Carrickfergus RFC is one of the oldest, if not THE oldest Junior Club in Ireland. Founded in 1865 probably by military personnel garrisoned in the Castle, it has had a long and distinguished history. Between 1865 and the turn of the century, the Club was disbanded and re-formed on three occasions, but since 1904, with the exception of the war years, there has been unbroken rugby played at Carrickfergus.
The Woodlawn grounds were purchased in 1961, and between that date and 1977, the social centre, function hall and new changing accommodation were completed. Later the grounds were levelled and match floodlights installed. The most famous year in the Clubs long history was the 1981/1982 season, when the First XV won their League Section, the Provincial Towns Cup at Ravenhill, and a few days later became the first Junior Club to contest the final of the Ulster Senior Cup, having beaten 4 senior clubs, before losing out to Bangor in the final of the competition. The annual seven-a-sides, which were started back in 1973, are played on the first Saturday in May each year.
The development of Carrickfergus Rugby Football Club.
The Club’s first major step forward came in the early 1930’s under the guidance of Johnny Hamilton, later to become Secretary of the Ulster Branch, who organised proper training and, with the help of voluntary labour organised the building of the first ‘proper’ pavilion at Woodlawn – with cold showers! Before this, players met and changed at the Boat Club, walking or cycling to the ground to play the game, and afterwards having a dip in the briny to get cleaned up.
Players from outside the town started to join, such as Herbie and Dick Rowan, and JJ Ryan, and a very strong team was built up under the captaincy of Harry Gorman – this team winning the league in 1934/35. Harry Gorman’s era was followed by the likes of Victor McAllister, whose side again won the Past Players Cup at Ravenhill in 1946/47
Over the next 20 years, captains and teams came and went without any great notable success, although one must remember that competition was becoming much harder as more and more clubs were being established and rules changed.
It was really in the mid-60’s that rugby in Ulster and further afield took off. Suddenly clubs with two or three teams found themselves with enough players for one, perhaps two, extra sides. It was probably the growth of the secondary and grammar schools, together with the innovation of mini rugby for the very young that caused this rugby explosion. Carrickfergus were no exception. From 3 sides in 1964; 4 in 1966; 5 in 1969; 6 in 1971; and a seventh in 1978, a colts team and nearly 50 youngsters taking part in rugby every Saturday morning. You can see how this rugby explosion affected our club.
Of course, to cope with this massive increase in player power, clubs then found their facilities totally inadequate. Carrickfergus led the way in Junior circles, and embarked in a major development at Woodlawn. First the Social Centre was built and opened in 1971 as part of our belated centenary celebrations, the addition of a function room with kitchen in 1974, and the new changing rooms and squash courts in 1977. A few years later the two pitches were levelled and, at the same time, the installation of match floodlights opened up a whole new era for Carrickfergus Rugby Club.
In 1978/9, the 1st XV won promotion to Section 3, twelve months later to Section 2, and yet again the next season promotion to Junior 1. That year they all but achieved Senior status, only losing their final “crunch” game at Armagh by 6-7, thus giving the Armagh club the final vacancy in the Senior league.
Our progress continued into the 1981/2 season, and what a year that turned out to be – the most successful year in the Clubs long and distinguished history. The Towns Cup coming to Carrick after an excellent final with Larne; the first Junior club ever to reach the final of the Senior Cup, beating four Senior outfits on the way; even worldwide recognition through being nominated as the Rugby World “Team of the Month”, and taking third place behind Bristol and Cardiff as the Teams of the Year.
In 1984 Carrick emerged as Junior Champions by virtue of again winning Section 1, a feat also repeated in the 1984/5 season. Carrickfergus, like every other Junior club, were barred for many years from progressing into the realms of Senior rugby – there being no automatic promotion and relegation from the Junior league. Many long years were spent in trying to have this rectified.
With the arrival of the All Ireland League this has all changed – if you are good enough now you can progress to the top. Teams like Ballynahinch, Banbridge and Omagh have all been successful.
The outcome is now firmly in the hands of the players on the field.
Ground partly purchased
Prefabricated pavilion erected
Remainder of ground purchased
Social Centre opened
First ‘Easter Sevens’ won by Instonians/Donaghadee
Function hall completed
New changing rooms/squash courts added
First major overseas tour to Vancouver
Major ground development, including levelling of both pitches and installation of floodlights
Construction project to put a pitched roof over the Club premises completed
New car park constructed, changing areas developed and relaunch of online presence
Clubhouse extensions and thorough refit, opening of restaurant, alongside improved permitter and venue protection