Lucius Gwynn (courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)
Lucius Gwynn (courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

The inspiration for the present narrative comes from a Commemorative Lecture and Seminar delivered by Canon Patrick Comerford, and held at Whitechurch Parish, Rathfarnham, Dublin, on September 19, 2013. The lecture provides valuable insights into the lives and achievements of the members of a remarkably distinguished and scholarly family of Irelandthat can be traced back about 1,000 years to Brian Boru, first king of all Ireland, and who have adornedthe Halls of Academia and Divinity in Ireland for over a century of the country’s heritage.      

Let us begin the story with the Very Revd Dr John Gwynn (1827-1917), a renowned Biblical scholar and Church of Ireland priest. He was Assistant to the Regius Professor of Greek, assistant to the Archbishop King’s Divinity Lecturer, and Warden of Saint Columba’s College. However, Gwynn resigned his fellowship at Trinity when he went into parish ministry in Co Donegal in 1864, and he was Dean of Raphoe and Dean of Derry. Gwynn returned to Dublin and to Trinity as Archbishop King’s Lecturer in Divinity and Regius Professor of Divinity until his death. A scholar of Biblical languages, he learned Syriac later in life to relieve the tedium during the long railway journeys between Strabane and Dublin. 

His wife Lucy Josephine was a daughter of the Irish nationalist William Smith O’Brien and a niece of Harriet Monsell. As Mother Superior of the Sisters of Mercy in Clewer for 25 years, Mother Monsell was one of the people involved in the revival of women’s religious communities in the Anglican Communion, and as such she is commemorated among the saints in the calendar of the Church of England.                      

The couple had nine children, many of them becoming renowned as scholars of note, contributing to classical literature and academics, and holding highly respected positions in Trinity College and Dublin University. Over the years, the family has contributed to the Church, the field of journalism, the armed forces, the Civil Service, and sports. Six of the eight sons played cricket at different levels, while two of the sons also played rugby at a representative level. The youngest child, the only daughter Lucy, was the first female Registrar of Trinity College, Dublin. Indeed, the connection between the family and Trinity College, Dublin, was so old and illustrious that some wits were known to have opined that the name of the College should have been changed to “Gwynnity College.”

The fourth son was born May 5, 1873 at Ramelton, County Donegal, and was christened Lucius Henry, perhaps inspired by the Classics. Like his brothers, Lucius was educated at St Columba’s College, on the 150-acre campus on the slopes of the mountains in South County Dublin. Over years, St Columba’s has grown into prominence as one of the premier public schools of Ireland, and has come to be known as The Irish Eton. Dr Gwynn himself had once been the Warden. Lucius followed the family tradition by becoming a brilliant student at St Columba’s, winning several academic awards. His academic excellence followed him later to Trinity College and Dublin University, Lucius winning several Gold Medals and Firsts in the Classics and Ethics.

There has been a long tradition of sports at St Columba’s in general, and of cricket, in particular. College historical archives hint at cricket being played in the institution as early as 1843. The college can legitimately claim to have the longest continuous tradition of organised cricket among Irish schools. Speaking of the cricket pavilion, a brochure of the College says: “The boards on the walls and ceiling record the names of those playing for the First XI from 1857. Some great names and cricketing families of this early era from 1857 are etched on the walls of the pavilion and catch the eye. Various Hones, the Gywnns, W.R.L. Bourchier, H.M. Read, R.M.T.G. McVeagh, J.B. Ganly, C.S. (‘Father’) Marriott.”

For the Gwynn family, the relationship with the cricket ground and pavilion at St Columba’s began with the second brother, Edward John, and permeated down through Charles William, Lucius Henry, Arthur Percival, Robert Malcolm, and John Tudor. Six of the eight brothers learnt the rudiments of the game in the cloistered atmosphere of the school and went on to play cricket at the senior level. Edward Liddle tells us that Lucius and his three immediately younger brothers all had the honour of leading the college cricket team in succession. In his time at St Columba’s between 1885 and 1890, Lucius began his cricket career as a right-arm medium-paced bowler, brother Arthur being a better batsman.

Going up to Trinity (where cricket has been played since the 1820s) in 1891, Lucius continued to pursue his love for cricket along with his academic work, turning out for Dublin University and Ireland. His first documented cricket match, played for Dublin University, was against Cambridge (on a tour of Ireland) at Dublin. Cambridge won by 6 wickets. Playing under the captaincy of his brother Arthur, Lucius scored 22 and 2 and captured 4 for 51. He first represented Ireland in a cricket match when he played against I Zingari in 1892. Ireland won by an innings and 71 runs. Gwynn scored 17*.

His batting blossomed in 1895 and he made his First-Class debut playing for Dublin University. The MCC team touring Ireland that year contained three army captains and two Knights of the Realm, one of them being Sir Tim O’Brien, but were not perhaps the strongest ever in terms of established players. The undergrads won the match by 56 runs despite a 62-run first-innings deficit. There were three Gwynns in the University side, Lucius, Arthur, and Robert. All three made significant contributions to the win: Lucius took 3 for 29 and 2 for 49 and held 3 catches in the first innings, Arthur scored 10 and 80, and Robert picked up 2 for 50 and 3 for 21.

