greatest all-round sportsman
he been a Gaelic footballer, or even been in the slightest
way Gaelic Minded James Cecil Parke would most
surely have been the greatest footballer ever to emanate
from Co. Monaghan. Gaelic Games, however, were only in their
infancy, or even unknown, in many parts of Co. Monaghan
during the Parke Era and James Cecil would hardly
even have been aware of their existence. But his love of
sport and the fact that he was ranked Fourth in the
World in tennis, captained the Irish International
Rugby team for two years and was an Olympic Silver medallist,
would surely have prompted such a great athlete also to
have a go at the Gaelic code, either in Gaelic
football or in hurling, had he known about them.
James Cecil Parke was born in Clones, Co Monaghan on the
26th of July 1881 and was to become one of the most extraordinary
Irish sportsmen of all time. Few of our great athletes can
claim to have represented their country in a variety of
sports, yet that is exactly what Parke did, representing
Ireland internationally in five different sports - rugby,
tennis, cricket, athletics and chess. He was one of the
most outstanding international rugby players this country
has ever produced, an equally brilliant scratch golfer,
a first class cricketer and track sprinter, and a child
prodigy at chess, but above all else, a universally renowned
tennis star, ranked among the worlds Top Four
of his era, and winning an Olympic Games Silver Medal in
the Mens Doubles of 1908. Described in a 1913 London
newspaper as the worlds best (tennis) player
he was certainly the most outstanding performer Co Monaghan
has ever produced, and was probably the greatest all-round
sportsman that Ireland has ever produced.
The Parke family originally came from Longfield Lodge in
Co. Leitrim and James Cecils father was William Parke
(1824-1907) who came to live in Clones and later married
Mary Pringle from the Emyvale area in the same county. They
had eight children, including Maud Pedlow of Lurgan (whose
grandson Cecil Pedlow later became an Irish rugby international
and a British and Irish Lion) and James Cecil. His mothers
family, the Pringles, were a very highly esteemed ascendancy
family which had lived at Ballinahone, Emyvale from 1696
to the 1960s. One member of the family, James Pringle, was
for many years an MP for South Tyrone.
While a student at Trinity College, Cecil Parke was first
capped for Ireland in rugby in 1903 and captained his country
in the three home international of the 1907-08
season. A superb centre-threequarter he won no less than
twenty caps ... against England in 1904, 06, 07,
08 and 09, against Scotland in 1904, 06,
07, 08 and 09, against Wales in 1903,
04, 05, 06, 07, 08,
and 09; against France in 1909; against New Zealand
in 1906 and against South Africa in 1907.
Described by the Sport newspaper as a
football genius, a great centre and a brilliant performer
he was also a marvellous place-kicker and his record of
five penalty goals in one international was to last as an
Irish record up until 1927 when it was broken by George
Stephenson. His last game in the green jersey was on 20th
March 1909 when he scored five of Irelands points
- a drop goal and a conversation - in their magnificent
19-8 win over France at Landsdowne Road. He then retired
from the game to concentrate on tennis.
In tennis, his favourite sport, he won the first trophy
at Clones Lawn Tennis Club in 1900 at age 19. He then went
on to win the Irish Mens Singles title in 1904 and
1905, and then for six years in succession 1908-13. During
that same period he won the Mens Doubles five times
- 1903, 1909, 1910, 1911 and 1912 and the Mixed Doubles
twice, 1909 and 1912. He was European Singles champion in
1907 and Singles champion of Australiasia in 1912. He represented
Ireland in 1912 and 1913 and was picked for the Great
British and Ireland team for several internationals,
playing on the Davis Cup team in 1909, 1912 and 1913. He
was ranked world number six in 1914 and number four in 1920.
In later years he would write: - In 1909 I was again
chosen to represent the Old Country and visited
America as captain of the British and Irish team which consisted
of CP Dixon, WC Crawley and myself. Following their
victory in the Davis Cup Finals in Australia in 1912, in
which he defeated the Australian No. 1 though he himself
was ranked No. 2 he wrote: - My four-leafed shamrock
pulled me through.
