TRIBUTE: Ireland 1948 Grand Slam hero, Jimmy Nelson

1948 Ireland Grand Slam hero, Jimmy Nelson (right) meets the Queen, and watching on is 2009 Grand Slam hero, Brian O'Driscoll
1948 Ireland Grand Slam hero, Jimmy Nelson (right) meets the Queen, and watching on is 2009 Grand Slam hero, Brian O'Driscoll

Former IRFU president Jimmy Nelson, who was a member of Ireland’s 1948 Grand Slam winning team, has died at the age of 92 following a long illness.

Born in Belfast and raised in Portadown, he learned about the game at Royal School Armagh before moving back to Belfast and club rugby with Malone back in 1938.

As a rugged lock forward he played for Ulster and Ireland, toured with the Lions and donned the Barbarians jersey many times.

On retiring, the pipe-smoking Jimmy became a selector and administrator, spending 15 years as the IRFU treasurer before becoming president in 1982-83.

But in spite of his many honours he was still a real club man.

Jimmy was still an avid supporter at Malone’s Gibson Park ground in Belfast and was still among the crowd last season cheering on the First XV. He first made his name at the club in the second-row alongside Blair ‘Paddy’ Mayne. He was President of the club in the 1971/72 season and was still supporting the First XV last season.

He made his Ulster debut back in 1940 and progressed to the green jersey winning his first cap against Australia at Lansdowne Road in 1947.

Jimmy played in all of Ireland’s Championship-winning games in 1948 and 1949 and made the last of his 16 appearances for Ireland against France at Stade Colombes in 1954. That year he won four Test caps with the Karl Mullen-led Lions on their trip to New Zealand and Australia. On that tour, Jimmy famously scored two tries against the Wallabies with Jack Kyle another in a 24-3 win at the Sydney Cricket Ground. He played in 17 of that 32-game tour.

His last competitive game of rugby was in Ulster’s famous 5-5 draw with the touring All Blacks in 1955 before moving quickly into administration.

A chartered accountant by profession at the age of 22, he then entered into a partnership with the city centre firm Craig Gardiner & Co in 1954 and stayed there until he retired in 1981.

Jimmy served for 16 years in various roles at the Ulster Branch (IRFU) before becoming President, while still being treasurer, in 1968. He soon progressed to the Irish Rugby Football Union where he took on many administrative roles before being elevated to Presidential role in 1982. In 1984, he received the OBE for his services to rugby football.

The game will miss Jimmy, first and foremost as a player, then as an extremely competent servant behind the scenes where he was a tireless worker.

It was said that Jimmy knew half of the population in Ireland, and the other half knew him.

Jimmy was pre-deceased by his first wife Frances and our sympathy goes to his second wife Maureen.

The cremation is expected to be a very private affair and his ashes are to be scattered over the Gibson Park pitch at Malone.