Brian Thorpe has made a magnificent contribution to Chess in Ireland. It is hard to believe that Brian started his teaching career back in 1954 when rock and roll was just creeping into Irish dance floors, few families had cars and in the Republic, only the odd house propped up a TV aerial to catch the black and white viewing of the BBC or UTV. The horse and donkey were still working farm animals in 1959 when Brian started coaching chess at Methodist College, Belfast. He joined the Irish Junior chess committee in 1972 and has been active there controlling the Interprovincials and All Ireland colleges finals for well over 20 years.
In about 1962 Brian steered Methody in contesting the Times British College's chess championships. They reached the semi-finals three times. Brian retired in 1994 and Methodist College (guided now by Graham Murphy), won the Times championship in 1995! In 1972 the Fisher/Spassky series of matches in Iceland became world news for weeks on end and a resurgence of interest in chess gripped Irish schools. In Leinster dozens of secondary schools took to chess while Brian played some club chess with Fisherwick in Belfast. Methodist College have been a major force in schools chess in Ireland since the 70s winning the All Ireland U16 and U19 titles several times.
When the All Ireland Colleges finals were held in Belfast during the 1980s, the tournaments were run with efficiency and attention to detail in looking after visitors. I remember bringing two school teams by train and being met at the station by Brian Thorpe, Graham Murphy and other teachers from BRA, RBAI etc who transported the visiting teams to the venue and then placed them in safe homes of the Northern host families overnight. These events took place at a time of the deepest troubles in Northern Ireland; we will always cherish the hospitality of the Ulster colleges who ensured we had a happy and enjoyable stay during those weekend tournaments.
The Northern chess teachers have a tradition of co-operation, travelling together where appropriate when All Ireland Finals took place in Dublin or Cork. Brian Thorpe was a key figure in these events and he had good support from Damian Walls (St.Columbs, Derry), Graham Murphy (Methodist College), Robert Flowerday (Antrim Grammar School), Chris Maitland (RBAI) and newcomers like Gerry Tate (St.Patricks, Downpatrick). The Ulster teachers took some epic journeys in minibuses for chess tournaments. Once they faced a 300 miles trip to Cork in the snow!!! Their visits to Marwood/Bristol and Millfield/Somerset were just as daunting. These marathon trips were often followed by sleeping on wooden floors in school and church halls. The sacrifices some take for the good of chess!!
Brian kept his support for junior chess after retiring from teaching and continued controlling various junior tournaments till 2009. Chess players know how exhausting a tournament can be when you are concentrating for several hours in tournaments. It is a lot harder for the controllers who have to make hard calls when clocks are running down and excitement is running high. Imagine doing all this for 14 years after retirement!! Even the standing is very tiring.
Brian can now concentrate on his musical interests with the New Ross singers and with his wife Beatrice, enjoy the company of his grandchildren nearby. Overall Brian has given 50 years to chess and 55 years to education a feat that will take some beating. Thanks Brian for your magnificent contribution to chess in Ireland.