MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE

Message in a Bottle  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Message in a Bottle Photo: © Michael Fisher

One of the projects I had in mind when Belfast Lions Club was revived three years ago was the ‘Message in a Bottle’ scheme which I had been encouraged to adopt by Dan Hurst of Dún Laoghaire Lions. With their help, the Club took on the scheme as its first service project. It provides a potentially life-saving object, a bottle with a form inside carrying a person’s medical details, for those most in need, such as elederly people living on their own. The bottle is placed in the refrigerator and a special green sticker is stuck on the door and near the front door in order to alert emergency services such as paramedics that this important information is safely stored inside.  LCI emblem_2C_287+7406

Belfast Lions Club with the help of its parent club, Antrim Lions, acquired the bottles from England, using some of the funds raised during a table quiz in May 2011. In December 2011 the Club was invited to share the PSNI community safety stand at the Policing and Community Safety Partnership annual winter safety event at Belfast City Hall. The Club took its own stand at the same event the following year and in that period distributed 2,000 bottles to individuals either directly or with the help of groups such as the Cedar Foundation, Good Morning North Belfast and Good Morning West Belfast.

Message in a Bottle  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Message in a Bottle Photo: © Michael Fisher

This year the event takes place again at BELFAST CITY HALL from 10am to 1pm tomorrow, Wednesday 4th December. There will also be a meeting of Belfast Lions Club at 7:30pm at the Wellington Park hotel for anyone interested in hearing about our projects for 2014. These will hopefully include a new and extended phase of the message in a bottle project and fund-raising initiatives on behalf of Diabetes UK (NI) and Marie Curie cancer care (Great Daffodil Appeal). We also hope to continue to collect unwanted spectacles with the help of Belfast City Council and to send them to the depot operated by Chichester Lions Club in England for re-use in developing countries. Tomorrow at Belfast City Hall we will have a box for collecting pairs of unwanted glasses (but not the spectacle cases).

Message in a Bottle  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Message in a Bottle Photo: © Michael Fisher

My hopes for the Belfast Lions Club of which I am now Secretary were set out in a speech to the Multiple District 105 annual convention at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast in May 2011 when Councillor Pat Convery was Lord Mayor:

Michael Fisher, Belfast Lions Club & Cllr Pat Convery, Lord Mayor of Belfast (May 2011)

Michael Fisher, Belfast Lions Club & Cllr Pat Convery, Lord Mayor of Belfast (May 2011)

“Lord Mayor, Chairman of Council, International President, other distinguished guests, and fellow Lions. First I would like to thank District Governor Terence Mangan for asking me to perform this task. I am privileged to do so and it is with a certain amount of nervousness but also pride that I now welcome you, Councillor Pat Convery. Like yourself, I am a blow-in, who has been here only 26 years or so. Whereas you came from another part of NI, County Derry, I came from Dublin to cover the troubles for RTÉ News as a TV reporter. Both of us, I hope have come to admire this city which forty years ago was torn apart by violence and now seeks a new way forward in peaceful times. “Pro tanto quid retribuamus” is the motto: In return for so much, what shall we give back. A very appropriate one also for Lions, whose  function as a voluntary group is service to the community. That service was inspired in this city since 1958 by a businessman who many of you will remember, Bert Mason. He has a special place in Lions history as he went on to become International President in 1984. He was a founder member of the Belfast Lions Club, the third in this district to be chartered after Dublin and Cork. One of their first schemes was a meals on wheels service in East Belfast, which was later extended to other areas. From a small beginning a significant structure was built and lasted for over forty years.

Bert who came from Donaghadee passed to his eternal reward in 2007. It was his view that Lionism is one of the greatest unifying forces in the world, bringing together people from different cultures, politics and religions, all answering the call to serve.

I hope that spirit he spoke about will live on in the revived Belfast Lions Club. We were set up in February and our first public fundraising event was two days ago, a table quiz which has brought in over £1,000 to start our work of service. Various projects will now be considered such as the message in a bottle scheme and the collection of unused spectacles. There is also the service of a soup run performed at weekends by one of our members, helping the homeless, especially those from abroad. It’s the other face of Belfast but one to which this club must reach out if we are to live up to the early ideals of its predecessor. If there is any practical way in which we can work with Belfast City Council on some of the schemes then we would be interested to discuss this at some stage.

During your year of office you have focused on making Belfast a safe, clean, prosperous and a united city and attempted to revitalise it. I hope Belfast Lions will now be able to make a contribution to those important goals. I now call on you Lord Mayor to open formally the convention of multiple district 105, British Isles & Ireland”. 

BRIAN MCLAUGHLIN

Brian McLaughlin at Antrim Lions Breakfast

Brian McLaughlin at Antrim Lions Breakfast

I’m a winner: people who know me know what I’m about! I don’t like losing….. “. The interest in my previous post on Lions & Lions has encouraged me to devote another page to the breakfast talk given recently at the Dunadry Hotel to Antrim Lions Club and their guests by former Ulster Rugby head coach Brian McLaughlin, now Academy Schools Coach. This time I will tell it as he delivered it: punchy and with plenty of insights into the world of rugby, with which he has been intimately involved for many years.

Brian kicked off his life story by talking about the support he got from his parents (and I am typing this at my parents’ house in Dublin). His career has centred around sport. His father played hockey but his mother’s preference was for tennis and “she had a tennis racket in my hand from the age of three”. Tennis was his second love and he played at Comber, where he was reared. What he did not tell us last Thursday (and I would have loved to discuss it further with him) was that his grandfather (like Tommy Bowe) had a connection with County Monaghan, having moved from Ballybay in the 1920s to take over as manager of the Northern bank in Comber. His father, a keen Instonian, worked in the linen industry in Belfast and had a small business on Murray Street.

Brian said his parents had encouraged him every step of the way and they had never missed an Ulster game at Ravenhill when he was in charge. After the age of twelve he “always wanted to be a PE teacher” and his love of sport as a teenager seems to have left a trail of destruction behind in several broken windows!

Brian McLaughlin & Antrim Lions President Barry Warwick

Brian McLaughlin & Antrim Lions President Barry Warwick

He and his two brothers were sent to Regent House in Newtownards. David McMaster who coached rugby teams at the school for many years was an important influence and he has kept in contact with many of his school friends. He was a contemporary of Nigel Carr, “the hardest guy to play against”. Carr was later an Irish international and was a great player who showed “unbelievable spirit”, according to Brian. Nigel and two other international players were caught up in an IRA bomb at the border in April 1987 and although he escaped serious injury, his knee was affected and it ended his rugby career at the age of 27. Brian said he admired Carr’s resilience. He remembered doing speed and power training with him in the 1980s. Each acted as best man for the other at their weddings.

A third member of that Regent House team, who went on to star for Ireland, was Phillip Matthews, now a BBC rugby commentator. Along with McLaughlin he played in an Ulster schools’ cup final in 1977 when Regent House narrowly lost to Tommy Bowe’s alma mater, Royal School Armagh, 12-9. Carr broke his leg in the quarter final against Grosvenor (Belfast) and missed out on the final. He had seven knee operations during his time as a player to keep him active. But he missed out on any Lions tour (South Africa in 1986 did not happen, owing to apartheid) but did play against the Rest of the World in Cardiff in 1986.

During the 1986/87 season McLaughlin was captain of Ards. In 1987 they won the Ulster Senior Cup. In 1982 he took on his second teaching job at Wallace High School in Lisburn. He was also involved in club rugby with Malone and Instonians and the Ulster under-20s. When Eddie O’Sullivan got the Ireland under-21 coaching job, he brought in Brian McLaughlin in as his forwards coach.  They got on well and thought about rugby the same way. The side won triple crowns in 1996 and 1998. The 1996 team was captained by Tony McWhirter, who won 94 caps playing for Ulster and was a member of the European Cup winning side in 1999. Other rising stars from that era included Eric Miller, Girvan Dempsey and Malcolm O’Kelly, all of them coached by McLaughlin. He described O’Sullivan as a forward-thinking coach and said it was a huge decision for O’Sullivan to go off in 1997 for two years to the United States as an assistant coach. O’Sullivan was not long in the Ireland senior job in 2005 when he gave McLaughlin a shout to come and help higher up the line. Both remain good pals, according to Brian.

