Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

Tom O達rien

Tom ushered in golden era at all levels of Irish rugby

Monday, February 11, 2002

A CAMEO in history of Tom O達rien could start in November, 2001, when as an Honorary Life Member of both the County Carlow Football Club and Bective Ranges Football Club, Tom was honoured by both clubs to receive a presentation and distinction to lead both teams unto the pitch at Donnybrook to compete in the semi-final of the Leinster Senior Cup.

Between 1948 and 1952 -a-golden era in Irish rugby -Tom O達rien was capped six times for Leinster and was acknowledged as a tenacious and terrier like wing forward.  During his rugby career with Bective Rangers, Tom played with and against some legends of rugby -among them the great Welsh outhalf Cliff Morgan who was a Bective teamate.

Tom played at inter-provincial level against Jack Kyle of Ulster, Ireland and Lions fame, a man still revered within Irish rugby circles who played at outside half when the men in green won their only 賎rand Slam title in title in 1948, followed by the Triple Crown the following season.  Karl Mullen of Belvedere, hooker on that great Irish team and Lions captain, was a Leinster colleague of Tom痴 while the great Irish full back of that era, George Norton, was a Bective club-mate of Tom痴. Norton also won many caps for his country and was selected for The Lions.

Then there was Jack Notley, who played for Wanderers, Kilkenny and Ireland while Tom also played against Malone and Irish Triple Crown player, the late R.D. (Bob) Agar, winner of the 践all of Fame in 1994.  That Tom O達rien played with and competed against such an array of international talent at club and inter-provincial levels, speaks for itself and there can hardly be any debate that the County Carlow Football Club stalwart is a most worthy winner of the 2001 践all of Fame in the County Carlow Sports Star Awards.

Although born in Dublin, Tom O達rien inherited his passion for rugby from his family roots in Limerick and Garryowen in particular. His father, Kennedy O達rien, was born in Fair Green, Garryowen. You could not have a more Limerick address than that. 

Kennedy O達rien captained Young Garryowen to cup victories as a second row forward in 1907 and 1909 and was so weaned on Limerick city parish matches which are unique to Irish rugby. He imparted to Tom his only rule of rugby survival and that was: 鮮ever lie down when you are hurt -don稚 give them the satisfaction of feeling they got you  As well as Tom痴 father痴 rugby background he was a very committed GAA supporter and when he lived for two years in Belfast he became one of the good hurling players at inter county level for Antrim.

Tom began his rugby in Blackrock College and later went to complete his education at Cistercian College, Roscrea. Also in Roscrea at that time were two young men who were to be great servants of the black and amber of Carlow - Billy O辿anlon and Peter O竪orman, both of whom now sadly gone to their eternal rewards.   After his school days Tom joined his father痴 leather business in Dublin and joined Bective Rangers in 1945. Tom was one of four brothers who played for the Donnybrook clubs.  His older brother Kennedy O達rien had won several Wartime international caps and was the automatic choice of the Leinster selectors at lock forward throughout the war years.  Tom O達rien was the cornerstone to restoring Bective to a dominant position in Irish club rugby, after they had fallen on very lean years.  Playing for a Bective 3rd. XV Tom was member of a team which won the Minor League for Bective for the first time in the club痴 history.

Dedicated, ambitious and forward-thinking, Tom O達rien rose through the playing ranks at Bective. He introduced a new concept of Sunday training sessions, at which the players met to discuss tactics to try to eliminate faults which may have appeared in the previous Saturday game; all with the aim of upgrading the standard of play.  Tom痴 reward was to be elected club captain in 1949, 1950 and 1952. The highlight of his playing career with Bective came when they won back to back Senior Cup finals in 1955 and 1956. In the 55 season Bective had obtained the services of Cliff Morgan and Bective were dubbed Morgan Rangers. After that win, the club痴 first in a lapse of 20 years, the entire Bective team came to Carlow as a tribute to Tom, who was now permanently domiciled in Carlow Town. In 1956, without the services of Morgan, Bective set about proving their detractors wrong and lifted the cup again.

The 1957 season marked Tom痴 first season with the Carlow club. He had been commuting to Dublin to train and play with Bective for some years but now put his depth of rugby experience in with his lot with his adopted Carlow club.  It was a union which continues to benefit Co. Carlow Rugby Club to this day.

