Thomas Gilroy b. 2 October 1852, Dundee
While born in Scotland he had taken up golf from a young age being taught by George Morris (a brother of Old Tom Morris) and playing his golf at Carnoustie. Later as a student at St. Andrews he would often play golf with young Tom Morris and became proficient at the game.
Thomas Gilroy moved with his family to Ireland living in Mornington House (Coney Hall) in 1885. Coney Hall was considered one of the finest Queen Anne style residences built on a large three acre walled-estate in County Meath. Later he would build Orkney Villa a house perched on the banks of the river Boyne. This may have been brought about by his interest in developing the land on the other side of the water, at Baltray, into a golf course despite already having built a fourteen-hole (some records suggest it was an eleven-hole course) partially on the site of the current Laytown & Bettystown Golf Club up as far as the Maiden Tower. It is suggested in the County Louth centenary that he encountered opposition from locals to the game which might have acted as the catalyst for the move to Baltray.
Gilroy was one of the key personalities in bringing golf to Ireland and was himself considered to be the best golfer in Ireland at the time, he is attributed with laying out the Phoenix Park golf course in 1885 (the original home of the Royal Dublin GC), the aforementioned fourteen-hole course in Mornington in 1886, in 1891 the North West Golf Club and in 1892 the first nine-hole course at Baltray. Three years later he took up a position, as secretary, of the Seaford Golf Club in East Sussex for £100 per annum and quickly made his mark on the course with a record 72 on 8 June 1896.
Although Scottish by birth, Thomas Gilroy was the first to represent an Irish Club (Royal Dublin Golf Club) at the British Open Championship in 1891 and at the inaugural British Amateur Championship in 1885 and was also a vice-president of the Ladies Golf Union (LGU) at its inception in 1893. Curiously he entered the Amateur Championship in 1891 as a member of the County Golf Club, Portrush but he had a close association with this club, when, in 1895, the final of the first professional championship played in Ireland between Harry Vardon and Sandy Herd would be refereed by Gilroy.
In ‘The Golfing Annual 1888-89’ edited by John Bauchope, the second such edition, E. A. Collingwood, the honorary secretary of the County Golf Club in Portrush which was formed in 1888 recalled Gilroy’s status amongst the caddies: To them the greatest man in Ireland is Mr. T. Gilroy, for did he not once do the nine holes in 37!
Gilroy’s name from the outset was synonymous with the Dublin (Dollymount) Golf Club since his arrival in Ireland in the mid-eighteen eighties during which his handicap would vary between scratch and plus four. He was to win some of the earliest prizes like the Black Watch Medal and the Henderson Cup, which James Henderson presented in 1888 with a view to promoting golf in Ireland. Gilroy won the Henderson Cup when it was played over the Dollymount course on the 10 June 1889 when, as captain of the club, which at the time was reportedly the only eighteen-hole golf course in Ireland, he scored a gross 80 playing off scratch.
It was recorded that Thomas Gilroy broke the record at the County Golf Club (i.e. Royal Portrush as it would later be named – 1895) when he shot a round of 71 in a gale; the recorded scores were 5,4,2,3,4,5,3,6,4 – 36 4,5,3,4,3,3,4,4,5 – 35 = 71.
Gilroy was likely a semi-finalist in the first Irish Amateur Championship played at the County Golf Club, Portrush and on the 13 September 1893 the second Irish Open Amateur Championship being played at Newcastle he was beaten by W. Taylor another scratch player out of Edinburgh by 3 and 1 in the first round. Gilroy was playing off scratch while the eventual winner, the legendary John Ball jnr. played off plus 5.
Gilroy’s participation in the Amateur Championship began as already mentioned in 1885 when he was beaten in the third round by the eventual winner, Allen F. Macfie, by a margin of 2 and 1. During the championship he beat Charles Hutchings, the 1902 champion, by 3 and 2. The following year at St. Andrews he was beaten on the 19th in a first round match against Major Gregor MacGregor of the Royal Burgess Golfing Society, one of their finest players at the time and a person who made all his own clubs. In 1887 the championship returned to Hoylake where he was beaten in the third round by 4 and 3 by the aforementioned John Ball jnr which was his opponents home club. In 1888 at Prestwick, Percy Wilson exacted revenge for his defeat at the hands of Gilroy in a second round match. In 1889 at St. Andrews Gilroy exited in the third round at the hands of J P Henderson by 2 holes. In 1890, at Hoylake, he lost to D Anderson from Dalhousie by 2 holes after beating H.S. Everard by a similar margin in a first round encounter.
In 1891 at St. Andrews he reached the semi-finals:
1st Rnd vs A G Tait Edinburgh University (won 2 and 1) 2nd Rnd vs Garden S Smith - Royal Musselburgh (won 3 and 2) 3rd Rnd vs R T Boothby - Royal & Ancient (won 3 and 2) 4th Rnd vs W Doleman - Glasgow (won 7 and 6) Semi-final vs John Ernest Laidlay - Honourable Company, Muirfield (lost 5 and 4)
Laidlay, the 1889 champion, went on to narrowly win the title and was considered, at the time, with Ball and Hutchinson to be the greatest exponents of the game. Laidlay is attributed, despite its name, with the discovery of the “Vardon Grip”, which together with the interlocking grip is the most popular of golfing grips. Now nearing forty this appears to have been Gilroy’s last Amateur Championship but secured the bronze medal for his troubles, no doubt this was his finest hour on the golf links as a player.
Thomas Gilroy was married to Isabel and together had four children; two sons Randall .R. Gilroy (H/cap – 2) and N. Gilroy (H/cap – 12), the daughters Winifred and Eunice were also to prove useful golfers. Randall showed the most promise at the game and was already playing off a handicap of 2 while in Ireland and would later play to plus 3 while at Newhaven GC. By 1895 Randall Gilroy, playing out of County Louth, was a serious contender for the Amateur Championship and had beaten John Ball jnr. in the second round by 2 and 1. Thomas was beaten by J.S. Reade in the second round match in the same championship. Taylor again (as in 1893) took a Gilroy scalp when in the semi-final he beat Randall by 2 and 1, he would go on to win the event and take a further two titles in 1896 and 1898.
In June 1894 upon the visit of Old Tom Morris’ to Dollymount he teamed up with Gilroy to play Anthony Brown, the local professional, and Mr J. Petrie but the honours were shared as the St. Andrews legend’s approaches to the green in the back nine helped the Morris/Gilroy partnership get back on level terms.
Winifred played off a handicap of two upon her arrival at Seaford (age c. 16 years) but would, within a couple of years, lower that to scratch, managing also to set a course record for Seaford Golf Club, amongst others, not long after her arrival. Winifred would win the English Ladies’ Championship in 1913 when it was hosted by Nottingham in only its second year and was a bronze medallist at Cromer in the Ladies’ Amateur Championship in 1905, both under her married name of Mrs F. W. Brown. At Royal Wimbledon Golf Club there is, according to the Seaford centenary book, a photograph with the caption: “Winifred Brown, 1902-1927. Vice President and captain. Ever remembered for her devotion to the Club and her kindness as a friend.” The other younger (by two years) daughter Eunice would make her name at both county and international level as an administrator of the game who played no small part in the organising the first post-war Ladies’ Championship at Newcastle, County Down.
By 1900 Thomas Gilroy had left Seaford Golf Club to take up a position at Chislehurst but by the 1901 census, his profession was given as “Living on own means”. Thomas Gilroy was undoubtedly one of the early pioneers of golf in Ireland.
Margaret Downey: From the Nanny to the Boyne – A Local History
Seaford Golf Club – A History
William H. Gibson – Early Irish Golf