Rugby football was first played in Ireland in Trinity College. Dublin, in 1854. The game was introduced to the South Munster region by Trinity graduates who were employed as teachers in Cork, Midleton and Bandon. Rugby football was a popular sport amongst the students of Queens College. Cork. and in 1872 a book of Rules was printed. It’s purpose was to streamline the various interpretations of the laws that, no doubt, existed not only in the College but also amongst the clubs that were quickly emerging in the Cork area. Montenotte, Waterloo, Queenstown, Cork Bankers and Bandon were formed in the mid 1870’s. The Cork County Club, a condensation of the earlier city ciubs, emerged later in the decade. They played their games in Cork Park, where the Ford car factory is now situated.
Little is known of the formation of the Bandon Club. or of the earlier games they played, as records were not kept, other than infrequent newspaper accounts in the Cork Constitution and Cork Examiner. However. Frank Levis, who etched his name forever in the annals of Munster rugby. when he got the only score, a try, in the first Munster Senior Cup Final in 1886. appears to have been the driving force behind the Bandon club throughout this period. Frank Levis. a Solicitor. resided in Watergate Street and acted as club secretary and team captain for a number of seasons. Initially he played with the forwards but soon he made the out half position his own and he figured prominantly in all match reports.
Queens in Bandon.
By 1880 Bandon had established regular fixtures with Cork County, Cork Bankers and Queens College. The South West Cork railway link with Cork doubtlessly played an important role in Bandon’s development as a commercial industrial and sporting town as travel was appreciatively easier; the alternative was a tiresome journey by horse and coach.
The students of Queens College chose the latter mode of transport on their first ever ‘tour’ away from home on St. Stephen’s Day I880. Frank Levis invited them to Bandon to play a match and to mark this historical event a fancy-dress ball was organised in the hotel. The game itself was a lighthearted and enjoyable affair with spectators joining in the muddy fray. College won the day and all retired to a night of revelry and fun at the fancy-dress party. Next day, the college annals record, the students returned by road still garbed in fancy-dress costume and they stopped at every hostelry where they sang and praised their hosts, Bandon Football Club.
Rugby football was the only form of organised football played at this time in the area. Association football is first mentioned in the sport reports 10 years later in 1893 while Gaelic Football came into being following the foundation of the G.A.A. in 1884 in Thurles. Therefore, all references to ‘Football’ in the press and other literature at this time is clearly indicating ‘Rugby football’.
By 1882 the Rugby club had firmly established itself as an important facet of the social life in Bandon. Heretofore games were arranged and fixtures decided upon on a loose basis which was a satisfactory arrangement when there was just a handful of clubs participating. Now, however, the number of clubs had increased substantially. Rushbrook Bulldogs, Mr. Brownes XV, Cork Grammar School, Mr. Crabbs XV and bizarre names such as Bicyclists and Non Bicyclists were fielding regular teams. Bandon Grammar School defeated St. Edmunds College in Bandon on November 23rd, 1882 by four goals and several points to nil.
The need for an administrative body to oversee the game was now very apparent and so the clubs sought affiliation to the I.R.F.U . that season. Bob Fitzgerald, Secretary of the I.R.F.U. when recently informing club P.R.O. Peadar O’Mahony that Bandon paid an affiliation fee of £2 which covered the seasons 1882-83 and 1883-84, also wryly commented that even in these times of soaring inflation the fee has not changed from £ I in the 100 years since.
It is on this basis that Bandon celebrates the centenary of its foundation in 1982. In 1882 Bandon fielded two teams and the season opened with a Seconds XV match against Cork Juvenile Club on Monday October 9th. 1882 in Bandon resulting in a win for the home team by a goal and two tries.
Bandon: Full back: E. Pope, Half Backs: R. Frend, W. Lee. Quarter Backs: H. Sullivan, J. McKay. Forwards: G. Hegarty, R. Allshire. G. Brooks, H. Houston, W. Beare, Bartle), O’Neill, W. Smith, R. Wolfe and Harley.
It is obvious from this line-up that playing positions differed from to-day’s format, the emphasis then being very much on prolonged forward rushes and tight play, thus the greater number of forwards. Edwin Pope. a timber merchant, North Main St. was the regular full back and was tactical adviser to the side. He is one of the Bandon players of this period believed to have played with Munster. Willie Lee was one-time proprietor of the Munster Arms Hotel and is well remembered as an amateur dramatist. The Sullivan mentioned resided in the “Retreat”, Laurel Walk and is the father of the present Anne, Duchess of Westminister.
Later that month Bandon’s senior team hosted and defeated Cork Bankers while Murphys XV defeated the Second XV on Friday, November 3rd, 1882. The highlight of the season was Bandon’s win over Queens College by a try and a disputed try to a disputed try. Bandon: E. Pope, L. Sullivan, Bartley, Daly, H. Sullivan, Smith. Swan. Swanton, Levis, Good, Brooks, Harley, Cleary, Brennan and Kennedy.
Jacko Daly, barber and grand-uncle of Jimmy Daly. Oliver Plunkett Street, played for nearly twenty years with the club and. after it’s revival in the twenties, was a great supporter. Joseph Brennan, Brennans Mills etc., was educated in Dublin by the Jesuits where he learned his rugby and figures prominently in the club’s later successes.
Bandon were represented at the Munster selection meeting in Limerick by Messrs. Bolster and McDaniel. Selectors from five clubs were present – Cork County, Limerick, Cork Bankers. Queens College and Bandon. Although Bandon failed to get any player on the team Bolster is listed amongst the substitutes for the game against Leinster. This vouches more for his persuasive debating powers than his sporting ability as he faded to command a permanent place on Bandon’s second team.
The difficulties attached to travel was not the only hindrance encountered by the intrepid sportsmen of the time. The agitation for land reform was at its peak – the Home Rule question was being vigorously debated – the Phoenix Park assasinations brought home to all Irishmen the intensity of feeling that later manifested itself in the 1916 rising. Nationalistic aspirations ran high at the time and overflowed on to the sporting spectrum. In 1884 the Gaelic Athletic Association was formed in Thurles, one of its aims being to foster an appreciation of Gaelic traditions by reviving hurling and instituting the Gaelic Rules of football. Fortunately, in Bandon both codes retained an amiable rapport that in time enhanced both clubs.
It had often been assumed that the British Army Garrison in Bandon was instrumental in forming the club and contributed to the success of the club in the 1886 Senior Cup victory. This is totally unfounded as no British Army member had played with Bandon nor had any acted in an administrative capacity.