The Origins of a Great Club

Newcastle West Rugby Football Club was founded in the winter of 1924/25. The country was settling down after the trauma of the War of Independence and the Civil War, and young people were looking around for entertainment and enjoyment. In Newcastle West, a few of the local enthusiasts called a meeting in Raymond K. Sheehy’s newspaper shop in Bridge Street, and a rugby club was formed. Some of those present at that first meeting were Jim and Mick Phelan, Tom Donnellan, Tommy Atkins, Larry Curtin, Jack Ambrose, Con Roche and Michael A. Byrnes. Con Roche of Ballymackessy, who had learnt his rugby at Clongowes, was appointed Captain and Tommy Atkins, Secretary and Treasurer.

Only a few matches were played the first season, but in the following season, 1925/26, the club played a full season of matches. Most of the early games were lost, but the enthusiasm and potential were there, and in November 1925, the Limerick Leader described the team as ‘a brawny collection of men, but requiring practice to become formidable in their strength’, and in December added, ‘Newcastle West are making wonderful progress and next year will be a formidable team’. The team used to train in Mulcahy’s field – now Dooleys in Bishop Street – but matches were played in Brouders field. Meetings were held in Ryan’s Hotel, now the Central.

In 1925, Garryowen F. C. presented a cup known as ‘The Garryowen Cup’ for competition by North Munster junior teams. Newcastle West were in the inaugural competition in the 1925/26 season, which was played on a league basis. Con Roche continued as captain of the team in 1925/26. Mick Phelan captained the team in the 1926/27 season and steady progress was made. Robert Cussen was appointed President.

However, 1927/28 marked the beginning of the golden age of Newcastle West rugby and for the next five seasons the club fielded teams which could have given any senior club in the country a match.  R. J. Cussen captained the team in ’27/28. He had learnt his rugby in Blackrock College and played for several seasons with the brilliant Trinity College teams of the early 20′s, and captained Trinity in the 26/27 season. He also played senior rugby with Bohemians in the 27/28 season and played for Munster against Ulster, in November 1927, the first time Ulster played in Cork. There were several other senior players on the team: Mick Cussen and Mossie Dee were playing with Trinity, and Johnny Culhane, Davey O’Callaghan, Mick Beary and Jerome Mullane were with Bohemians. Jerome Mullane, a tremendously strong, lively and industrious forward in the first up first down era, had also learnt his rugby in Blackrock College, played with U. C. C. in 25/26 and was on the Munster team from 26/27 on. He won two Irish caps, his first against Wales in Cardiff in March 1928, when Ireland won 13 – 10, and his second against France, the following year in Paris, when Ireland won 6 – 0.

Newcastle West went through the 27/28 season unbeaten and finished on a high note, by winning the Garryowen Cup. After coming through their section of the league, they beat Fethard 9 – 4 in the semi-final, and on the 15th April 1928, at the Markets Field, they beat Ennis 11 – 0, in the final. The Limerick Leader described the final as ‘a rattling good game with football of a really high standard’. The cup was displayed in the window of O’Shaughnessy’s in Bridge Street, and there was much rejoicing in the town.