Eire Og GAC Belfast held a special presentation dinner in the Europa Hotel on Friday 2nd May 2003. The club handed over a Memorial Cup to the Antrim County Board in memory of the late Tommy Rice, a former Antrim hurler who was a member of the senior hurling team which reached the All Ireland final in 1943.
Tommy was a life long Eire Og man having joined the club in the mid 1930’s. He was the third member of the Rice family to join the club, as his two elder brothers, Bob and Joe, had before him, both coming from McKelvey's GAC.
In 1936 he was a member of Corrigan Athletic Club and was Ulster Boys Cross Country champion that year. He was also on the Antrim Minor Hurling team that was beaten by Galway in the All Ireland semi final by a small margin. In 1938 he played on the senior hurling team which won the the All Ireland semi final, but was considered too young to play in the final and was a sub in the team which was beaten by Cork in the All Ireland final.
During the 1940’s and 1950’s Tommy held various positions on the County Hurling and Football Boards including chairman and selector. He was also an inter-county referee and was once a linesman in an All Ireland Hurling final.
Tommy was also groundsman at Casement Park, and remarked about the supposed ghost of Casement: “There were lots of players – and even club officials – who wouldn’t go along the corridor on their own. Often, a player coming off the field alone would shout down the corridor for me before he’d come in”.
Tommy also recalled: “I’ve never seen the ghost myself but I’ve sensed his presence. He certainly frightens a lot of people. One night, the members of a GAA committee heard a lot of noise in the haunted corridor but not one of the ten men at the meeting was prepared to investigate it”.
But most of all, Tommy Rice was an Eire Og man, practically running the club on his own from the 1930's to the 1980's, along with Paddy Fay who acted as secretary for over half a century. He acted as chairman, delegate to the All County and South Antrim boards, washed the jerseys(before washing machines!) and provided first aid kits before any other club thought of this. In the cold days of winter he would have a couple flasks of hot Bovril or Oxo for the players at half time.
When Tommy acted as delegate to the Board, he was known as Perry Mason as he never once lost a case. This made him very unpopular in 1960 when the Eire Og minor team won the All County Minor Championship and the County Board disqualified them on a technicality. Tommy appealed the decision in the Ulster Council, which ruled in favour of Eire Og, leaving the County officials with red faces.
Tommy was also the instigator in having the three County Down teams introduced to the Antrim leagues.
Tommy was a player on the Eire Og team that won the Senior County Championship in 1948 fir the first and only time in its history. He was also renown as a manager and guided the club to JFC honours, won the JHC in 1967 and 1974, as well as the MFC title in 1960. Also included in the honours list were Beringer, Martin and Butler Cup triumphs.
I had the honour, and believe me it was an honour, of playing with, and under, Tommy Rice in Eire Og teams which contained Brian, Felix and High O’Kane, Peter O’Hara, Matt and Jimmy Morgan, Joe Gibson, Tony Smith and Dermot Denvir.
Most were in the Europa paying tribute to a great Gael. Separate tables at the function depicted the separate decades in the club’s history. It was a night to remember.
Peter O’Hara, former county player and one of Eire Og’s greats, has the utmost respect for Tommy, not only for what he did for Eire Og, but also as a person. He recalls the team Tommy had in 1948 and the camaraderie of it. Tommy instilled in that team a sense of honour. There was no fighting, bad language, backchat to the referee and everyone accepted whatever decision was made. Despite being an accomplished hurler and footballer, Tommy would never pick himself unless the team was genuinely short of players, such was honesty and humility. Tommy was a gentleman.
Another tribute to Tommy Rice:
Last week a stalwart of the Eire Og club, Tommy Rice passed away after a long illness.
I remember Tommy being a very busy player for the club in the late ‘40’s and ‘50’s when he was noted for his dexterity at the open handpass that was in vogue at the time, and when his playing days were over after many years of service, he then was the driving force behind the club – official, delegate, referee – every job that had to be done, Tommy did it with unquestioning zeal.