|Born:||4 September 1872 Rathmines, Dublin||Died:||18 January 1949 Greystones, Co Wicklow||Educated:||Clongowes Wood College, Co Kildare|
|Debut:||21 August v I Zingari Vice Regal Ground, Phoenix Park||Cap Number:||218||Style:||Right-hand bat.|
|Teams:||Phoenix; Co Meath|
James Magee, the second and longest lived of three sports playing brothers, was an obdurate right hand batsman, who - almost always selected as a substitute - was never truly able to reproduce his prolific club form for Ireland. Educated at Clongowes at a rich time for cricket there, he was an exact contemporary of Dan Comyn and Tom Ross to name but two, he was a regular for Pembroke after, leaving school,
but did not get his chance in an Irish side until he was approaching his 27th birthday. Ironically, it was a selection dispute in which some of his old school-mates were involved that him in the national side.
This came about, as has been recorded elsewhere on this site, at the time of the I Zingari match of 1899. The Irish team, as originally selected, included six Phoenix players. However they claimed that they were under represented and withdrew from the side. The players to call off included some of the best batsmen in the country, Frank Browning, Dan Comyn and Lucius Gwynn, to say nothing of the bowling being weakened by the absence of Ross. James was one of those brought in to replace them, a somewhat thankless task. Though the Irish side did include the Lambert brothers, they were bowled out twice to give the visitors a rather easy innings victory. The main destroyer of the hosts batting was BJT Bosanquet, later inventor of the googly but then a fast bowler, who twice ran through the batting. Opening with Sep Lambert, James, one of seven new caps, was caught at the wicket off Bosanquet in the first innings for 6, the keeper being future MCC Secretary William Findlay ,later to be President of MCC as well as of his county, Lancashire. In the second innings James' defensive skills were on display, he compiled "a careful 14", before Bosanquet caught him off former Harrow bowler Ronald Moncrieffe. The match ended well inside two days and a further, unofficial match was played. Ireland, and James did rather better. He finished on 18*, sharing substantial partnerships with both Sep and Bob Lambert.
Six years were to elapse before he played for Ireland again, though in the interim, he did play in trial matches in 1902 and 1903, both in College Park. The 1902 match came about, because the Lord Lieutenant, Lord Cadogan, a cricket enthusiast, together with Co Kildare and Na Shuler stalwart Sir John Kennedy, had been responsible helping to heal the breach between the Dublin clubs already described, and arranging for Ireland to make a four match tour of England, accorded for the first time, first class status. Sir Timothy O'Brien was captain, the Trial was organised to ensure the best team was selected, even though some of the participants had their invitations from O'Brien before the match was played! Batting at 8 for the "Possibles" side, James was bowled by Bob Lambert for 4 in the first innings and undefeated on the same score in the second. He was not selected.
The following season, when WG Grace's London County were due to play Ireland at The Mardyke, a trial was arranged, Dublin University v The Gentlemen of Ireland, as the University were also entertaining "The Champion", on his last visit to Ireland. The Trial was somewhat of a farce with many of the "Irish" team crying off, but still wining by an innings. James, opening, made 15 in his only innings, which was not enough to gain him selection.
Ireland played only one match in 1905, against HDG Leveson-Gower's XI at Rathmines. Leveson-Gower, who pronounced his name Looson-Gore, a useful batsman, was a diminutive man known as "Shrimp". He was a former Oxford captain and later captained both Surrey and England, besides chairing the England selection committee. James came into the match as one of three substitutes when JWF Crawurd, JT Gwynn and Oscar Andrews, somewhat of a serial withdrawer, cried off. Ireland lost by 53 runs, perhaps missing the batting of the three absentees. Derek Scott's report, based on contemporary accounts, explains that,"The wicket was difficult throughout." Tom Ross took 12 wickets in the match, while the Essex professional Walter Mead, a rather similar bowler, did likewise for the visitors. He removed James, opening again, for 8 in the first innings, while, in the second, he fell, to the speed of Neville Knox. In an age when almost every county had a purveyor of genuine pace, Knox was as fast as any and was too much for several of the home batsmen. He was later forced out of cricket by lameness.
In 1907, James was amongst the original selections for the first match played on Stanley Cochrane's Woodbrook ground, Ireland v Yorkshire in early May. Ireland , facing the full county side, were no match for the White Rose going down by an innings and one run, even though the visitors made only 292. James again showed his defensive obduracy, particularly in the second innings when he reached 14 before being bowled by all rounder Schofield Haigh, a fast medium bowler of some skill. In the first another all rounder had accounted for him, the great Wilfred Rhodes claiming his wicket for 12. James' last appearances for Ireland came on the 1909 tour of North America, where he was again a substitute, as only five of the original selection made the trip.
Like several of his team-mates, James struggled throughout the tour, his highest score in the non cap matches, in which a player of his class should have "filled his boots", being 13 in the second innings v Baltimore. He played in three of the cap matches: one v All New York and two v Philadelphia. At New York, he made his tour - and Ireland - top score of 17 in the first innings and 5 in the second as the visitors won by 5 wickets.
Ireland were outclassed in the two Philadelphia matches, the superb bowling of JB King, aided by the leg spinning Australian HV Hordern and another skilful paceman Percy Clarke being too good for them. In the first match, King took 10-53 in the first innings, though James, at 4, was one of the more successful batsmen, putting on 40 for the third wicket with George Morrow (50*) before being bowled by a massive inswinger for 16. In the second, he fell to a Hordern googly for 4.
The second match saw Ireland lose by an innings, with James making 7 and 1. Percy Clarke bowled him in the first innings and Walter Graham in the second. Clarke was a very good bowler, who would be better remembered had his career not overlapped with King's. James continued to play cricket in Dublin for several seasons but was not selected for Ireland again.
Like his two brothers he also shone on the rugby field. The elder, Joseph, a winger gained two caps for Ireland in the 1894 -95 season, and was also a noted sprinter, while the younger Louis, probably the best athlete in the family, gained 27 caps at half back besides winning 4 on what would now be called the Lions' tour of South Africa in 1896. James was never capped for Ireland but was chosen for the 1896 tour. Several sources including the Statsguru site on Scrum.com show this as having been Joseph, but Edmund van Esbeck, historian of Irish Rugby, Willow Murray, IRFU Archivist, and the Magee family, all confirm that the player concerned was James. The confusion may have arisen from the fact that some of the press at the time recorded him as simply J Magee. He played in the Third and Fourth Teats. At full back in the third, he helped his side to a 17- 5 win, but on the wing in the final match, could not prevent a 5-3 defeat.
Edward Liddle, April 2009