The Irish series was instituted in 1877. Football in
Ireland was then in its infancy, and the consolidated strength of Scotland
with so many experienced International players presented a force much too
potent for the Irishmen. The game was played at Belfast, and in the
compilation of the Scottish score of 6 goals and 4 tries, E. J. Pocock of
the Wanderers 'dazzled' both his opponents and the spectators. Pocock was a
clever runner and scorer, nothing more, and the conditions favoured him
admirably. A few weeks later he became a drag on the Scottish team at
Raeburn Place. Malcolm Cross, R. C. Mackenzie, and J. R. Hay Gordon were in
the Scottish back division, and R. W. Irvine, J. H. S. Graham, D. H. Watson,
and A. G. Petrie in the forwards, so that it was a very strong Scottish side
that opposed the Irishmen. The following season Ireland was organising, and
was too busy fighting over the details to find time for International
The presence of three Edinburgh Institution players, N.
T. Brewis, W. H. Masters, and D. Somerville, in the Scottish team which beat
Ireland in Belfast by 3 goals and 2 tries in 1879 was a sign of the times.
One of the goals was dropped by Malcolm Cross from a wide
pass by Graham. It was a habit with Graham, even when dribbling, to pick up
the ball if the way were closed, and throw it out.
The match produced an 'incident' when the Irish team
protested against Irvine and Cross handling the ball while it was being
carried out from a try. The Scottish contention was that as the handling
took place over the line, where the ball was dead, it was immaterial who or
how many touched it. The matter was referred to the supreme authority of the
time, the English Rugby Union, and Scotland lost the case.
The matches with Ireland prior to 1880 were largely of a
missionary character. Up to that time, and during a goodly number of years
later, Irish football struggled along under many disadvantages not felt by
the other countries. Scotland was fed from a fertile nursery in the public
schools; England had a wide club and University area to draw upon; and from
the beginning Welsh Rugby was whole-'heartedly supported as the people's
game. There were four or five clubs in Dublin, about a similar number in
Belfast, and teams at Trinity College (Dublin), Queen's College (Belfast),
and Queen's College (Cork). It might almost be said that until about the
opening of the present century the supply of players in Ireland was very
The first International match won by Ireland was that
against Scotland in 1881. In more respects than that it was a memorable
affair. Defeat was preceded by rebellion at home that at the time looked
serious, but, viewed through a length of years, the matter is not without
its comic aspect. In selecting J. H. S. Graham to captain the team, the
Union were alleged to have passed an affront on A. G. Petrie, who was
Graham's senior. The Royal High School section blazed up in their wrath and
were supported 'on principle' by the Institution and the University. The
boys met in crowds in 'Daish's,' the 'Albert' and the other howffs, and let
loose their indignation on the Union.
It did not require a great deal to ignite a fire. They
were inflammable material, and cared less for Petrie's wrongs than they did
for a good row. Representatives from clubs as far remote as Thurso and
Earlston were said to have attended the indignation meetings, but it need
not be assumed that the country was agitated from end to end. It was easy to
procure a mandate for a local supporter who was indignant enough to deserve
R. S. F. Henderson, the Edinburgh University captain,
made himself very prominent in his antagonism and hostility towards the
Union. As a player, he was never highly valued in Scotland. He was too
stolid and too lumbering for Scottish ideas of the requirements of a
forward. Later on, when he went south, he was selected for England, although
he was a Scotsman, When the storm over Petrie came to a head, it was abated
by the acceptance of a compromise that in future International teams should
choose their own captain.
Scotland travelled with a number of substitutes and lost
the match, but it was by no means a weak team, as the names will show: T. A.
Begbie; W. E. Maclagan, N. J. Finlay, and R. C. Mackenzie ; J. A. Campbell
and P. W. Smeaton ; J. H. S. Graham, C. Reid, J. B. Brown, D. Y. Cassels, D.
M'Cowan, A. Walker, J. Junor, R. Allan, and R. Robb. Tom Begbie failed with
the kick at goal straight in front of the posts from a try scored by Graham,
who had been placed onside by the ball from Maclagan's drop touching one of
the Irish players.
