Rugby’s history is told through its greatest stories and its greatest characters. The yarns, tales and folklore of rugby offer a living heritage that serves to define the sport.
One club in the Energia All-Ireland League is taking measures to capture that history for generations to come – Omagh Academicals are undertaking a project to future proof the stories at the heart of their identity.
“Early in the year 1952 three young men got together to discuss the future of rugby in Omagh and they were unanimous in their view that a fresh approach to the game in Omagh was required,” says Honorary Secretary Ken Beattie.
“They then made the decision, which was to have far-reaching effects, that they would form a new club on the basis of by the members, for the members. They chose a title in keeping with their old school namely – Omagh Academicals Rugby Football Club. The founding members were Billy Beatty, Tom Hendly and Dai Waterson.”
Phil Richardson is the only surviving member of the very first Omagh Academicals team. The club collaborated with Creative Media Production students in South West College to video a sit-down interview that brought to life the very earliest history of Omagh Academicals.
“Phil was able to talk about the foundation of the club and playing in the first matches and the first tour that the team made to Paris,” says Beattie.
“The Accies true to form, made Irish Rugby History by becoming the first Junior club top play in the Continent in 1956. The tour which was an administrative coup for the Club Secretary Billy Beatty.
“The Accies played the Racing club in Paris and then went to the France v Ireland match.
“French men marched round the ground with a live white cockerel, which is the country’s emblem. One Accie forward who shall be nameless, thought immediately of chicken broth, and some members will swear that the cockerel’s neck was inches longer before it was rescued.”
Billy Beatty features heavily in the history of those early days.
“He was quite a character and was known throughout rugby circles in Ireland as The Beat,” says Ken Beattie [No relation]. “I thought that it would be interesting to collect stories about him.”
One such story helps to explain why a club grounds in Co. Tyrone is named after the founder of one of the oldest and largest banks in the world.
“In 1967, we decided we should get our own grounds,” explains Beattie. “We bought 21 acres just outside the town. The ancestors of the Mellon banking family came from nearby. They were contacted in the US and asked if they would like to make a donation and we’d name the grounds the Thomas Mellon Playing Fields after their illustrious ancestor. The Mellon bank foundation in the US sent us a cheque for the full amount. The Beat got us new grounds and paid them off all in one go!”
It was decided to expand the project into a wider digital history of the Accies.
An ad was put in the local newspapers that the club would be opened on three specific evenings for club members and associates for everyone to bring along their old photos, stories, newspaper clipping and memorabilia.
Such precious items were treated with due care – they were scanned on the spot and returned to their owner on the same evening.
The club are about 75% of the way through their project. It’s already proved an overwhelming success. Beattie has one particular recommendation for clubs considering a similar project – do it now.
“Don’t wait for the big anniversaries,” he says. “It is best to start with this as soon as possible to ensure that none of the early history of the club is lost.”
“We’re excited to see the results of what we’ve done here.”