A History of Senior Cricket in Ulster
Clarence Hiles
Clarence Hiles

Hilltop Publications Ltd, 2004
ISBN 0-9545892-0-3 400pp, softback.

Price: £18.95

This 400 page tome is widely regarded as the authoritative history of Ulster cricket and deals jointly with the development of the game in both the Northern Cricket Union and the North West Cricket Union areas.

It also outlines the social, political and economic scene in which the game was played over the years and goes back as far as 1792 when the first recorded match was played in Dublin.

The author was well placed to write the book having been weaned at the famous North Down Cricket Club in Comber and then playing senior cricket before making a significant contribution to the game as an administrator locally, and within the Irish Cricket Union.

The book is packed with all the great stories and events that have carved the history of cricket in the province and key personalities like Bishop HH Montgomery, the legendary Andy Macfarlane, EDR Shearer, Dermott Monteith, Simon Corlett, Raman Lamba et al are highlighted. There are numerous photographs throughout and the Appendices has a wealth of statistics and records for the cricket historian.

Hiles has also traced the development of the game at international level from an Ulster perspective and lists both international players and umpires that hailed from the province. The book is a must for anyone interested in cricket in Ireland.

Foreword by Ian Callender

When Clarence Hiles, an Ulsterman born and bred, left the Province for a new life in 1996 it was never going to be a case of out of sight, out of mind. Clarence isn't that type of person. Long before he returned his beautiful wife, Pamela, to her native coun try he was deep into the first draft of this book. Almost 14 years in creation, it has been a labour of love for a man who has been omnipresent in Northern Ireland cricket for a generation.

His move to foreign shores could hardly have been better timed because it was at about the same period that the worldwide web was becoming more and more popular. So, rather than losing touch with cricket in England, or even Ireland, he was only the click of a mouse away, keeping up to date with events worldwide especially in and around his home town of Comber.

He has never lost touch with home as Malcolm Brodie, former sports editor of the Belfast Telegraph, still sends him a copy of Ireland's Saturday Night every week, his most eagerly awaited postal delivery.

When I started writing cricket for the now defunct Sunday News in the early 1980s, Clarence was North Down's opening bowler, never threatening to become a leading light on the field but, just as I enjoyed writing about the game rather than playing, he was never satisfied just to turn up on a Saturday and disappear until the next game.

He was always going to be involved off the field and as a Northern Cricket Union executive member and delegate to the Irish Cricket Union, he got an inside track on the state of cricket throughout the country. He was rarely impressed and frequently was a lone voice in trying to move things forward, much quicker than his contemporaries wanted.

As a journalist Clarence was a dream contact. First, and foremost, he appreciated that the media was an indispensable part of cricket so he was always willing to help me in my early days and, even more importantly, knew what the media wanted and how it worked.

So it was not surprising to see him become an honorary member of the Fourth Estate sooner rather than later. It was 1985 that the Ulster Cricketer brought the sport in Northern Ireland on to a new level. Here was a man prepared to produce a bi-annual publication, virtually single-handed, with little indication that there was a market out there to support such a magazine.

Cricket in the Province, at that time, was very much a minor sport, struggling for space in newspapers and on radio or television. The international team was still almost 10 years from appearing on the world stage and the only glamour match of year was the one-day NatWest Trophy tie. Appearances of a Test side making a cursory visit to Ireland was every other year, if we were lucky.

The Ulster Cricketer proved the demand was there and, even now, anyone with a full collection of back issues will have an unparalled and detailed guide to the development of cricket in the Province over an 11-year period. The format was simple but it worked. The spring issue was a preview of the forthcommg season, the autumn issue was a review. Deadlines were not always met but no matter when it hit the bookshelves it was an essential read for anyone with an interest in the premier summer team sport.

His list of contributors was a who's who of world famous names. For example, the winter 1993-94 issue had articles by (then Prime Minister) John Major, Jeffrey Archer and Trevor Bailey and all the big names of Irish cricket regularly gave their views. His emigration to the Caribbean brought the curtain down on the publication and, with no one around to take up the mantle it is still much missed.

