History Lesson: Creedmoor Match Returns To Ireland After 136 Years

posted on January 3, 2019

From the vault: an article by Larry Bartholome about the 2011 Creedmoor Match conducted in Ireland―the first to be held there since 1875. This was first published in the June, 2012 issue of Shooting Sports USA.

In 1875, an American rifle team set sail for Dublin to compete against the best long-range shooters in Ireland. The Irish had come to the Creedmoor Range in New York the year before and lost to the fledgling American Team. At the time, the Irish were considered the finest in the world. In the 1875 re-match, the Americans won again.

Now fast forward to June, 2011. For the first time in 136 years, American long-range shooters returned to Dublin to compete in the Creedmoor Match. Even though the match held in 1875 was a long time ago, the friendship between the two countries has not changed one bit.

This re-match was brought about by a challenge from past NRA President John Sigler, issued to the NRA of the Republic of Ireland (NRAI), on behalf of U.S. F-Class shooters. The Irish readily accepted Sigler’s challenge and stepped up work on their new 1200-yard range near Tullamore, County Offay, RoI. The Midlands National Shooting Centre of Ireland proved to be a challenge. The range is built on a peat bog and the mirage can at times be a bit thick, but the winds are the major problem. The weather in Ireland seems to be in constant motion, with one wave of weather after another coming in from the Atlantic Ocean.

Before the competitions began, our Irish hosts bused all the competitors and families to the original site of the 1875 meeting, as they call it—the beach at Dollymount Strand in Dublin Bay. To stand on that long, flat beach with the wind blowing your hair about while visualizing what happened there 136 years ago, was a moving experience. After group photos and viewing some of the original medals and score cards, we re-boarded the buses for a trip to the Dublin town hall. There, past NRA President Sandra Froman presented a silver commemorative cup to the Deputy Lord Mayor and NRAI officials. After appropriate speeches and a reception, talk turned to shooting and who was going to beat who in the coming days.

Let me say the Irish in general and the shooters in particular were extremely gracious hosts. During our stay, the people went out of their way to be nice. Not just the shooters, but every person on the street. If I could, I would go back tomorrow. After a fashion, they even speak English we can understand. For those that didn’t go, the Guinness Brewery and Tullamore Dew Distillery were eye-openers and, yes, they had free samples.

The competition was broken down into three parts: The Irish Open Championships for individuals were shot over two days; the one-day European/USA Team Match and the two-day, 16-man Creedmoor Team Match. Eleven USA F-Open and eleven USA F/TR competitors entered the two days of individual shooting. The weather was cool, damp and quite windy for this first phase with gusts topping 25 mph. The course-of-fire was two sighters (convertible) and 15 for record at 800, 900 and 1000 yards each day.

At the end of the first day, Bob Bock of Brewster, NY, held a one point lead in F-Open over John Brewer from Jackson, MS, Rick Jensen from Colorado and Larry Bartholome, El Paso, TX. Bock dropped one point at 800 and 900 and four at 1000 yards for a 219-23V. In 5th and 6th places were Liam Fenion and Conor Murphy from Ireland, two and three points back respectively. It was still anyone’s game.

The V-ring is 5 inches in diameter, the 5-ring—10 inches, the 4-ring—20, 3-ring—32 and the rest of the 44-inch black bull is worth 2 points. Any hit outside the black counts as one point on the six foot square target. Yes, Martha, they shoot on the ICFRA 5V target when you leave the USA and it is a difficult target.

Among the F/TR ranks, Ireland’s John O’Donoghue did his country proud with a 212-8V for first place. In 2nd and 3rd were Irishmen Stephen Doyle and Dave Comerford. U.S. Team Captain Darrell Buell lead the American contingent at 4th place with a 203-9V. The rest of the top 10 were all Irish except for Monte Milanuk from the USA in 10th place.

On day two, the weather changed a bit. Keep in mind it seemed as if it was changing every ten minutes. Using a .284 Shehane rifle and 180-grain Berger Hybrid bullets at 2810 fps, the author dropped one point at 800 yards and two at 1000 yards for a 222-19V. Five points back in second was Jim Murphy of Owensboro, KY, with a 217-14V fired from a 6.5-284 caliber rifle with 140 VLD bullets. A 216-16V gave third to Paul Cassidy from Ireland. Bob Mead, a coach for both the U.S. F-Class and Palma Teams finished the day in fourth place with a 215-10V. John Campbell, a top English shooter who doesn’t let his physical condition slow him down, was fifth with a 215-7V, firing a 7/270 WSM with 180 VLDs at 3050 fps.

