Sunday 20 May 2018

President honours legendary Irishman who led the All Blacks

President Michael D Higgins and Maurice Trapp , president of New Zealand Rugby view the All Blacks 1905 jersey worn by Duncan McGregor in the 15-0 win over England. Photo: Maxwell's
President Michael D Higgins and Maurice Trapp , president of New Zealand Rugby view the All Blacks 1905 jersey worn by Duncan McGregor in the 15-0 win over England. Photo: Maxwell's
Kirsty Blake Knox

Kirsty Blake Knox

To understand the All Blacks, you have to go back to the beginning - to Irishman Dave Gallaher, the captain of 'The Originals' touring side.

Gallaher, born in Ramelton, Co Donegal, emigrated to New Zealand with his family as a small child. He was raised in poverty and, as a child, suffered from stunted growth and curvature of the spine.

But he overcame these adversities to lead The Originals on their legendary 1905 tour of the Northern Hemisphere. The squad won 34 out of 35 matches including a 15-0 victory against Ireland at Lansdowne Road. By the end of the tour they had scored 976 points and only conceded 59.

Driving the team was Gallaher - a player who still seems to embody what New Zealand rugby is all about.

The 1905 tour was a symbolic turning point. It showed the 'colonies' could outplay the colonial power.

Gallaher's sporting career was brief, and he became one of the casualties of World War I. He was too old to be enlisted so lied about his age. He was fatally injured during the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917, and is buried in Belgium. This month marks the 100th anniversary of his death.

In his obituary in the 'Auckland Star', he was described as "hard as nails, fast, and full of dash".

Yesterday, President Michael D Higgins spoke of the Irishman who had captained the All Blacks, and died fighting for the Allies in Belgium.

He was visiting the New Zealand Rugby Union as part of his six-day state visit to New Zealand. He presented the organisation with a Waterford cut glass cup in memory of Gallaher.

"You can put it in there with those classy objects," he said, pointing at a cabinet full of trophies.

Mr Higgins was presented with a personalised All Blacks strip complete with the No 9 on the back to signify his place as the ninth President of Ireland. New Zealand Women's Rugby team manager Lauren Cournane also presented Sabina Higgins with a Black Ferns jersey.

When she was handed it, Ms Higgins held it up and said "Solidarity".

Irish Independent

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