Cian Manning, 8 October 2021
Mr. Alexander Joseph Blyth was the ‘Organising Secretary’ of the Waterford Cricket Club in August 1954. The Darlington native had served as a commercial representative with a number of English firms and had moved to the south-east of Ireland that July. Prominent members of the local community such as aldermen and councillors sought to revive the game in Ireland’s oldest city. Letters from Blyth to local papers the Munster Express and the Waterford News appealed for support for membership numbers, financial assistance and a request that a landowner or farmer would provide a playing field for the club. The club’s secretary who resided at 10 O’Connell Street just off the city’s Quayside aimed to form a social club and was particularly anxious that the club acquire young members from the ages of 10 to 17. An appeal was made for other clubs and schools in the city to come forward to form a League programme. Blyth wanted local businesses especially factories to come forward to form an inter-factory league in the area.
Waterford Cricket Club, Est. 1954
The main fundraising effort to support the Waterford Junior XI was a weekly Football Pools which cost 3d to enter with subscriptions requested to be sent to Blyth at his home address. On Friday 10th September 1954 a meeting was held at the Adelphi Hotel to launch a senior club in the city. Addressing the gathered crowd Blyth spoke that ‘the club hoped to hold out the hand of friendship to the G.A.A.’ while requesting that that organisation would pledge it’s approval to all forms of sport. The movement for the revival of cricket in Waterford received support from the City Manager Liam Raftis, a veteran of the 1916 Easter Rising. Raftis promised to help with acquiring a pitch for the senior team while provisions had been put in place for a practice ground at the People’s Park. The City Manager’s opinion on this was:
All our youngsters may not be physically fit or inclined to play hurling and I did not see any reason why those people could not avail of any amenities which the Corporation could provide. Their fathers pay rates as well as the fathers of those advocate of the G.A.A. Anybody who knows my views in the past will understand that I have not deviated from the national attitude but I have come to realise that if any unity is to be achieved we must be more tolerant than we were when it was necessary to unite everyone into a compact body to expel the British.
It appeared that the project was developing at a healthy rate and there was even enthusiasm that the city could attract famous teams for matches.
Importantly key officers of the new Waterford club were appointed with J. Butler as chairman; Blyth as secretary; A. Brophy to the position of treasurer and Teddy O’Regan as captain. The members of the local team were already pencilled in to face a side at Lismore in west Waterford. Butler who chaired the meeting noted that the fledgling club had been offered Kilcohan Park (the home of League of Ireland side Waterford FC at the time) for a lease of £35 a year but due to lack of funds could not take up the offer. The effort to secure playing facilities led to the club requesting the use of one and a half acres of land belonging to the Waterford Mental Hospital. That institution’s board voted 10 to 6 in refusing this arrangement proposed in a letter by Blyth. The most hostile reaction came from Mr. J. Kirwan (Bonmahon) who stated that ‘foreign games are not appreciated in this country’ and that ‘we should get rid of the sassenachs and shoneens.’
The club which boasted 18 senior and 33 junior members still remained without adequate playing facilities. Blyth noted his disappointment of the Mental Hospital Board’s decision and felt that Kirwan’s outburst had been unfair and unrelated to how the use of the land by the cricket club could effect the operations of the hospital. Blyth refrained that ‘By all means let them get priority, but the [Gaelic Athletic] Association should hold out the hand of co-operation to all other sports and get the Irish games played internationally.’ In his statement to the News, the club’s organising secretary made it known that they had secured the use of grounds (with a rent of 2/6) next to a new housing scheme at Ballytruckle.
