A brief history of the Irish Curling Association
Since original sharp memories fade, it is perhaps a good idea to compile a history now…..
At midday on 10th December 1993, eight curlers from Northern Ireland met at Gogar Park Ice Rink, Edinburgh and played the first game involving curlers from Ireland for almost a century. It was played as a men versus women match, and the men won by 9 shots to 8. Those present were Jim Winning, Gordon McIntyre, Tony Tierney and John Burns, Carolyn Hibberd, Susan Scotland, Fiona Turnbull and Liz Knox. They were joined after the game by Anne Gumley, and, at a brief meeting, it was decided that the idea of an Ulster or Irish curling association was worth pursuing.
It had all started with the winning of a cup at Pitlochry. John Burns and Fiona Turnbull were driving back to the Borders in March 1991 after winning the Scottish Health Boards Championship, and Fiona suggested that since two of us were from Northern Ireland, we only needed to find two more to make up an International rink! The first move was to put up a notice at Kelso Ice Rink, asking whether any curlers from Northern or Southern Ireland would like to get in touch. There were no replies, and we then put an item in Scottish Curler asking whether Ulster or Eire curlers would like to meet. The idea had already been floated by five Ulster curlers at Greenacres, but they had taken no action before the Scottish Curler article which led to the Gogar Park game.
The Ulster identity was never intended to exclude curlers from south of the border- indeed it was originally felt that they might constitute the opposition for a first international fixture. It was Wales, however, who were the first to respond to a request for a fixture, and Northern Ireland’s first (and only!) international was staged at Lockerbie Ice Rink on Saturday 19th March 1994. The Ulster men won by 13-2 and the women by 10-2. The opposition were presented with caps to mark the occasion. A meeting later that day decided that an Ulster Curling Association would only be able to compete in the Winter Olympics as part of Great Britain, but an all-Ireland Curling Association could compete as Ireland, so that identity was adopted forthwith. We had planned a second game at Gogar in February, but the snow was so severe that the game had to be cancelled. Plans to select international sweaters that day had also to be postponed, and sweaters were borrowed from Borders Health Board for the fixture against the Welsh.
We applied for recognition from the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, but this was turned down in August 1994, with the suggestion that we “form a club within Scotland and apply for membership on that basis.” We applied to the World Curling Federation, and received the reply that Sports Council ratification was necessary. Applications to Cospoir (the Irish Sports Council) were refused because our membership and headquarters were outside Ireland. A reapplication to the RCCC (on a six club basis) was granted on 13th March 1996. While we are not privy to the deliberations of the RCCC Council, we suspect that the presence of Dr John Fyfe (married to our member Isobel Fyfe) may have been influential in the decision! An annual invitation for the President to speak at the end of the RCCC AGM provided a useful publicity window.
From the beginning, we were aware of the history of curling in Ireland- Belfast Curling Club had been founder members of the Grand Caledonian Curling Club in 1840, and had played matches against Ardrossan Castle Curling Club in the 1860s. Clandeboye and Kiltonga (near Newtownards) had curling clubs which were active until 1904. There were two practical spin-offs from these historic links – the re-establishment of the Ardrossan Castle fixture, and the naming of the “six clubs” for the RCCC.
We wanted members to have links (however tenuous) to the six clubs demanded by the RCCC, and we adopted the identity of Belfast for those with Belfast connections and Clandeboye and Kiltonga for those from County Down, thus re-establishing the older club identities. Other clubs were Bann for those from Counties Antrim, Armagh, and Londonderry (all of which touch the Bann), Leinster for those from Dublin and the surrounding province, Atlantic for those from Munster, Connacht, and Donegal, and Ailsa Craig for those born in Scotland, but whose parents had passed Ailsa Craig en route! We are not quite sure where a Fermanagh curler would properly belong! We have occasionally competed under club identities at bonspiels, and we need a club identity for the RCCC Province Championship, which specifies that all the curlers competing must belong to the same local club, but our constitution says that all members of any Irish club are honorary members of all the other clubs, and this seems to have worked well so far. If curling becomes established on Irish soil, we have plans to alter the club identities to provide a basis for growth within a democratic framework.
The Ardrossan Castle game was first mooted in March 1994, and the Ardrossan Castle club enthusiastically agreed to reviving the fixture, which was played at Harvies Ice Rink at Stevenson on 8th February 1995. The Ardrossan Herald carried a photograph of the Club Presidents in stovepipe hats, along with the headline “Fixture revived after 134 years”. The original medal (which had been competed for in 1861) was discovered in the Ardrossan trophy cabinet, and made into the centrepiece of a new trophy. It has been contested annually at Stevenson, apart from 2000, when it was played at Dundonald ice rink.
In 1999, a small outdoor curling rink was built for Christmas skating in the grounds of Belfast City Hall. Hammy McMillan was invited to bring over stones and curlers, and we played a men’s international fixture on the short and bumpy rink. (The Scottish ladies came to shop, not to curl!) Ireland beat Scotland, and Hammy McMillan refused to complain about the state of the ice, but encouraged us to use the win as useful publicity. We were invited to a reception in the City Hall after the event.
The World Championships at Braehead, Glasgow, in January 2000 had an accompanying “World Seniors” event and this was Ireland’s first world competition. Unfortunately we were excluded from later World Seniors events because they were held under the auspices of the WCF, who still did not recognise us.