Lucius Gwynn played only 8 First-Class matches in a career between 1895 and 1902, scoring 577 runs with a highest of 153* and an average of 44.38. He had 2 centuries and 3 fifties, and held 10 catches. He also captured 18 wickets at 22.77 with best figures of 4 for 81.

He was a member of the Dublin University team that toured England in 1895, playing against Cambridge and Leicestershire. Although Cambridge won at Fenner’s by an innings and 2 runs, the Dublin team did not disgrace themselves. All three Gwynn brothers played, and in the Cambridge first innings of 398, Lucius had 4 for 93.

The Dublin team was dismissed for 133 in the first innings, Lucius contributing 63. Following on, they scored 263, Lucius opening and scoring 106 and sharing a first-wicket stand of 48 with Dan Comyn (30), with whom he was to develop a deep and fruitful friendship. “A brilliant display of batting,” remarked Wisden of this innings. In the summation of his batting technique, Dublin University Cricket Club made the following comment in their authorised history: “He persuaded the ball away from him, and he could score with great speed while expending relatively little effort.” He had a relatively slightly built 5’ 9” frame, but his nimble footwork enabled Gwynn to score at a rapid rate.

The next engagement of the tour was the First-Class match at Grace Road. The home team won by 126 runs. Gwynn carried his bat for 153 in a first-innings total of 274, adding another 24 in the second innings. He also captured 3 for 43 and 4 for 81 in the game. WG Grace was suitably impressed by his performances, describing him as: “one of the most finished bats I have ever played against.” The upshot was that Gwynn was invited to turn out for the Gentlemen against the Players, reportedly on the personal recommendation of The Champion himself.

The match was played at The Oval, and 22-year-old Gwynn found himself in the same dressing-room as some of the great names of contemporary cricket like Herbert Bainbridge, skipper Billy Murdoch, CB Fry, WW Read, and ‘Shrimp’ Leveson Gower. The match was drawn, but Gwynn scored a composed 80 in the first innings before he was run out, collaborating in a fifth-wicket stand of 135 with Fry, by itself an educative experience for the youngster, given that the opposition bowling had two all-time greats in their ranks in Tom Richardson and George Lohmann. Even The Times was impressed enough with his effort to remark: “He has a steady and finished style, which yesterday he exercised for three hours and a quarter. His defence, too, came at an opportune time for the Gentlemen … and it was his batting which laid the foundations for the big total.”

The return match against Cambridge at Dublin was drawn. It turned out to be the last First-Class game for both Arthur and Robert Gwynn. Keeping wickets, Arthur acquitted himself well, scoring 130 in the second innings, but Lucius could score only 0 and 16*, though the latter was the highest individual score in a total of 25 for 6.

When the statistics of the season 1895 were compiled, it was seen that Gwynn had scored 426 runs in 3 matches 2 centuries, 2 fifties, and an average of 56.87. He also took 18 wickets. He topped the batting charts for England, although the small size of the sample would negate the import of the figures. However, with a 400-run cut-off, only two men averaged in excess of fifty: Archie MacLaren (51.20) and Grace (51), the latter enjoying an Indian summer at 47. There had been some comment, perhaps illogical, in Ireland  at the time to the effect that their own Gwynn had averaged significantly more for the season than The Champion himself.

Invited to turn out for the Gentlemen again in 1896, Gwynn had a rather modest game at The Oval, scoring 24 and 1, the Gentlemen winning by 1 wicket. This was to be his only First-Class game in 1896. A rather interesting event was reported to have occurred in the life of Gwynn in 1896, when The Irish Times broke a story of his having been selected by the Lancashire Committee to play for England in the Ashes Test at Old Trafford. It was also reported that Gwynn had been compelled to decline the offer very respectfully citing an impending scholarship examination at Trinity. It is now history that KS Ranjitsinhji had been drafted into the England team, and that the Indian Prince had made a dramatic Test debut by scoring 62 and 154*.

By 1897, Gwynn had been replaced as captain of Dublin University First XI by Arthur, and his own appearances for DUCC became more and more irregular. At the end of his career for DUCC, it was estimated that he had scored a total of 3,195 runs for DU from 106 matches at an average of almost 33. He had also captured 311 wickets at 11.33. While compiling a hypothetical All-Time DUCC XI, the archives of the DUCC place the name of Gwynn at the very top of the list: “Best of legendary Trinity family, he scored 80 for the Gentlemen of England against the Players in the de facto Test trial of 1895. Had to turn down the Test because of fellowship exams in Trinity! In 106 games for DU he scored 3,195 runs and took 311 wickets.”