Invitation By Blyth To The Duke Of Edinburgh
The first game on the new club’s grounds was to be the last of the season between the Waterford senior side and a team from Dunmore East. However by mid-October the gains made would be lost and the Waterford Junior Cricket Club extinct. This was largely due to the fall-out in relation to Blyth writing an invitation to the Duke of Edinburgh to become a patron of the Waterford Cricket Club. The secretary had done this unofficially and without the committee members knowledge or input. This was partially due to Blyth extending the invitation in August (the letter dated the 14th) prior to the first official meeting of the newly formed club and appointed committee on the 22nd September 1954. The Durham man had sent similar requests to the President of the Olympic Council, Mr. Zan Zarisise. Sir Donald Bradman and several of the Republic of Ireland’s national leaders such as Sean T. O’Kelly, Eamonn De Valera, Oscar Traynor and General Mulcahy.
In a statement to the Munster Express, Blyth wrote that ‘I did not realise at the time that my request was inadvisable from a diplomatic point of view, but I assert that it was made in good faith to the Duke as a sportsman…’ He went on to apologise to ‘the citizens of Waterford’ for his unauthorised actions which had placed them in ‘an embarrassing situation’. The statement concluded that in future Blyth’s activities will be confined and duties to be carried out as directed by the club. To rub salt into Blyth’s wounds, a response from the Duke written by Lieut-General Sir Frederick Browning detailed ‘His Royal Highness is loath to add to these responsibilities, because even now, he has not had time to take personal interest he would wish in those things with which he is already connected.’
The response to Blyth’s actions was the resignation of four committee members as the future of the club was plunged into much uncertainty. The final nail in the coffin of the venture were the strange and somewhat unsubstantiated events which led to the 29-year old honorary secretary having to flee Waterford and go into hiding in London.
‘a hornets nest’: Blyth Flees For London
The English Sunday Chronicle reported that the man who attempted to start a cricket club in Waterford and failed had been threatened with his life by the Irish Republican Army. The Chronicle quotes Blyth as saying that the issues which arose in relation to the Duke of Edinburgh debacle ‘snowballed into a national issue’ that apparently received national press attention and was even broadcasted over Irish radio. Blyth took little notice of the coverage but received a phone call which told him to get out of Ireland immediately. Concluding of the turn of events Blyth stated ‘I didn’t realise what a hornets nest I would stir up. To invite the Duke was not, of course a diplomatic move. I will not go back to Eire. My friends tell me I must take these I.R.A. threats seriously.’
Though the members of Waterford Corporation found the story to be rather humorous. A Dublin statement on behalf of the I.R.A., signed by Adjutant-General D. Mac Diarmada stated:
Attempts are being made in certain circles to create the impression that the Irish Republican Army has had some connection with the following incidents: -
- Alleged threatening of an individual in Waterford.
- Armed assault on newspaper delivery man in Kerry.
- Disarming of a member of the F.C.A. in Clare.
Responsibility for any of these occurrences is emphatically repudiated by the I.R.A., whose sole enemy is the British army of occupation in Ireland.
In response to the allegations made by the Darlington native the Waterford Mental Hospital Board passed a resolution stating they were satisfied with the explanation provided by the IRA that the paramilitary organisation were in no way responsible for Blyth’s return to England.
Though the increased interest in cricket was part of a growing trend in Ireland of people taking up what were deemed ‘British sports’ such as cricket, hockey and rugby to the detriment of handball and hurling. This would lead the Waterford News to opine that this could be seen as a signal of ‘the unquenchable spirit of the nation [with the increased pursuit of sports such as soccer and cricket as]… indications of a dimming of the fires of freedom itself.’ Even with the fallout of the Blyth affair, interest in the sport of cricket continued to develop rather than be hampered by the event.
If anything the story shows that there was still a strong suspicion of any British influences in the south of Ireland, particularly the reactions that were noted in the meetings of the Waterford Mental Hospital Board that begs the question were some of the members governing that very institution in need of some of its services; for their vehement hostility to an English man trying to apparently (from their viewpoint) corrupt Irish youths with the great British pastime. Thankfully times have changed but the person that made that threat all those years ago whether with malicious intent in mind or dark humour had overstepped the boundary.