In 1986, Clarence Hiles edited the centenary brochure of the Northern Cricket Union, then the definitive history of cricket in Ulster. Little did anyone know then but that 84 page publication was to be the forerunner of this massive and comprehensive tome.

Clarence claims in his introduction that the book is not a "voluminous all-embracing authorative chronicle of everything that moulded the development of cricket in Ulster". I'm not so sure. It may be a personal perspective but as he was only born 149 years after the books beginning, his research has been, quite simply, indefatigable. It is hard to find anything that has been neglected, from the state of the world at the time to every aspect of cricket in the NCU, North West and, indeed, in relation to the Irish Cricket Union. The reluctance of the Ulster unions to have any part in an ICU in the early years is very revealing and its progress to the much-improved relationship in existence today is faithfully recorded.

Personalities leap out of page and everyone of note from Bishop HH Montgomery to Dermott Monteith to Decker Curry have a chapter to themselves. Clarence's empathy for North West cricket is legendary He always thought they got a raw deal and his decision to present monthly awards for the Player and Team of the Month, which continues today with his former employers Britannia, were his way of ensuring that North West players were not forgotten in the Belfast-driven media. We are still awaiting the setting up of an Ulster League but the ClubTurf Ulster Cup is, surely, paving the way for such an eventuality

The statistics of the game are not neglected either and here, for the first time in one publication, are the scores, teams and venues of every domestic cup final over 115 years plus the Irish Senior Cup line-ups and a list of the 197 players from Ulster clubs who played for Ireland from 1855-2001. The list of 39 international umpires from Northern Ireland only underlines 'Hiler's' dedication to a project, which is guaranteed to be the definitive history of Ulster cricket for many years to come.

Somehow, I doubt if it will be Clarence Hiles' last work but his first major publication has set the standard if others attempt to follow and everyone with an interest in cricket must be thankful that the boy from Comber may, most of the time, now may be out of sight but deserves never to be out of mind.

Review by Robin Walsh, June 2004

Labours of love do not come any more passionate than A History of Senior Cricket in Ulster by J Clarence Hiles.

It would be difficult to think of anyone more qualified to write the definitive history of the game in Northern Ireland. Not only does Hiles have a serious wealth of experience as player and administrator and a commitment to the game spread equally - and unusually - between the NCU and North West areas, but he also has a pen which glides gracefully across 400 pages and 200 years.

Hiles' first words are of his fascination with history and he puts it to telling effect. His portrayal of players, matches, the evolving politics and development of the game are set in real context: there is as much to be learned about the social, economic and political climates of the times as there is about the sport itself. Hiles contends that the development of any sport over 200 years cannot be appreciated without a working knowledge of the prevailing conditions of the day, a truism that has eluded most sports' historians.

Hiles writes with deep affection about his own experiences of the game, first as a lad growing up in Comber with his beloved North Down Cricket Club as his playground then as a "player, sponsor, administrator, alickadoo, journalist and historian". Rather than intruding, the personal pronoun gives the narrative an accessibility and authority that makes for highly rewarding reading.

By and large he writes generously of his contemporaries but his straight from the shoulder observations of some less fortunate souls add to the book's credibility.

From first notion to last sentence, the book was 14 years in the making. Hiles may have gathered his information at a leisurely pace but it added up to an awesome research project that saw him pick the brains of many and comb the relevance of 130 books and a dozen newspaper libraries.

From the first ball bowled in 1800 to the current issues facing the game (whither professionals/Ulster League/all-Ireland League, …). Hiles takes us on a fascinating journey made the more enjoyable by a veritable treasure trove of illustrations. No fewer than 300 pictures and cartoons make the book's price of £18.95 a realistic one although I'm puzzled at the absence of a scoercard in the detailed account of that famous Irish victory over the West Indies in 1969.

Hiles' book is a serious legacy and he deserves the gratitude of all who have the interests of the Game in Ulster at heart. I for one am grateful. My late father often told me how, as a young soldier posted to Northern Ireland, he took 6 for 50 for City of Derry and helped bowl out Sion Mills for 82 in the 1935 North-West Cup final. I always thought he was exaggerating. Page 367 has told me otherwise.

This review first appeared in the June 2004 issue of the Ulster Cricketer magazine and is reproduced here with the permission of the reviewer.