A Team of All the Ryans

Clonoulty-Rossmore Vintage Rally brochure, August 2010, pp. 31-34


Mike and Jack Ryan (Rockwell's Famous Internationals)

Mike and Jack Ryan (Rockwell's Famous Internationals)

It was an unusual idea and it was used by Cashel Rugby Club to get their 1956/57 season off with a wave of publicity. A team of all the Ryans was to challenge a team of all the Rest, made of players of the non-Ryan variety from Cashel, Clanwilliam, Clonmel, Garryowen and Young Munster.

Since you could cut a Ryan in any ditch in Tipperary there was no problem in getting fifteen to fill the positions on the team. Although hurling was the predominant game in the county and many Ryans, such as Sweeper and his brothers, had become famous playing for Tipperary there were other Ryans who had excelled on the rugby field.

The most famous, Mick and Jack, came from the Racecourse, which was in the parish of Cashel

They were legends in their own lifetimes and the legend hasn't faded in the meantime. Mike was capped 17 times for Ireland between 1897 and 1904 and Jack 14 times over the same period. Mike was chosen in 1905 but refused to play because Jack wasn't picked. Mike didn't begin to play rugby until he was 24 years old and brother Jack was already playing. Both started off as backs but soon changed to the forwards. Both played on the Triple Crown team in 1899 when Ireland defeated England, Scotland and Wales for the first time. 

Press accounts of the Triple Crown matches gave prominence to the contribution of the Ryans. In every second line we find the same note. "Mike Ryan came through on a couple of occasions in grand style". "The Ryans put in a lot of work and were assisted by Ahern and McCoull". "Of the forwards Mike Ryan and Jack were far and away the best, the elder brother being always on the ball". "Mick Ryan's play was brilliant, especially in the second half, when he knocked the English backs about like nine pins. He was simply irresistible and the soft surface of the field bore a deep impression of many a Saxon's form that Mick laid low".

The Scottish Match

Against Scotland the well-publicised incident happened: Mike Ryan slung the biggest Scottish man, McEwan, into the spectators. "He was playing a great game. Now, from our twenty-five he meant to get through, I saw him coming, teeth bared, jaw set, determination written all over him. Five yards from me he hurled himself for me. I got one arm well round him, swung around with him and let go; he sailed out into the crowd. There was a great hush for a moment in which you would have heard a pin drop. It was looked on as a prodigious feat of strength, but it was his own size and speed that helped me. He resumed the game nothing the worse".

Only five players played in all three matches - Louis Magee, James Sealy, Billy Byron, and the two Ryans. "Jack and I returned home. At the Racecourse Cross we were held up by all Rockwell. To a man they had turned out to welcome us. They took the horse from between the shafts and insisted on pulling us all the way to the college we loved, though our hands ached from all the fierce handclasps we received."

Jakes McCarthy, an outstanding sportswriter of the time, once described a famous try by Mike Ryan with the memorable phrase "crossing the line, his frame festooned by Saxons". The Ryans dined in Rockwell twice a week and played rugby with the boys. They were known for their gentleness and never hurt a student. Mike was particularly popular and Jack was the orator. Jack is remembered starting a speech in his good Tipperary accent: "There are moments in life . .." and the crowd applauding so much that he had to begin three times. Mike played for Bective at the time because a player could play for two teams in different provinces. Bective was one of a small number of Catholic clubs.

Last Game

Mike played his last game of rugby 1912 for a wager. He hadn't played for years: "Mr. O'Flaherty, Science Professor in Rockwell, laid me a wager that if I played in Rockwell I would not score. I took him on. Rockwell boys on the touchline made almost as much noise as all the spectators at an international. I had put on a good deal of avoirdupois and did not feel quite up to international form. I am afraid that the winning of the wager did not seem a possibility. However I kept going. About five minutes from the end my chance came. One of our centres cut through nicely. I think he could have got over on his own, but he elected to send to me. I took the pass somehow and attained the line. It was the most memorable and, I think, the most applauded score of my life, but nothing would induce me to accept another wager".

