National Governing Body for F-Class, Target Rifle, Match Rifle, Blackpowder & Benchrest Shooting in Ireland   

The Creedmoor Cup 2011

It is often stated, though usually in a broad context, that history is bound to repeat itself, that events long past will reoccur in modern times with a similar tone to those of antiquity. Well on June 25th 2011, history did repeat itself, but that usual broad context was narrowed to a single significant point in the history of two great nations, a point found one hundred and thirty six years ago on the sands of Dollymount Strand. 

The story begins however, on September 26th 1874 at the Creedmoor National Rifle Range in Long Island, New York, on that far away continent of America. The Creedmoor range was opened the previous spring in 1873 and was built to be the home of what was then a little know organisation that had been formed in 1871 calling itself the “National Rifle Association”, better known today simple as, the NRA.
1873 also saw the establishment of the “Amateur Club of New York” within the NRA by a group of civilian riflemen whose aim was to promote the use of the fullbore sporting rifle as a national pastime without any military overtones.

Meanwhile, across the water, Ireland which had been allowed to compete with England and Scotland for the Elcho Shield since 1865 had won it for the first time that year in 1873. Drunk with success the Irish riflemen, who were aware of the goings on in the New World, put a challenge to the “Riflemen of America” for an international match to be held in 1874 at the Creedmoor National Rifle Range to decide the “Championship of The World”. The challenge was accepted by the Amateur Club of New York on behalf of the riflemen of America and the scene was set for the first of two great international shooting matches between Ireland and America which would bind forever in the hearts and minds of the men of both countries, a deep love and respect for the rifle.

The Creedmoor International Rifle Match 1874
The Irish International Shooting team arrived in New York on the 16th of September and proceeded to “take in the sights”, which was understandable, before some practice at the Creedmoor range. On September 26th they presented themselves for the match with confidence and in high sprits. The crowds that day were reported to be between 5,000 and 10,000 strong, which showed the huge support already growing for the fledgling sport in America.


The course of fire was 15 shots to each man at 800, 900 and 1000 yards. Unfortunately, the details of each mans scores at the individual distances have been lost to time but we do know that the Americans were well ahead after the 800 yard shoot. The Irish then caught up after the 900 yard and finished the 1000 yard shoot ahead by 1 point. The Americans still had one man left to shoot and it came down to his very last shot with which he scored a 4 giving the American team the win over the Irish by 3 points. The Americans were delighted with the result and the Irish were reported to have been graceful in defeat.


The following is a list of the members of both teams and their overall scores.


                              Creedmoor International Rifle Match 1874
                                 America                                        Ireland

                  Henry Fulton               171              John Rigby               163
                  G.W. Yale                    162              J.B. Hamilton           160
                  John Bodine                158              James Wilson          160
                  Colonel Gildersleeve   155              J.K. Milner                154
                  L.L. Hepburn                149             Edmund Johnson     150
                  T.S. Dakin                    139             Captain Walker         144
    
                Grand Total               934            Grand Total               931

 
So the stage had been set, in 1874 Ireland and America had competed against each other in the first ever international long range shooting match. It is a fantastic piece of history between our two countries and you would be forgiven for thinking that that was it. But of course that was not it. The Americans, revelling in their new found roll as International Shooting Champions and grateful to the Irish for bringing the opportunity to there door, felt obliged to return the favour and challenged the Irish riflemen to a return match to be held in 1875 on Dollymount Strand in Dublin. The Irish, egger to reclaim the title and to continue this new found shooting tradition with their American cousins, jumped at the opportunity and accepted the challenge. 

The Dollymount International Rifle Match 1875
The match was held on the June 29th 1875 on Dollymount Strand in Dublin bay. For the previous two days it had rained heavily and the city was sodden with water but the day of the match saw an end to the rain although overcast skies and a yellow fog came down on the city that morning.

