Challenge from Ireland to America, 1873

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Written by: David Minshall

Irish Challenge, 1873

The National Rifle Association in Great Britain was established in 1859 and held its first Annual Rifle Meeting on Wimbledon Common in 1860. In 1862 and originating from a challenge between English and Scottish Rifle Volunteers, the first Elcho Shield match was held. This comprised teams of eight shooting at 800, 900 and 1,000 yards. In 1865 rules of the match were relaxed and an Irish team was allowed to compete. At Wimbledon between 1862 and 1872 the Elcho Shield match was won eight times by England and three times by Scotland, then, finally, in 1873 Ireland won.

In America, the National Rifle Association was established in 1871. After a protracted search for a suitable piece of land for a rifle range, the NRA was able to purchase a plot on Long Island. This desolate farmland was once owned by the Creed family, and by happy inspiration ‘Creedmoor’ became the name of the new range. It opened in 1873.

Buoyed by their success in beating England and Scotland, Ireland wanted further laurels. Unaware of the existence of the American NRA, a challenge to the ‘Riflemen of America’ for a long range rifle match was sent on behalf of Irish riflemen to the editor of the New York Herald. It was published on 22 November 1873.

New York Herald, Saturday, November 22, 1873 


Challenge from Ireland to America

A Team of the Members of the Irish Rifle Association
Will Cross the Ocean and Meet an Equal Number
of Representative American Shots.

It is no doubt well established that wherever important tests of skill are made with firearms, whether of the shotgun or of the rifle, the thousands in this country who love the amusement and glory in the reputation of being considered superior marksmen, evince the greatest interest in such trials. It matters but little to the intelligent portion of this class of Americans whether these contests take place across the ocean or within the limit of the United States, it is all the same; they watch with eagerness the result of the competition, and accord the victors that praise which is due to successful efforts. There are so many excellent marksmen in the United States with the rifle, who fully know the great advantages due to its skilful use, and the benefits to be derived from the healthful and manly exercise of rifle shooting, that they are in friendly accord with the same class of man all the world over, and hence interest themselves in any achievement they may be accredited with. Thus year after year the rifle shooters of this country have watched with a marked degree of eagerness, the annual trials of skill at Wimbledon, where the famous long-range shooting for the challenge shield given by Lord Elcho in 1862 brings together many of the best shots of Great Britain, armed with the most highly finished and delicately fitted match rifles. And when the result is received by the American rife shooters the progress of the competition is eagerly discussed, while the scores made are narrowly scanned, for it is well known that since the trophy was first shot for is has been in the possession of English teams eight times, Scotch teams three times and a team from Ireland once, that being at present, and won by them in July last after competing nine times against the pick of the best small-bore shots of Great Britain.

The reception of the “Irish Eight” when they re-turned to Dublin, and the subsequent interesting ceremony of Ireland taking possession of the shield, which was done with great pomp and pageantry, need not be repeated here, as it will be remembered by many. It was a great day for Old Ireland, and the friends of the victorious Eight claimed, with commendable pride, that had the Irish competitors enjoyed the same advantages as the English and Scotch during the twelve years the trophy has been shot for their success would be nothing to boast of; “but when it remembered that the English and Scotch teams are recruited from thousands of Volunteers, and the Irish from 27 gentlemen in two clubs – one in Belfast and one in Dublin – the chances of the competitors are shown to be manifestly unequal. But the Irishmen who organized our Eight year after year and won second place four times were not content with this balked victory. In the face of great odds and constant changing in the personnel of the team, they struggled until perseverance and industry and devotion were rewarded by a triumph as well deserved as it was unequivocal.”’ And, winding up the well-wishes and praises bestowed upon the victors, the same article from which the above extract is taken says: “On all sides there is ground for congratulation, for new courage and new strivings alter skill.”

And here is the point. The picked members of the Irish Rifle Association, having vanquished their old opponents of England and Scotland, are looking for other foemen worthy their meeting, and thus are casting their eyes to these shores to find such. In a word, the founder of the above association. Mr. A. Blennerhassett Leech, of Dublin, has forwarded to the HERALD a challenge to the riflemen of America from the riflemen of Ireland, represented by the association in question, and from which he will select a team, which he will match against an equal number of American rifle shots, to shoot in the United States, in the autumn of 1874. In a letter accompanying the challenge Mr. Leech writes: 

It is likely to bring to a successful issue an international rifle much which I beg to propose between Ireland and America.

At the great rifle meeting held annually at Wimbledon, a team of eight Irishmen shooting with Irish made rifles this year beat the picked eights of England and Scotland.

As the great American nation has long enjoyed a world wide reputation for skill in rifle shooting, it occurs to me that the enclosed challenge from Irish riflemen, now the champions of Great Britain, would be accepted, and if so a team would be organised to visit the United States in the autumn of 1874.

Here is a chance for the famous shots in the field of sport in this country, and from the perusal of the challenge herewith it will be found that there are no hampering conditions imposed, the only restrictions being those that would be expected in the event of such a match.


is as follows:


Mr. A. Blennerhassett Leech, founder in 1867 of the Irish Rifle Association, will select from the members a team which he will match against an equal number of the representative American rifle shots, to shoot in the United States, in the autumn of 1874, on the following conditions:

Targets, Scoring, &c. – Same as adopted by the National Rifle Association of Great Britain at Wimbledon, 1873 (when the Irish eight won the international match for the Elcho Shield, beating England and Scotland.)

Ranges. – 800, 900, 1,000 and 1,100 yards.

Rifles. – Any not exceeding 10 pounds weight, but without telescope sights or hair triggers.

Position. – Any, but no artificial rest permitted either for the rifle or person of the shooter.

The American team to be composed exclusively of riflemen born in the United States, and to shoot with rifles of American manufacture.

The Irish team will shoot with rifles by Rigby, of Dublin.

As this challenge is given to decide the title to the rifle championship of the world, Mr. Leech will require a sufficient stake to be put down, not for the sake of a trifling pecuniary gain, but as a guarantee that the Irish team will meet the representative shots of America.

Mr. Leech desires to draw the attention of the American people to the fact that the laws of Great Britain forbid the formation in Ireland of rifle corps similar to those which exist in great numbers in England and Scotland, and that any skill acquired by Irishmen in rifle shooting is the result of individual exertion under difficulties arising from discouraging legislation.

DUBLIN, Oct. 31, 1873. ARTHUR B. LEECH.

The question of accepting this challenge will doubtless be immediately considered by the leading rifle shots in the country. If brought about it will create intense interest and do much to aid the efforts of the National Rifle Association and make Creedmoor more popular, perhaps, than it has been. Could not the officers of the association find a team of rifle shots in the United States that would prove the victors in such a match? It is well worth the trial.

The challenge was taken up, on behalf of American riflemen, by the Amateur Rifle Club of New York.

The match took place at Creedmoor on 26 September 1874, with the teams from Ireland and the United States shooting at 800, 900 and 1,000 yards. The Irish used their trusted muzzle loading match rifles, while the Americans used new breech loading rifles. The result was a win for the US. This was the first of series of team matches that set the sport upon a world stage, with international press coverage, and thousands of spectators in attendance.