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Sunday, 24th September 2023

The story of rugby in Drogheda since the 1880s

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An international selection team, including several well-known local players, pictured on September 15th 1985 before a benefit match for the GOAL charity. Back Row: Shay Deering (St. Mary’s, Leo Monahan (Blackrock), Kevin Tobin (De La Salle, Palmerstown), Peter Millar (Ballymena), Adrian Boyle (Old Wesley), Jim Walker (Delvin), Bill MUlcahy (Skerries). Front: Kieran Spellman (Drogheda under 19), James Carr (Drogheda u-19), Gerry Fagan (Drogheda), Robbie McGrath (Wanderers), Dave Doherty (Old Wesley), Frank Kennedy (St. Mary’s) and Mark Blayney (UCD).

By Sean Collins

As I sat at home on the Rathmullen Road watching Ireland overcoming world Champions South Africa on their way to, hopefully, lifting the William Webb Ellis Cup for the first time, I swear I could hear Seamie Briscoe, Mr. Rugby in Drogheda, cheering in Termonfeckin! 

It was Seamus who informed me recently of the passing of Arthur Mullen, a fine gentleman and stalwart of Drogheda rugby. I thought that perhaps, in memory of Arthur, some Drogheda rugby history might be appropriate. 

I should state at the outset that my qualifications for commenting on rugby are limited although I did attend the Disco in “The Lodge” on a Friday night in the 70’s with Linda, boogeying to the sound of Sock it to Me McKool, having been let in by my old neighbor and friend, and very fine rugby player, Matt O’Rourke RIP. 

I well remember watching in awe as local man Shane “Shaggy” Horgan scored that most famous of all Irish tries against England in Croke Park. Frank Buckley quipped it was the best ever performance by a Meath man in Croke Park! 

The IRFU was formed in 1879 as an amalgamation of the Irish Football Union and the Northern Football Union of Ireland. Branches were formed in Leinster, Munster and Ulster. The Connacht Branch was formed in 1900. 

Bassetts Directory 1886, states that in 1878 a Football Club was established by T.P.Cairnes at Stameen. Michael McEvoy the expert in these affairs confirms it was a Rugby team. Reports in the Drogheda Argus and Drogheda Conservative from March 1879, report local derbys between Dundalk and Drogheda. 

The first game played at the “Demense” in Dundalk was Drogheda’s first ever game, according to the newspaper report. The Drogheda Captain was named “Nash” possibly one of Ged’s ancestors, and the first man recorded scoring a try for Drogheda was named Garrett with a conversion by Montgomery. Popular old Drogheda families like the Eagars, Hewsons, Giles all feature. 

The 1880s shows reports of the fledgling game going on in Drogheda;

  • 1881 Drogheda v Dundalk at Stameen
  • 1882 Drogheda v Wanderers at Rathmines
  • 1884 Drogheda v Dundalk
  • 1886 Drogheda v Landsdowne, [note it was reported as Drogheda’s first match in two years. Eagar and Whitty scored for Drogheda].
  • 1887 Drogheda Grammar School v Wesley in Donnybrook 

 

At the AGM of Drogheda Rugby Club in 1889, held at the Whitworth Hall, Dr. John Bellew Kelly [pictured above] was elected President. A native of Duleek, he was also a member of the Drogheda Rowing Club, Tredagh Polo Club, and the Drogheda Gymnastics Club, a sporting all-rounder. 

Kelly died aged 58 in 1901 and is buried at The Bellew family tomb in Duleek where his ancestor John Lord Bellew, a Jacobite officer whom the tomb records as being “shot in the belly at Aughrim” 1691 is also interred. 

In 1892 the following Drogheda panel was fielded in The Grammar School ground at Beechgrove against Blackrock; McQuillan, Lyndsay, Irwin, Galbraith, Dempster, Ludlow, Clinton, Richardson, McIntyre, Whitty, Logan, Robertshaw, Rodwell. Harbinson, Coughlan, Murdoch, Davidson, Murphy and Rice, the papers at last were reporting player’s names.

The Drogheda Rugby Club team, winners of the 1939 Ryan Cup Back Row (from left): E. Murdock, P. Lillie, J. Hoey, J. Magner, N. Gibson, M. Behan, W. Dean, TC Byrne. Front: D. Kierans, D. Drew, R. Drew, V. Reddan (Captain), G. Sheridan, J, Cooney and G. Kee.