The American International Shooting team had arrived several days before the 29th and went straight into a closed practice regime which they followed without regard to the heaviness of the rain or the strength of the wind. They continued this regime each day, politely refusing invitations to the various “garden parties”, “flower shows” and “trips in the bay”, until the day came when they at last felt sure of their rifles and the conditions of the Dollymount range. On this day they held an open practice session for the members of the press and produced a tremendous score. All the hard work and discipline of the Americans was paying off and they felt ready for the main event.

Meanwhile, when the Irish team, who were busy entertaining the remainder of the American entourage, caught wind of their competitors score, they became slightly worried and decided to put in a little practice of their own which consisted of shooting five shots at each distance. The result was not what they had expected nor hoped for and the mood in the Irish camp began to grow ominous.  

When the morning of the 29th finally arrived, thousands of spectators began flocking to the strand from all over the city and its surrounds. Dublin had never seen such a spectacle before. This, combined with the fact that it was a Catholic holiday, led to the swelling of the ranks of the crowd beyond any expectation.

The match itself would follow the same course of fire as did the match held the previous year at Creedmoor. Each man would take 15 shots at 800, 900 and 1000 yards. With 800 yards to begin and the markers at their places in the butts, the red danger flag was lowered and the bugle sounded the start of the Great Dollymount Rifle Match of 1875.

I won’t go into much detail of how the individual scores played out, (for those of you who are interested you can find a copy of an article from the New York Times written by one of their correspondents who was at the match which gives an almost shot by shot account, here.), sufficed to say that at the end of the 800 yard shoot, Ireland with a score of 338 out of a possible 360, was leading America with a score of 337, by one point. This was very surprising because the Americans were regarded as being the superior marksmen at this distance and had shown it the previous year at the Creedmoor match. This greatly lifted the spirits in the Irish camp which had been lowered after the show the Americans had put on during their public practice. Had the Americans peaked too early?

The Irish began the 900 yard with great confidence as they were sure they would leave the Americans far behind at this distance but this was soon proven not to be the case as a series of five unexplained misses left Ireland short of twenty valuable points. The Americans, on the other hand, went from strength to strength and finished out the 900 yard with a score of 327 against Irelands 292 which put them ahead overall by 34 points going into the final 1000 yard shoot.  

A short break for lunch was given before the 1000 yard shoot and when the match commenced again the crowd had swollen to an unimaginable scale of upwards of 40,000 people. The news had seemingly got around town that an Irish defeat was on the cards.
Despite this the Irish team managed to improve on their 900 yard score with a total of 299 at 1000 yards but alas it was not enough. The Americas held fast and put in a score of 303 which improved their overall lead by four points. The final scores were in; America with a total score of 967 had beaten Ireland with a total score of 929, by 38 points.  
The Great Dollymount Rifle Match of 1875 was over and America had triumphed, holding onto their well earned win of the previous years match.   
The following is a list of the members of both teams and their overall scores.

                                             The Dollymount International Rifle Match 1875
                                                       America                                  Ireland
                                 Henry Fulton               161              MR. Pollock               161
                                 G.W. Yale                    160             J.B. Hamilton              161
                                 John Bodine                162             James Wilson             163
                                 Colonel Gildersleeve   164             J.K. Milner                  133
                                 Mr. Coleman                156             Edmund Johnson       162
                                 T.S. Dakin                    164             Mr. McKenna              144
                                   Grand Total               967             Grand Total               929

 

The Creedmoor Cup 2011
The great rifle matches of 1874 and 1875 between Ireland and America were a fantastic saga in the history of our two nations and were made even more so by the special fondness and friendship that developed between us over the following one hundred and thirty odd years. The Creedmoor range continued to host a series of international matches through out the 1870’s and 1880’s until public interest eventually declined and sadly, in 1910 shooting finally ceased at Creedmoor and the land was deeded back to the state of New York. A lot of history has passed between then and now in our two countries. America has seen two world wars, the great depression, Vietnam and 911. Ireland has seen the war for independence, statehood, the civil war, and of course the more recent Northern Ireland troubles. Through out all those years the NRA in America has grown with its people and become an integral part of its nation’s sporting identity. Ireland, on the other hand, due to the internal conflict she has seen over that period, had for the most part lost her proud tradition of marksmanship with the sporting rifle, especially when it came to long range shooting. Thankfully, that all began to change at the start of the twenty first century.

