It's a proud week for Cork rugby with Peter O'Mahony being named Lions captain for the first Test with New Zealand this Saturday. Guest writer Samuel Kingston tells us about another Cork man who had a profound impact on the history of the Lions, and even changed the colours in which they would line out forever.
Dunmanway in West Cork is known as a GAA town and is of course the birthplace of Sam Maguire himself. More recently, a rugby connection has brought attention to the town thanks to Munster winger Darren Sweetnam. Both Darren and Sam attended the Model School, a primary school in the town, and a school has also has an unlikely connection to the kit the British and Irish Lions now wear every four years.
Many Cork men have proudly donned the red jersey of the Lions down through the years and hopefully someday Darren may continue that tradition. Yet few people are aware of the unique connection between Darren’s old primary school and the Lions.
Most of us know that the playing kit represents the four “home” nations with the green on the socks representing Ireland. Not many realise that the man determined to see the green on the playing kit was actually born in Dunmanway.
This man is George Beamish.
On the 1930 Lions tour to New Zealand, a delegation led by George expressed their displeasure at the fact that while the blue of Scotland, the white of England and the red of Wales were all represented in the strip, there was no green for Ireland.
As a result of the protest, a green flash was added to the socks, and from 1938 on, this became a green turnover and the Lions look we know today was created.
Although George was born in Dunmanway, his family moved up north when he was ten. George developed his love of rugby at Coleraine Academical Institution. He eventually settled in England and played club rugby for Leicester and London Irish. He was capped 26 times for Ireland. He won his first cap aged just 19 versus England. After a spell out of the team he was recalled and was a key member of the Irish team from 1928 to 1933. From 1931 to 1933 he held the honour of captaining Ireland.
His rugby career is just one aspect of his life. His family are a fascinating one. All four of the Beamish brothers fought for the Royal Air Force in the World War II and like George, all the other brothers were talented sportsmen. Charles also played rugby for Ireland and went on an uncapped Lions tour to Argentina in 1936.
During the war, George saw action mainly in Crete, the Middle East and North Africa. Throughout the war, he rose through the ranks and became a senior commander. He was later knighted for his services. Yet during the war effort he was overshadowed by his older brother Victor. Victor also loved the game of rugby but his greatest achievements would come in battle. He was a incredible fighter pilot decorated many times. He was killed in action on 28th March 1942 leading his men into battle. It is recorded that he scored ten victories in battle. He is a legendary figure in the RAF.
The 1930 Lions tour on which George toured featured 5 Irish players in a squad of 29, and featured an incredible 29 games between May and October! The team actually managed to beat New Zealand in the first test on 21st June, before losing the next three, and then going on to Australia, where they would also lose in the only test match played there.
Now 87 years later, as we await another Corkman leading the team out in Auckland this Saturdya, you will know that the green he wear on his kit can be traced back to a West Cork man who made sure Ireland was represented!