By David P. Carroll, Railway Union Cricket Club

Sunday July 30th 2017 was an important date in the annals of cricket in County Carlow as the newly re-established Carlow Cricket Club opened its new ground at Carlow College in the heart of the town. By doing so, they saw cricket return to a beautiful ground where the sport was played 150 years earlier.  Prior to moving to Carlow College, Carlow Rugby Club at Oak Park had kindly facilitated the cricketers since their re-establishment.

The first recorded cricket match in Carlow goes all the way back to 1823. The original cricket club was founded by the encouragement of Col. Horace Rochfort, a wealthy landlord and a prominent sportsman who also instrumental in establishing County Carlow Football Club. History tells us that Carlow landlords had an involvement in the establishment of Ireland’s oldest club Phoenix Cricket Club in 1830.

Since that time, cricket in Carlow had a rich history intertwined with the many political and social upheavals that took place over the years.  In 1983, Norman McMillan and Des Foot wrote an excellent “One Hundred and Fifty Years of Cricket and Sport in County Carlow– An Illustrated Social History of Conflict and Sport. 1823 –1981. This booklet tells the interesting story of cricket in Carlow and in Bagenalstown.

Unfortunately, cricket lapsed in Carlow town in 1982 and it was left to Bagenalstown to carry the flag alone for County Carlow until the re-establishment of the sport in Carlow town in 2011. It is a wonderful story and much of the impetus is due to the Rohingya refugees who were resettled in Carlow town in 2009. Carlow Regional Youth Services were faced with the question of how best to provide facilities to a sizeable group of largely young Rohingya refugees who were keen on playing cricket.

The Rohingya are an ethnic group from Burma. Victims of ethnic cleansing, more than a million Rohingya have been living in refugee camps in Bangladesh for over twenty years. In 2009, sixty-four Rohingya programme refugees were resettled in Carlow Town, under the United Nations Refugee Programme. Readers will be fully aware, from the media, of the unimaginable suffering that the Rohingya people have endured with decades of persecution and human rights abuses.

Many of the boys who came to Ireland had taken to playing cricket in the camps in Bangladesh. Once settled in Carlow, many of them continued playing cricket informally. This is where Jimmy Dooley, a local youth worker with Carlow Youth Services became involved. Jimmy, a qualified GAA coach saw how cricket would help with the wellbeing and integration of the new community. He became a driving force in the revival of the sport and establishment of the new Club. With a mix of Irish, Eastern Europeans, Australians, Asians and the Rohingya community, Carlow have been able to form two adult and two youth teams.  This is a clear demonstration of the changing face of the new communities in Ireland and the richness, which this can contribute. In 2015, Carlow Cricket Club made their debut in Division 16 of the Leinster Cricket League. It was an auspicious start, with a nice coincidence playing Bagenalstown 3rd X1 in their opening match on May 3rd. The team went on to win the league in their inaugural season.

Another driving force behind the revival of Carlow Cricket Club is the Secretary Mohammed Rafique, also an active member of Carlow Integration Forum. Rafique, with his wife and their eight-month-old daughter arrived in Ireland, a country, which a few months earlier they did not even know existed, in April 2009. They were part of the group of 64 that came to Carlow town. Nine years later, Rafique can call himself an Irishman from Carlow. In 2013, all members of the Rohingya community in Carlow were naturalised and made Irish citizens. For the first time in his life, Rafique became the proud owner of a passport.

Chairperson of Carlow Cricket Club is the popular Gurpreet Singh, who is better known as Gopi and will be remembered for his time playing with Railway Union while based in Dublin. Because of a friendship that developed with Kenny Carroll during his time playing with Railway Union, Gopi was delighted to invite Kenny to opening ceremony of the new ground at Carlow College.

Kenny was delighted to accept and somewhat overwhelmed that he was asked to cut the tape to open a new chapter in Carlow cricket.

Carlow Cricket Club is now going from strength to strength, and as stated above have two adult teams, a development team (together with Bagenalstown C.C.) two youth teams, plans to start ladies cricket and structured winter coaching and has a membership that embraces at least 13 nations.  Such is popularity of the sport in the town that St. Mary’s Academy, Carlow CBS played their first ever cricket match in 2017 against Kings Hospital.

We wish them continued success and offer our continued support. We also extend our good wishes and congratulations to neighbours Bagenalstown C.C. who this year celebrate 175 years of cricket.

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