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Killarney Ware backgammon and chess set

Last updated on June 15, 2020

This post is with thanks to our friends at Christopher Clarke Antiques, specialists in antique campaign furniture.

Occasionally, at Deluxe Backgammon we like to look at something different. We don’t just focus on modern pieces when we consider quality backgammon sets. This post is about an antique Killarney Ware backgammon and chess set we saw on the Christopher Clarke Antiques website.

The large Killarney Ware folding backgammon and chess set is made of arbutus wood inlaid with boxwood and what appears to be lignum. Arbutus, also known as strawberry wood, is a species of flowering tree native to Western Europe. The wood features prominently in the local arts and crafts of Killarney, County Kerry, Ireland. Lignum, on the other hand, is a tree native to the Caribbean. It has been an important export crop to Europe since the beginning of the 16th century. The wood was once very important for applications requiring a material with its combination of strength, toughness, and density.

In Victorian times there was a tourism boom. This was driven in part by the expansion of the railways, which became widespread from the 1830s onwards. Ireland, as much as any other country, benefitted from the growing tourist industry. Killarney was probably the earliest Irish venue to draw large numbers of tourists. The attraction was the town’s close proximity to lakes and mountains. In addition to travel, the Victorians were also interested in the concept of the ‘picturesque’ as represented by nature.

Killarney Ware

The craft, that is now known as Killarney Ware, emerged as a result of the tourism boom that followed Queen Victoria’s visit in 1861. Lord Castlerosse had astutely presented the Queen with some pieces of locally produced furniture on her visit. This exposure further increased the popularity of the local craftsmen. The subsequent influx of tourists to see Killarney’s lakes and mountains, benefited the local industries in producing Killarney Ware as souvenirs. Killarney Ware is typically made of arbutus wood often inlaid with boxwood and other timbers. Two of the most recognised makers were J. Egan and Jeremiah O’Connor, both with workshops on Main Street in Killarney.

Construction

This antique backgammon set is typical of the type of souvenir that a Victorian tourist would have brought home in the 1870s. The games box is marked for chess and draughts on the outside and for backgammon on the inside. The box is hinged to fold in half for easy storage. The cabinet would have been made primarily from arbutus using traditional marquetry methods. The inlaid marquetry points are of boxwood and possibly lignum. Overall, the cabinet and playing field are in good condition for their age. Howver, there is evidence of the box being once screwed to the open position. There are also some minor shrinkage cracks. This is totally expected and acceptable for an antique piece.

Accessories

This very decorative and usable backgammon set has a set of lignum and boxwood counters and modern dice. Obviously, the doubling cube does  not belong to the period, as it was only introduced in the 20th century. It would be a nice decorative touch to add some vintage wooden dice to the set. The checkers may not be original, they seem a fraction too large for the points. However, they look like they are from the same period.

Conclusion

This is a delightful antique backgammon set that is in exceptional condition and remains usable. From a decorative view, the only drawback is the modern set of acrylic dice. However, these could easily be replaced with contemporary dice from another antique games set. If the set was to be used, the modern dice could be used for competitive play. The set is missing the chess pieces, but if you are a chess fan, you could certainly find replacements. We have no hesitation in recommending this as a true Deluxe Backgammon set.

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