Drogheda also had fixtures, that year against Bective Rangers and the R.I.C. The AGM in 1895 saw Dr.J.B. Kelly returned as President with Col.Cairnes and Major Pepper as vice-Presidents, The Captain that year was J.P.Hughes. 

As an aside it should be noted throughout this period 1886-1920, all the major Gaelic games played in Drogheda were played at Shamrock Lodge which was on the east side of the Ballymakenny Road approximately where Forest Edge is now. 

The AGM on the 22nd September 1900, returned G.N. Kelly as President, Captain; T. Tiernan , Committee; Murdoch, McCullen, Tallon, Rowan and Campbell. The following year [1901] Drogheda played Santry in the first round of the Leinster Junior Cup at Landsdowne Road. 

In 1905 a special meeting was called at the Whitworth Hall to reorganise a Rugby Club for the town. It was obviously a success, as in December they played Old Wesley in Beechgrove. By 1906 the Drogheda Rubgy Club games were being played at their new grounds in Hardman’s Gardens, given the proximity I wondered was it also Beechgrove. 

Drogheda Rugby Club stalwarts all togged out in dickie bows forthe Captain's Dinner. Front are Arthur Mullen (left) and Seamie Davis. Back (from left): Eugene Kiuerans, Jack Doran and Seamus Horkan.

The Captain that year was J. Lyndon, and the secretary was R.H. Slocock.A report of a meeting in Drogheda in 1906 to set up Drogheda Olympic A.F.C., it was proposed that the new club should take the colours of “The old Drogheda Rugby Club, Yellow and Black”, it should be noted that the colors are those of the Bellew family.

The club bade farewell that year to Lawrence Donegan who emigrated to Australia after a generation of service to Drogheda rugby. In 1909 the Drogheda Olympics changed their name and code to Louth County R.F.C., but I could find no further reference. 

The Drogheda Rugby Club officially changed their base from Stameen to Hardman’s Gardens in 1906. The first annual supper dance was held on the 1st May 1907 in the White Horse Hotel. On the night the chairman Mr.R. McIntosh presented “caps of honor” to Henry Galbraith and J.N.Fisher, the club secretary. The club secured the use of the Boy’s Brigade field for training, and were described in the local paper as the “Black and Gold men”. 

The Delvin team from the late seventies/early eighties who were a force to be reckoned with - Back Row: M. Reilly, N. Curley, T.Kerby, T. MvKeon, T. Hughes, T. O’Brien, N. Byrne. Middle row: D. Crawley, P. Kerbey, J. Walker (Captain), S. Dyas, T. Cunningham. Front Row: D. McKeon, N. Durnin, N. Byrne, T. McBride.

The 1920’s featured some highlights for Drogheda rugby. Playing in Rathmullen Field in 1924 they defeated Dundalk. The Drogheda panel on the day included; Whelan, Dr.Lynch , T.Lyons, Jordan, Toombe, Manning, J.Lyons, C.Murdoch, J.Dolan, O.Robinson and J.Crean. 

By 1926 Tom Lyons, a son of local bakery owner Peter Lyons, was featuring in the Belfast Telegraph as one of the stars of Sydenham R.F.C. in Belfast. The Drogheda Rugby Club were proposing to acquire a new field at Eagle Lodge in Bryanstown. 

A rugby team styling itself Drogheda Wanderers played a number of games at the showgrounds on the Windmill Road in 1929. From 1929 all Drogheda fixtures were played at “Magdalene Park”, where Kells defeated Drogheda in the third round of the Provincial Town’s Cup.

The 1930 AGM of D.R.F.C. report listed, Chairman S.E. McMillan, Captain J.T. Braid, and secretary Alan Donnelly of West St., Mr. Peter Lyons was elected President.

Jim Walker - the Delvin Captain in 1975/76.

That same year another rugby team, the Drogheda Nomads, were fielded against Trinity College, and Skerries R.F.C. the local paper reports that many locals tuned in to listen to the radio reporting of the Ireland-Scotland match live from Edinburgh, technology was stepping up. 

