June 2012

There were two collectors meetings this month. The first one was the annual trading meeting at the National Playing Card Museum in Turnhout, Belgium, on June 2nd and it was followed two weeks later by a collectors meeting in Velddriel. Turnhout brought us some nice and interesting decks and one of them had been on our wish list for years. 
There was only one outdoor flea market that we visited and that brought us nothing at all. But we kept a close eye on the playing cards offer at the Dutch auction site and of course on eBay too. 

So once again we had an interesting short list. Among them was the new re-edition of the Impure Forces in East Slavonic Mythology by Aleksej Orleanski, a redrawn version in 36 cards, and the original antique Belgian deck, that we only knew of a re-edition, advertising Amstel 1870 beer. Hors concours -but for us a truly great find for us- was a very rare Dutch poster stamp, advertising the Amsterdam sales office of the Speelkaartenfabriek Nederland. And then there was this deck. A nice, in art nouveau style designed, Irish deck. That too had been on our wish list, although not in the higher regions.
The Belgian deck will be shown in the "Variations" Xpo, so we chose "The Heroic Set" for this spot.


We had seen this deck for the first time in Uwe Volker Segeth's book about Art Deco decks. There the deck was attributed to the Irish Playing Card Manufacturing Co. and dated 1910. The courts were "designed and drawn on stone" by an Irish artist, whose name is -unfortunately- not mentioned anywhere, but his or hers lovely art nouveau style definitely qualified it for a place in Uwe Segeth's book.
Like it says on the box, our deck here was made by Chas. Goodall & Son from London and published by W & G Blaird Ltd. from Belfast as "The Heroic Set". The other side of the box has a card glued to it to show the back design of the cards. The name of Goodall on our Ace of Spades doesn't appear on the Ace of Spades from Mr. Segeth's deck. That's the first apparent difference. An other difference is the placing of the indices. In Uwe's deck they are placed in the corner of the outline around the design, interrupting the line. In our deck the indices are placed outside of the outline. The designs of the courts are exactly the same in both decks. Uwe's deck measures 57 x 88 mm, our deck 64 x 89 mm. So our deck is a bit broader, which explains why the indices could be set outside the line.
So we may assume that our deck is a later re-edition, probably from the 1920's. 

According to the extra card, the depicted characters represent four Irish provinces and the Kings and Queens were taken from famous romances from the "Heroic Period in Irish history". Cú Roi represents Munster, Eocaid the province of Leinster,  Concobar Ulster and Ailill the province of Connaught.
Our knowledge of Irish legendary tales was very close to zero. and when we started researching the names in Wikipedia, the legends from the old Irish mythology turned out to be very confusing for us, in regards to the used names, and only one famous romance was found. Also two Kings didn't match with represented provinces, according to the lists of Kings from the different Irish Kingdoms that we found at Wikipedia. There was no Ailill among the Kings of Connaught (Connacht), but several Eocaids and oppositely no Eocaids as Kings of Leinster, but two times the name of Ailill is mentioned. So maybe Ailill and Eocaid were mixed up by mistake on the extra card.

                  We have given our findings here below, but maybe you should just enjoy the images........

Cú Roi (mac Dáire) is a King of Munster and his name appears in several Mediaeval texts in legends, like the Táin Bó Cúailnge (Cattle Raid of Cooley) or the Fled Bricrenn (Bricriu's Feast)

Blanaid, in early Irish literature referred to as Bláthnat (little flower), was the daughter of King Midir, fairy king of Bri Léith (located in the middle region of Ireland). His Kingdom was invaded by Cú Roi and Cú Chulainn. Despite her love for the latter, she's chosen by Cú Roi to marry him, which led to a dispute between the two warriors.

A repeated symbol throughout the designs on the courts is the triskelion or triskele. It's in the middle of each of the court cards. The Greek triskelion or triskeles both mean three-legged and the  symbol consist of three interlocking spirals or bent legs or anything with three protrusions and a rotational symmetry. The Celtic symbol consists of three conjoined spirals and is in fact a Neolithic, pre-Celtic symbol, which was carved in a stone that was found in Ireland and was dated around 3200 BC. 

There were several kings of the Kingdom of Connacht, whose name was Eocaid (Eochaid), in the pre-historic ages. Eochaid Feidlech is said to be the father of Queen Maeve (on QD), but there's also Eochaid Mugmedon, who is said to be the father of Ailill.

There was no reference to be found about Edain in connection with one of the High Kings of Ireland, nor in any other reference to Ireland in general.


Eight of the triskeles on the courts are black against a white background, one is in brown against a white background and three are white against a three-colour background. It seems to have been done randomly. 




There were several Kings with the name Concobar (Conchobar). The name means "lover of hounds" in Irish. One of the more famous Kings was Conchobar mac Nessa. He was a King of Ulster and he too was shortly married to Queen Maeve.

Nessa (or Ness) is a princess of the Ulaid and she's the mother of   Conchobar mac Nessa in the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology.

The triskele symbol is also used as decoration of the Jacks' hairbands, on the dress of the Queen of Spades and King of Diamonds .

Aillill (mac Máta) is one of the Kings of Connacht, an Irish province. He's the husband of Maeve and in the Táin Bó Cúailnge legend the two went to war against Ulster with the intend to steal the stud bull Donn Cúailnge.

Maeve is a first name of Irish origin. In Irish Gaelic, the name "Medbh" means "she who intoxicates." Here it's very likely to refer to Queen Maeve or Medb from the Táin Bó Cúailnge legend. 

The deck consists of 52 cards, an extra card and a joker. The back design shows Celtic symbols, just like the Ace of Spades.

Bricriu, the joker, probably refers to the Bricriu from the "Fled Bricrenn" (Bricriu's Feast), a story from the Old Irish mythology. In this tale Ailill, Maeve and Cú Roi also play a part. Briciru, a hospitaller, is casted as a troublemaker in this tale.