From the time the Cashel Rugby Club was revived in 1952 there was a preponderence of Ryans on the team. These included six brothers, named Eddie, Gerry, Tony, Dick, John and Donie. It was no surprise then that someone came up with the idea of the Ryans versus the Rest. The idea was unique and investigations carried out in Ireland, England Scotland and Wales at the time, failed to find any team made up of fifteen players with the same surname. So, it was a great way of generating publicity for the club.

Ryans versus the Rest was played in the Cashel Club grounds at Spafield on September 9. The Ryan team was as follows. At full-back was Donal Ryan, Solicitor, Ladyswell Street, Cashel. The threequarters line included John Ryan, Fethard, Tony Ryan, Cashel, John Ryan, Cashel, and M. Ryan, Clanwilliam. The outhalf was Benny Ryan, Cashel and the scrumhalf was P. D. Ryan, Clanwilliam. The forward line included Paddy Ryan, Templemore, P. V. Ryan, Clanwilliam, and Jim Ryan Hanna, Clonoulty, Pat Ryan, Clanwilliam, Eddie Ryan, Cashel, Matty Ryan, Cashel, Denis Ryan, Cashel, John Ryan, Clanwilliam.

There were a further three Ryans on the sideline that day: Jack Ryan of Clonmel, Dick Ryan (C) of Cashel and Johnny Ryan, Cashel.

The Rest won by 12-11. Cashel had the first score, a penalty from 45 yards out, converted by a notable point scorer, Denis Ryan, who was also captain of the side. In the course of the game Denis had to retire from the pack to the three-quarter line with a knee injury. Shortly after the penalty, from a line-out near the Rest line, Paddy Ryan burst over for a great try, which Denis Ryan converted and, just on half-time the latter scored again from a penalty in front of the Rest posts, to give Cashel a half-time lead of 11-0.

If Cashel had the better of the exchanges in the first half, the Rest made up for it after the interval. Seven minutes after the resumption Timmy O'Dwyer landed a good penalty for the Rest. The play swung from 25 to 25 and, about midway through the half, O'Dwyer had another penalty for the Rest. The latter continued to harass the Ryan lines and a fine burst by Coffey from a loose maul sent O'Brien away to score near the corner about ten minutes from time. The conversion failed. There were now only two points between the sides and the Rest snatched victory near the closing stages when Kennedy, receiving from a set scrum on the 25, cut through a gap in the Ryans defence before sending O'Brien over to score again. At the final whistle the Ryans were trying desperately to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat but failed on the scoreline of 11-12.

The Rest: A. Ellard (Clan), M. Gilligan (Clan), J. O'Brien (Clan), D. Kennedy (Clan), J. O'Connor (Cashel), M. Thompson (Cashel), F. Dwyer (Cashel), S. Quinlan (Clan), F. Kent (Clonmel), B. Boles (Cashel), T. Dwyer (Clan), W. Burke (Templemore), D. B. Rodgers (Cashel), D. Spearman (Cashel), T. Coffey (Garryowen).

Referee: Tommy O'Connor (Cashel)

Revival of the Club

There was a report in the Nationalist in February 1952 of a general meeting of Cashel Rugby Football Club. It appears that the game was dead in the town for just ten years, the last report of activity having been defeat in the Mansergh Cup final on May 3, 1942.

The general meeting elected the following officers: president ˆ W. P. Ryan, vice-presidents ˆ Rev. Dean Wyse Jackson and James Phelan, treasurer ˆ Frank Rhatigan, secretary ˆ Benny Ryan, captain ˆ Tommy O'Connor, vice-captain ˆ Con Hewitt. The selection committee included Dan Devitt, Richie Ryan and Jim Hannigan.

The report on the meeting was as follows: 'After a lapse of several years, a rugby football club has been established in the town. Its immediate predecessor, dating back a score or more years, was able to hold its own with the very best in the county. Although the present season is well advanced and the remaining few weeks do not permit much time for training and practising, still the fact of renewing a link with the past should encourage the club members to emulate the very creditable record of those who originally intorduced the game to Cashel and set a fine example of sportmanship on and off the field.' 

