No boundary to cricket at Balbriggan’s club
2018-08-01 12:30:38 -
By Ken McCue

When Sport Against Racism Ireland (Sari) was founded in the European Year Against Racism 1997, the fledgling NGO and social enterprise wrote to Ireland’s national governing bodies of sport, seeking expressions of support for its innovative programme of using sport to tackle discrimination in society.

Out of 60 contacted, only the Irish Amateur Boxing Association and the Irish Cricket Union replied with full endorsements. It was no surprise that it was the ancient art of pugilism along with the willow bat and ball game that immediately came on board as supporters.

In 1923, Senegalese light heavyweight Battling Siki (also known as Louis Mbarick Fall) was invited by the Irish Boxing Board to Dublin to defend his world title, after the British indicated they would use their ‘colour bar’ to refuse a licence to fight in England. Since then, boxing in Ireland has been in the vanguard fighting discrimination in sport and society.

The history of cricket in Ireland is also notable in terms of the game’s record on cultural integration at club level. A visit to the clubhouse of the Leinster Cricket Club — founded in 1865 — on Observatory Lane in Rathmines, south Dublin will confirm this through the display of old sepia photographs of teams containing players from the Indian subcontinent.

As a youngster brought up on the writings of CLR James, particularly his 1963 book Beyond a Boundary, I thought that cricket was the game that would change the world, especially when I discovered that it evolved from the Indian street game of gilli danda. 

When I was told that a multicultural team from Balbriggan had won the cup named in honour of the great promoter of intermediate cricket, Billy Whelan of the Railway Union club, I contacted club treasurer of ‘the Brigg’, Damien Byrne, to see if the pluralist spirit was underpinning the sporting philosophy of the north Co Dublin outfit.

Founded in 1961, the Balbriggan Cricket Club grew out of the great cricket tradition in the Fingal bailiwick. The membership throughout the years has always reflected the demographics of the local townlands, taking on players of all classes, creeds and colours. Now with over 70 senior members, this grassroots club has very high percentage of players from a number of Asian ethnicities who are well integrated into the athletic and social aspects of the club.

The large expansion of the population in the club’s hinterland is reflected in the membership, particularly under-18s donning the distinctive whites. Free coaching workshops in local schools and the successes of the Ireland international men’s and women’s teams have drawn more youngsters to the sport, with the girls in particular comprising a new team all under the guidance of head coach and former Zimbabwe international Timycen Maruma.

Unlike other local sport bodies, the Brigg includes players who are ‘refugees in waiting’ in the nearby direct provision centre at Mosney. Byrne says he is proud of the fact that two players victorious in the Whelan Cup T20 tournament are residents of the Co Meath asylum seeker compound.

The next few years expect to see a major expansion in membership with the introduction of the T20 code, which brings with it a faster and more flexible game. One wonders what the great African-Trinidadian Cyril Lionel Robert James would make of the modern game, with so many culturally integrated teams cutting across class and ethnic barriers. I believe that he would be as proud as punch to see the boundaries being broken in Balbriggan.
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