Not many Ulster rugby clubs can trace their origins to the heart of Belfast city centre. An exception is the Church of Ireland Young Men’s Society.
The CIYMS was formed in 1851 and acquired premises, Clarence Place Hall, at the corner of Donegall Square East and May Street.. adjacent to the City Hall. The aim was to provide sport and social engagement to the young men of Belfast as the city’s population grew rapidly with the industrial revolution.
This was to be their headquarters until 1974 when they moved to Belmont. Committee meetings, AGMs etc.. were held in the city centre until that date.
A sports section, playing a number of sports , was formed after the First World War in grounds that had been obtained at Belmont. The rugby club was formed in 1922.
They played under the name Clarence RFC for the first 7 years as there was already a CIYMS football team. They dissolved in 1928 and our name changed to CIYMS RFC.
Over the years Knock RFC and Sydenham RFC joined the ranks of CIYMS.. Knock being Senior Cup winners in 1910.
CI colours were originally as follows:
- Jersey: all black
- Shorts: all black
- Stockings:black and white hoops.
At the AGM of 27 Aug., 1931, under the Chairmanship of Mr J M Lamb, the club colours were changed as follows:
- Jersey: Black and white hoops 1 inch width
- Shorts: Black
- Stockings: Royal blue
After World War Two the colours became unobtainable for a time and they played in wider bands, until the above were restored. A myth suggested that the size of the hoops reflected that of a clerical collar, but nothing in the records confirms or rejects this story.
For the first couple of seasons they played only friendly fixtures, but in 1924 they entered the Minor League. We did well and the next season moved up to the Junior League with the 2nd XV moving into the Minor League.
The club had to wait until 1939 to gain their first success, becoming joint holders of the Past Players Cup.
Rugby was played at a much reduced level during the war, but in 1946-47 CI gained promotion into the Senior League. This achievement was the product of a sustained success on the field in the immediate pre war years, but also due to the support of many existing senior clubs and in particular Collegians RFC. That season CI reached our first Senior Cup Final, losing 12:10 to Instonians.
After a few tough, but successful years, CI finally made an indelible mark in Senior Rugby by winning the Senior Cup in 1953, ironically beating our sponsors Collegians in the final. In that year all four top CI sides contested their relevant cup finals, with the 2nd XV winning the Junior Cup and the 4th XV winning the Harden Cup.
Ernie Davis recalled that evening with the skipper, D O McKee , being carried around the Ophir dance in Salisbury Avenue with the Senior Cup on his head. It disappeared for a while after that evening, though it was eventually recovered. More such nights were to follow. Between 53 and 78, CI played in 12 Senior Cup finals, winning 6.
From our first League victory in 1962-63, to 1973-74, CI won 5 league titles. Two of these were double winning seasons, 71-72 and 73-74. During that period we won the league 4 years in a row.
CI last won the Senior cup in 1978 and the Senior League Section 2 in !987. This success paved the way for our entry into the AIL a few years later.
In 1990 the first games in the new All Ireland League started and CIYMS were one of the original Ulster teams to participate. Our first home game was against familiar friends in Old Wesley.
We enjoyed 10 years in AIL which proved an exciting but challenging time. The first few years were relatively successful and we were fielding a talented, young team, playing the exciting open game of rugby that became our trademark. However, towards the end of the decade we struggled to maintain our high standards, and dropped back into Junior Rugby 1999-2000.
For the last 20 years we have competed in Junior Rugby. For the most part in Qualifying 1, a competitive and very enjoyable league. During that period we have been runners up in Q1 twice, Champions of Q2 once, winners of the McCrea Cup once, and we qualified for the AIL Junior Cup 4 times, with our best finish, in 2012, losing semi-finalists to eventual winners, Dundalk.
However, our journey is not over…
PRESIDENT OF IRFU ULSTER BRANCH
E W Ernie Davis
SENIOR ULSTER PLAYERS
G P R ROSS
J R BRADY
E W DAVIS
R A JONES
J I BRENNAN
K W QUINN
W R HUNTER
D R ROBSON
B D E MARSHALL
J A N TURNER
J R USHER
H D MCKEE
P J AGNEW
H W ADAMS
S D DOBBIN
P J MELVILLE
G C MORRISON
G P R ROSS
W R HUNTER
P J AGNEW
B D E MARSHALL
W R HUNTER
ROLL A SILVER DOLLAR…
CIYMS moved to Belmont in 1922 and for the next 53 years the rugby club grew to become one of the most famous sides in Irish rugby. However, they did that without a bar. Very unusual in irish rugby circles.
