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Edward Liddle's Biographies of Irish Cricketers
Thomas Harpur
  • Born 16 May 1944 Sion Mills, Co Tyrone
  • Educated Sion Mills PES
  • Occupation Textile machinist
  • Debut 25 August 1974 v Wales at Colwyn Bay
  • Cap Number 528
  • Style Right hand bat; right arm medium pace
  • Teams Sion Mills; North Fermanagh

Tommy Harpur, "a pugnacious cricketer" - according to Clarence Hiles - was one of four brothers all of whom played senior cricket for Sion Mills. A fifth family member to do so was their first cousin, also Thomas, known on scorecards as T Harpur, jnr. A fine batsman, and a former police officer, he was shot and killed by INLA gunmen in July 1981. Tommy (senior) was an outstanding upper order batsman, fit to be ranked with Aubrey Finlay and Brendan Donaghey, as successors to Andy McFarlane, as Sion's - and the North West's - best batsman. What he might have lacked in their elegance, he made up for with his belligerent approach to all types of bowling, though his cover driving rivalled anything any more stylish player could have produced. He was also a highly capable medium pacer, with several match winning spells to his credit. In his younger days his pace was distinctly on the brisk side of medium, as many unwary opponents found to their cost.

His feats with the bat for Sion Mills were numerous and a snapshot must suffice here. Thus in 1963, while still weeks short of his 19th birthday, he hit a dazzling 90* against Donemana to enable Sion to post a respectable 169. To no avail however, as the opposition, having crashed to 36-4 recovered to win by 4 wickets. Two outstanding performances in 1975, when Sion won their first Senior League title for 11 years, also show his class and value. Against Brigade at the end of May, he took 6-67 to dismiss his opponents for 166. Then, facing down the hostile bowling of his great rival Roy Torrens, he made 91* in the successful run chase. Late in August, with the title now firmly in their sites, Sion had a high scoring draw with Strabane, Tommy making 100* with seven 4s and four 6s.

He was also invariably to the fore in Sion's cup campaigns. A fine hundred in the NCU Final of 1964, just failed to bring victory over Instonians, but in 1979, when captain, his batting did much to bring the NWCU trophy to Holm Field. A magnificent 149 - out of a total of 260 - had disposed of St Johnston in an early round, but all his skill and mastery was needed to defeat Brigade in the final. The opposition, having scored 300 in their first innings led by 99. However they collapsed for 69 in the second, but still left Sion the stiff "ask" of scoring 270. They won by 5 wickets with Tommy in devastating mood. He finished with 113*. The next highest was Charlie McCrea's 25. There were no other double figure scores.

He was, unsurprisingly, an automatic choice for the North West side for 20 years from the inception of the Guinness Cup. Some thought that he should have made more runs in the competition but he had several outstanding innings to his credit, as well as some fine bowling performances. Thus in 1968 Tommy (79*) and Clark Nicholl (71) rescued their side from imminent disaster against Ulster Town at Ballygomartin Road, adding 125 for the 5th wicket to post a score of 219-7. The match ended in an exciting draw with Town just short of their target. He passed 50 on five other occasions with 86 against North Leinster at Rathmines in 1982 his highest score. He alone shaped really confidently against the pace of Peter O'Reilly. The match was lost by 4 wickets, despite some equally hostile bowling from Torrens.

Tommy (right) with fellow international batsman Brendan Donaghey

Tommy also made 72* against South Leinster in a drawn match in 1977. As a bowler he twice caused a Munster collapse and, otherwise often chipped in with useful wickets. At Fox Lodge in 1974, the South Easterners bowled their hosts out for 120, and, with at Dineen going well, were heading for a surprise victory when Tommy came into the attack. He took a return catch from Dineen (41) and also disposed of the dangerous Len Durity in the same manner. He finished with 4-16 to leave the visitors hanging on with 92-9 at stumps. The following year at the Mardyke, he had 6-49 to bowl Munster out for 163 thus preparing the way for an 8 wicket victory.

He began for Ireland with 0* against Wales at Colwyn bay in 1974, but was then discarded until 1978, which hardly suggests that he was, initially, given an extended trial! When he was restored to the side in 1978 he played a further 21 matches finishing with 341 runs at 20.06. His bowling was all but ignored. Again these figures are somewhat disappointing for one of his tremendous ability and power of stroke play, but he had several notable performances. His highest score 56* was made against Wales at Pontraddulas in 1982. Scored in the second innings, as Ireland chased runs for a declaration, it came in 69 minutes and achieved its objective. An Irish declaration led to victory off the first ball of the last over. Besides twice making double figure scores against Surrey - in 1978 and 1981 - he hit a "courageous 30" against Middlesex in a 60 over match at Rathmines in 1981. The county then one of the strongest sides in the Championship and led by cricket's philosopher king Mike Brearley, had been restricted to 225-6 but then reduced Ireland to 29-6 in 20 overs before Tommy took a hand, taking on Test bowlers such as Wayne Daniel, Phil Edmonds and Mike Selvey. He enabled Ireland to attain the semi respectable total of 113. Justly, he was Ireland's man of the match. Without his innings, there would hardly have been a match at all. He also hit a brisk 31 against MCC at Eglinton the following year. Again this was in the second innings with Ireland needing quick runs in order to declare. Tommy and Alf Masood put on 84 for the 5th wicket before the closure came. MCC finished 18 runs short with their last pair together.

Tommy was always a controversial cricketer. When his representative career was over he left Sion and joined North Fermanagh. Controversy followed him and an incident with Ricky Huey of Coleraine led to his being banned and his club fined. However few, if any, who saw him play, would disagree with Clarence Hiles' verdict on Thomas Harpur as, " A formidable opponent at every level of cricket he played.... love him or hate him, and there were plenty in both camps, nobody ever doubted Tommy's ability on the field."