Ger Siggins, 2016
He stands on top of a glorious list, never to be moved. Herbert Reid Aston will always be remembered in Castle Avenue as the first batsman to make a league century for Clontarf, an event which occurred back in 1924. But there was a lot more to him than that, and he is also remembered as a dual international – playing rugby for Ireland, and cricket for …Burma.
Renamed Myanmar by the military regime which finally stood down in 2015, the country’s cricket hasn’t been any great shakes since its inception in the 1920s. They once lost an Asian Cup game in which they were all out for 10 and Nepal took two balls to reach the target. They can only play for three months a year there as the rest of the time its either raining or unbearably hot.
Back in 1926/27, the MCC team visited during their marathon first-class tour of India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) which came before those countries played tests, and when Pakistan, Bangladesh and Burma were still part of India. The games against Rangoon Gymkhana and All-Burma were both awarded first-class status.
One of the local players was Bertie Aston, a Trinity engineering graduate who had worked out East on-and-off for at least a decade. He worked on the reconstruction of the Mandalay Canal Headworks in 1917, and fought in the First World War, rising to be a 2nd Lieutenant in the Cavalry Branch of the Indian Army in January 1918 (his name appears on the Great War memorial in Clontarf Methodist church). After spending some years in Ireland he returned to Burma in the mid-1920s as an Executive Engineer, specialising in irrigation, with the Public Works Department.
The MCC side was strong, captained by Arthur Gilligan and including test players George Geary, George Brown, Bob Wyatt and Maurice Tate, often hailed as England’s finest-ever fast-medium bowler. The first game, at the Burma Athletic Association ground in Rangoon (now Yangon) was against Rangoon Gymkhana on 9-10 January 1927.
Aston came on first change, and took 2-106 in 19 overs, taking the wickets of two experienced county batsmen, Peter Eckersley of Lancashire, and Guy Earle (Surrey and Somerset) as MCC made 381-6d. He batted No.5, making 1 and, following on, 22 as Rangoon hung on for a draw.
After a rest-day, MCC took on All-Burma in a second two-day game at the BAA – a ground that no longer exists and no-one is even sure where it was situated. Five of the Rangoon players were in the side, including Aston, who batted at No.10, making 0no and 9, and taking 0-50 off 15 overs. MCC won by ten wickets and Aston’s first-class career, at age 41, had started and finished in five days.
His rugby career had been just as brief – two caps as a half-back in the days when there were no designated scrum-halves and out-halves. His debut was at Richmond in 1908, when Ireland lost 13-3 to England, he was dropped for the trip to Edinburgh but returned to partner his Trinity team-mate Smartt against Wales at Balmoral, Belfast. Wales clinched the Triple Crown by 11-5, Aston scoring Ireland’s only try, converted by James Parke, who also won a Wimbledon mixed doubles title and an Olympic silver!
Bertie, and his brother John George (Jack) Aston, had been educated at Wesley College where they played rugby and cricket. In 1901 they lived in Park Avenue in Sandymount and, naturally enough, played in Pembroke. Early that summer they fetched up in Clontarf where their elder brother Ernest lived on Seafield Avenue. Jack was 18 and Bertie 16, and both were prevailed upon to play for the Castle Avenue club. A note in the Clontarf archives curated by Deryck Vincent reads "I got Jack and Bertie Aston to join us and got them to play in this (Wednesday) game. They started badly with us.”
Both the Aston boys made ducks, and although they turned up later in the season playing AGAINST Clontarf for Pembroke 2nds, they clearly enjoyed the northside club more and permanently transferred their affections there.
Jack scored his first century that summer, hitting 107no against Sandymount.
Bertie played rugby and cricket for Trinity while studying there, but in 1911 he topped the Tarf batting averages with 577 runs in 17 innings, at 36.1.
In 1921 Clontarf joined the Leinster Senior League that had been formed two seasons earlier. Three years later came the club’s first century, at Rathmines. Tarf batted first and scored quickly, with Tyndall knocking up 48. The Irish Independent reported: “However the best cricket was played by H R Aston, who rapidly hit up 100, and was undefeated when the innings was declared at 234-8. Heaney (33no) assisted him in putting on 91 runs for the eighth wicket.” Aston batted for 90 minutes, and the Freeman’s Journal reported that “he got his runs all around the wicket, gave no chance and hit 15 boundaries.”
With Greg Ledwidge taking 6-25, including four in the last over, Leinster were forced to hang on and the Freeman’s Journal said “time alone saved them from defeat” as they closed on 91-9.
Aston was selected to play interpro for Leinster against Munster, but his Irish cricket days were soon at an end as he returned to the Orient.
When he returned to Ireland he took to rugby refereeing and golf, and worked on the River Barrow drainage scheme before taking a job as Inspector of Shannon Navigation in Limerick. He was a popular man there, starting a campaign to developed a stretch of the river at Killaloe and Lough Derg “to make it resemble the Norfolk broads”, the Limerick Leader reported. In 1936 he resigned to move to Dublin and joined the engineering firm, TG Aston, where his brother was principal. He took over as chairman in 1946 and remained in the post till his death.
After 1946 there are occasional appearances in the newspapers – he travelled to Wales for a memorial service for his nephew who was killed in the Aer Lingus crash which claimed nine lives on Snowdon in 1952. Bertie was living at Torquay Road, Foxrock in 1954 when his son, Herbert William got married, and in 1957 he attended the Leinster Senior Cup final between Clontarf RFC and Blackrock as one of seven survivors from the Tarf team that won in 1904.
In January 1968 he died, aged 82, in Kilcoole, Co Wicklow, and his wife, E E, died six weeks later. They were survived by their daughters Muriel Alvey and Lorraine Henderson, and son William Aston.
His brother Jack (right) was the second Clontarf man to be capped by Ireland, travelling on the amazing tour of the US and Canada in 1909, and returning aged 43 for two more caps in 1925. A tail-end batsman, he nonetheless has a first-class 53no against Scotland to his credit.
A tall man, he used his height to extract lift and bounce. His bowling record shows that in 101 overs for Ireland he took 9-101, with a best of 5-58 against Wales. That 1925 game against the Scots in College Park saw him return amazing figures of 15-5-14-2.
According to Irish cricket historian Edward Liddle, Jack owed his selection for the 1909 tour “to the fact that a number of first choice players were unable to go. In company with several other members of this team, he was a disappointment.”
Aston did all right in non-cap games (including 5-17 against the Gentlemen of Ottawa) but was outclassed in the “major matches” against New York and Philadelphia.
He played for Clontarf again between 1920 and 1928, captaining in the inaugural league season of 1921, and 1922. He took a total of 155 League wickets at 11.58 from 77 matches and scored 1125 runs at 15, including three 50s.
He remained active at Castle Avenue and was club president in 1933 and 1934, before his career in insurance took him to the top job in Norwich Union. He was also an excellent golfer, winning the Barton Shield with Clontarf GC in 1921 and 1926. He died at home in St Lawrence’s Road in 1951, aged 68.
Clubs that last 140 years do so because of strong foundations and people like Bertie and Jack Aston are among the many who have helped lay and strengthen them at the marvellous club on Castle Avenue.