That is not to say all players were tee-total. Not quite.
Our first club bar was Laverys in Belfast city centre. Not the present day bar in Bradbury Place, but it’s predecessor on May Street just down the road from our headquarters in Clarence Place. This was our Saturday evening clubhouse and tales of singing and laughing in this establishment are part of our folklore.
The Lavery family themselves looked upon it as the CI bar in those days.
The late 60s brought us closer to home as Paddy Lamb’s in Ballyhackamore took over as post match headquarters and then in the early 70s the Glenmachen Hotel became our local.
However, it is Lavery’s that CI look too most fondly.
We finally got our bar at Belmont…75/76. All members had to do a stint behind the bar in the early days, and got a pint for their efforts.
Sing songs were plentiful and bar flies flourished… Roger Hill, Jimmy Stewart, McNally and Galloway to name a few.
Even before the bar arrived CI enjoyed some great nights at the clubhouse.. Christmas was always a time for our Poems and Pints evening. Members of other CI sections and friends from other clubs would join us. Singers would sing, poets would recite, storytellers would tell stories to the wee small hours. All ably assisted by big Jimmy Young and his piano. Joe Davison, also big, would set the place alight with ” Roll a silver dollar “… one of CI’s songs.
As a club we have been blessed with some great speakers and story tellers… Ray Smyth and his stories from the shipyard, John Murray holding an audience spellbound, Ronnie Flannigan with poetry from WB Yeats, and of course EW Ernie Davis…The Matador, The Whistle, Dangerous Dan McGrew, and of course Drumlister.
One thing that helped CI grow into the club we are was the diversity in background of our members. They came from all 6 counties of Ulster and beyond, and from all walks of life… they still do. That diversity helped create a unique club in Irish rugby.
AC Cecil Pedlow..30 Irish caps, British Lion, international squash and tennis player. Cecil was regarded as the greatest ever CI player by many.
Cliff Morgan, Welsh international and journalist, rated Cecil’s opening try in the 55 Lions test match against the Springbok as one of the best he’d ever seen.
George Ross… George played 2nd row. He won a couple of Irish caps and impressed that year in the 5 Nations, so much so that he was shortlisted as a reserve to go with the Lions to New Zealand.
He crossed his fingers and sure enough he got the call.. a Welsh forward was injured training at Twickenham a few days before they left. George raced to the Heysham boat, got the train from Liverpool to London, was fitted into his blazer….but then the Welsh guy recovered… poor George ..train back to Liverpool, boat back home, but he kept the blazer.
JAN Turner… Ulster scrum half.. JAN won the senior league at Belmont in 2 consecutive seasons .. 61/62 Queens beat CI at Belmont to win it. The following year CI beat Queens and he had switched sides. He won both.
PJ Paddy Agnew… loosehead.. Paddy only took up rugby in his mid-twenties, initially playing on our 3Bs. His talent was quickly spotted and he rose to the first XV, then Ulster and then, in his late 20s, Ireland. He was so talented he was pencilled into the ’74 Lions squad for McBrides tour of South Africa.. the unbeatables. Sadly with work commitments he didn’t make the tour.
He was also Irish judo champion and an international water polo player.
EW Davis… if ever there was a Mr. CI, Ernie was it… on and off the pitch.. Ulster hooker.
Ernie got his first Ulster cap playing for CI, when they were a junior club.. very unusual.
Ernie was a fantastic player, but as a coach, motivator, and a figurehead at CI, he was superb. It was no coincidence that our greatest years centred around the wee man.
The Lockington Trophy, played annually between CIYMS and Dundalk, is undoubtedly the heaviest trophy in Irish rugby.
Many years ago( over 60),a successful brick manufacturer in Dundalk called Lockington befriended our own EW Davis in a bar somewhere in Ireland. They decided to organise a pre season friendly. Mr Lockington produced a cup and The Lockington Trophy was born. A pre-season friendly with an edge, and superb hospitality from both clubs.
THE CIYMS RFC BADGE
The badge has the Church of Ireland’s Bishop’s mitre at its head, with a shield held by a seahorse and a unicorn.. the Belfast Crest.
The shield is in the colours of the Church of Ireland and has a “winged arm of youth” clutching a brace of arrows whilst beating the shield of christianity.
The motto..” pro ecclesia nostra et juventute.” translates .” for our church and youth”.
Special thanks to the late John Auld for a lot of the above detail.
Tommy Andrews, Chairman