle of the board, surrounded by his eight defenders – two champions from each province.
- The light pieces are the 12 attacking men – three warriors from each province.
Objectives of the game:
- Defenders: The High King must reach one of the four provinces, i.e. one of the corners, without being captured.
- Attackers: To capture the High King before he reaches one of the four provinces, i.e. one of the corners.
- High King: Only the High King can occupy the middle square and the corner squares. The High King can only move one square at a time until he reaches the edge and then he can move as many squares as he wishes along the edge – but he cannot jump pieces.
- Attackers and Defenders: All the men may move any amount of squares, however only in a straight line and cannot jump over pieces.
- The attacking pieces make the first move.
- When flanked on two sides by an opposing man.
- When trapped against a corner square or the High King’s square and flanked on the other side by an opposing man.
- Double traps may happen when two men are trapped by an opposing man moving in between them.
- High King
- The attacking team blocks all four sides around the High King
- The attacking team blocks three sides around the High King against the centre square or any corner square.
Captured pieces are removed from the board and when the High King is captured the game is over.
It appears the High King is easy to capture, after all he has only eight defenders against 12 attackers. All is not as it seems! A challenging game of skill – can you become a master?! View the Celtic Chess Set at Totally Irish Gifts.com.
View click here to view chess boards made in Ireland and in stock at Totally Irish Gifts.
Prices correct at time of blog, prices may increase or go on sale at different time during the year.
Interested in learning about other Irish games? Read about the Traditional Irish Game of Rings.