By Eddie Ryan
Ireland has a long and proud association with the British and Irish Lions rugby touring side. Irish rugby stars past and present, like Willie John McBride, Mike Gibson, Fergus Slattery, Tom Grace, Jack Kyle, Paul O’Connell, and Brian O’Driscoll, have donned the famous red jersey in test matches around the globe.
The British and Irish Lions first came into existence in 1888, as the Shaw & Shrewsbury Team. It was mainly comprised of English players, but also contained players from Scotland and Wales. Their first tour was not sanctioned by rugby authorities, and was sponsored by businessmen Arthur Shrewsbury and Alfred Shaw, after whom the team was named.
The Lions played no Test matches on their first tour. The games were against provincial, academic and club sides only. They were originally known as the British Isles with the nickname ‘the Lions’ adopted later.
Eight years later, the Irish were on board, with a healthy representation of six players on the touring party. The tour to South Africa consisted of a total of 21 games, including four tests against South Africa, with the Lions winning three of them.
Willie John McBride of Ireland holds the all-time appearance record. The Irish second row wore the Lions jersey on seventy occasions across five tours in 1962, 1966, 1968, 1971 and 1974. Fellow Irish warrior, Mike Gibson, is a close second with sixty-eight appearances. McBride was an iconic figure for both Irish and Lions rugby. He was also one of the most central characters in one of the most famous touring stories.