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I canít remember not knowing how to move the pieces in chess, it was such an integral part of our home life. Both my mother and my father played and I remember many of my parents' chess friends from the old Collegians chess club calling to our home in Raheny. My mother represented Ireland in Olympiad events during my childhood and my father would travel with her so we all knew about the excitement of International chess events. I donít have any recollection of hearing how they actually got on in the chess but we would be treated to many anecdotes about eccentric team-mates and friends with strange names from other teams.
I didnít really start to play until we moved to Malahide when I was 12. There was a very active junior chess scene in Malahide and my father quickly got involved in putting together a team and coaching a number of us who were about the same age and lived closeby. My brother Micheal also played at this time and I have vivid recollections of chess quizzes in our kitchen with six or seven children and my father very patiently trying to encourage us to take it more seriously. We had a team which played in junior team events and it must have been agonising for my father watching us play so terribly after all his hard work. My mother stayed well away as the tension was too much for her to bear and, given my hazy recollections of some of these games, I can well understand how she must have felt.
I was about 15 when I started to play in weekenders and Dad would ferry me along with me wearing my lucky anorak and wielding my lucky pen, neither of which saved me from always finishing on 2Ĺ/6.
I first represented Ireland in 1980 in the Faber cup in Carmarthen. I was very nervous and remember thinking that everyone else on the team was an old hand except for me. I played in three Faber cups and I enjoyed each one more than the one before. The more I enjoyed myself the better I played, my best personal result being the year we stayed up all night partying with the Scots. We never repeated the fantastic success of the 1979 team who actually won the event for the first - and only - time for Ireland.
The last Olympiad in which my mother played was Malta 1980 and I was invited to take over from her for Lucerne 1982. Unfortunately I was not able to go because of my university studies and I missed out on what was reportedly a great Olympiad and on stepping directly into my motherís shoes. I did get to the next Olympiad in Thessaloniki 1984 and I havenít missed one since.
The best Olympiad for me was Dubai 1986. We had a blinding start and half-way through the event we were in 8th place and playing in the special enclosure. Unfortunately we didnít get to stay there long but it was a wonderful experience, especially when we saw the faces of some passers-by when they saw where the Irish team were playing. It was also the best Olympiad for accommodation, food, setting and craic although a sour taste was left by the refusal of the organisers to let the Israeli team take part and the subsequent boycott by a number of teams.
My best result at an Olympiad was in Thessaloniki 1988 where I won the bronze medal for Board 2. Itís amazing what happens when you start to win; suddenly everything seems to go your way (unfortunately the exact opposite can happen when you start to lose as I discovered in Yerevan 1996). I had to leave before the closing ceremony because we had booked flights which left early not thinking that we might want to be around for the ceremony. I would have enjoyed collecting my medal myself, especially as the silver went to Judit Polgar - my one and only chance to be on the same stage as her in a medal ceremony.
I must admit that in recent years my involvement in playing chess has diminished. Having played league chess in England for 8 years I finally decided that playing in a draughty hall after a long day at work was not the way I wanted to spend my time. When I arrived in London [player:Conor O'Shaughnessy] talked me into playing for Mitcham Chess Club and I played with them for the duration of my league chess-playing career in London.
When I lived in New Zealand I joined the local club and played regularly. Then I was invited to represent New Zealand at the Olympiad at Novi Sad in 1990. I have never understood people who play for another country other than their own, especially when they have already represented their own country, so I said no. Luckily the ICU decided to send teams to Novi Sad so I ended up going there after all.
After giving up league chess I became involved in the 4 Nations' Chess League setting up Na Fianna, an Irish team, with Suzanne Connolly and Conor O'Shaughnessy. We played for three years, doing one place better each year until we reached the heady heights of third from the bottom and quit while we were ahead.
My main chess practice now comes from going back to Ireland for the very enjoyable Kilkenny and Bunratty weekenders and editing a chess newsletter for women in the UK.
Chess has been very good to me over the years. I have been to many wonderful places and have had some of my best highs when playing. I have also had some of my lowest lows but thatís life. Iíve made some very close friends through chess, including my husband, and cannot imagine a life which does not involve chess. I know Iíll never be a great player and that some opportunities I have had have been because so few women play chess but I will always be thankful that I learnt to play and that I made the most of the chances which came my way, no matter how they came.