True grit required to answer Ireland’s call in 1947

Barney Mullan among players told to bring ‘clean white knicks’ for Scotland encounter

 

Spare a thought for Ireland’s rugby players who travelled to Edinburgh’s Murrayfield stadium to play Scotland 70 years ago this month.

The frugality of 1940s international rugby has come to light in an archive of personal papers kept by the late Barney Mullan whose try was the only score on Saturday, February 22nd, 1947 when Scotland lost 0-3 to Ireland.

Answering “Ireland’s Call” in 1947 required true grit. The round trip – via rail, coach and ferry –took a gruelling five days and players were told to bring “their own towel and soap”.

While an Ireland jersey was supplied, the players were warned to return it immediately after the game or face a charge of 30 shillings and two pence. And the IRFU could not even afford to supply shorts; players were asked to “bring one pair clean white knicks”.

Mullan, a player with Clontarf Rugby Club, had been told to report to Amiens Street [now Connolly] Station in Dublin on Thursday, February 20th at 6pm to take a train to Belfast. From there, the team sailed overnight to Glasgow aboard the steamer Royal Scotsman and arrived at 7am the following morning.

They had breakfast on board before disembarking, using coupons supplied by the IRFU because food rationing, introduced during the second World War, was still in force.

Home games were easier – and the food somewhat better. Earlier that month, on February 8th, 1947, Mullan, in what was his debut season, helped his teammates to beat England at Lansdowne Road and dinner that night – in The Hall at 9 Merrion Row – inevitably featured roast beef.

Charlotte Russe

After the home game against France a month later, the Irish hosts offered Les Bleus what was, for the hungry 1940s, a relative feast, with a bilingual menu featuring Pamplemousse (grapefruit), Poulet rôti – Jambon de Limerick (roast chicken and Limerick ham), and Charlotte Russe (a custard and sponge pudding).

Curiously to modern diners, menus for both Dublin dinners featured a savoury course after dessert – the English were served “devils on horseback” and the French, “sardines on toast” – before coffee.

But rather less exotic fare lay in store for Mullan and his team-mates when they travelled to Cardiff to play Wales in March 1947. The IRFU bluntly told him he was “advised to bring . . . some butter and sugar”. But getting enough butter – even for an Irish rugby hero – was difficult in post-‘Emergency’ Ireland.

The collection of mementos includes a letter written by a rugby supporter in Kells, Co Meath to Mullan congratulating him for his exploits on the field and apologising for having “no butter to send” because “it is terribly scarce at the moment everywhere and the weather being so bad of late it leaves it worse”.

However, the supporter told Mullan that he would do his best to “scrape up a bit” [of butter] if the player came to visit Kells.

The following year, 1948, the Co Down born Mullan helped Ireland to win a historic Triple Crown and Grand Slam. He was subsequently offered a place on the Lions team [to tour Australia and New Zealand] but rugby was an amateur game at the time and he was unable to accept because of work commitments in the family livestock business.

His daughter Alison Fergusson – who lives in Dublin and provided access to the family archive to The Irish Times – said her grandfather had told her father: “you won’t be taking the slow boat to Australia – you have a job to do.”

Mullan died in Co Kildare in 1986.

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