July in the Irish History Circle – A Champion Lady Tennis Players

A Report on July’s Irish History Circle

Mabel Cahill, image from tennisforum.com

by Brian Gillespie

In front of the year’s best crowd a lively meeting took place on the third Monday as usual at the Celtic Club.

Opening with some social history, we heard from Brian Gillespie about the Irish tennis player Mabel Cahill whose brother, Joseph, became a Jesuit and taught St. Patrick’s College in Victoria.

Born in 1863, the twelfth of 13 children, Mabel was educated at the Sacred Heart Convent in Roscrea. Her father was a barrister.
In the 1870s, lawn tennis  was seen as a hobby rather than a competitive sport. This was changing with the rapid growth of numbers playing and the advent of a modest tournament held in the London suburb of Wimbledon in 1877.
Two years later the first Irish Championships were held at Fitzwilliam Square, Dublin. Mabel entered the tournament for the first time in 1886 at the age of 23 but lost in the first round. She did win the Landsdowne tournament that year. In 1889 she emigrated to New York where she lived on East 62nd street close to Central Park which happened to be the home of the New York Tennis Club. The game was growing fast and Mabel became a member.
The New York papers recorded in May 1890:
Miss Cahill, the young lady who is making a name for herself is a slight and rather delicate looking girl, yet the severity of her play is the terror of opponents of her own sex.
She has been elected a member of the NY Tennis Club.
That year she travelled to Philadelphia for the US Championships winning her first round but succumbing to a wrist injury in the next game against Ellen Roosevelt. She returned in 1891 where, having beaten Grace Roosevelt in an earlier round, she beat Ellen, the defending champion, in front of a large crowd  6-4, 6-1, 4-6, 6-3. Yes, the ladies played best of five sets in those days! She then teamed with Emma Fellows-Morgan to win the Doubles title over the Roosevelt sisters 2-6, 8-6, 6-4.
In 1892 she had a stellar year on the tournament circuit culminating with successfully defending her Singles and Doubles titles at the US Open. She also created history by winning the Mixed Doubles as well, the only player to ever win all three in the same year . The Singles final that year saw Mabel beat a future champion Elizabeth Moore (known as Bessy ) in a classic five set game, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2. The New York Times recorded  that ‘Both ladies were cool and skilful and some of the rallies were of great length.’
Mysteriously, she did not defend any of her titles the following year. She had a novel published, Her Playthings, Men. She also wrote articles for papers and society magazines. She departed the US in 1896 for London. Her health was failing and she was admitted to the infirmary at Liverpool Road Workhouse in 1897 for a period of eight days.
Subsequently, she became an actress appearing in music halls for a time before moving to Southport, Lancashire, where she died in 1905 aged 41 of tuberculosis. It appears she never returned to Ireland.
In 1976 Mabel Cahill was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame with Legend status.
Orange Parades on 12 July
The main presenter for the night was Bernie Brophy on ‘The Orange Order and their Parades.’ Bernie was an official observer at the 2007 marching season in Northern Ireland. This paper is not available for publication.
August meeting on the 21st, 3rd floor, Celtic Club at 7.30pm.
Jim Cusack will be the convener
Topic : History of Melbourne’s Celtic Club