"Often described as unfashionable, but whatever your opinion of Cregagh Cricket Club is, we certainly have a great story to tell. 100 years old, and at times it felt that we would never reach this milestone, however everyone within the club is extremely proud to be celebrating our Centenary, and looking forward to the next chapter of Cregagh Cricket Club, and knowing Cregagh, it should be eventful." - Foreward from Cregagh Cricket Club 100 Not Out: 1906 - 2006 Centenary Booklet
It all started in 1906, when Mr. J. W. A. Hamilton, who was an elder within the McQuiston Church on the Castlereagh Road, brought together a small band of men one summers night resulting in the formation of Cregagh Cricket Club. Mr. Hamilton was a great believer in outdoor activities for the young men in the church and would lease the land from the Church to allow the local boys to play cricket during the summer.
The Gibson Park grounds where we still play to this day, had been used by the church for the benefit of the Helping Hand Bible class. The class would meet every Sunday under the guidance of Mr. Hamilton. The Bible class was founded for the benefit of the male members of the church, and that great institution the Boys Brigade. The boys from the 19th Company of the Boys Brigade would provide a steady stream of cricketers who would play cricket outside of the BB under the name of Cregagh, during these formative years.
The First World War had a massive impact on our club, and although we stopped playing cricket during the conflict that engulfed Europe, when hostilities ended the members had one thing on their minds. To establish Cregagh Cricket Club within the NCU in honour of fallen friends. When the war broke, 70% of the membership of Cregagh volunteered to fight for King and Country. Of the 70% that volunteered for service nine sadly never returned. This provided the motivation and drive to the remaining members that our club should be founded in their honour.
For the next three years from 1920, the remaining members, through hard work and endeavour, achieved their goal. The ground was bought from the McQuiston Memorial Church and renamed ‘Cregagh Memorial Recreation Grounds’ and memorial gates were erected, which would serve as a constant reminder of our proud tradition. When the gates were opened in July 1923 the secretary at the time a Mr. Mitchell believed that every time a Cregagh team took to the field, we should remember our fallen friends, who had competed on a different type of field across Europe.
This proud tradition has not been lost on the current cricket committee, and although the gates are no longer in place, a memorial plaque within the pavilion was unveiled and a short dedication service was held by the minister of the McQuiston Church Rev. Beggs. Once again continuing our links with the Church.
On the playing front, Cregagh finally got their hands on silverware in the form of the Intermediate League Co Antrim Division in 1925. In addition to this, a Cregagh 2nd XI appeared under the name of Cregagh Corinthians. The Corinthian name had been previously used in friendlies when we were first formed, and indeed was affiliated to the NCU for one season only.
In 1927, we achieved Senior status, quite an achievement for a club that had only been affiliated to the NCU for seven years and quite often the door of Senior Cricket was tightly closed to new members. However, the stay in Senior circles was a short one, and the following season the Senior clubs decided to revert to a 10 team league of which Cregagh would not be a part. It would be 1939 before we would return to Senior Cricket.
In the meantime, the Junior Cup was won for the first time in 1934 v Sirocco and again in 1936 v NICC 2nd XI as we were beginning to establish ourselves in Junior Cricket.
When we won the Senior Qualifying League in 1938 we finally returned to Senior Cricket, however the dark clouds of war gathered again over Europe, which would obviously have a detrimental effect on cricket in Northern Ireland.
In 1940, an EGM was held at Cregagh to decide upon the future of the club, would it be wound up during the war years, should we merge with another club, (as the NCU had recommended at an AGM to smaller Junior clubs). It was decided to continue playing cricket, a huge decision had been taken as many other clubs did not compete during the 2nd World War and failed to ever compete again within the NCU.
Their bravery to continue playing cricket was rewarded during this time, as we embarked on one of our most successful times, winning the Senior 1 League in 1945 and 1947 and running Waringstown close in the Senior Cup Final in 1944, our only appearance (to date). Although we won the Senior League twice, we only received the trophy in 1947 as during the war years, the NCU didn’t present the league trophies to winning teams.
During this time, one of our great performers was Jimmy Woods. Captain, fast bowler and a great Cregagh Club man, he also fulfilled a number of roles within the administrative side of the game with the NCU later in his life. In a home game against Lisburn CC on 8th September 1945 Cregagh secured the Senior league for the first time winning by 40 runs. Putting in a Captain's performance Jimmy Woods took 8 wickets for only 31 runs.