In the year 2000 the “National Rifle Association of Ireland” or NRAI was formed. Its aim is to promote the use of the fullbore sporting rifle for competitive target shooting in Ireland. Just like the NRA in America, the NRAI needed a home and that home was found on the bog of Derrymore in Blueball just outside Tullamore in County Offaly.


In 2000, a 400 yard range was built on the site and three years later the 600 yard “Windmill” range was also built to allow for mid range target shooting, the first of its kind in modern Ireland. The site was christened the Midland National Shooting Centre of Ireland or MNSCI and with it the story of Irish F-Class began.

The matches of the 1870’s were shot using the very best rifle and rifle sights technology available to the shooters at the time. Today’s F-Class, the natural descendant of those matches, carries on that tradition with the use of modern calibres, finely tuned custom built rifles and the pinnacle of optical technology.

No sooner had the 600 yard range been built at the MNSCI, when the NRAI formed a national F-Class league bringing together like-minded shooters from all over the country to compete in this modern long range shooting sport. The league continued to grow over the following six years until a temporary 1000 yard range was built in 2008 to facilitate Irelands bid to compete in the 2009 F-Class World Championships.

The story of the 2009 F-Class World Championships has been told in another article which you will find on the NRAI website, www.nrai.com if wish to read it. Sufficed to say that Ireland came home with 3rd place in the F-TR category and 4th place in the F-Open category, a very good result for our first time back on the world stage in 134 years.

Meanwhile, the American F-Class riflemen, who are at the top of there game, having seen that Ireland had finally made its way back into the fold of international long range shooting, decided the time was right to revive that great shared history of the 1870’s and issue a challenge to the F-Class riflemen of Ireland for an International Rifle Match to be held on the 25th of June 2011 at the MNSCI range here in Ireland. The challenge was made by the president of the American NRA, Mr. John Sigler on behalf of the riflemen of America, to the chairman of the NRAI, Mr. Noel Kelly and was accepted by him on behalf of the riflemen of Ireland. The match will be called “The Creedmoor Cup” and will become an event which will be held every four years, alternating between Ireland and America.
To coincide with the Creedmoor Cup there will be two other events held at the start of that week. The Irish Open, which will be two days of F-Class shoots for individual competitors and the Europe v America team match which was first held at the Lodi range in 2008 in America.  

In order to facility this momentous event, a new permanent, 26 bay, 1200 yard rifle range has been commissioned and is being built at the Midland National Shooting Centre of Ireland, and in honour of the place where the sporting rifle traditions of our two great countries became forever entwined, it will be christened “Creedmoor”. The range is due to be finished by the end of 2010, exactly one hundred years after the closing of the original Creedmoor range in America.


As well as the new range, the MNSCI is pleased to announce that it has been granted approval to run a pilot cartridge reloading scheme to facilitate the holding of the Creedmoor Cup. This scheme has been greatly received and is the first of its kind in the Republic of Ireland.

The similarities of what occurred in America during the 1870s with the formation of the NRA and the building of Creedmoor, and what has occurred here in Ireland during the last decade, are simply astounding and lend an even greater sense of occasion to the re-emergence from the history books of a proud Irish tradition of rifle marksmanship.  

On a final note, I would say that there is another statement which is often applied to history, that those who do not learn from the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them. Well let me tell you, that when it comes to the performance of the Irish and American rifle teams of the 1870’s, we modern Irish Riflemen, have learned our lessons well.