The F/TR shooters, who were all shooting .308 Winchesters, were hard at it on their two relays when, again, the weather changed. When the Americans got their arms around the changing conditions, they made a drive for the lead. Jeff Rorer fired a 212-16V, followed by Buell’s 212-15V. John Chilton finished with a 209-11V. In fourth place was Ireland’s Adrian Casey with a 208-8V. Fifth went to USA’s Monte Milanuk’s 206-18V.

The close of day two saw the American Open shooters taking 8 of the top 10 aggregate slots with England’s John Campbell in 7th and Ireland’s Conor Murphy in 10th. The author’s 440-36V topped Brewer’s 432-42V and Bock’s 430-38V for a win.

The F/TR individual matches ended with USA taking six of the top 10 places. Buell’s 415-24V put him on top. Second was Ireland’s Adrian Casey seven points back. Rorer was 3rd with 405-21V. John Chilton was 4th with a 403-19V and Monte Milanuk was 5th, three points back.

Next up was the eight-man F-Open and F/TR teams. The course-of-fire was two sighters (convertible) and 15 shots for record at 800 and 900 yards, followed by “2 and 20” at 1000 yards. This European Union (EU)/USA Match is shot as two separate matches for two different trophies. This was the second EU/USA Challenge Match ever held, the first being in Lodi, WI, at the 2008 U.S. F-Class Nationals.

The day started out cool and overcast with winds of 10-15 mph and rapidly changing from full value to 5:30. Based on the forecast, a decision was made not to break for lunch. This turned out to be a very good choice since the rain started about the time everyone moved back to the 1000-yard line. When all was said and done, the U.S. F/TR Team outscored the EU Team 1853-109V to 1773-88V. The U.S. F-O Team won 1961-162V to 1928-144V. While it might seem like run-away victories, the F/O Team won by only 1.7 percent and the F/TR by 4.3 percent—not large margins.

The next two days saw the roles reversed. Day four was the first day of the two-day Creedmoor Team Match. This match is for a combined team of eight Open and eight F/TR shooters. The U.S. strategy was to have all eight F/TR shooters fire first at each yard line, followed by the F-O shooters, the theory being that the wind would only get worse and F/O calibers would not blow around as much.

To say the conditions were hard to read is certainly an understatement. Michelle Gallagher told me something I’ll never forget. As we waited the next day to follow the bagpipe band off the range to the clubhouse for the awards ceremony she said; “If I had to coach another day like yesterday, I would never coach again!” I think that summed up the conditions perfectly. Still, some wizard calls were made by the wind coaches, given what they were dealing with—15-20 mph fishtailing wind from 6:00 and changing directions. This lead to fairly large deviations in point-of-impact. Sand was blowing everywhere in the pits, which was very nasty. I had reports of a 12 MOA right shift for a .308 Win. that lasted a very short time, while also dropping five to six MOA. Even in those conditions, U.S. coaches, Bob Mead, Nancy Tompkins, Michelle Gallagher, Rick Hunt, Jim Murphy and Dale Carpenter did a superb job of keeping the hits in the middle.

On the second day of the Creedmoor and the final day of shooting, something magical happened. It seemed the clock was turned back 136 years and, just as it happened then, the sun came out! The shooting turned almost pleasant, if you were not a coach. The wind was still changing constantly in intensity and direction, but at least we didn’t have to be concerned about getting wet.

To start, the wind flags were blowing from 4-5:30. As the sun moved up and we moved back from yard line to yard line, the wind clocked around to 2-4. This was a condition the Americans hadn’t seen on this range, as the wind had been almost exclusively from the left during the previous days. The two teams continued to fight the wind as much as each other throughout the day and, after the compulsory lunch break, the 2011 Creedmoor Match ended on the 1000-yard line. The hard work and practice that the Irish team had put into preparing for the match paid dividends, bringing them to within 24 points of the U.S. team for the day.

The victorious U.S. Team in Dublin, Ireland, in 2011
The victorious U.S. Team.

The tournament was over and the shooters packed up their gear and shook hands with each other. Next we were told to leave our vehicles on the firing line and to form up on the road to the clubhouse. It was then that we heard the sound of a bagpipe and drum marching band headed towards us. They marched up to us, did an about face and led the competitors from the 1000-yard line to the awards ceremony outside the clubhouse. It was a unique end to an unforgettable match.

The final score was USA 7166–332V, Ireland 6849–265V. Scores don’t always tell the whole story, however. Overall, the Irish never gave up and fought to the last round staying within four percent of the much more experienced American team, and within one percent on the last day. Mark my words: The Irish will be a force to reckon with in a very short while.

Read about how the U.S. team triumphed again in Ireland at the 2015 Emerald and Creedmoor Cup Team Matches.


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