Willie-John Remembers...

 “Arriving in Invercargill for the Lions was amazing – just like a wet day in Ballymena”

 “Where’s the Coach?” I was asked. {WJ replies } ”That’s it over there, it takes us to matches”

 “There’s this British thing – it’s not about winning or losing, it’s about taking part. Well go and tell them that in New Zealand” 

The highlight of the Commemoration at the Ballance House to mark the signing of the Waitangi Treaty was an absolutely fascinating talk by Willie John McBride recalling his tours to New Zealand with the British and Irish Lions Rugby teams both as a player and manager.

The Treaty of Waitangi was signed on February 6th 1840 – exactly 176 years ago – between representatives of the British Government and the Maori Chiefs of the North Island. The Treaty recognised the Maori ownership of their lands and gave them rights as British subjects.

Other of our guests on this auspicious occasion included – The Lord Lieutenant for County Antrim: Mrs Joan Christie, Lord Lieutenant for Co Antrim; The Mayor of Lisburn and Castlereagh, Mr Tim Morrow; our Patron, Mr Brian McKnight and his wife; and also two Sixth Form Tutors from Dilworth School in Auckland who are attached to Dungannon Royal School for a year.

It was an atrocious day weather-wise with several members being unable to travel on account of the state of the roads, but over 40 members of the Ulster New Zealand Trust at The Ballance House braved the weather for a most enjoyable day.  

The party began around mid-day with a very welcome glass of warm spiced apple juice in the very atmospheric 19th century Parlour at the House which was lit, as usual, only by oil lamps. Lunch was provided by Gilberry Fair, Banbridge and was introduced by Mr Freddie Hall, the Chairman of the Executive Committee.

For many years Miss Betty Wilson has decorated the lunch tables with snowdrops from her brother’s farm and after lunch these are sold off in aid of our own funds to those who wish to take a bunch home.

Once lunch was over, everybody made their way over to the Cottage Room to hear Willie John McBride reminisce and remember the highs and lows of his tours to Australia and New Zealand with the British and Irish Lions. It was a very personal account of sporting history in the making and which we were all very privileged to hear.