The Honours Board of the Dublin University Cricket Club shows the following members of the Gwynn family leading the First XI:

1894-95 — Lucius Gwynn

1896-97 — Arthur Gwynn

1900 — Robert Gwynn

1903 — John Gwynn

Lucius Gwynn represented Ireland in 11 cricket matches, 2 of them being First-Class (against London County and MCC in 1902, on the inaugural tour of England by an Ireland team, the tour being arranged by O’Brien). In all, he scored 499 runs for his country in these games with a highest of 81* and an average of 38.38. He also took 14 wickets at 18. Eldest brother, the academic and renowned author, Stephen Lucius Gwynn, had once described the batting of Lucius as follows: “I remember seeing Lucius bat once on the Leinster ground, which is very narrow; and the bowler sent down a short one, which he pulled across, low to mid on, without any special appearance of putting hisweight into it. But I never saw a cricket ball travel so hard; and what fixes it in my mind is the narrow escape of our old nurse, whom it missed by a couple of inches.”

In his authoritative publication Cricket in Ireland, Pat Hone commented that Gwynn’s back-foot technique “rivalled Ranjitsinhji.” Hone remembered Gwynn for his “glorious straight drives, and thecombination of predominantly back play in defence, with quick-footed driving in attack, which is a mark of the highest flights of batsmanship”. Playing his last game for Ireland against the 1901 South Africans under Murray Bisset at Phoenix Park, Dublin, Lucius Gwynn scored 34 and 68, the visitors winning by 5 wickets.

There was another string to the bow of this slender, 11-stone man of medium height. He was a Rugby International for Ireland during his university days, having played 7 Tests for his country from 1892-93, when he made his International debut against Scotland, to 1897-98. His preferred position in the XV was centre. In his Rugby profile in the Cricket Leinster archives, Gwynn’s 1894 season was described as follows: “He was part of the Irish team that won the Triple Crown, winning famously against England at Blackheath despite facing a front five (that was) a stone heavier per man, and a couple of inches taller. Arthur played once, as winger in the defeat to Wales in 1895, a game thatLucius missed. Lucius was also a selector of the 1899 team that won the Triple Crown.”

Arthur was another member of the family with international representations in both cricket and rugby, and was known to have gone to Rangoon as a young man to join the Indian Civil Service. He made a mark in the local cricket circles by scoring 2 centuries. A neglected tooth abscess, however, led to septicaemia, and he died at the young age of 25 despite the efforts of the local doctors.

Another brother who made a name for himself in the Indian cricket scene was John Tudor, another employee of the Indian Civil Service, serving in the Madras Presidency till 1921. John played 2 First-Class games for the Europeans in India. Later he worked as a journalist with The Guardian. It may be mentioned here that John’s son JPL Gwynn, who had followed his father into the Indian Civil Service, served in India till 1968 and had compiled an English-Telegu Dictionary that was published by Oxford University Press in 1991 and had collaborated in authoring a Telegu grammar book.

A brilliant scholar all his life, Lucius Gwynn received a double first in his Degree Finals at Trinity. He was elected a Trinity Fellow in 1899, being appointed as Tutor at his alma mater. Coming from such a distinguished family, he seemed destined for a long and brilliant academic career. Lucius married Katherine Rawlinson of Clifton in 1901, and their daughter Rhoda was born in September 1902.

Despite his health beginning to fail by 1902, Lucius Gwynn scored over 1,000 runs at an average of 50 in the season with 4 consecutive centuries at Phoenix Park. His local medical consultants were concerned about his progressively increasing ill health, and advised him to consult some Harley Street specialist for his rapidly deteriorating health. The worst fears were confirmed when the London doctors diagnosed tuberculosis, a dreaded disease at the time. Coming from a relatively wealthy family, LH Gwynn travelled to The Schatzalp, the sanatorium at Davos Platz, Switzerland (opened in 1900), for treatment, accompanied by his sister Lucy.

The Celestial Umpire, however, raised His dreaded finger, and declared Lucius Gwynn out two days prior to Christmas Day of 1902. An editorial of The Irish Times had this to say: “Surely, never before has a career opened so brightly and closed so suddenly … Lucius Gwynn’s career awoke unbounded admiration amongst his fellows and of envy or jealousy no trace”. In their obituary of Gwynn, Wisden was moved to comment: “There can be little doubt that ifhe had had regular opportunities of playing in First-Class matches in England he would haveearned a high place among the batsmen of his day.”

There is an interesting epilogue to the life of the great Irish champion, however. His great-grandson Dr Nathaniel Carey was the Home Office Pathologist called upon to investigate the dual murders of the English schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, both aged 10, at Soham in August 2002, by the former school caretaker Ian Huntley. Dr Carey was later also called upon to give expert evidence in the trial of the accused.

The 2007 World Cup had been rocked by the sudden demise of Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer shortly after their ignominious defeat to lowly-fancied Ireland . The body of the coach had been discovered in his toilet and had been subject to extensive investigation, the thought of murder being uppermost in the public mind inview of the unexpected reversal of the Pakistan team amidst nebulous rumours of the involvement of match-fixing. The investigation was a long and painstaking one with experts in related fields from different countries being called upon in an effort to solve the perplexing mystery. Dr Carey, called in to investigate the case, was of the expert opinion that the death had occurred from natural causes and that the possibility of murder could be ruled out.