THE PRESIDENT of the New Zealand Rugby Union and former All Black, Bryan Williams MBE, will officially open Letterkenny RFC’s new €750,000 pitch and clubrooms development early next month.
The occasion will also feature the Irish and United Kingdom launch by New Zealand-based author Matt Elliott of his new HarperCollins biography of the rugby great titled ‘Dave Gallaher: the Original All Black Captain.’
Ulster coach Mark Anscombe, who coached at Auckland with Bryan Williams, and whose son Gareth, like Bryan is a member of Dave Gallaher’s Ponsonby club, will also be present.
Gallaher, who was inducted into the IRB Hall of Fame in 2011 and was commemorated by a statue unveiled outside Eden Park in Auckland ahead of the 2011 Rugby World Cup is credited with helping make rugby the national sport of New Zealand.
The first-ever visit of the All Blacks to Ramelton in 2005 – at the invitation of Letterkenny Rugby Club – made headlines around the world.
Earlier that year, by chance, Letterkenny RFC discovered Gallaher, captain of the All Blacks. He’d emigrated with his family who’d settled in Auckland.
The timing of the discovery was fortuitous – 2005 marked the 100th anniversary of Gallaher’s most famous achievement - captaining The Originals, the first touring side to be called All Blacks.
That team was expected to struggle against even the British and Irish club sides but the reality was a little different. Their marathon 1905/6 tour delivered victory after victory and was crucial in establishing the New Zealand as a world superpower in the sport, a position they have retained ever since.
Gallaher, who lost his life in World War One, became a hero in New Zealand as a result of his sacrifice and what he had given to rugby in a short life. His playing exploits had been followed by subsequent coaching work with Auckland and a role as an All Blacks selector.
As Letterkenny RFC is the closest club to his birthplace in Ramelton. They hoped that investing in the All Blacks outreach would help a tiny group of enthusiasts promote the sport in a part of Ireland, where it struggles for profile and players.
Six years on, Bryan Williams is taking time from the All Blacks autumn European tour to visit Letterkenny and witness the fruits of that partnership in terms of a host of under-age teams and playing facilities to match any in Ireland.
The development of this sporting facility, at a cost of almost €1,5 million represents a pioneering partnership between Letterkenny Rugby Club and the local GAA team, Letterkenny Gaels. The collaboration, which was significant in attracting £1 million funding from the National Lottery, involves each club as anchor tenants whilst retaining their own separate identity, playing and training pitches within the campus at the Glebe.
The clubhouse has been organised to offer each tenant their own space and distinct sporting identity. A phase four development is planned, subject to finance, which will include flood lighting and an all weather playing surface. The facilities are also utilised by a number of local community sports groups including Letterkenny Athletics Club, Cricket Club, Archery Club and social family fun days.
Letterkenny RFC’s new €750,000 pitch and clubrooms development will be officially opened on Saturday, November 3rd at 1.30pm. The club’s first and second XVs will play Donegal Town that afternoon.