Gallaher's great legacy brought home at last
The peculiar thing is that Gallaher’s Irish connection was at best obscure until Tana Umaga led his All-Blacks team-mates on a well-documented journey to Ramelton on a drizzly November afternoon seven years ago. The sight of Umaga – heavily criticised for his tackle on Ireland’s Brian O’Driscoll in the Lions series – sitting on the stage of the parish hall in Ramelton was one of the more unlikely and memorable sporting images of recent years. And it was clear the All-Blacks were genuinely curious to visit Gallaher’s original home place.
Afterwards, Umaga asked Robert Love if he could have a copy of a poem that Jeremy Worth, a local rugby player, had written in Gallaher’s honour. The Letterkenny men forgot all about it until they saw a quotation from the poem on the training shirts that the All-Blacks wore ahead of their 2006 Test in France. The French were always aware of Gallaher because of his death in the second World War (two of Gallaher’s brothers also died in France). “They handed out leaflets about his life before that 2006 match,” Love says. “It is strange because at the time, nobody here in Ireland knew much about him.”
For the Letterkenny rugby club, the big task was trying to repay the faith the All-Blacks had shown in making the long track up to Donegal. For years, they had struggled to gain momentum on their wish to build a proper facility. Eventually they decided the best way to make progress would involve embarking on a ground-sharing venture with Letterkenny Gaels, a newly established GAA club.
“It wasn’t easy,” says Denis Faulkner when asked how the early negotiations went. “It took a few years to dig out an agreement because both clubs wanted to protect their own identity and sense of ownership of the club . . . This has taken the bones of 10 years to come together and once the development began to take shape, people could see what was happening. The fact we pooled our resources has meant we have done fairly well in lottery funding because we were recognised as having a place that could be used 365 days of the year, with a much wider community appeal. So both clubs got more than they would have got on their own. That is the real benefit.”
Dave Gallaher’s great-granddaughters attended the launch of Matt Elliot’s biography in Auckland recently. They were slightly mystified by the general fascination in their distant relative. The book promises to shed light on a figure whose life story encompasses so much of the tumult of the emigrant experience in the early part of the 20th Century.
From a shop in Ramelton to Passchendaele via an immortal tour with the All-Blacks is a lot to cram in to 43 years. That’s why Bryan Williams is in Donegal this afternoon, coaching youngsters in a field just a few miles down the road from where Gallaher took his first steps. There could be no better salute.
* Dave Gallaher: The Original All-Black Captain by Matt Elliot is published by Harper Collins and will be available soon in Ireland and Britain.