Emerald Isle

The Rules of Fidchell

Irish and Celtic myths and legends, Irish folklore and Irish fairy tales from the Mythological Cycle

The Rules of Fidchell

We are delighted to be able to present to you the rules of Fidchell, the Irish game of kings! This game can be purchased, but it's easy to get started and try it out for yourself. All you need is a 7 x 7 board, which can be squares or pins marked out - even on paper - 16 white or attacker pieces, a king piece, and 8 darker-coloured defender pieces, two champions from each province.

The aim of the game is for the king to escape, or for the attackers to capture the king.

Some Background:

The ancient game of Fidchell or “wisdom of the woods” is woven through many Irish stories. It is older than chess by far, and legends tell it was invented by none other than Lugh of the Tuatha De Dannan, and predates chess by many centuries.

Fidchell held a central role in the celebrations of Lugh, and at Samhain festivities as well, where it was consulted for prophetic hints about the year to come. No battles were allowed except those which took place on the Fidchell board. It was reserved for the nobility, the warriors, and the druids for a long time - and they were required to master it!

Those skilled in Fidchell were held in great esteem as people of cunning mind and wit, adversaries to be respected.

This is one of the tales which explains how to play it, Mac de Cherda and Cummaine Fota:

"Good," says Guaire, "Let's play fidchell."
"How are the men slain?" asks Cummaine.
"Not hard, a black pair of mine about one white man of yours on the same line, disputing the approach on the far side (?)"
"My conscience, indeed!" said Cummaine, "I cannot do the other thing, but I shall not slay your men, you will not slay my men."
For a whole day Guaire was pursuing him and he could not slay one of his men.
"That is champion-like, o cleric," said Guaire.


The Rules:

There are many other legends providing different instructions, and it seems that each Dún or household had its own version, in much the same way that poker games have their own house rules depending on where you play. The most commonly accepted rules are presented first, then the optional rules and then some variations afterwards. It would be as well to try out different rules and see which ones you like best.


Optional Rules:


The Ard Rí or High King Variation, see image G


Lannach, the Cunning Sword Variation, see image h


Brandubh – the Black Raven, see image i


Throwing the Bones:

At the beginning of each turn, both combatants throw a single knucklebone

A different variation means you can roll the bones to see how many spaces you can move in this turn, divided between your pieces or used by only one piece, which should be agreed before play begins

 

Fidchell boards were often very ornate, richly carved and with gold and silver pieces, and even set with gemstones. In the cattle raid of Froech, friend of Queen Maeve, a board is described as being made of white gold, and the edges and corners were of gold, while the pieces were of gold and silver, and a candle of precious stone provided light, while the board itself was too heavy for a boy to lift, as is written in Amra Columcille. Fidchell boards were listed as part of the tribute demanded by kings.

If you'd like to purchase the board in the images, it can be bought from O'Gowna Studios here, https://ogowna.com/shop/ols/products/irish-game-heritage-week-fidchell-chess but be sure to ask him for extra white pieces via email or phone first since he only sells the Lannach Variation out of the box.

Have fun! It is said that Lugh had two homes, one of which is marked on the map below.



More Stories from the Mythological Cycle

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