Do you ever wonder who those people are who give up their time so freely to work through the intricacies of the the Ulster club rugby fixture schedule?
Or what kind of person willingly deals with the minutiae of administration and with the plethora of problems the sport throws up on a daily basis?
Well, someone who’s given almost 60 years of his life to doing just those things, and much more beside, for his beloved Carrickfergus RFC and for the Ulster Branch, is the indomitable Ian Beggs, so appropriately awarded the MBE in the New Year’s Honours list.
At 81-years-young, it is a timely recognition of stalwart service and commitment to the sport from someone who, despite never having played the game, became its willing servant and its spirit and soul at Woodburn and at Ravenhill Park.
Among the first to send his congratulations on the award was Shane Logan, Chief Executive of Ulster Rugby, and someone who knows only too well the application and enthusiasm Ian has applied in the administration of the game and in its growth through the amateur era to the modern professional sport it has become at the top level.
“Ian has devoted over half a century to the IRFU Ulster Branch and his local rugby club, Carrickfergus RFC. He has served with distinction in every role to which he has been elected and has made an outstanding contribution to rugby in Ulster over the last 60 years,” said Logan.
“I am delighted that his hard work and dedication has been rewarded with an MBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List and, on behalf of everyone here at Ulster Rugby, I would like to thank Ian for his long and valuable voluntary services to rugby in the province.”
And Ulster Branch President Bobby Stewart was eager to share his delight at the honour bestowed on someone who has done so much to build, strengthen and develop the structures of rugby in the Province, and who represents the importance of volunteers in the running of the sport.
“Ian is the epitome of a volunteer, always willing to lend a hand and never complaining. To give 60 years’ service to any cause is commendable and Ian went above and beyond to devote all those years to Carrickfergus RFC while living over 20 miles away, and always travelling by train.
“His commitment has been exceptional,” said Stewart who, over the years, witnessed that quality in his friend and colleague.
It was a September evening in 1956 when Ian was unwittingly recruited into the administrative fold. His brother and a group of friends were, they told him, off to the Annual General Meeting of Carrickfergus Rugby Club.
“I didn’t want to be left out in the cold on my own, so in I went, and to my great surprise I left that evening as the club’s Secretary! And I haven’t looked back since!” he recalls with a twinkle in his eyes.
“My father and his brother played rugby for Carrick, my mother’s brother, my cousin and my own brother all lined out in black and red. I was the odd man out. I sustained a bad break to my arm when I was nine, so I think that had something to do with putting me off playing. So cricket was actually my sport of choice.”
Until, that is, that autumn evening on the Woodburn Road in Carrick!
Since then Ian has served as Carrickfergus RFC’s Honorary Secretary, Club Trustee, he’s a Founding Member of the Carrick Sevens tournament, and for several decades the club’s representative on the Ulster Branch Clubs Committee.
He has served on a myriad Branch committees, including that responsible for International Ticket Allocation Committee, and he’s been chairman and a member of the Competitions Management Committee, privy to the many sacred secrets and protocols which, magically, have kept rugby organised and alive for generations of players.
Ian is the model of what we now call ‘the volunteer’, and as if those long days and nights dealing with the detail of what makes the sport tick, Ian Beggs somehow found time, and the energy, to be a Voluntary Steward at Ravenhill, supervising the crowds and the timetable on match days.
For his selfless and tireless work the IRFU Ulster Branch paid its tribute by making him Honorary Life Vice-President, an accolade not lightly conferred, indeed Ian is just one of three people to be so honoured.
A beacon of common-sense, the wisest of counsels, and with an encyclopaedic knowledge of rugby’s administrative crannies, Ian Beggs has been an institution, admired and respected not just by the Carrickfergus club he holds so dear but by hundreds of people and clubs in the Province, and across Ireland, who have sought and got guidance, direction and that most elusive of abstracts: a decisive opinion!
Though born in the city, and educated at Belfast ‘Inst’, Ian grew up in Carrickfergus and was offered a job with British Rail following the untimely death of his father, and it was while working in that office that he met his wife Jean, who was the telephonist. They married in 1963 and had one son, who now lives in France.
The couple now live in Belfast, but Ian’s fealty to Carrickfergus Rugby Club is undimmed, and as often as he can he takes the train to watch his club sides play.
Throughout the years, Ian has retained many fond memories including receiving the 2007 Dorrington B Faulkner Award - donated by the legendary Perennials club - for his outstanding contribution to club rugby. And a year later he picked up the IRFU’s Mr Boots Award - a prize based on one of the last pair of boots worn by Willie John McBride - for excelling in his work for junior rugby in Ireland.
But for Ian there are three memories in particular which he cherishes above all others.
“The first was taking on the role of club historian. I took immense pleasure from researching the history of Carrickfergus RFC which included locating a minute book from its establishment in 1865. This research contributed to our 150th Anniversary Book, which was launched at a Gala Ball in the Titanic Building with Brian O’Driscoll last year.
“It was a wonderful event and a memory I will always treasure,” Ian Beggs delighted to have chronicled the history of the club he cherishes, and clearly pleased that the evening the history was launched was decorated by the presence of Ireland’s most accomplished player of modern times.
“My second highlight has to be when Carrick became the only junior team to ever reach an Ulster Senior Cup final, against Bangor at Ravenhill in 1982. We’d beaten four senior teams that season and were unfortunate to lose to Bangor in the final, but,” he adds with typical humility, “it was an enjoyable occasion nonetheless.”
And what about the personal achievements and rewards? Is there one to stand out? And Ian Beggs admits that at the end of last month the news of his inclusion in the Honours list was very special, though typically he links it to his longstanding love affair with the club which made him, at the tender age of 21, its secretary, and ultimately its constant driving force.
“Yes, my final highlight would be receiving an MBE in the New Year’s Honours List in December. The award is a very fitting climax to Carrick’s 150th Anniversary celebrations, and it’s just the icing on the cake.
“The whole of last year was fantastic and this award is a fitting end to it all.”
And though at 81 he may have cast off some of the vestiges of office, Ian Beggs remains devoted to helping rugby, and Carrickfergus RFC in particular.
“Everything I have done for Carrick RFC and the Ulster Branch has been one big pleasure, and it doesn’t stop here,” he insists.
“I continue to offer my services to Bill Crymble, President of Carrickfergus, and I will continue to get the train down to Woodburn Road to watch a few big games.
“I have made an unbelievable number of lifelong friends and I look forward to receiving this accolade sometime in the next seven months at either Buckingham Palace or at Hillsborough Castle.”
To countless men and women in rugby in Ulster and further afield, Ian Beggs has been the wise font of knowledge, and ‘the man who got things done’, and they will have shared in his modest delight at his MBE. Kingspan Stadium, and its professional players and its similarly sleek and efficient administration, owe him and his colleagues down many years, so much.
Congratulations Ian - for a wonderful contribution, on well-earned recognition, and for being a truly inspirational ambassador for rugby volunteering in Ulster!