Noel Mulcahy

Written by Pat Twomey

The latest Mulcahy Memorial tournament (2012) was won jointly by Cork City chess club players Arnaud Aoastin and Kieran O’Riordan after both players had finished on 5/6 points. There were a total of 32 players participating and going into the last round Kieran and Arnaud both had 4.5/5 having shared the point in their individual encounter in round three. Kieran drew his last round game against Henke de Jonge and Arnaud similarly drew his last round game against fellow Frenchman Jonathan Grimmer. With both players on 5 points a blitz (best of three) play off ensued but the Frenchman proved too strong for his young opponent and thus Arnaud Aoastin gets his name inscribed on the beautiful and prestigious Mulcahy Memorial trophy.

The Mulcahy Memorial chess tournament began in 1969 following the tragic death of Noel Mulcahy in the Aer Lingus viscount air crash off the Tusker Rock in March 1968. E N (Noel) Mulcahy was one of the strongest players to emerge from the Irish chess scene in the 1950s and 60s. Arriving in Cork (from Mount Mellary College in Waterford) in 1947 to attend University College Cork he quickly became involved in the revival of chess at the college. Mulcahy’s first trophy was the Cork junior championship which he shared with M Falvey and F Healy in 1949. He played in his first Irish Championship in 1950 where he scored a creditable 4.5 points from 8 games. Runner up in 1951 Mulcahy won his first Irish championship in 1953 when he was awarded the trophy on tiebreak from Vincent Maher when they both ended up with 6 points from 8 games. He again finished first with Maher in 1955 but this time Maher was awarded the trophy on tiebreak. Mulcahy played altogether in seven (1950, 1951, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1960 and 1967) Irish championships and had the enviable record of finishing as the winner or runner up in five of them.

Noel Mulcahy was considered by many to be a strong strategical player but he also had a quick eye for any tactical opportunities that might arise as the following game illustrates.

It wasn’t just on the domestic chess scene that Mulcahy was making a name for himself as he frequently played in tournaments around Europe. In 1954 Mulcahy was selected to represent Ireland in the West European Zonal in Munich, where his performance was the best ever by an Irishman beating Grandmaster Bouwmeester and Scottish champion J M Aitkin in the process. The following year in May 1955 the ‘An Tostal’ tournament was held in Cork and attracted a strong international contingent of chess players to Mulcahy’s home territory. Noel Mulcahy finished best of the Irish players behind O’Kelly de Galway, the Belgian Grandmaster van Scheltinga, B H Wood and Ossip Bernstein. In this tournament Mulcahy beat Grandmaster Bernstein (see game below), drew with (but had a winning position against) van Scheltinga and got deserved praise from B H Wood in his report for ‘Chess’ magazine: “E N Mulcahy, their young (Irish) champion and a Corkman, beat Bernstein and very nearly beat van Scheltinga as well. This in spite of the handicap of having to teach during the day and being much involved in the organisation of the tournament. Clearly he is developing into a very strong player”.


The following game shows Mulcahy at his best when playing the veteran Grandmaster Bernstein.

Because of work and family commitments Mulcahy took a break from national and international tournaments between 1955 and 1966. However, when he did return to play in UCC’s 1916 Easter jubilee tournament, held in Crosshaven in 1966, he quickly reasserted himself as one of the strongest players in Ireland. In the space of just over a year Mulcahy competed in four national major tournaments and tied for first place in two of them. In Crosshaven he shared the spoils with Keogh and Deiseach and again in the Myles Farrington tournament in Dublin in August 1966 when he came joint first with Heidenfeld, Littleton and O’Leary. His final major tournament was the 1967 Irish championship in Cork where he tied for 5/11 places behind the joint winners Heidenfeld and Henry. Noel Mulcahy was a past president of the Munster Chess Union and was for many years President of his beloved UCC Chess Club. He was particularly proud of the fact that he had never been beaten playing senior chess for UCC. Following his tragic death in 1968 a committee was formed to devise a way of honouring Noel Mulcahy’s great achievements in chess and of perpetuating his memory. Consequently the E N Mulcahy Perpetual Trophy was commissioned from Messrs. Egans of Cork and this trophy has been competed for annually (with a short break from 1995 to 2002) since 1969. What follows is some notes on the Mulcahy tournament that I have managed to gather from various sources and also from personal recollections.

The first ‘E N Mulcahy Memorial’ tournament was held in conjunction with the Irish inter-universities congress at University College Cork from January 3rd until January 6th in 1969. Forty one players competed for the trophy and UCC player Maurice Kennefick emerged the winner on 5.5 points from six games ahead of J Murray (Dublin) 5 points and M Roberts (Queen’s), J Cummins (UCD) and A Coldrick (TCD) all on 4.5 points. Refreshments were served (free of charge) during the tournament and a dinner was organised for the participants on Sunday, January 5th.

