Rugby mourns Ireland Grand Slam hero Bertie O'Hanlon

The death has occurred in Cork of Bertie O’Hanlon, the last surviving member of the Irish team that won the Grand Slam and Triple Crown in the 1948 International Championship. 

Rugby mourns Ireland Grand Slam hero Bertie O'Hanlon

One of rugby’s great gentlemen, he was in his 92nd year and will be greatly missed by all his friends in the Dolphin club and throughout the game in this country and further afield.

Bertie was born in Ballyclough, Mallow, where his father was dispensary doctor.

The family moved to Cork in 1933 where the young O’Hanlon attended Presentation Brothers and immediately took to rugby before moving on to Rockwell College at 12 years of age.

On leaving school, he joined Standard Life and rose to the top position in the company in the course of a long and busy working life.

He will, of course, be forever famous for his contribution to Ireland’s Grand Slam triumph in 1948 and Triple Crown success the following season.

He fully merited his place in teams famous for the brilliance of Jack Kyle, for whom he had unbounded admiration, while he was extremely close to fellow Munstermen Jim McCarthy, Paddy Reid, and Tom Clifford.

Bertie began his rugby career as a scrum-half on the Rockwell Junior Cup team when a teammate was Dr Paddy Hillery, later to serve two terms as president of Ireland. He played for three seasons on the Rockwell Senior Cup side and later admitted his biggest thrill was helping the college to beat PBC in the final of the 1942 Munster Cup.

The following season, he picked up a Munster Senior Cup medal with Cork Constitution while still a student at Rockwell. He then moved on to Dolphin where he won a second Munster medal in 1945.

Other members of the side were famous Irish internationals Dave O’Loughlin and Jim McCarthy, with whom even greater things lay in store in the future.

Although Munster invariably played him in the centre, his renown as a champion sprinter probably motivated the Irish selectors to use him on the wing. He made the first of his 12 appearances in the green jersey in 1947 and it was a memorable occasion for more than one reason.

“It was the kind of debut you dream about,” he recalled.

“After a half hour, Barney Mullan tried to drop a goal but the ball screwed off his foot and over the line and I won the race for the touch down. My second try was especially pleasing.

"The England out-half Nim Hall kicked to my side of the pitch and I gathered in full flight on my own 10-yard line. My speed and momentum carried me past defender after defender and I eventually cut in to score by the posts. Mullan converted and we won 22-0.”

And so to the glory year of 1948, when Bertie starred in all four wins over France, England, Scotland, and Wales, prompting him to comment: “The day we beat Wales in Belfast remains the highlight of my rugby memories. We hadn’t won the Triple Crown for 49 years and the match was the talk of the whole country. The tension was fierce but we had great men in that team and fully deserved to win.”

Ireland retained the Triple Crown in 1949 with Bertie O’Hanlon once again a key man. Sadly, a shoulder injury brought an end to his playing career at the early age of 28 but he retained his love for the game throughout his long and varied life.

He was predeceased by his wife Phil and is survived by his five daughters, Jacqueline Crowley, Jane Bryson, Lynn Oliver, Catherine, and Sarah. Reception prayers take place at St Michael’s Church, Blackrock, at 6pm on Thursday. Funeral mass at 11am on Friday followed by funeral to Carrigrohanebeg cemetery.

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