One hundred and thirty years of Connacht Rugby

The Connacht branch of the Irish Rugby Football Union was formed on December 8, 1885 in Corless’ Burlington Dining Rooms, Andrew Street, and Church Lane, Dublin. The meeting took place after the first time Connacht played as a province in a match against Leinster. The clubs represented at the meeting were Ballinasloe, Castlebar, Galway Grammar School, Galway Town, Queen’s College Galway, and Ranelagh School, Athlone.

The initial growth of the game in the west was centred on the few schools which were playing rugby when the cricket season permitted. Galway Grammar School, which had been playing rugby before the branch was formed, was central to all rugby activity as was Queen’s College. As time went on some competitions had to be abandoned during World War I and also during the War of Independence. It was after the truce that the game really began to take off in the west.

In the early days, the IRFU “would leave it to the provinces to arrange inter-pro games with Connacht”, which meant that matches were played without any regularity, a most unsatisfactory situation. A pattern did begin to emerge in the 1930s but the onset of World War II put paid to that.

The Interprovincial Championships were first played in 1946 and every year after that until the game turned professional. The competition was very successful for the rivalries it built up, and for the opportunities it offered good club players to make themselves known on a national stage. Connacht played the other provinces once a season. One year, they would play one province at home and the other two away, the following year the order was reversed.

Home games were always played in the Sportsground on a Thursday afternoon, that being a half-day in Galway.

There were occasional representative games against teams from Fiji, Canada, Western Samoa, Argentina, Spain, Australia, and New Zealand. In those days, all members of the Connacht team were born in the province, or at least lived here.

Victories for Connacht were rare but all the more memorable for that.

Attendances at the Sportsground were low, a few hundred maybe. The game was amateur.

All of that changed several years ago when the team turned professional.

Suddenly we were playing in Celtic leagues and occasionally in the Heineken Cup against our old inter-pro foes, but also against teams from England, Scotland, Wales, and France.

The crowds are no longer just in the hundreds, and opposing teams are finding it harder and harder to beat Connacht. The current squad are producing better results than any of their predecessors, and slowly turning the Sportsground into a fortress.

So to honour that squad, we have for you today the Connacht team that gave us one of those memorable games in Ravenhill when they beat Ulster by a score of 14 – 5 on November 19, 1958.

They are, back row, left to right: T Robertson, referee; Brian Siggins; J Tyrrell; Seán McEvoy; Tony O’Sullivan; Mick Leahy; Johnny Dooley; Cormac Greally; TJ Lenihan, touch judge.

Seated are: Hubie O’Connor; Seán Calleary; Dermot Connolly, president; Brendan Guerin, captain; Locky Butler; Paddy Kilcommins; and Don Armstrong. In front are Dickie Roche and JB Dillon.

Most of the above is taken from that mine of information which is Ralph O’Gorman’s book Rugby in Connacht.

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