We approached Dundonald Ice Bowl, and they allowed us play an international against Scotland in 2000 with stones imported from Stranraer. In September 2001 there were fixtures against Ardrossan Castle, the Civil Service and London Province (with stones lent by the English Curling Association which remain at Dundonald.) Dundonald said they could not give more than occasional ice because of the needs of other ice users. When Rhona Martin won the gold medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics at Salt Lake City, Dundonald approached us with a promise of “as much ice as we wanted”. We submitted a business plan, but when it was put to the local council who own the facility, they refused access to us, even for the annual fixtures.
In December 2002, a small ice rink at Smithfield, Dublin (Dublin City on Ice) was opened for Christmas skating. It was manned by the Irish Ice Hockey Association, and several ICA members went over to help with skate hire sessions. We were also able to play a demonstration international “Ireland v Rest of World.” This contact with the IIHA led to a promise of curling ice when they acquired a rink, and although the site at Blanchardstown (nicknamed the “Bertiebowl” for Taoiseach Bertie Ahern) did not materialise, Dundalk Ice Rink opened in January 2007. Their promise of one day curling per week was withdrawn.
At present , we hope to have access to an ice rink being built in Coleraine.
The IIHA link also established us with the Olympic Council of Ireland, who said they would recognise us as a National Governing Body if the World Curling Federation did the same, and we were therefore welcomed to the World Curling Federation at Courmayeur in Italy in December 2003, three days after our tenth birthday reunion at Gogar Park. We were not able to compete in the World Seniors in Gavle, Sweden, but entered the Europeans in December 2004 in Sofia, Bulgaria. Our mens’ team included three Scottish Junior champions (Peter Wilson and Robin Gray, now resident in the Republic of Ireland, and PJ Wilson who qualified through an Irish father.) The others were John Jo Kenny (who has an Irish father) and John Furey (born in Donegal.) In spite of several injuries, the team won silver medals in the B league, qualified for the A league, and only missed the chance of a challenge for the Worlds because of a near-miraculous five by Finland’s Markku Uusipavaalniemi. The women (Fiona Turnbull, Louise Kerr, Marie O’Kane and Kathie Nixon and Jane Paterson) played well but remained in the B league.
Two teams played in the 2005 World Seniors at Greenacres.
In the 2005 European Championships held at Garmisch Partenkirchen, the men were joined by Dougie Dryburgh (also a Scottish Junior medallist) and came within a shot of beating Scotland. Their seventh place gave them a place in the World Championships at Lowell, USA, where they won friends despite ending in 12th place. The women competed in the B League.
The 2006 World Seniors were in Copenhagen, and the women’s team (Fiona Turnbull, Jane Paterson, Kathie Nixon and Isobel Fyfe) won their section and got to the semi-finals, though they lost to Canada and Switzerland.
In the 2006 Europeans at Basel, the men’s team were relegated to the B league, despite taking the scalp of Norway’s Thomas Ulsrud, but there was no women’s team.
The 2007 Seniors were in Edmonton, but neither team was particularly successful. Ireland’s senior men had to play against Al Hackner, the former two-time world champion from Canada. but the women’s team made history by recorded Ireland’s first win against Scotland.
In the 2007 Europeans at Fussen, the men won gold medals in the B league, and promotion to the A league. The women remained in B.
In the 2008 Seniors at Vierumaki, Finland, both teams were seventh, the men in 18, the women in 10. We had to withdraw from the inaugural Mixed Doubles held at the same time.
In the 2008 Europeans at Ornsjoldsvik, Sweden, three of the normal rink were unavailable and the team were relegated to the B division. There was no women’s team.
We were unable to send teams to New Zealand for the 2009 Seniors.
In November 2009, we helped arrange stones for Cork on Ice and curling took place in Munster for the first time.
The men’s team competed in European B in Aberdeen in 2009 but there was no women’s team.
In Champery in 2010 the men’s team of Robin Gray, Johnjo Kenny, Bill Gray, Neil Fyfe and John Furey won the B League bronze medal, narrowly missing promotion to A. The women team of Carolyn Hibberd, Louise Kerr, Gillian Drury, Hazel Gormley-Leahy and Mel Porter competed in the B League after winning the first C League gold medal at Greenacres Ice rink that September. In 2015 in Champery, Switzerland, the team of Alison Fyfe, Ailsa Anderson, Katie Kerr, Clare McCormack and Hazel Gormley-Leahy won bronze.
In Moscow in 2011 the men narrowly missed promotion again to the A league, finishing fourth. The women were relegated to the C League.
In Karstad in 2012, a new men’s team, led by Alan Mitchell, were relegated to C League and played in Copenhagen in 2013.
In Seniors competition, we did not send teams to Chelyabinsk in 2010, but had two teams in St Paul, Minnesota in 2011 as well as in Copenhagen in 2012, when the Senior Men (Johnjo Kenny, Bill Gray, David White, Tony Tierney and David Hume with coach Gordon McIntyre) won World Championship gold medals, making Ireland only the seventh country to win a Men’s World Championship at any age level. The same team reached the quarter-finals in 2014 and, minus skip Johnjo Kenny, again in 2015. This year, Ireland are represented at the world championships by Peter Wilson, PJ Wilson, Ross Barr and Tony Tierney.
We competed in the World Mixed Doubles in Erzerum in 2012 and Dumfries 2014 and the father and daughter team of Neil and Alison Fyfe will represent Ireland at the world championships in Sweden in April 2015 and Sweden in April 2016.
Ireland have sent a team to the European Mixed Championships from 2005 to 2013.
(Compiled by John Burns in 2014)