Clergyman who won 21 Irish rugby caps and was awarded the military cross

Sat, Jul 31, 2010, 01:00

Rev Robin Roe:ROBIN ROE, who has died at the age of 81, was a Church of Ireland clergyman who won 21 international rugby caps for Ireland and later served as a chaplain in the British army.

Roe won his first cap for Ireland, succeeding Karl Mullen as hooker, in March 1952 against England. His last came against Wales in March 1957.

Roe also was selected for the British and Irish Lions on their four-month 1955 tour of South Africa, where he played 12 games (although no Test matches) and scored one try. His roommates on that trip included the 19-year-old Tony O’Reilly. As a committed Christian, Roe disliked the developing apartheid system.

He played 11 times for the Barbarians, scoring two tries on their Canadian tour in 1957.

Robin Roe was born on October 11th, 1928, at Skeirke, Co Laois. He first played rugby as a 10-year-old at King’s Hospital School, Dublin, and afterwards with Dublin University FC at Trinity College Dublin and Lansdowne. He played also for Leinster, Combined Services, London Irish and Saracens.

Ordained in 1954, Roe ministered for two years at Sandford parish, Dublin. He then joined the British army chaplaincy. He displayed grit and leadership, winning the Military Cross for action during the Aden crisis of 1967 when British forces were faced with a mutiny by locally recruited police at the south Arabian port.

Roe, unarmed as was usual for padres, rescued several soldiers under heavy gunfire in an incident at Radfan Camp when he drove across open desert terrain in his Land Rover which was hit by machine gun fire. Roe was hit by a bullet, but had to be restrained by another officer from going back to retrieve more injured men.

The citation for his MC recalled that Roe had had “complete disregard for his own safety” and that “his concern for the men of the Battalion and his comfort to the next-of-kin of men seriously wounded or killed in action has had the most profound effect on the maintenance of morale”.

Promoted to colonel in 1973, his later career included a period, in 1977-81, as honorary chaplain to Queen Elizabeth, when he was appointed CBE and awarded the queen’s Jubilee Medal. After retiring from the army in 1981, Roe served as rector of Merrow in the Diocese of Guildford in Surrey until he retired in 1989.

Roe retained to the end his interest in rugby and Ireland, naming his retirement home in Surrey “Lansdowne”. He had strong views on the modern game, telling a 2006 interviewer that the modern scrum was “a disgrace, as you know who is going to win the ball and adjust play accordingly”. The lineout had become “a total mess . . . it should be reduced to five men each, with no lifting”.

He had an ambivalent attitude to professionalism. While admitting that if it had been possible in the 1950s he himself would have turned professional, he felt big money had “destroyed the game”.

Roe was divorced. His former wife Vera, and three sons, Steven, Robin and Seán, survive him.

Robin Roe: born October 11th, 1928; died July 15th, 2010