The Drogheda Rugby Club went out of existence for a couple of years during the Second World War from 1940-43, until the herculean endeavors of Mick Behan and Ernie Murdoch revived it. 

George Slater from Edinburgh and Eric Reid a Welshman were crew members of a Wellington Bomber which crashed about two miles east of Waterford in the early hours of the 17th February 1943. They were interned at Gormanston camp and joined Drogheda Rugby Club. They both won places on the senior fifteen, and played in all home games, including a special permission to travel for an important game in Dundalk. 

On the 15th of June 1944, the internees were released and driven to the border by the Irish army and handed over to the British authorities. Gormanston ceased being an internment camp.

Oliver Halpin a noted Louth and Leinster G.A.A football player, was injured in March 1949, playing rugby for Drogheda against Old Belvedere at Jones’s Road in Dublin, sporting followers can work out the implications of all that. 

Drogheda Rugby Club captain Donal Grennan congratulates Mark McHugh on being made Irish Youth Captain. On left is proud Dad Reggie McHugh and looking on is Youth Co-ordinator Seamus Davis.

In the early 1950s Peter Tynan O’Mahony, a brother of the comedian Dave Allen, worked as a reporter for the Drogheda Argus wrote an in-depth weekly report on local rugby. In one report he excitedly told of how George Norton had offered his services to train Drogheda R.F.C.

George William Norton (1 April 1920 – 7 October 1999) played at fullback for Bective Rangers, represented Leinster at provincial level, was capped 11 times for Ireland, and was a member of the British Lions team that toured in 1950.

On a sadder note O’Mahony reported on the deaths of two local brothers Ralph and Christopher Gogarty of the Palace who were lost at sea when the Laguna Bay went down in the English Channel. Both men had played rugby with Drogheda and then Landsdowne. Ralph captained the Drogheda XV in 1949.

In the spring of 1953 Delvin R.F.C. was founded with a base at Mosney holiday camp. The first President was G.L. McGowan a solicitor, with D.C. Scaife as hon secretary. The committee included Dr.Lynch of Stamullen and District Justice Kenny and W.E. Butlin. The club focused on the Balbriggan, Bettystown, Laytown, Julianstown, Mosney and Stamullen area.

At the end of the 1950s Drogheda RFC left Shamrock Lodge and started to play all fixtures on Kelly’s field on the Rathmullen Road. John Kelly a president of the club said that by 1961 the club was almost defunct once again. Only seven people attended the A.G.M in 1961, but they were determined that the club should survive. 

Delvin RFC Long service award winners 1996 (from left): Paul Keby, Eamon Cooney, Fred Shuttleworth, Seamie Briscoe (Hon. President), Don Byrne, Brian Coyle (Leinster Branch IRFU), Gerard Tallon and Christy Lynch.

By constant fundraising through the 1960s, through regular dances at Stameen, in 1968 they purchased the grounds which became known as the Shamrock Lodge on the west side of the Ballymakenny Road. In 1967 the club won the McGowan Cup in which my old friend Jim Farrell [Cheyenne] featured and reached the final of the Provincial Towns Cup.

At the official opening of their new club house and premises on the 19th September 1969, the club had a membership of 180 including fifty female members. Wolfhound XV played a President’s Selection, after Mr. J.W.S Irwin President of the I.R.F.U. accompanied by Mayor of Drogheda Paddy Buckley cut the ribbon to declare the new club opened, at the first rugby match I ever attended.

As far as I can determine the only Drogheda man on the field that day was David Lyons, former Drogheda player but by then a notable at Galwegians, like his uncle at Sydenham back in the 1930s. The Chancellors provided the opening night of music but the Trolls soon made it their home.

By 1970 the game of rugby was well established in Drogheda and I am sure in the near future we will see a modern history of the game locally recorded. In the meantime, thanks to Michael McEvoy, Colin Byrne and Gerry Fagan for their input.

I hope Frank Buckley, Ronan O’Reilly, Reggie McHugh , Jim Walker, Seamus Briscoe, Tony McKeown, Ged Campbell and Kieran Matthews get a smile from this epistle. To the two alickadoos I know best Pat Collins and Tony O’Rourke and remembering Joe Keogh RIP, player, official and referee and now his old colleague Arthur Mullen RIP.

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