- Born 27 December 1869, Templeogue, Co Dublin
- Died 2 January 1940, Templeogue, Co Dublin
- Educated Mount St Mary's College Derbyshire, Clongowes Wood College Co Kildare
- Occupation Farmer
- Debut 25 July 1894 v I Zingari at Phoenix CC, Phoenix Park
- Cap Number 224
- Style Right-hand bat, right arm off breaks
- Teams Leinster, Co Kildare, University College, Cork County, Na Shuler, Vice Regal XI
Bill Harrington was one of the keenest and most dedicated cricketers who ever lived. He was also one of Ireland's finest ever bowlers. He stood six foot two inches tall, was heavily moustached and, except when bowling, was never seen on the field without a panama hat. Bowling with an almost square arm, he still contrived variations of flight and pace that, together with a well concealed leg break, were too much for many batsmen. He was also very accurate and was almost never collared. Only batsmen of the calibre and nerve of Bob Lambert, Sir Timothy O'Brien and, late in his career EL Kidd ever got the better of him and only the Baronet did it twice.
Bill was a reliable tail ender in club cricket but rarely showed his skills on the International field, though on one memorable occasion, he carved the great Bart King to all parts of a foreign field. Only in fielding was he indifferent, though this was not for want of effort. His career is better documented than those of many of his contemporaries, as he kept scrap books throughout his career. These vast collections are treasure troves of cricketania, containing not only press cuttings but memorabilia from all aspects of his career. What more could a connoisseur want than menu cards signed by O'Brien, Rockley Wilson and Billy Murdoch, an endorsement of Bill's bowling skills.
Bill was briefly at Mount St Mary's, where he is known to have captained junior practice sides and been weak at Latin and French, before entering Clongowes in 1885, at a vintage time for cricket there. He formed his life long friendship with Tom Ross, and had the advantage of bowling to totals set by Jack Meldon and Dan Comyn. Once in a line match, Ross and Bill bowled the opposition out for 7. On another occasion they dismissed the full Phoenix side for 12! All this was on the perfect Clongowes wicket bemoaned by most bowlers.
Bill's life after school was mostly cricket. The clubs listed above only scratch the surface of those he appeared for. "Bill Harrington," began some fairly poor verse in a weekly newspaper at the height of his playing days," plays for every club in our land." At no notice, he would travel the length of Ireland or England to play, even one on occasion turning out in Paris. He raised his own side to play clubs and schools, matches which continued until he was passed sixty. This writer's father, no cricket enthusiast, recalls Harrington's XI as the main match at St Columba's College in the early 30s. No doubt it was the same elsewhere. It was in the end, not old age that called a halt to his activities but the privations of The "Economic War", the dispute over the payment of land annuities between the National Government in Britain and the newly elected Fianna Fail government in Dublin, which made times hard for many Irish farmers, including Bill and his lands in Kildare.
Some comment may be made about his club matches before 1914. He normally played two two-day matches a week, with Co Kildare taking precedence over Leinster. In 1898, for Kildare, he had second innings figures of 14-10-15-6 to beat a Meldon packed Co Galway side by 10 runs. Galway were chasing a paltry total and Jack Meldon, at 3, said it was not worth padding up. Nor was it. Bill bowled him for a primary. He took 83 wickets for the County that season at 8.62. Two other feats should be mentioned. He showed his all round skills for Kildare v Na Shuler in 1902, when he hit a rare century (111), besides chipping in with 6-79. Playing for Leinster v Phoenix in 1904, he had 15 wickets in the match, including a first innings figures of 22.2-2-47-9. Without resorting to hagiography, it would be possible to compose an almost endless catalogue of his successes in such matches. One more must suffice. In May 1911 at Phoenix, Co Kildare ran up 414-6 with Harrington making a "dashing" 132*, with 25 fours. He then had match figures of 10-182 as his side won by 8 wickets.
He was also often in demand for semi representative cricket. In 1897 and 1898, IZ were denied a match against the full Irish side because they had been so poor in 1896. In 1897 he was the main reason for the visitors being overcome by the Lord Chief Justice's XI, raised and captained by John Hynes, the LCJ's "junior" and cricket adviser. Bill took a first innings 7-16, including Sir Timothy for 0. "Harrington was simply unplayable," The Freeman's Journal reported. He then took 5-52 for the Vice Regal XI in the following two days, with a fuming O'Brien again getting a duck.
