- Born 16 December 1902
- Died 26 December 1987 Waringstown, Co Down
- Occupation Farmer
- Debut 9 August 1926 v MCC at Ormeau
- Cap Number 350
- Style Right hand bat; right arm medium pace.
- Teams Waringstown, Armagh
Billy Irwin, was - according to Waringstown's first historian, Michael Maulstaid - "one of the greatest batsmen in the whole history of the club. Dark haired and - in his prime - slightly built, he had a long career which spanned more than 30 years and included eight appearances in NCU Challenge Cup Finals, though one of these - the epic match of 1947 - occurred during his two year break with Armagh. The fact that he played only once for Ireland has puzzled many, Maulstaid suggesting that this was, "probably due to the fact that Waringstown were not then considered one of the glamour clubs."
He first came to notice, away from The Lawn, in the Cup Final of 1921, when the Villagers won a pulsating encounter with North Down by 2 wickets. In such a tight match their first innings lead of 23 was probably decisive, so that Billy, coming in at the fall of the 5th wicket, played a large part with a second top score of 29. He was to play several other noteworthy Cup Final innings, all of which came towards the end of his long career and were, ironically, in losing causes. Thus in 1949, as Billy McCleery and Harry Armstrong bowled Woodvale to a 10 wicket victory his 29 was top score in the Village's first innings, a feat which he repeated the following year against the same opponents who, on this occasion, were victorious by 107 runs. Billy, however, defied them in the first innings with a fluent 33. There was only one other double figure score.
Four years later saw Waringstown again fall at the final hurdle, losing to Downpatrick, despite a second innings 38, out of a total of 112, from Billy. In 1953 at the age of 51 his last hurrah in a Cup Final, again unfortunately in a losing cause, saw him topscore with 25 in the first innings against Lisburn out of a total of 116, Jack Bowden taking 7-35. However, despite a good 44 from Walter Fawcett in the second innings, the Wallace Road side won by an innings.
Billy spent the 1947 and 1948 seasons with Armagh, having some success in the first season. In the First Round of the Cup, against Donacloney at The Mall, Armagh posted a record 323/9 declared, with Billy (55) putting on over 100 for the first wicket with Lloyd Armstrong (66). Later in the season, just after the dramatic Cup Final which saw Armagh go down to Sion Mills by one wicket - it must have been galling to Billy that he failed to make a worthwhile contribution with the bat - he had a purple patch of 171 in three innings for once out. Beginning with 24, top score, in a rout at the hands of CPA, he then made 95* against North Down at The Green, giving his team their first League win for over two months, before going on to score 52* in a rain enforced draw with Lisburn at The Mall. He finished the season second in aggregate and average to Armstrong, but did not repeat his success the following summer.
His one match for Ireland had come two decades earlier against MCC at Ormeau in 1926. Ireland fielded very different sides for the two MCC matches that year, the first having been at College Park. No fewer than seven of the originally selected side withdrew for the Ormeau match, and the selectors, who had already based the side heavily on NCU players in an attempt to boost the gate, picked six, including Billy among the replacements, all under a somewhat strange choice as captain in Sir George Colthurst of Cork County. With only two days allocated for the match and the weather uncertain, there was never much chance of a result but Billy let neither himself nor his side down. MCC batted first and were dismissed for 188. Billy, Ireland's reply with David Pigot (the First!) made a crisp 38 - which proved to be top score - before being bowled by Desmond Roberts, a medium pacer who made several first class appearances for Surrey and MCC - attempting to force the pace. Eventually Ireland were left 138 in 80 minutes but rain again intervened. Billy made 10 before being dismissed by Reggie Butterworth,an Oxford Blue and pace bowler, who was killed in action during the retreat to Dunkirk.
William Irwin was never asked to play for Ireland again, despite his long club career. he remains, however, one of Ireland's more successful "one cap wonders."
Edward Liddle, November 2010