AIB League Division Two club Belfast Harlequins have plenty of fine traditions and one such initiative that they have been sustaining since March 16, 1998 (in their penultimate season as North of Ireland FC) is the hosting of their famous ‘Fitzy’ lunches with special guest speakers.
Brian Fitzgerald, or ‘Fitzy’ as he is known, played for Bohemians, Old Wesley and North of Ireland before becoming an ‘alickadoo’ and successful bank manager. He is the main man behind these lunches and is ably assisted on the day by his wife Iris and Wilfie Hanna.
To date, a total of 82 special guest speakers have attended these lunches at Deramore Park. The first was Dr. Jackie Kyle back in 1998 and since October 1999, the lunches have been held in the Belfast Harlequins function room once a month (and usually on a Thursday).
Each participant pays £17 for a four-course lunch, followed by a talk from the invited speaker. A number of rugby personalities, including coaches, players and referees have taken to the microphone over the years at ‘Quins, with BBC commentator Jim Neilly the current record holder at four.
Last Thursday, former Ireland and British & Irish Lions captain Willie John McBride was ‘Quins’ special lunch guest and all and sundry were impressed by his account of the first Lions Test in South Africa in 1974.
Fran Cotton was so low, the scrum half could not get the ball into the scrum. He took it up and Bobby Windsor, missing an ear and half his nose, hooked it with his head.
With ‘Mighty Mouse’ McLaughlin at tighthead, Fran lowered the scrum and the ball was channelled to the number 8’s feet, whereupon all eight forwards drove South Africa back!
Willie John was at right lock that day. As Harlequins PRO Derrick Crothers admitted: “Little did I realise in 1957 when I played out-half against him at the tender age of 15, what a champion I had had the experience of playing against! What a man!”
Well done to all involved in this long-standing initiative and keep up the good work.