When Tom joined Carlow he was dismayed to find that the club had no permanent tenancy to its grounds and that since its foundation had played all its matches on no less than nine different grounds around the environs of Carlow. This had also been a major problem in the Bective Club. It was fore-front in his mind. On December 5, 1960 and unknown to the club members, Tom O達rien entered negotiations with the Irish Land Commission for a considerable area of non-arable land which he had already selected situated immediately inside the main gate of Oak Park House.

For four years Tom deftly piloted the club痴 case through the corridors of power in Dublin. The happy result for Carlow rugby was that the club got title to 12 acres of land on June 19, 1964. Then the real hard work of development began which was cheerfully shared and undertaken by the committee and members in the future seasons to come.  In his first season with Carlow - 1956-57 - Tom helped Co. Carlow win the Provincial Towns Cup under the captaincy of Paddy Nolan. Carlow痴 last Towns Cup win had been in 1933.  In 1961 Tom captained the Carlow team which won the Towns Cup again.

That brought the curtain down on Tom痴 playing career but marked the dawning of a complete new involvement for him. He became deeply involved in the project to purchase the Oak Park grounds from the Irish Land Commission. The area was full of tree stumps and held little interest for farmers.  Tom ran fund-raising dances over a wide area, with great assistance from T.J. Byrne, then manager of the Royal Showband from Waterford. The finance raised enabled the rugby club purchase the land at Oak Park in the early 1960痴.

Today Co. Carlow is one of Ireland痴 leading provincial clubs - with playing, training and social facilities second to none. At all stages Tom O達rien痴 hand was close to the helm.  For decades now Tom has been involved with the promotion of schoolboy rugby and, in earlier years, along with Pat O樽ahony, Brendan Moore and Robbie Fennell, organised teams and arranged fixtures. This was the beginning of the Oak Park club痴 present day Youth Section, one of the club痴 strongest asset.  Tom is to be seen on Saturday mornings with the very youngest set on the mini pitches near the main gates, passing on his love and knowledge of the game.

It was a great source of justifiable pride to Tom that his son Kennedy O達rien, also won a Provincial Towns Cup medal with Co. Carlow in 1977, when they defeated Athy in the final at Oak Park. His son Kenndy later became club president.  Tom O達rien痴 first sporting love has always been rugby but he is a great follower of all sports and appreciates the involvement in youngsters as character builders. He is keenly interested in the Tinryland under-age Gaelic football teams with which his grandsons play.  Tom would always support ノire "g and other local GAA clubs by making the Rugby Club facilities available for training and the helping out of Carlow Hurling Club for their high-profile national tournaments.

In 1977 Tom O達rien undertook to commit to print the history of Carlow rugby.   His contribution in this regard is perhaps best summed up in an article by the late Aidan Murray in that splendid, hardback production entitled 舛ounty Carlow Football Club Rugby History 1873-1977.  His enthusiasm to compile the history of the club was prompted by an article in Carloviana by the late Harry Fennell that the Carlow Rugby Club was founded in October 1873 at the Clubhouse Hotel and was thus ranked as one of the very oldest rugby clubs in Ireland, even older than the  I.R.F.U. itself (1874).

Aidan stated: 的t was typical of 腺loody O達rien (to use Paddy Ryan痴 appellation) that in addition to all the development work he instigated within the club, he took on the Herculean task of correlating all the printed facts of the early years of Carlow rugby; these he obtained from the files of the local and national papers and a plethora of other publications - he even spent part of his holidays in the library of the British Museum in London tediously copying out any reference to Carlow rugby he found therein.

腺ut more important he set about interviewing all the older generations of Carlovians or anyone he could find that had some facts to relate about rugby in Carlow, particularly before 1900.  選 often wonder how many countless hours he has spent transcribing it all into narrative.  Only for Tom痴 persistence all the invaluable parts of the early club history which he put together, would never have seen the light of day.

