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Oisin, Caoilinn and Oscar Madden with Niall Bugler, Stephen Madden, Michael Madden, Colin Bugler, Anne Madden and Colm Burke at Scariff Rugby Club. Photograph by Arthur Ellis

Six Nations tournament marks 50th anniversary

SCARIFF Rugby Football Club marks a milestone this month and will hold a Six Nations Rugby Tournament, to celebrate its golden jubilee.

Events take place from Friday, October 18 to Sunday, October 20. On Friday night, there will be a welcome event in the Mountshannon Hotel and on the Saturday, events get underway from 10am.
Family-fun activities will be held at Craven’s Park and include a tractor pull and bouncing castle, while an underage rugby match takes place from 10am. This will be followed by the Six Nations Rugby Tournament.

Joining Scariff RFC for the event are St Apollinaire, France; Promod, Italy and Kettering, Britain. Teams from Ennis and Portlaoise will also join the fold. Fr Brendan Quinlivan will attend to bless the field of play and a 50-year trophy will be the coveted prize for the winners.

On the Sunday, visiting teams will get to see all East Clare has to offer and will be treated to a céilí that night.

Founded in October 1963, Scariff RFC has grown from humble beginnings to a thriving club, seeking to expand its facilities with the addition of a training pitch. The club’s longest serving member, Tom Broderick, explained how the club got started.

“A guard, Joe Kennedy, came to Scariff. He played rugby in England and didn’t play hurling, Gaelic or anything like that. He got together with a few people here and they decided they would start the club. He was the driving force behind it,” Mr Broderick explained.

The club was set up by Reginald Sparling, Dr Connor J O’Riordan, Dr Thomas McCormack, Rodgey Costello and Alan Sparling. The first president was Dr O’Riordan, chairman was Thomas Higgins and treasurer was Dr McCormack. Lua Hayes, Sean O’Beirne and Jim Murphy were also committee members.

The club began in Ballyminogue, with matches at James O’Brien’s field. They had no clubhouse or changing facilities and washing after a match was done in the upper floors of Ancient Castles. However, they did have one of the only heated dressing rooms in the country.

“We togged out in a bakery on a Sunday. We had plenty of heat. We had to go across the way for showers. We were there 10 or 12 years. We moved around a little bit then before we went to the grounds in Craven’s,” Mr Broderick explained.

In 1991, a chance meeting with Gerard Clegnac of St Apollinaire Rugby Club, Bourgogne, France and Scariff RFC president Rob Madden led to a friendship that has lasted more than 20 years. Having discovered a common love for rugby, a meeting between their two clubs was quickly planned.

“We were playing a match on a Sunday out there in Craven’s and it was a fierce rough day. A group of French were here fishing and there was no fishing that day, so they decided to come down to watch the match. Gerard Clegnac was one of them,” Mr Broderick recalled.

Speaking about their arrival in Scariff for the first time, in a contribution to the programme for the official opening of the clubhouse in 1996, the then St Apollinaire president Jean Louis Bessanay recalled being greeted with bunting and flags in their team’s colours.

He soon learned they were also the colours of the county they would come to have such affection for and referred to it as “a sign from the heavens”.

Jean Marie Martinez kept this friendship together between the clubs and a select group of Scariff rugby supporters have travelled on alternate years for the French-Irish international game, which has helped maintain a very strong bond.

“We go over to them and they come over for the international games, so there are a lot of friendships out of it. They have built houses here and they bring great tourism. There are 58 coming for our celebrations on October 18. It is a fantastic friendship. They learn English and it has been a focal point for both of us. Their families come and we go over to them,” Christina McKenna, of the club, said.

At the beginning of this friendship, the club was in the process of purchasing Craven’s Park and was the first club in Clare to start doing a lotto fundraiser. The field was bought in 1992 and Rob Madden, as club president (1990 to 1998), was instrumental in fundraising efforts, which led to preparing the grounds and developing the clubhouse.

Mr Broderick recalled that he wasn’t afraid of any challenge. “He’d say ‘are we afraid of that – no’.”
The first match to be played at Craven’s Park was between Scariff RFC and St Apollinaire on April 23, 1994. Two years later, on April 28, 1996, the new clubhouse opened at Craven’s Park, officiated by Jean-Louis Bessanay, president of St Apollinaire’s RC.

This was a milestone year for the club, as it had developed not only a fully floodlit pitch but, for the first time, had a youth section of U-10, U-12, U-15 and U-18. The underage teams were established by Tom Broderick and Tom Corry.

Brendan Magill, who works with the underage teams now, said it was all about opening doors for young people.

“We want to present them with as much opportunity as possible. We would like to see the club grow and develop as a very good country club. It’s family orientated, the coaches are all professionally trained and the friendship is all that is important to this club. It is the heartbeat of the club. Everyone helps each other,” he said.

This was echoed by Ms McKenna, who added, “We are going to play at half-time for the Munster versus Ospreys match in Thomond Park in November. It is a fantastic opportunity for our underage teams. We are very much a family and this club is always there for each other.”

Well-known players to pass through the club include John Darcy, Gordon Darcy’s father; Mick Leahy, who played with UCG and Ireland; Damien Varley; Shane O’Leary, who played U-20 with Canada in the World Cup this year; Ben Kilkenny; Thomas Higgins, who represented Connacht; Gordon Wood, who was a British/Irish Lions, Barbarians and international player and Alan Sparling, who played scrum-half for Bohemians II.

The club hosted the junior inter-provincial between Munster and Connacht in 1997 and Scariff won the Culligan Cup in 1997.

Each St Stephen’s Day, the club holds a charity event in aid of Raheen Hospital. The Rob Madden Memorial Cup is presented to the winning team and the Paul Dinning plaque is presented to the young player of the year. The club will hold an underage blitz in November. Other events will also mark the 50-year milestone, including a gala ball in May.

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