In the second half, J. C. Bagot, a half-back, dropped the
goal that won Ireland's first International victory. Naturally the result
evoked a demonstration of enthusiasm. In quoting 'Jakes' M'Carthy's
description, I should not advise any one to take it too literally. ' Jakes '
was a well-known Irish writer on Rugby. This is what he wrote in regard to
'M'Mullin, of Cork, making a miscatch, big Jock Graham,
who was leaning against the goal post rubbing his shin, leisurely limped
over and touched the ball down. Could we win? Surely we deserved it, as we
had been on the Scottish line all day. The spectators became hysterical. On
the line, the ball was heeled out to " Merry " Johnstone, who, amidst
vociferous profanity, missed his pick up. Campbell, darting on him, kicked
the ball into touch. Before the Scotsmen had time to line up, " Barney "
Hughes threw the ball out to Taylor, who, quicker than you could think,
tossed it to Bagot, who dropped it over the Caledonian goal. Such frantic
excitement as these lightning movements evoked was never seen. Men, women,
and children embraced each other indiscriminately.'
Inherently weak as the Irish teams originally were, it
was on a rare occasion they travelled with fewer than half a dozen
substitutes. Yet even in the early times they put up some strenuous fights
and produced some great matches. Until comparatively recent years the Irish
Union have depended almost wholly upon their forwards. There are those who
appear to think that Irish forward play is all dash and impetuosity. Far
from that, I make bold to say that some of the Irish forwards have been the
most highly skilled exponents of the game. By a strange coincidence, within
the last few months, two of our own Scottish International players, and two
of our most distinguished players at that, have each named the Irishman,
V. C. Lefanu, as the finest dribbler they ever
Lefanu played in a great match at Raeburn Place in 1888.
Scotland won by one goal, scored in the course of a run which was started by
A. R. Don Wauchope and taken up by H. J. Stevenson, who, as usual, cut out a
path in the defence, and left his wing, D. J. M'Farlan, a clear course to
the line. That was all the scoring in as grim a struggle as ever took place
between two representative teams. I recollect Lefanu working every ounce in
the scrummage and handicapped by a damaged nose.
There was a big-boned, powerful Derry man, M'Laughlin,
playing quarter for Ireland. In the second half, he broke clean away and
bore down on H. F. Chambers, the Scottish back, who was a clever player and
a good tackier, but not over powerful, and I am sure that if M'Laughlin had
deviated a little in his course, Chambers might as well have tried to tackle
a horse. M'Laughlin crashed into the Scottish back and was stopped, but
Chambers had to be carried off the field.
We had a fine match with Ireland at Raeburn Place in
1892, when Scotland won by a try scored by the Merchistonian forward, J. N.
Millar, a right good player. Lefanu played in that game, as did also C.
V. Rooke, who was a true winger and the real
father of wing forwards. S. Lee, a tall fellow, was their centre
three-quarter, and they had in a half-back, T. Thornhill, a dangerous man
who ran with a swerve, and was difficult to tackle.
Because he would not be converted to the ' wide passing'
doctrine then in vogue, H. J. Stevenson was playing full-back during these
times. The irony of it all was that even from that position he had the
finest run in the game, and all but cleared the whole Irish defence. Modern
players will have a difficulty in realising that short passing could have
been condemned under any circumstances. Yet it is a fact that
'wide passing' was a virulent mania, pursued with the wild devotion that
characterised the apostleship of the aesthetic cult, another cerebral
disturbance of the times.
Before the Irish Universities obtained their present
status the number of Irish students attending the Universities of Edinburgh
and Glasgow was very large. In Edinburgh they formed quite a colony. W. J.
N. Davis, R. D. Stokes, J. Nash, and T. M. Donovan, all Irish International
men, played together in Edinburgh University forward division. A little
later H. Stevenson was one of the finest three-quarters that ever played for
Edinburgh University. R. Morrow, the Tristram of Ireland, and L. M. Magee
(Edinburgh Wanderers), who captained the Irish team on the occasion of the
opening of Inverleith in 1899, were also Edinburgh students. There were many
more, and many fine players among them, in both Edinburgh and Glasgow.
