City of Armagh Rugby Club History

City of Armagh Rugby Club is one of the oldest clubs in Ireland. Records exist of games being played in the early 1870's but the accepted date of the club's foundation is 1875. Shortage of players led to a break in activities in the late 1890's but the club re-emerged after a couple of years and went on to win a rare double in 1910 - Town's and Junior Cup in the same season. In 1920 after five years inactivity during the war years, Armagh entered the senior league but after two seasons were prevailed upon by the Ulster Branch to step down again.

It should be noted that all the other senior sides of that period were based in Belfast, that Armagh were unable to field a second team and that the Mall was not perhaps an ideal rugby pitch. Originally , the pitch had been at right angles to the later form but about 1908 it was changed which led to an overlap with the cricket pitch. Drainage was always a problem and indeed from 1927 on, most games had to be played at the asylum grounds, pressure being applied from Ravenhill.

Success continued, however, at junior level with five cups being won between 1928 and 1939, and three sides being put on the field. Bobby Barnes. then at Trinity College Dublin achieved a rare double in 1933 when he played for Armagh in the Town's Cup in January and for Ireland against Wales in March, being on the winning side on both occasions.

After another wartime break Armagh resumed their junior status in 1945, going on to win the Town's Cup in 1947. Other cup victories include the Town's Cup in 1951 and 1971, Junior Cup in 1965 and Past Player's Cup in 1958 and 1965.

By 1961 the necessity to acquire new headquarters was more and more apparent. A new pavilion was built on the Mall to accommodate cricket and rugby clubs in 1964 but the pitch remained a problem.

Once the Palace grounds became available the club eagerly moved, with the first game being played on 8 September 1973.

2011 - Armagh 1st XV gain promotion to AI Rugby

Three Prunty pitches were laid and training lights installed. Originally the Mall was to be used as a spare pitch but inevitably everything was centralized at the Palace grounds and the old rugby pitch became a cricket pitch. With six teams now turning out (and an occasional seventh) all the new pitches were fully occupied, and thoughts turned to promotion to senior status.

Armagh Mini Rugby Has Excelled In Recent Years

Not until 1981, however, was that goal achieved. Meanwhile, cups and leagues were being won, for example in 1965 the Junior and Past Player's Cups were won and only a penalty goal gave Dungannon victory in the Town's Cup final to spoil a treble.

In 1972 the club presented the Mall Trophy to be competed for by the winners of the Junior, Town's, Past Player's and McCrea Cups in a single day Saturday tournament.

The winner could thus be acclaimed as Ulster Junior Champions.

Unfortunately, while the other three cup winners could easily be established, the Past Player's cup (for sectional junior league winners) tended to run late in the season and the I.R.F.U at the time were adamantly opposed to rugby in May. On at least one occasion the late Leeman Allen, Armagh's guiding force for many years, calculated that Dublin would be unlikely to hear of Armagh events and the tournament went ahead on the first Saturday in May.

Armagh won the Mall Trophy four times. An interesting fixture was a visit by Armagh to play Bath at The Rec in 1975. The home side fielded a full team, except their fly half, and were somewhat concerned to be nine points down going into the last quarter. However, they managed to rally and squeak home. This was a return of a friendly between Armagh and Bath at the Mall several years before.

Two North American tours were undertaken, to US in 1978 and to Canada in 1983. The 1980-81 season was a most memorable one. The Town's cup was won again and on 5 April Armagh travelled to Ballymena to defeat the local second XV to gain promotion to the Senior League.

To add to the joy they won the Mall Trophy and followed up by travelling to Arklow to win the Oval Trophy, then played for by the winners of the Town's Cup in the four provinces.

The new venture into senior rugby got off to the best possible start when Instonians were beaten 20-19 at the Palace grounds in October 1981.

Naturally, this level of success did not continue but the first couple of years at this level were quite creditable.

Armagh Ladies XV In Action

Top of the table was achieved, albeit briefly, but in the end it was a relief to be invited into Division Four of the All Ireland League where several happy and interesting years were spent, from 1994 onwards. The results, indeed, were more rewarding than in the Ulster Senior League, which was revived about this time.

2008 - Armagh 1st XV Win Junior Cup

However, in 1997 Armagh were faced with a relegation playoff and the I.R.F.U got into a prolonged legal battle over which junior club should provide the opposition.

The saga dragged on until late May but by then Armagh could not produce a side within the parameters laid down and they were forced to withdraw, leaving Omagh and Midleton to play off.

So since then it has been back to junior ranks. The combination of Prunty pitches and match floodlighting on all three pitches has resulted in a steady strewn of guest clubs seeking training facilities.

All levels of G.A.A. from full-county down to club sides are regular paying guests at the Palace Grounds, and many soccer clubs have availed of the facilities down the years, Laurelvale being the present tenants. Perhaps the most useful and interesting use of the floodlights was for the under 18 tournament, sponsored by Coca-Cola.

At a time when the Ulster Branch were not running Under 18 leagues or cups this was a rare opportunity for competitive rugby at this level and it was warmly supported by clubs and Ravenhill.

J.D. Fitzgerald