From Sion Mills to Stormont, 1969 - 2017
Sion Mills Cricket Club is inextricably linked to two things: The Mill where 700 local people found work, and for whom the club was founded, and a single day in 1969 when a touring West Indies side were humbled by the “Gentlemen of Ireland”.
A number of Sion players made it on to the field that day, the most famous of whom was Ossie Colhoun. A fitter who worked in the mill, Ossie kept wicket for Ireland that day and represented Ireland on 87 occasions.
The other 699 staff in the mill were given the day off to watch the match and took advantage of the opportunity to see the West Indies in their back garden.
Sion Mills CC was always linked to the fortunes of the Mill as it was initially founded to provide recreation for the staff. In the ‘60s and ‘70s the Mill was thriving, the team was winning and the players were getting international recognition.
Sadly, the decline of the Mill signalled the beginning of the decline of the cricket club too. Not to mention, the football, tennis, bowls and handball that were all part of the haven of sport in Sion Mills.
I wasn’t alive when a team of household names from the Caribbean finished a test match at Lord’s in London and travelled via Belfast to Sion Mills, County Tyrone to play Ireland the next day.
However, the way in which the story of what transpired that day, has been passed from generation to generation and transcended cricket fans to make news all over the world, I sometimes feel like it’s a part of my history too.
Looking at the old video clips from the BBC and seeing batsman after batsman trudge back to the pavilion never fails to stir the spirit. While there recently, I made sure to stand in the same spot as the camera had been, while taking some photographs.
When I visited the club recently, I saw a club fighting hard to keep its’ head above water. And yet, the mantra of “There has to be a club here” survives.
Every member, every player and every officer is determined to keep their club alive. This is a club built on local values and family pride, fathers, uncles, grandfathers played for the club. One of the current squad drives from Ballina for every game.
This club will survive and may even thrive again through the hard work and dedication of the members, coaches and families in Sion Mills.
The club may have been founded for the workers of the Mill but it exists now for the people of the village.
It needs to continue for all the people who know very little about cricket but still say: “Sion Mills? Didn’t Ireland bowl the West Indies out for very little there in the ‘60s?”
Making cricket as mainstream as that story became would be fantastic for all the current club, provincial and international players in Ireland.
Our next opportunity to do so comes against the West Indies next Wednesday September 13th at Stormont. Will those of us lucky enough to be there next week be reminding our grandchildren about the time in 2017 when we beat the men from the Caribbean?