H. Stevenson played in the Powderhall International of
1897, which was rather an eventful function in its way. T. M. Scott
(Melrose) won the match by his place-kicking, converting a try scored by T.
Scott (Langholm), and kicking a penalty goal against Ireland's try. It was
in this match that Gwynne, the Irish centre, 'punted a goal,' and it was on
this occasion the redoubtable Mike Ryan made his first acquaintance with
When he came again in 1899 he brought his bigger but
milder brother, J. Ryan, with him. They said, of the two, 'Jack was
the.stronger man, but Mike had more of the "divil" in him.' Some of our own
forwards, such as W. M. C. M'Ewan and H. O. Smith, were not altogether
unsuited to ' Irish football,' and there was some lusty work in the forward
It was all fair and above-board, but L. M. Magee had to
keep reminding his forwards in the second half when Ireland was holding a
fairly comfortable lead that they would lose it if they did not concentrate
more on the main question. The inauspicious opening of the new field and the
Scottish defeat were accepted ungrudgingly, for it was really a fine Irish
team that won, and the game had formed an entertaining compound of good
football and legitimate 'divershun.' I recollect one of John Tod's Watsonian
forwards remarking, 'I haven't enjoyed a game so much for years.' From the
very earliest days this spirit appeared to attach itself to the Irish match.
The concern approaching anxiety over the English result or the bite and
sting of a Welsh victory have never entered the Scottish relationship with
Ireland. Of course, apart from all racial and social affinities, it must not
be forgotten that from the times of the 'Dispute' in 1884 Scotland and
Ireland have formed a spontaneous and natural alliance that has done more to
preserve the game in its present form than is generally known. At the time
of the Northern Union disruption English opinion on the adoption of
professionalism was divided. The harvest field in Wales was ripe, but
Scotland and Ireland presented an adamant rock of amateurism, an assault on
which it was futile to contemplate.
Ireland won the International championship in the year of
the opening of Inverleith, and had near to spoil the record of the great
Scottish team of 1901 on the same ground. Scotland was leading 9 points to 5
till close upon time, when A. W. Duncan stopped John Ryan on the goal-line,
a feat which normally was not an easy one, but under the circumstances was a
marvellous achievement on the part of Duncan, who had been battered and
knocked about, and only a short time previously had been literally swept off
his feet and trailed along the ground by the collar of his jersey. He hardly
seemed fit to stand, much less to stop a man like Ryan, but he did it, and
who knows but that the 1901 invincible team and the Scottish triple crown
may have depended upon that tackle by Duncan?
In the years prior to the war Irish football was strong,
if not quite reliable, but, as a matter of fact, all the countries had
players in abundance, and success depended largely on striking the balance
and gauging the adjustment in team construction. Basil Maclear, another
prodigy from Ireland, played in a winning Irish team at Inverleith in 1905.
Maclear must have been one of the strongest men who ever played football. He
was a good player, too, both in attack and defence. It was no joke to have
to stop him, and defending on his own goal-line he was positively dangerous.
The loose joint in his armour lay in his handling, which was not reliable.
Richard Lloyd appeared in the Irish picture later on. He was clever and he
had all the details of the game at his finger ends. Even his dropped goals
were calculated to evoke the distinctive comment of approval: 'Oh, pretty!'
He dropped a lofty one with deliberate and calculated ease in the 1913
match, when a good game was spoiled by the sprinting of the Tasmanian-London
Hospitals Scot, A. W. Stewart. Two years previously, Lloyd was in a
first-rate Irish team which beat Scotland and England but lost to Wales.
That was the year when Scotland, in her plenitude of players, went through a
stock of four full-backs, twelve three-quarters, five halves, and sixteen
forwards, and did not win a match.
Since the resumption Irish football has not gone above a
fair normal standard, very much resembling the position of things in
Scotland. During the present season both countries have moved upwards, and
with Scotland in first place, and Ireland sharing second, the balance of the
countries looks nearer restoration than it has done since 1918.