Eric Twadell, 2001
Beyond any question, the first club in the north of Ireland and probably second to none in all Ireland is the North of Ireland Cricket Club.
J Lawrence, Handbook of Cricket, 1865.
The 2001 season will see the last cricket match played at Ormeau in Belfast. The North of Ireland Cricket Club was founded in 1859 and moved to its present site in 1866 and since then has been the venue for many famous cricket occasions throughout the last 140 years. It is well nigh impossible to summarise the history of this famous club and venue in the short space available. At present the club cricket committee is preparing for a momentous season as a celebration and to mark the closure of the ground. Section 1 cricket returns after relegation for the first time in the club's history, with the promotion of the 1st XI to Division One of the Senior League. At the beginning of August the NCU Senior Cup Final will be staged, and this will be followed by a Club Cricket Week during which an MCC XI will play NICC as a tribute to the close links established by many members between the two clubs. The highlight of the season will be on Sunday 12 August when the ground will host the match between Ireland and Australia. It is with immense anticipation that cricket follower's look forward to watching the World Champions in action.
In 1959 the club celebrated its Centenary Year in similar fashion and a history of the first 100 years was published. A group of members is now preparing a publication, which will complete the record of the club and ground. It is hoped that this booklet will be available in August.
Throughout the early years of the club there were many famous games and players. As well as matches with local teams, visitors included the touring sides I Zingari and Na Shuler. International cricket teams played NICC with the appearance of All England and All Ireland fixtures. In May 1867 NICC defeated an England XI by 8 wickets but it is recorded that North fielded 22 players! The club also visited Lords where in 1870 it defeated the MCC by 9 wickets. In those early years the leading cricketer and character was Charles Stelfox, a ferocious hitter of the ball and a constant menace to his opponents. He also was a successful bowler.
In 1875 the Grace brothers played at Ormeau in a three day match. On the first day WG Grace bowled 50 overs and took 6 wickets for 83 runs. On the second day he opened the batting twice as North enforced a follow on. In his first innings he scored 28 and in the second he reached 82. North required to score 84 runs in 65 minutes in their second innings. The game was drawn with the club 8 runs short.
In 1880 the first Australian side to tour the British Isles played in Ireland at Ormeau against the 18 of NICC. It was said that the outstanding visitor was FR Spofforth the 'demon' bowler. Australia won easily by 9 wickets.
The club had a superb record in the period 1900-1912 when it won the Senior Cup 9 times and the Senior league 7 times. During this time there were many outstanding performances by many players. The greatest cricketer of this time was Oscar Andrews. He was joined in 1910 by William Pollock, who scored several centuries when touring against clubs in Dublin. In the 1911 match at Phoenix, Pollock and Andrews hit 161 runs in a partnership lasting 45 minutes.
Throughout the 1920s and 30s the club had mixed fortunes with few trophies or outstanding players with the exception of William Pollock who often headed the batting and bowling analysis. 1938 saw the arrival at the ground of young players who were to become famous in the game. These included the Morgan brothers Reggie, Harry and Stanley, the Jackson brothers Finlay, Stanley and Harold, and then the arrival of Stuart Pollock to carry on the family tradition.
During the Second World War cricket continued and in 1941 Hedley Verity and Norman Yardley played here for the Army XI. Later that season a local Select XI played against the touring Army soccer team for whom Denis Compton scored a delightful fifty.
In the 1950's the club continued to be successful in Ulster and Irish cricket with the strong influence and leadership of Stuart Pollock. He was ably supported by EUR Shearer, a most accomplished and complete batsman.
The centenary year in 1959 saw a major extension to the main pavilion. The original building, built in the 1800's, was a most attractive feature and created a perfect setting for cricket as well as providing amenities not found in any other ground Many local and visiting cricketers have remarked on the pleasure and excitement generated when taking the field from the pavilion at Ormeau. The centenary year was celebrated in style with the 1st XI winning the Cup and League, and also playing a commemorative fixture against the MCC.
From 1960 to the present day the club has continued to be successful at all levels. There have been major improvements especially in the quality of wickets available, Many players have represented the club at international level notably Paul Jackson a wicket keeper of the highest quality and captain of Ireland, and Simon Corlett who played for Ireland as a fast bowler and who could on occasions equally turn to spin.
In 1969, with the onset of civil unrest and disturbances in the immediate area, the club survived and continued to play cricket despite frequent violent incidents. On occasions games were interrupted and there were two bomb attacks on the pavilion. The army also used the ground to detonate a bomb found locally, but fortunately were dissuaded from doing so on the cricket square. The building was fire bombed twice and in July 1997 the centenary pavilion was completely destroyed by a fire started maliciously. Sadly many valuable unique photographs and club memorabilia were lost. However the club continued in business. This is in no small way due to Bob Collins who has lived on the premises since 1922, including all the 'Troubles', as groundsman and now as caretaker. Bob's service is immeasurable and he can still recall the outfield taking two days to cut with a horse and mower!
Many members are now recalling some of the great NCU Cup Finals and Irish fixtures played at Ormeau. All the major international tourists have played here against Ireland including Australia, West Indies, South Africa, New Zealand, Pakistan and India. Names that live in cricket history including Dudley Nourse, Richie Benaud, Garfield Sobers, Wes Hall, Basil Butcher, Clive Lloyd, Sunil Gavaskar and Richard Hadlee, all bring back happy memories of the great players who have visited Ormeau. In recent years Irish cricket has returned to this venue and in 1996 Ireland played against Sussex in the NatWest Trophy.
The cricket club combined early on with rugby to become the North of Ireland Cricket and Football Club. Indeed in the early days International rugby matches were played here including the first game against Scotland in 1876. Some very distinguished Irish players were members of North, the most famous were George Stephenson, Jack Kyle, Noel Henderson, Mike Gibson and Bob Alexander among others.
But the ground has seen many other varied and interesting sports including athletics, lawn tennis, croquet, baseball, horse jumping, hockey and a successful lacrosse club.
A view of the Ormeau ground and pavilion taken during the 1999 fixture between the MCC and the Ireland Under 19 XI. Former Ireland captain Stephen Warke is on strike for the MCC.
It is recorded that Canadian and Red Indian lacrosse clubs played against North in the 1870's. Since the 1960's two squash courts have been available and the club has continuously maintained its position in Section 1 of the Ulster Squash League.
In recent years the club has been more and more conscious that to survive financially and maintain its playing strength both at cricket and rugby it was necessary to move to other premises. In 1999 it was decided to sell Ormeau and amalgamate with near neighbours Collegians at Deramore Park creating a new club called Belfast Harlequins. It is hoped to play cricket there on the new wickets with modern facilities in the 2002 season.
As the club prepares to leave, a painting (right) by R Taylor Carson, the renowned Irish artist, commissioned in 1960 to commemorate the MCC visit, has been produced as prints, numbered and signed by the artist. These prints are a suitable and lasting reminder of the cricket ground at Ormeau.