The second ‘Mulcahy’ tournament was won in convincing style by John Moles (Belfast) who scored 5.5 points from his six games, four players were grouped together on 4.5 points: John Murray (Dublin University), Tom Ireton (Sullivan’s Quay), Colm Quigley (CBC) and S Saverymutter who was described as ‘…an interesting English-based entry’. The organisers again ‘arranged a very attractive dinner for participants which will be subsidised’. John Murray now with Trinity won the following year’s (1971) Mulcahy on a score of 5 points from six games just a half a point ahead of 14 year-old Bernard Kernan who managed to draw with the winner. David Cox won it the following year and in 1973 Stephen Meyler (UCD) put his name on the trophy. Stephen had already represented Ireland at junior level playing in an under 16 tournament in Belgium in 1970 and also that year played in the Glorney Cup team. He gave up chess when he moved to London in 1975 but became ‘active’ again in 1997 and now plays for the RAC club in London.

The next few years (1974 – 1977) were dominated by Bernard Kernan who won it three out of the four years (’74, 76, 77) and was runner up to the Scottish player Iain Sinclair who won it in 1975. It seems that Iain and Bernard had met at the World Junior Championship in Teeside in 1973 and became firm friends and Kernan invited Sinclair to come over to the Mulcahy in 1975 which he duly did and won the tournament scoring 5.5/6 and in the last round drew with Kernan who finished second with 5/6. In 1976 the places were reversed and it was Kernan who ended up on 5.5/6 and Sinclair and Colm Quigley came joint runners up on 5/6. The last round was an interesting affair with four players tied in the lead on 4.5/5 they were Kernan, Quigley, Sinclair and local player Philip Short. While Short lost the final game to Kernan he did win a special prize for the best U16 score! Kernan again won the Mulcahy in 1977 when he tied for first place with Stephen Swanson, another Scot who had been ‘persuaded’ by Kernan and Sinclair to join them on the ‘pilgrimage’ to Cork that year.

Kernan’s record of winning three Mulcahy tournaments would stand until equalled by Philip Short in the 25th annual Mulcahy in 1993. Short had previously won the tournament in 1984 and 1991. He also finished joint first in 1981 (along with five others) but Connor O’Shaughnessy was awarded the trophy on tiebreak. For his third victory (1993) Short dominated the Mulcahy conceding only one draw and had successive victories over former international Eamonn Keogh and top seed Colm Daly. While Kernan ‘retired’ from active chess in the 1970s Philip Short has continued to play top level chess and regularly competes in the Irish Championship (he beat GM Stuart Conquest in 2008 and was runner up to Alex Lopez in 2010).

Here is the final round game against Colm Daly that gave Short his third Mulcahy title.

At the conclusion of the 11th annual Mulcahy on the 1st January, 1979 the outcome was unresolved. It must be remembered that adjournaments during the two rounds per day took place and all adjournments were completed after the second game each day. At the close of play on the third day in 1979 four players, Tim Harding, Maurice Kennefick, Paul Wallace, and Tony Doyle led the field with five points from six games. The unfinished game was between former Irish joint champion Ray Devenney (Bangor) and international Paul Delaney (Dublin). Devenney had 4.5 points from five games while Delaney was on the 4-point mark. If Devenney succeeded in winning the adjourned game then he would emerge the outright winner of the Mulcahy on 5.5 points. However (probably because of travel commitments) the game had to be adjourned to a later date. The unresolved game was played before the end of the month and ended, as expected, in a draw, which resulted in a five-way tie for first place. Following the tiebreak the perpetual trophy was awarded to Tim Harding, a former English analyst and chess author.

The 1990 Mulcahy produced an unexpected winner when a computer, the ‘Mephisto Almeria’, owned by John Kissane, swept the board and finished on 5.5 points out of six games and managed to outscore the 75 human opponents who participated that year. It was previously decided that in the ‘unlikely event’ of the computer finishing in the prizes then no prize would be awarded to it, consequently the magnificent trophy and £700 in prizemoney was awarded to London based Connor O’Shaughnessy and Mel Kennedy who both finished in second place on 5/6.

The modern period of the Mulcahy Memorial (since 2002) has seen local Cork player Alex Lopez win the tournament no fewer than eight times in the ten years since it was revived. Alex thus holds the record for having won the most ‘Mulcahy Memorial’ tournaments since its inception 43 years ago. This is a record that will take some beating.

Down through the years the Mulcahy tournament attracted players from far and wide and witnessed many exciting games and thrilling finishes. However in the recent past the numbers attending this fine tournament have somewhat diminished. It would be great to see this chess tournament recapture its former popularity and glory. Maybe 2013 will be the year that this event will again become, for chess players far and wide, an event ‘not to be missed’.

With sincere thanks to Iain Sinclair, Stephen Meyler, John Moles, Maurice Coveney and Stephen Short.