When cricket resumed after the War, the Leinster Senior League came to Dublin. Two veterans Bob Lambert and Bill were prominent for Leinster. Lambert's deeds can be found elsewhere on this site, Bill, though 50, and, claiming to bowl wide to avoid being hit, played for 3 clubs, at one time all in the same season! He was already a member of Leinster and Co Kildare, he now played for University College as well, on the somewhat tenuous basis that his Templeogue home was near their ground! By the time his League career ended in 1931, he had taken 331 wickets at 14.06, besides scoring 1452 runs at 19.62. His best figures were 7-27 v Leinster in late September 1922, in a match postponed because of the killing of Michael Collins in the Irish Civil War. In 1931 he retired from League cricket, having helped Leinster to the title.
Bill's Irish debut was v I Zingari in 1894. He took 6 wickets in the match. For much of his career he was part of an attack based on himself, Ross and Lambert. Three off spinners in the record books, but they were of very different kinds. Bill was slow and relied on flight. Ross, lethal on a rain affected wicket, relied on medium pace cut and swing as much as spin while Lambert pushed the ball through briskly. When joined by the pace of Oxford Blue Gus Kelly, they were a formidable combination indeed. Bill's Irish career was too long to describe in detail here, so a few highlights must suffice. In 1899 he played for an Irish side weakened by a selection dispute v a strong IZ team. He had been left out of the original XI, but was happy to play when the Phoenix contingent withdrew. He took 5-41 in the visitors first innings, about the only Irish bowler to distinguish himself in the match. He was also involved in the 1901 South African match when all the other Dublin clubs except DUCC, but including Bill's Leinster, boycotted the fixture in protest against Phoenix selecting the side. Co Kildare had not joined the protest so Bill played. One suspects that he would have done so anyway.
In 1902, dispute healed, he and Ross ruined the trial held to select the team for the team for Ireland's inaugural first class tour of England! Their bowling was far too good for the "Possibles", on a batsman's wicket, apart from Jack Meldon and Tom Harvey, chancing his arm. Bill's second innings return was 6-24. Ross was the hero of the tour but Bill took 21 wickets, including 11 in the match at Fenners, when his first innings figures were an unchanged 56.4-25-76-7. Wisden said that he "bowled with great effect." In the opening match of the tour v London County, he and Ross had 8 wickets each, bowling "with great skill" (Sporting Life).
The greatest adventure of his cricket life was the American tour of 1909. Now married with a young and growing family, he at first declined the tour. However as so many withdrew, or were unavailable, including Ross, Kelly, four Meldons, two Lamberts, and William Pollock, Bill, persuaded by his family, went on the tour. It deeply impressed him and, together with the left armer Willie Napper, he was able to uphold the standards of Irish bowling, though Ross, Kelly and Lambert were badly missed. He and Napper bowled Ireland to victory v All New York, but perhaps the high point of his tour was as a batsman. In the first of the two matches v Philadelphia, in both of which the visitors were overcome by the swing of King and the spin of the Australian, "Ranji" Hordern, Ireland had lost 7-35 in the second innings when Bill arrived. Helping King's inswingers to square leg, and cross batting Hordern's leg breaks in the same direction, he made 27* to get Ireland to a slightly less disastrous 74.
His Irish appearances from then until the War, were rather spasmodic, but he was an automatic selection thereafter, until, after match figures of 7-37 v Scotland in a drawn match at Rathmines in 1921, he, rather than the selectors called it a day. He was chosen for the 1922 game but declined. He still appeared in Interprovincials, taking 4-33 v Ulster in 1924. That year he became Vice President of the Leinster Cricket Union. He continued to play until the early 1930s, also gaining great pleasure in running a Leinster Ladies team, in which his four daughters, one of whom was a noted hockey player, were prominent. T
he last matches that this writer has seen a note of were on a tour by the Emereti, a wandering side composed of old boys of Catholic public schools, in 1934. He took part in the tour, but preserved no record of his achievements. How should this remarkable man, known as "The Old Reliable" be summed up? Ernest Ensor, perceptive writer and useful Dublin University all rounder, thought him less dangerous than Ross on a helpful wicket, but,"He has no superior when the pitch favours batting." ED Grey, a journalist who wrote for almost as many years as Bill played, also compared the two, concluding, "For a man who never tires and pitches the ball on the spot, give me Harrington."
He is, it should go without saying, profiled in Siggins and Fitzgerald, "Ireland's 100 Cricket Greats."
Edward Liddle, November 2007