A recent article about E. F. Valentine from ScrumQueens.Com led to more information being unearthed and we can now proudly claim that the earliest documented female rugby player was the redoubtable Emily Valentine from Enniskillen.
Portora Royal School and Ireland can proudly lay claim to the earliest documented female rugby player and recent research has unearthed her reflections and a portrait of Emily.
Women’s rugby website, www.scrumqueens.com, has unearthed the earliest ever record of a female playing rugby with the discovery of the memoirs of Ireland’s Emily Valentine, who played in 1887 while she was a student at the Portora Royal School in Enniskillen.
Emily’s story is remarkable because there are no other records at all of any other female rugby players in the nineteenth century and scant records anywhere of the history of the women’s game and where and who played it first.
Although there is some vague suggestions that women’s rugby teams may have been playing in France, and possibly New Zealand, in the 1890s, it is not until 1917 that there is a record of another female player, 16-year-old Mary Eley, who played for Cardiff Ladies, beating Newport Ladies 6-0 at Cardiff Arms Park on December 16, 1917.
It was not until 1990, over 100 years after Miss Valentine helped to get her school team started, that Ireland’s first women’s club was formed.
Memoirs passed onto the website by Ms. Valentine’s family tell a remarkable tale. An extract tells how as a 10-year-old she lined out on the wing for the local team in Enniskillen.
“I loved rugby football, but seldom got a chance to do more that kick a place-kick or drop goal, but I could run in spite of petticoats and thick undergarments, I could run,” she wrote.
“My great ambition was to play in a real rugby game and score a try. I used to stand on the touchline in the cold damp Enniskillen winter, watching every moment of play, furious when my side muffed a ball, or went offside, bitterly disappointed when a goal was missed.”
She goes on to explain the moment when she got her chance:
“I knew the rules. At last my chance came. I got the ball – I can still feel the damp leather and the smell of it, and see the tag of lacing at the opening.
“I grasped it and ran dodging and darting, but I was so keen to score that try that I did not pass it, perhaps when I should – I still raced on, I could see the boy coming toward me. I dodged, yes I could and breathless, with my heart pumping, my knees shaking, I ran.
“Yes, I had done it; one last spurt and I touched down, right on the line. I lay flat on my face for a for a moment everything went black. I scrambled up, gave a hasty rubdown to my knees.”
A remarkable passion for the game from a remarkable young lady.
For the full story and background on Emily Valentine, click on the link below: