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Focus on The Abbey School, Tipperary Town

11th December 2006 By Munster Rugby

We take a look at the development of rugby in The Abbey School in Tipperary town- winners of the O’ Brien Cup last year.

We take a look at the development of rugby in The Abbey School in Tipperary town- winners of the O’ Brien Cup last year.

The Abbey School

It began with a Tipperary man. In 1823 during a football game in Rugby school, Warwickshire, a schoolboy, William Webb Ellis, to the amazement and consternation of players and spectators alike, tucked the ball under his arm and headed for his opponents goal. In the 1700’s ‘Caid’ an ancient Irish carrying game was played in Munster and maybe Webb Ellis had come across this game being played in the Abbey fields. Erasmus Smith founded the Abbey School, one of the oldest in Ireland, in 1680. Reputed to be the world’s wealthiest independent man and in an effort to retain favour with the Government of the Empire, he established the Abbey School Endowment. Apparently Erasmus Smith’s reputation was not dissimilar to some of modern day Russia’s more notorious oligarchs.

Whatever about Ellis’ tenuous connection to the Abbey the game of rugby football was well established in the school by the 1870’s and in 1879 the Clanwilliam Football Club was founded, no doubt encouraged by the robust health of the game in the local grammar school. Is it also not possible, just as was the case in Kerry, that the playing of football under the laws of the I.R.F.U. in Tipperary was the embryo from which the subsequent enormous popularity of football under the rules of G.A.A. was born in the same parish? And was the G.A.A. not founded just up the road in Thurles?

During the 1880’s, even with the founding of the G.A.A. in 1884, the game of rugby continued to flourish in the school. The 1880’s marked a huge surge in the interest of football in all its derivatives locally. Soccer flourished, rugby flourished but especially Gaelic football with up to 10 G.A.A. clubs in the parish of Tipperary Town alone.

Bohercrowe won the first All Ireland Football title in 1889 with Arravale Rovers of the same parish following suit in 1896. Other clubs included Rosanna, which adduced much praise from the famous Michael Cusack at the time for the ‘daring and awe inspiring nature of their football’.

The occasional and symbiotic nature of rugby and Gaelic football locally was evidenced often in controversy. In 1887 the Tipperary People reported the Rosannas complaining that the local Commercials Club of West Main Street, Tipperary Town was adhering more to the laws of rugby football than to the newer rules of the G.A.A. Some Abbey past pupils were named as culprits.

Earlier in April 1887 the same Commercials had appealed to Central Executives of the G.A.A. to have "the ban on players playing foreign games set aside for 3 weeks as the Munster Cup competition (for which Clanwilliam were ‘first favourites’) would then be completed and all players would then give their adhesion unqualified to the G.A.A. rules. (If the matter is left in suspension in the meantime)"

During the early years of the 20th Century the Abbey produced many outstanding players, among them the Pike brothers, two of whom were capped for Ireland and many outstanding administrators of the game such as the Stokes family of Limerick. In 1921 the School won the Munster Schools Cup with many of the players later becoming founder members of Bohemians Rugby Football Club in 1922. Unfortunately 1921 also saw the closure of the school due to the War of Independence and the consequent Civil unrest and it would remain closed for the next two decades until reopening under the stewardship of the Christian Brothers. In 1958 Abbey won the Harty Cup and is proud of being one of only three schools to have won both the Harty and Munster Schools Senior Cup. Sport often defines a community and nowhere is this more evident than Ireland where sport sometimes both defined and unfortunately divided communities and it would not be until 1998 that rugby would reappear on the list of extracurricular activities in the school. Credit must go to Principal John Heffernan for his encouragement in this sea change.

1998 saw an Abbey Senior XV take to the field in Clanwilliam with jerseys on loan from Galbally RFC. With former Munster player Billy Cronin as coach, within 12 months the school regularly fielded six teams from U14’s right up to Senior. Past students like International player Alan Quinlan and Munster players John Lacey and David Quinlan have been influential role models and are inspiring figures for today’s pupils. The school is also immensely proud of the continuing progress of Ian Hanly from the 2004 team who for the past two seasons has been starring with the Ireland U21 side.

The school has also experienced some success in competition where it regularly punches above its weight. All the B schools have been defeated at one stage or another while the odd A school has also tasted defeat, albeit in friendlies.

In 2001 the Abbey annexed its first Munster Schools title when winning the Munster Schools Junior Plate, a feat it repeated in 2002 and 2003. The East Munster Schools Senior Cup has been won in 2003, 2004, 2005 & 2006 and the Munster Schools O’ Brien Cup was added to this list in 2006 under the captaincy of Vivian Grisewood. While many Abbey boys have represented the Munster Youth XV and indeed the Ireland Youth XV only one, Maurice Power, in 2003 has managed to represent the Munster Schools XV. While Munster and Irish rugby has been well served by the established rugby schools, the schools system has not served the ‘C’ or associate schools near as well. That there is no exclusive Munster Schools Competition for ‘C’ schools is an indictment of neglect. Instead there is now two cups, the ‘Mungret’ and the ‘O’ Brien Cup’ for B schools. Surely it is time that a competition such as the ‘O’Brien Cup’ was exclusively a ‘C’ schools cup. Was it not for the diligence of people like Gerry Slattery and Derek Johnson, the Munster Schools Secretaries and the co-operation and encouragement of Bandon Grammar and Midleton College with regard to fixtures, then it is true that rugby as it is would not exist in the Abbey. Rugby in the ‘C’ schools sector is an untapped resource for Munster. The present system is failing the ‘C’ schools. Some imaginative thinking is called for here!

That rugby is in rude health in the Abbey is testament to the fact that clubs such as Clanwilliam continue to provide the school with coaches, players and playing facilities as well as other clubs like Galbally and Kilfeacle & District whose sterling work at underage level is reflected in the steady flow of eager schoolboys. The school itself has also made progress with its own playing fields and in 2005 formally opened its own all-weather pitch. The assistance of the local Munster Association of Referees is acknowledged and recently such people as Jim Kissane, Roger Lonergan and Donal Duggan gave up a full day to referee an innovative and hugely successful U14 Blitz for ‘C’ Schools in the Abbey. Clonmel High School, Borrisoleigh, Patrician Academy Mallow, Cahir, Abbey and Roscrea all returned home with perpetual (and hopefully annual) trophies from a competition organised and run by the Abbeys LCA1 (Leaving Certificate Applied) class and LCA2 student Joe Costello.

For now the Abbey, a Christian Brothers school will continue its holistic approach to education. With its Edmund Rice ethos of inclusiveness it will enhance the learning experience of every boy who passes through its portals while at the same time reflecting the values and mores of the community in which it is located. The Abbey Abú.


Heineken Cup Visits the Abbey School
On Monday December 4th Alan Quinlan and Denis Leamy brought the Heineken Cup to the Abbey C.B.S., Tipperary Town. They were accompanied by Johnny Lacey, Development Officer with the Munster Branch. Alan and Johnny are past-pupils of the Abbey. They were given a rapturous reception by the students.

School Principal, Mr. John Heffernan, formally welcomed the visitors. He paid tribute to the exploits of the Munster team and in particular the way in which they had united all the people of Munster behind them. Never before had Munster been so united in a common cause, at least since the days of the famous Munster warrior Brian Ború.

Alan Quinlan paid tribute to the work done by Bill Cronin to promote rugby in the school and he congratulated the senior team on winning the O’ Brien Cup last year. He hoped they could return again next year with the Heineken Cup.

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