The great American tennis star S Powell Blackmore wrote
that he was an ardent admirer of Parke and said that it
had always been his secret ambition, from he was a mere
fifteen years of age, to play against the great Irishman.
Describing Parkes style, Blackmore wrote: - James
Cecil Parke has a slight Irish brogue and a big Irish heart.
His shots are rather pushed out at you if he is standing
still, but once Parke gets on the run, he hurls himself
at the ball and you get a hot return, and Parke will go
on hurling himself at the ball even at a time when things
In the world renowned Wimbledon tournament, Parke reached
the semi-finals (6th round) of the Mens Singles in
1910, defeating Beamish in the 5th and again in 1913 when
he beat Watson in the 5th only to lose to the eventual winner
on both occasions. He did even better in the Mens Doubles,
reaching the finals of 1911 (with Hardy), 1912 (with Beamish)
and 1913 (with Beamish again) to win the runners-up titles.
His greatest achievement here was in 1914 when, partnered
by Mrs Larcombe, the Ladies Singles champion, he won the
Mixed Doubles title, which had only been inaugurated the
previous year, thus becoming the only Irishman ever to win
a Wimbledon championship.
His Olympic career was relatively short, but highly successful,
first competing in the 1908 Games in London and winning
the Silver Medal along with MJG Ritchie, with whom he reached
the Mens Doubles Final. In Mens Singles he got
a w.o in the first round, defeated Toth of Hungary 6-1,
6-3, 6-2 in the second round, and then met Froitzheim of
Germany in the third. This was described in the official
Olympic Report as the match of the whole Olympic Tournament.
Parke had advantage four times during the match but let
it slip. Both players were accorded a standing ovation at
Along with Ritchie in the Mens Doubles he defeated
a Hungarian pair in the 1st round, an Austrian pair in the
2nd round, and then Decugis and Germot of France in the
semi final. But they were beaten 9-7, 7-5, 9-7, by Hilliard
and Doherty in the final. The report stated that Ritchie
did not play up to the standard of Parke, but the Olympic
Silver Medal was still his.
His greatest ever performance in tennis was in 1913 when
he defeated the USAs No. 1 and the Daily Chronicle
of 26th July 1913 reported: -
After one of the finest matches ever played at Wimbledon,
JC Parke defeated Americans champion, ME McLoughlin,
by three sets to two ... in a five set match that was crowded
with thrilling incidents, McLoughlin was beaten by Parke
8-10, 7-5, 6-4, 1-6, 7-5.
The same paper, in its issue of 29th July 1913, wrote: -
Within the last six months he (Parke) has beaten Norman
Brookes, the Australian champion; AF Wilding, the all-England
champion; and Americans first and second players,
McLoughlin and Williams. On that record one might almost
say he is the worlds best player.
This great Monaghan sportsman joined the British army at
the outbreak of WW1 and held the rank of captain when wounded
at Gallipoli in 1915. Promoted major in 1917, he was back
on the tennis circuit after peace was restored. In 1920
he again reached the Wimbledons Mens Double
Final with Kingscote, but lost to Williams and Garland.
In Singles he reached the 5th round but then lost to Tilden,
the ultimate winner. His last major title was the Singles
title at Hythe, also that year.
Parke is best described by S. Powell Blackmore in his Lawn
Tennis Up-to-Date 1921.
He is one of the worlds greatest fighters, not
on account of his cunning, but because of his daring strokes
when concerned. Parke is most dangerous when his opponent
thinks a shot has beaten him. It is not tactics, it is sinew,
superlative nerve and the heart of a big sportsman.
Following the end of WW1 Parke lived at Llandudno in Wales
where he practiced as a solicitor up until his death on
27th February 1946. He had retired from the tennis game
in 1925, a sportsman of whom any county should feel extremely
Many of Parkes lovely trophies were passed on to his
niece, later known as Mrs Dr. Killen who lived
in Aviemore House in Monaghan town. Some years before her
death, Mrs Killen donated these trophies to Monaghan County
Museum where they are currently on display and should be
visited by all Monaghan lovers of sport. What a pity he
couldnt have packed in a Sam Maguire Cup in the middle
of them at some stage!