Legend has it that the ancient Irish game of Fidchell (literally translated as ‘Wood Wisdom’) was invented in the 9th century by Lugh, the Irish god of light, master druid and warrior – predating the game of chess as we know it by c300 years!  Fidchell would have played an important role in the celebrations at the Festival of Lughnasa, which was held in honour of Lugh each August.

Fidchell was played by and indeed tested the gods, royalty and druids and those who had the ability to play and win at Fidchell where held in great esteem. Warrior Champions were required to become masters of the game and it is said that Cúchulainn, the hero son of Lugh, became very skillfull in playing Fidchell.

Fidchell as described in legends had a mystical notion and could magically play by itself.  It is said that great events were often decided on the result of a Fidchell game.  As these sets were made for noblemen they were a quality item, the board would have been crafted from oak and it is probable that the pieces were of made gold and silver with precious stones and decorated with swirls of Celtic art.

Fidchell was played by two players moving ‘men’ across a board.  The playing board is a seven by seven square grid and the four corners of the board represent the four provinces of Ireland – Leinster, Munster, Ulster and Connaught.  The centre square represents the fifth province, as there was in Ireland in ancient times – Meath, the ruling home of the High King at the Hill of Tara.

As Fidchell was strongly connected to Druidism and it is likely that the game nearly died out due to the emergence of the early Celtic Church in Ireland, although the Irish word ‘ficheall’ for ‘chess’ is still used.

Play Fidchell with the Celtic Chess Set in stock at Totally Irish Gifts, €70, ships world-wide.  Our ceramic Fidchell set, known as the 'Celtic Chess Set', is a reproduction of a playing board that is housed in the National History Museum in Dublin, believed to be made of bog oak and dates from the 9th century.

How to play

The Celtic Chess Set has 21 pieces:

  • The dark pieces are the High King, in the middle of the board, surrounded by his eight defenders – two champions from each province.
  • The light pieces are the 12 attacking men – three warriors from each province.

Objectives of the game:

  • Defenders: The High King must reach one of the four provinces, i.e. one of the corners, without being captured.
  • Attackers: To capture the High King before he reaches one of the four provinces, i.e. one of the corners.


  • High King: Only the High King can occupy the middle square and the corner squares. The High King can only move one square at a time until he reaches the edge and then he can move as many squares as he wishes along the edge – but he cannot jump pieces.
  • Attackers and Defenders: All the men may move any amount of squares, however only in a straight line and cannot jump over pieces.
  • The attacking pieces make the first move.

Capturing pieces:

  • Men
    • When flanked on two sides by an opposing man.
    • When trapped against a corner square or the High King’s square and flanked on the other side by an opposing man.
    • Double traps may happen when two men are trapped by an opposing man moving in between them.
    • High King
      • The attacking team blocks all four sides around the High King
      • The attacking team blocks three sides around the High King against the centre square or any corner square.

Captured pieces are removed from the board and when the High King is captured the game is over.

It appears the High King is easy to capture, after all he has only eight defenders against 12 attackers. All is not as it seems! A challenging game of skill – can you become a master?!  View the Celtic Chess Set at Totally Irish Gifts.com.

View other available ceramic chess sets.

Views: 4926

Tags: Celtic, Games

Comment by Fran Reddy on March 23, 2015 at 10:44am

Love the beautiful carved board! Interesting that it predates chess and is similar (sort of) in strategy.. Fantastic gift for Irish chess lovers and those who love strategy games! Oh - Easter and then Father's Day is coming... ;)

Comment by Ryan O'Rourke on March 25, 2015 at 3:07am

How interesting!

Heritage Partner
Comment by That's Just How It Was on April 29, 2015 at 8:46am

One of those games that I would love to know how to play .!


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