With Rugby World Cup 2015 in full swing in England, we revisit a striking work of sports architecture from 40 years ago, the first modern rugby clubhouse in Ireland. We spoke to its original architects, Professor Cathal O’Neill and Tony Hickie, former St Mary’s and Leinster fullback and father of mercurial Leinster, The Clubhouse
The 1970s were glory years for St Mary’s College RFC. The club won its inaugural Leinster Senior League and had its first players – 10, including John Moloney, Tom Grace, Shay Deering, Tony Ward and Ciaran Fitzgerald – capped for Ireland.
However, the fact that there were only two pitches available at the old ground in Fortfield Road was already creating a problem. The growing number of players could not be accommodated comfortably for training and with so many matches being played the grounds committee was put to the pin of its collar to keep both pitches in order. Towards the end of the 1973-74 season land sufficient for four pitches and a clubhouse, part of the former Kimmage Manor, was bought from the Holy Ghost Fathers (who run St Mary’s College boys’ school in Rathmines).
Tony Hickie had captained the club in 1972-73, towards the end of a distinguished playing career for UCD, St Mary’s and Leinster. “Because I was playing on the 1st XV, I had a high profile,” he recalls. “I was on holidays when we got the commission,” says Cathal O’Neill, who had been appointed Professor of Architecture at UCD in 1973. “Cathal had been one of my tutors and helped me with my thesis,” says Hickie. “When he was appointed Professor, he needed someone in the office.” They became partners.
“It was the best-looking rugby club around,” recalls Hickie. “Rugby is conservative, and I can’t think of any other new greenfield clubhouses anywhere. In France all the grounds are provided by the State, while in the southern hemisphere they are all very traditional outposts. Closer to home, where clubs are traditionally old, amateur and member-financed, the clubhouses are mostly the original pavilions.”
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