The revived Cashel club's first outing was against Rockwell College on February 10 at Cashel. The result was 10-9 in favour of Cashel and more important than the result is the team that won. It was as follows: T. Ryan, B. Rogers, J. Ryan, T. McGovern, P. J. Davern, T. O'Connor, Con Hewitt, D. Dwyer, M. Davitt, L. Tuohy, D. Looby, P. Donoghue, B. Ryan, D. Ryan, D. Williams. Cashel's two tries were scored by Tommy O'Connor and Mick Devitt and both were converted by Denis Ryan. According to the match report he 'showed rare skill, especially on the second occasion, when he goaled from the sideline.'


Conditions Bordering on the Primitive

Denis Ryan, mentioned above, has vivid memories of the early days. 'None of us knew anything about rugby,' he claims but they took to it like ducks do to water.

Tommy O'Connor (Dal) was their trainer and their basic training was running out as far as Camas Bridge which Denis remembers as a great load of craic. Fr. Meaney, C.S.Sp. of Rockwell College used to give them some rugby coaching.

The ball at the time was a bladder enclosed in a case of laced leather, and it was very difficult to kick. Denis should know, being an outstanding kicker. His technique was a straight run-up to the ball, no coming at it from an angle. He scored 102 points in the 1954-55 season. The boots weren't very good either and he had to buy a new pair every year.

Players looked after their own jerseys to the extent of taking them home after the match and washing them, Washing after matches left a lot to be desired. No hot showers like the players of today enjoy. Instead they had a barrel of water put at their disposal to wash the dirt off them. They had no fancy towels either but usually dried themselves with their jerseys! Denis recalls having to break the ice on the barrel in Nenagh after one match.

Fields could be very bad during the season, areas of mud with water running through them. Cashel were extremely lucky to get the use of their Spafield venue from Jim Phelan. Their first clubhouse was a converted cowshed. Denis recalls spending time improving it. Involved in the electric side of things, he made an important contribution. Others helped out with cement, plastering, painting, etc.

Transport was anything but plentiful at the time. A number of players had cars and they helped with the transport. Joe O'Connor had his butcher's van and this was also drafted in to bring players to games. Denis recalls how it was used for poker games on longer journeys.

Plenty of Success

Cashel started out as a Seconds team and the won the Evans Cup their first year, beating Roscrea in the final at Roscrea in the 1952/53 season. They advanced to first level the following season and won the Garryowen Cup and were beaten in the final of the Junior Cup by Shannon. They retained the Garryowen Cup in 1955 and 1956, surely extraordinary success in such a short period of time. There were also a couple of Mansergh Cup victories.

Clonoulty Connection

One doesn't associate rugby very much with the parish of Clonoulty-Rossmore. An important connection with the Team of All the Ryans was the late Jim Ryan Hanna, for many years a stalwart of the hurling fields of West Tipperary, who completed his sporting life on the rugby pitch.In all he played for about eight years and was one of the few to wear a scrum cap. Other contemporaries from the parish who played rugby during this period were John Bourke of Clune, Eddie and Jimmy Fryday, and Tom Ryan.

There's another rugby connection with the parish from a somewhat earlier period. The Pikes were born in Srahavarrella, Clonoulty West in the beginning of the twentieth century, the sons of clergyman, William Pike, and his wife Harriett Florence. The older, Theodore Ouseley, was born in 1905 and was capped for Ireland 8 times. We know he played for Ireland against England at Twickenham on February 12th, 1927. He ended up a Governor of Somaliland from 1954-1959 and he died in Guilford in 1987.

The second son was Victor Joseph, who was born in 1907 and died in 1986. He played for Ireland but we're not sure how many caps he won. His position was hooker and he definitely played against England at Twickenham on February 14, 1931. He spent a long time as a chaplain in the British Armed Forces, rising eventually to become Chaplain General. He ended up as Anglican Bishop of Sherborne.