This after dinner game has been played for many years throughout the British Isles, but also as far away as Siberia, imported there by colleagues of the BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra. Its origins are uncertain but it is probable that it was invented in the 1920-30s and named after Freda Dudley Ward, a mistress of Edward, Prince of Wales, subsequently and briefly Edward VIII. However it may well have evolved, like snooker, in an era when there was so little to do and too much time to do it in. The precise rules vary but there is a common theme. Inevitably there will be many alternatives vying for the label of official rules. Those that set out below have been labelled 'Killyleagh rules', Killyleagh Castle being the place where the author of this article learned this game. Other nearby local (Northern Irish) variants are given - the Seaforde and Larchfield variations - as well as a variation from Scotland (Manderston).
The game is played on a billiard or snooker table, the aim being to keep the red ball moving at all times by striking it with the white ball. Players take it in turn to achieve this but lose 'lives' if they fail, as described in The Rules. The winner is the last player still in the game.
1. A billiard or snooker table, the larger and older the better, also preferably with a relaxed owner.
2. Two balls of different colour, for convenience here - one white and one red.
3. Billiard or snooker cues are not necessary.
4. Two or more players, liberal doses of a sense of humour, laced in general with a touch or more of alcohol
As played at Killyleagh Castle, Co Down on a snooker table:-
1. An order of play is decided amongst the players prior to starting the game. This order must be adhered to. If a player loses 3 'lives' he/she must leave the game and the next player will restart proceedings in the same manner as at the beginning of the game and the ranks close up. The red ball is placed in the centre spot of the D (snooker table). The first player must propel the white ball from the opposite end of the table and is allowed 3 attempts to hit the red ball. If the player fails, he/she loses a 'life' and the next player in turn will start the game. Once the red ball has been struck by the white ball the game begins and it is then the turn of the next player.
2. Each player's turn follows in succession and starts from the moment the red and white balls come into contact at the end of the previous player's turn or if a rule is broken during that turn. His/her turn finishes if a rule is broken or when he/she has touched the white ball and that ball subsequently comes into contact with the red ball.
3. Successive players may handle the white ball, but only when it is their turn. If a player plays out of turn, he/she loses a life. The player whose turn it actually is restarts the game.
4. The white ball may be picked up at any time by the appropriate player (and as frequently as necessary) until it comes into contact with the red ball (at which time it becomes the turn of the next player). The player may only release (or deflect) the white ball when both his/her feet are placed on the ground behind either end of the table. A 'life' is lost if the white ball is not propelled from either end of the table. The next player in turn restarts the game
5. The red ball can only be kept moving through contact with the white ball, which itself must be rolling freely (or stationary) at the time of contact. The player may not be in contact with the red ball in any way whilst it hits the white ball or will otherwise lose a life. The next player in turn restarts the game.
6. No player is allowed to touch the white ball directly. If this occurs that player will lose a 'life' and the player whose turn it is restarts the game.
7. The red ball must not stop. If this occurs the player whose turn it is will lose a 'life' and the next player in turn restarts the game.
8. Neither white nor red balls may leave the table either via the pockets or over the edge. If this occurs the player who last caused the respective ball to keep moving loses a life and the next player in turn restarts the game.
9. No player may unreasonably obstruct the play of another. Unreasonable obstruction loses one 'life'. Appoint a sober umpire if absolutely necessary.
10. The decision of the owner of the table or his/her deputy is final.
11. Owner (optional) of table (or member of host family) should be allowed to win.
(As played at Seaforde House, Seaforde, Co Down on a billiard table)
Generally, if a player loses a life, he/she must restart the game (not the next player in turn). If, however, the player has exhausted all his/her lives, the next in turn must restart.
Seaforde Rule 4. The player must have at least one foot placed on the ground whilst reaching for or handling the white ball and that foot is not allowed to move until the ball is released. It is, however, permissible to rotate the foot to obtain a better throwing position. If the player moves both feet when reaching for or in contact with the white ball, that player will lose a 'life'.The white ball may be handled as often as necessary, but the player must be seen to try to hit the red ball with the white ball. If the red ball is missed, the player can move again
As played at Manderston, Duns, Berwickshire on a billiard table
Manderston Rule 1. As for the Killyleagh rules but the first player to lose all three lives is given one more life to lose.
Manderston Rule 4. As for the Killyleagh rules but less specific in that the player has to be 'at an end of the table in order to play a shot'. This is relaxed at times by allowing players to play a shot as long as one hand is touching one end.
As played at Larchfield, Annahilt, Co Down:-
Rule 1. To start the red ball is placed on the 'black' (as in snooker) spot. The person who is starting has 3 goes to hit the red ball with the white ball but need only be touching the opposite end of the table with one hand while he/she attempts to do this. All other rules apply.