Irish rugby internationals in World War Two

1st February 2019

The deaths of eight Irish rugby internationals occurred during World War Two. Many others served with the armed forces and contributed to the Allied effort.

The modern Irish sports anthem 'Ireland's Call' begins with the words, "come the day and come the hour". In 1939, that call came with the outbreak of World War Two and many players made the move from the touchlines to the frontlines.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission lists the deaths of 8 Irish rugby internationals during the Second World War. Of those, 2 had connections to Belfast, Co. Antrim.

Commander Charles Francis George Thomas Hallaran served in the Royal Navy. He died in a tragic accident while trying to rescue a fellow sailor on 21st March 1941. His grave is in Belfast City Cemetery.

Captain Robert Alexander served in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. He died during the Allied invasion of Sicily on 19th July 1943. His grave is in the Catania War Cemetery, Sicily, Italy.

Many other men made the move from the rugby field to the battlefield throughout wartime. One of the most infamous soldiers from the island was Robert Blair Mayne. Known as Paddy, his exploits with the British and Irish Lions were almost as legendary as his time as a founding member of the Special Air Service.

Back Row: 1. Dr. H Emerson (President Irish Rugby Football Union), 2. MJ Daly (Harlequins), 3. L McMahon (Blackrock College), 4. JWS Irwin (North of Ireland Football Club), 5. J Megaw (Richmond and Instonians), 6. RB Mayne (Queens University), 7. AH Bailey (University College Dublin), 8. DB O’Loughlin (University College Cork). Middle Row: 1. P Crowe (Blackrock College), 2. E Ryan (Dolphin), 3. GJ Morgan (C) (Clontarf), 4. S Walker (Instonians), 5. CRA Graves (Wanderers), 6. R Alexander (North of Ireland Football Club). Front Row: 1. GE Cromey (Queens University), 2. VJ Lyttle (Belfast Collegians and Bedford).

Irish Rugby Team 1938

The Irish rugby team that played against England on 12th February 1938 featuring Belfast born Robert Alexander who served in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. Photo from The Rugby History Society. Copyright unknown.

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