Huge turnout for Billy Boyd, the man who broke down barriers of Irish cricket’s most fierce club rivalry

Billy Boyd was a hugely important figure in local cricket
Billy Boyd was a hugely important figure in local cricket

They came from all corners of Ireland to honour Billy Boyd.

On a bitterly cold and inhospitable Sunday, when there was snow one minute, driving rain or hailstones the next, it would have been easier to stay at home, huddled around the fireplace with a feast of sporting action to enjoy on television.

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But no, they came in their hundreds to honour one of Irish cricket’s most important administrators, and one of the local game’s most colourful figures.

Holy Trinity Church in Waringstown is one of the largest local churches, but it wasn’t nearly big enough to seat all of those who came to celebrate the life of the former NCU chairman and president, and current Lurgan Rugby Football and Cricket Club chairman.

I grew up going to this church and it was the first time I can ever recall having to sit in the pews usually reserved for the choir. But here I was, three down from the rector, Rev Bryan Martin. Others stood at the very back of the old church because there simply wasn’t room to sit anywhere else, the church’s 400-plus seats full to the brim and overflowing.

As Rev Martin joked, here was the Waringstown funeral for a man so deeply steeped in the traditions of the village’s great cricketing rivals, Lurgan.

But that, for me, was one of Billy’s most enduring qualities, what stood him apart from so many in the local game.

No-one should underestimate the power of the Lurgan-Waringstown rivalry in the decades that have gone past.

It was a fixture that used to draw crowds unthinkable in the modern era to the Challenge Cup final day at Downpatrick, the atmosphere highly-charged like no other in club cricket at the time.

There was a mutual dislike and distrust among many on both sides, both on the pitch and on the sidelines.

But one man above all other transcended that rivalry - Billy Boyd.

It helped of course that he and his wife Sandra set up home in Waringstown, that they lived in Oaklands, right beside Waringstown legend Roy Harrison and his wife Muriel, with whom they formed an unbreakable friendship.

It helped too perhaps that Billy’s son Jonathan, a belligerent left-handed batsman made for the Twenty20 era, decided to play for Waringstown. Jonathan was good enough to get an extended run in Waringstown’s first team two decades ago, making runs at the top of the order in the dramatic 1998 relegation play-off defeat to Lisburn.

But I remember raising eyebrows the first time I came across the usual line of Waringstown supporters on the boundary, and there in the middle of the picnic boxes and red wine were Billy and Sandra.

Was Billy here to revel in a possible Waringstown defeat, I pondered.

How wrong I was. Billy’s first allegiance was always to Lurgan, but his presence at The Lawn over the years, always with his obvious humour and charm, helped to break down barriers between the clubs, helped to thaw the frosty Waringstown-Lurgan relations that were once all too prevalent.

Never could you walk past Billy on the boundary, even if Lurgan were struggling badly, and not be greeted with a personal greeting and that wide smile.

But his influence stretched far beyond the neighbourhood rivalry, as was evidenced by Sunday’s turnout.

There were stellar north west representatives like Joe Doherty and Roy Torrens, and there was Cricket Ireland’s chief executive Warren Deutrom, who had made the trip from Dublin, along with the national selector Andrew White.

This was no ordinary cricket figure. Even at 80 years of age, Billy remained heavily involved in local cricket, not for him taking a backward step even as the years lengthened and the limbs ached.

This giant of the local game will be sorely missed.