Kilkenny Pastimes: Playing Cards and Dice

Written and read by Paddy Neary

Card playing was not known on the Continent until the 14th Century, or in England until the 15th Century. It is not known for certain when card playing or dice which were in ancient times used for gambling were introduced into Kilkenny. The first mention of them is the Corporation records in the early 17th Century. For on the 9th February 1609 a bye law was made “That no person do play cards or dice with any free man’s son, or hired servant on pain of 6s- 8d and the person in whose house they shall play to forfeit 6s 8d.” The object of this enactment was to prevent masters from suffering the loss of time on the part of their servants or apprentices. Henry VIII had passed a law prohibiting apprentices from using cards except in the Christmas holidays, and then only in their masters’ houses, forbidding any householder to permit card playing on his premises at any other season, under a penalty of 6s-8d. On the same 9th February 1609 Kilkenny Corporation made another bye law on this subject, it was enacted “none of the inhabitants do play at cards or dice or any unlawful game for more than 8d at a time on pain of 6s-8d on the winner”. The loser it appears was considered sufficiently punished by his ill luck.
The Sabbath was the chief day of the week for the indulgence of pastimes down to the middle of the 17th Century. A stricter discipline was introduced into Kilkenny by the passing of laws introduced by the Cromwellian settlers. Under the date 26th December 1656 the following resolution was set out in the White Book.”It is further ordered that ye sergeants shall every Sabbath walk about the town morning and evening during ye time of service and find out those who play at dice or cards or by drinking do break the Sabbath. And if they find a person so offending carry them to prison.”It would appear that at the beginning of the 18th Century, dissolute characters, idle apprentices and their associates used to assemble to gamble on the tombstones in the public cemeteries. The Corporation made a bye law in February 1717 that the constables of St. Marys and St. Johns and do from time to time visit the said church yards and apprehend all or some of the persons and bring them before the Mayor of this City, to be punished according to law.”