Enthusiasts invited to take part in special Lewis Chessmen competition

Dr Irving Finkel at the Shetland Museum where he will deliver a lecture on the chessmen tonight.

Chess players have been invited to participate in a special competition to tie in with Shetland Museum’s Lewis Chessmen exhibition, which has already attracted 15 per cent of the population to see it.

Two tournaments will be held in the museum auditorium on separate dates in March.

They follow a strong interest in the gaming tables which have been peppered around the exhibition running in Da Gadderie until 27th March.

The giant chess board in the foyer area has also been well used by visitors.

The chessmen exhibition has already been a huge draw for the museum.

The chessmen attracted seven per cent of Aberdeen’s population when they were displayed in the Granite City.

But curator Dr Iain Tait said “in the region of 15 per cent of Shetland’s population” had gone to see them since their arrival in the isles on 21st January.

“It’s going up all the time, so it’s going to be very, very impressive in terms of visitor numbers,” he said.

He told Wednesday’s meeting of the Shetland Amenity Trust the exhibition had helped cement relations between Shetland Museum and the National Museums of Scotland.

He added learning events organised by museum staff had kept up a strong interest.

“As you all ken the big razzmatazz show for us this year is the Lewis Chessmen just in the same way that we had Hamefarin before and Gunnister man before that,” he said.

“This year we’re trying to squeeze two into one because we also have a Tall Ships display as well.

“It’s interesting in that effectively it’s a travelling show – it’s a hired in show and you take the hired show that comes. But where I think, as a service, we’ve been able to sprinkle some of our stardust on it is doing the learning activities.

“There have been mini-plays, making models, doing drawings, playing chess games.”

Perhaps alarmingly for some, he said a “Lewis chess rap” had also been staged within the museum. But he said he had been re-assured there were no “’gangland shootings’, so it was okay”.

“The inventiveness and the creativity of the bairns in their response to the Lewis Chessmen has been amazing. The visitor numbers have been huge as well.”

“Visitor numbers are going up all the time, so it’s going to be very, very impressive,” he said.

He told trustees the British Museum had provided funding to send keynote speaker Dr Irving Finkel, an expert on ancient board games, for his visit to the isles this week.

Assistant keeper at the British Museum’s Middle East department, Dr Finkel was in Shetland today to deliver a lecture on the Lewis Chessmen and promote the chess exhibition.

Dr Tait said the arrangement with the British Museum had allowed “preferential access” to museum professionals, as well as high profile exhibitions.

Trustee George Sutherland said it was “splendid” the chessmen had proved so popular.

“Even for somebody that doesn’t play chess it’s still an opportunity to see some very special artefacts. It’s a great achievement to get them here.”

The Lewis Chessmen were found on the western shore of Lewis in 1831, as part of a hoard of walrus ivory.

The hoard includes assembled pieces from at least four chess sets, believed to have been made in Norway during the 12th or 13 centuries.

The first chess tournament will be held for juniors from 1pm to 5pm on Saturday 12th March.

Youngsters from primary six age to secondary four will be eligible to compete.

The senior competition will be held the following week on Saturday 19th March from 10am to 5pm. Players from 15 and up are invited to take part.


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