Trevor Ringland: A sports museum would show what Northern Ireland is capable of achieving

If any place in the world should have a sports museum it should be Northern Ireland/Ulster.

By Trevor Ringland
Wednesday, 10th March 2021, 1:05 pm
Updated Wednesday, 10th March 2021, 1:41 pm
Two sporting greats from Northern Ireland seen in 2012, Dame Mary Peters who won Olympic gold as a pentathlete and the former Ireland rugby international Willie John McBride. Picture by Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye
Two sporting greats from Northern Ireland seen in 2012, Dame Mary Peters who won Olympic gold as a pentathlete and the former Ireland rugby international Willie John McBride. Picture by Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye

For such a small population we literally punch way above our weight.

From Rinty Monaghan through to Barry McGuigan, Dave Boy McCauley and more recently Carl Frampton, Michael Conlon and so many others all of whom achieved greatly on boxing’s world stage.

Never mind the amazing work with young people of those such as Gerry Storey

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Two other Ulster greats, the world champion winning snooker player Dennis Taylor, left, with one of the best ever goalkeepers, Pat Jennings. Picture by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

Just look around at the different sports.

In golf we have Rory McIlroy, Fred Daly, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke, plus having hosted one of the best ever Open Championships at Royal Portrush, despite the weather.

Or football.

Two of the greatest footballers in the world of all time are ours in Pat Jennings and George Best.

Two Northern Irish sporting greats from the younger generation, the golfer Rory McIlroy and the boxer Carl Frampton. In the background on the right is a former boxing champ from Ulster, Barry McGuigan

While in rugby we have the greatest rugby person in the history of the game as his commitment to it is unlikely to ever be matched in Syd Millar and then add world class players such as Jack Kyle, Willie John McBride, Mike Gibson, Stephen Ferris and Tommy Bowe and captains such as Rory Best.

In motor sports names such as Colin Turkington, Eddie Irvine, Joey Dunlop and his wider family and of course Jonathan Rea.

Athletics produced the magical moments of the great Mary Peters and we look forward to watching the career of Ciara Mageean develop.

In horseracing we look at Tony McCoy or in Gaelic sports the great all Ireland winning teams of Down, Armagh, Tyrone and Donegal including players such as the great Sean O’Neill for Down in 1960.

Trevor Ringland in his Ireland rugby playing days. He is also a solicitor, reconciliation activist and former political candidate

I have only scratched the surface of what we have achieved through sport, Dennis Taylor in snooker and the Irish Hockey and other sports teams and so much more I strongly recommend Steve Beacom’s book on those who have achieved so greatly and all from here.

Sport though offers so much more.

A flexible identity that can easily move from being from the parish and the village right up to the world stage whether through county, Northern Irish, Ulster, Irish, British or even European such as in the Ryder Cup.

As Danny Murphy, the late chief executive of the Ulster GAA said, “when Down play I want all the people of Down to realise they are representing all of them!”

Joey Dunlop, one of a number of motor sports greats including Colin Turkington, Eddie Irvine and Jonathan Rea

A simple gesture which shows leadership and defines symbols, which are too often seen as divisive, in an inclusive way.

Sport teaches us how to compete without destroying a relationship and to hate without actually hating through the enjoyment of rivalry and competition.

And then what of the Northern Ireland football fans who recognised that sectarianism was destroying the game that they loved.

They faced up to it and through good leadership from the likes of Jim Rainey and Michael Boyd challenged to change themselves to prove that the sickness of sectarianism can be successfully overcome and had a lot of fun while doing so as illustrated by their sporting anthem, “We’re not Brazil. We’re Northern Ireland!”

We should recognise more the work of so many sports groups across Northern Ireland using sport to build the strong relationships so important in any successful society.

Peaceplayers have the children from the interfaces of North, South, East and West Belfast playing on teams together enjoying a Game of Three halves devised by Paul Brown of Knock Presbyterian Church with the support of their parents and communities.

It really is inspiring to hear the kids chanting for their particular area but in an inclusive way and one that overcomes the hatreds of the past.

Friendship through sport does work.

My good friend Nigel Carr together with Mary Peters and others have strived for years to promote the idea of an Ulster Sports Museum to inspire us.

We should make it a reality as it would prove what we who share this place have achieved together and can continue to do so.

The future has to be one where we care about all our children and sport shows how that can be done making a positive impact in physical and mental health, education, personal development, crime, the economy, disability and so many other areas

And then of course we look at other aspects of this place such as business, the arts and culture and suddenly you appreciate there is a wider story of achievement also needing to be told!

• Trevor Ringland is a former Ireland rugby international, solicitor, reconciliation activist and political candidate

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