Michael Fisher & Brian McLaughlin

Michael Fisher & Brian McLaughlin

In the previous three years from 2002-2005 McLaughlin had been coaching Ballynahinch. He was full of praise for their young players who have come through like Willie Faloon (now Connacht) and Paddy McAllister (both Royal School Armagh) who he said was “dynamic” and he hoped would play for Ireland. He  described scrum half Paul Marshall (Methody) as a fantastic player, who was the fittest guy in Ulster: “a pocket-rocket”.  The late Nevin Spence, who died in a farm accident last September, was “a fantastic guy” and “an exceptional character”, who he said had shown “unbelievable determination” on the rugby pitch and who was an unbelievable loss for Ulster. He said he had stayed in contact with the Spence family, who lost two other members in the slurry-pit tragedy. Another Hinch player to make the grade with Ulster was a Cork man, Jerry Cronin from Mallow. He was signed up for Ballynahinch one night in the pub in Belfast, where he was working as a structural engineer. He is a “phenomenal character” according to McLaughlin and made his debut for Ulster in October 2010 against his home province of Munster. He was signed up by the Doncaster Knights in England eleven months ago and it remains to be seen if he returns to Ireland at some stage (Munster, perhaps?).

Antrim Lions Club
Antrim Lions Club

Funds raised from the breakfast went to Lions Club charities. You can find out more about Antrim Lions Club here.

LIONS & LIONS

Brian McLaughlin & Antrim Lions President Barry Warwick

Brian McLaughlin & Antrim Lions President Barry Warwick

Over a traditional breakfast at the Dunadry Hotel near Templepatick, former Ulster Rugby Head Coach Brian McLaughlin (now Academy Schools Coach) talked about Lions to Lions and their guests from the Antrim Lions Club. In the course of an hour, Brian revealed his passion for rugby and answered questions about his favourite sport (apart from tennis!). Asked if he had sent a Christmas card to the Director of Rugby David Humphreys he quipped “Yes, but I didn’t put a stamp on it!”

David Humphreys & Brian McLaughlin news conference (BBC Sport)

David Humphreys & Brian McLaughlin (BBC Sport)

An indication that the parting of the waves in February last year and the subsequent appointment of New Zealander Mark Anscombe was not entirely amicable. At a media conference at the time,  McLaughlin made it clear he was disappointed at being replaced as senior team boss and described his switch to the academy as a sideways move. A day later he clarified that his new position was an important role he took seriously and to which he would bring extensive experience.

Antrim Lions Ken Oliver & Barry Warwick

Antrim Lions Ken Oliver & Barry Warwick

Brian gave the Antrim Lions an insight into just how experienced he is when it comes to rugby. He started playing with his home town club Ards where he was a back-row forward alongside Ireland stars Philip Matthews and Nigel Carr before injury interrupted his career. He had success at Ulster and Ireland age group level winning the Five Nations Grand Slam alongside O’Sullivan in the early 1990s. His other coaching duties included spells at Malone and Instonians. He also guided then Division Two team Ballynahinch to a series of titles in 2008/09. Hinch won the AIB All-Ireland Cup by beating  Cork Constitution and topped the Ulster Senior League, took the Ulster Senior Cup and won promotion to Division One of the All-Ireland League. They have just won division 1B of what is now the Ulster Bank League and will be back in the top flight (1A) next season.

Michael Fisher & Brian McLaughlin

Michael Fisher & Brian McLaughlin

Brian is most recognised, however, for his work at schools level. He coached Wallace High School (Lisburn) to a couple of cup finals and then guided RBAI (Inst) to seven cup finals in 12 years, winning five of them. He also won the inter-provincial title with the Ulster Under-21 side where he coached Rory Best. McLaughlin was appointed to the top job in Ulster in June 2009. He was supported by the same backroom staff who were in position at Ravenhill under Matt Williams, with Jeremy Davidson and former pupil at Wallace Neil Doak his main assistants.

He gave his views on some of the players he had coached and the one he most admired for his commitment to training was former Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll, who he hoped would be included in the British and Irish Lions squad later this year. Funds raised from the breakfast go to Lions Club charities. You can find out more about Antrim Lions Club here.