Carlow Rugby Team c1900
From an ebay seller c2008

In a tribute to Tom O達rien entitled 羨 Man For All Seasons, Maurice Mortell, the former Bective Rangers, Leinster and Irish wing three quarters wrote: 選t is probably only those who were club members of Bective Rangers in the latter years of the Forties and early years of the Fifties really appreciate the contribution made to Bective by Tom O達rien.  選n 1950 Bective had been in the doldrums for some 15 years. No Senior Cup since 1935, one Junior League and Metro Cup in 1939 and only a Metro Cup and a Minor League trophy to show for the 10 years of the 40痴.  禅here was very good reason for this calamitous state of affairs. Old Belvedere, a junior club since 1930, gained senior status in 1937 resulting in a massive exodus of the many Belvederians from Bective Rangers. Coupled with this was the formation of Greystones RFC in 1937 which cut off a flow of skilful players from Presentation College, Bray.

This double blow had knocked out the spirit of the club and resulted in a relapse into the national pastime of reliving the retelling the glorious feats of previous years.  禅his was the prevailing climate when Tom O達rien arrived in 1945. He was the youngest of four brothers who were club members. Tom, in a most unobtrusive manner, set about turning the fortunes of the Bective club around. He was elected vice captain to George Norton in  1948. He then somehow prised open the Greystones door and re-established the flow of Pres Bray footballers into Bective commencing with players like Brian Keogh, Noel Moore Larky O達rien and Jim Madden, followed a year or two later by Joey Molloy, Maurice Mortell, Rick Walsh, Louis Meckin and Paddy O坦eilly.

Organised training, unheard of for years, took place every Sunday and players were expected to train twice during the week. 選n today痴 business world Tom O達rien would have been immediately recognised as an expert in personnel relations and a superb practitioner of man management. He saw to it that he got the club committee he wanted, the selectors he wanted the players he wanted and all this was achieved without stepping on anybody痴 corns. Between 1949 and 1956 Tom was club captain three times. He could have been captain each year had he wished. He built a superb rugby machine which lasted for over a decade and won three Senior Cups and the club also dominated junior rugby in Leinster.

He re-established recognition of Bective as a great Irish rugby club in the eyes of the English and Welsh followers, filling grounds and inflicting regular defeats on sides like Cardiff, Neath, Newport, Northampton and Leicester. It was indeed a golden era.  禅om O達rien played with a well controlled ferocity. He took his rugby very seriously and saw to it that all his play-ers did the same. He had a very astute rugby mind and could be quite ruthless. He was also extremely skilful and while playing all his rugby at wing-forward, could handle and kick as well as any half-back. 

His delicately placed kick for Jerry O奪wyer痴 winning score against Lansdowne in the dying seconds of the 1956 Cup Finial is a treasured memory we will never forget.  禅om was primarily interested in winning and playing he always and he always preached to play the opposition in their half of the pitch. The wingers and centres in his team enjoyed their rugby. Equally, he insisted on very tight defences. There was a post mortem on each try we surrendered - this in turn resulted in extremely efficient defences.

的n the 145 games played between September 1950 and May 1956, only 29 (20 per cent) were lost - only two in each of the cup winning years of 1955 and 56. It was very difficult to beat Bective in those seasons.  禅om was unique among his playing contemporaries of that era in that in 1951 he married Joan Plunkett. It was usual at that time that marriage was invariably followed by retirement. We didn稚 know whether to fell sorry for him or envy him in his wedded bliss but Tom took it all in his stride and Joan never interfered with his rugby.  禅om O達rien was an extremely good wing forward. In his 10 years playing there was only one wing forward position open on Bective teams. He was capped six times for Leinster, a paucity of honours that puzzled his contemporaries.

He was respected and feared by opponents. He was fast, abrasive and fearless and was always probing for weakness in the opposition. If he had a blind spot, if it could be called such, it was his positive obsession with beating Lansdowne. His team talks prior to Lansdowne games were incitements to mayhem. His cup was filled to overflowing with the defeat of his bete noire in the cup campaign of 1955, followed by a repeat performance in the final of 1956.

Maurice Mortell finished his tribute to Tom O達rien by stating: 禅he Tom O達riens of this world come very seldom. It was a grievous loss to Bective but what a wonderful gain for Carlow rugby, for he has repeated there the miracle that he wrought in our club, Bective. It was only in retrospect we come to appreciate the scale of all his achievements.

Source: Carlow Nationalist

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