During the early 50's it's felt that we should have gone on to win a lot more trophies, with players such as Frank Fee and Charlie Corry who would both go on to represent Ireland plying their trade at the Memorial Recreation Grounds. Cregagh were often seen as the underachievers within the NCU and players from this era still believe that this was the best Cregagh team. During the 50's the Cregagh u15 boys would also secure the Graham Cup for the first time in our history, surely a good sign for the future of Cregagh Cricket Club.
The 60's and 70's unfortunately would continue in a similar vein as the 50's had, and in 1961 the 1st XI were relegated from the top division in the NCU, thus ending our longest ever run at the highest level of Cricket in Northern Ireland, which begun in 1939.
The 70's were a turbulent time for Cregagh, the team from the 50’s and 60’s was ageing and despite winning our second Graham Cup the young players were not coming through to the 1st XI. The highlights were the Graham Cup victory in 1970, and the 1st XI and 2nd XI both winning their respective leagues in 1975.
With the onset of civil unrest in Northern Ireland playing cricket might have been the last thing on players’ minds, and as with many clubs in the NCU Cregagh sadly experienced its own loss. Harold 'Harry' Blair (35), captain of our first ever Graham Cup winning side, died on 28th February 1976 as a result of injuries received in a booby trapped bomb blast in the Stranmillis area of Belfast the previous day, during a routine check as a meter inspector for NI Electricity. The Harry Blair Memorial Shield is awarded annually to the Clubman of the Year.
Going back to the 1920's Croquet, Tennis and Hockey were once all played at Cregagh Athletic Club. However for one reason or another, these sports failed to continue and the pressure on the cricket section to remain viable was becoming impossible. The membership was in decline, civil unrest in Northern Ireland at the time also had a severe impact, and financially the cricket section could not survive on its own. An EGM was called with the main aim to wind the club up as the situation had become unbearable. Thankfully the motion was defeated and Cregagh Cricket Club continued.
This prompted some serious discussions during the early 80’s, which resulted in some of the biggest changes that our club would go through. A decision was made to merge with Orangefield Old Boys Football Team who were competing in the Amateur League, this resulted in a name change from Cregagh Athletic Club to Cregagh Sports Club which incorporated Orangefield Old Boys. A new clubhouse was built which is still in place today and has recently undergone an extensive refurbishment in 2019. The 1980's clubhouse was two secondhand portacabins which replaced the quaint old Cricket pavilion that had long since seen better days. At this time a drinks licence was secured, as previously alcohol could not be sold on the land.
This bold but necessary decision would immediately double the playing membership and offer additional revenue streams. A new club spirit had been started with hard working members such as Don Halliday, Robert Rankin, Alwyn McSporran, George Robb and George Murray. Cregagh had been to the brink and returned, stronger for the experience, we had achieved our main objectives, and the membership moved forward in hope with a fresh outlook for the future.
Towards the late 80’s it had looked like we were once again on the rise, the 2nd XI, 3rd XI and mid week XI had won their leagues at various points, and for the first time ever, we had a 4th XI. In 1991 Cregagh had won section 3 and returned to section 2 for the first time since the 70’s, and nearly gained promotion to Senior League 1 the next season after finishing third in Section 2.
Although the 90’s had started so well, it was quite easily one of the most turbulent times for our club. In 1996 from playing senior cricket we found ourselves in section 4 for the first time in our history. This was due to a horrific decision surrounding a professional player. Once we were relegated from section 3 we struggled to hold on to our star players, who wanted to play cricket at a higher level. We were also struggling to find enough players on a Saturday for one team, never mind trying to field 2 teams. Once again, and not for the first time, it would appear that Cregagh CC would have to consider its future. The difference this time being could we continue playing cricket, did we have enough players to put out two teams on a Saturday.
It's at times like these that you need strong men at the helm, and although we had problems on the field we had a man at the helm of the club who had Cregagh at his heart. Ian Kerr had previously fulfilled a number of roles and had played for Cregagh for many years, opening the batting for the firsts for many seasons and continues to do so today. Luckily for Cregagh Ian had returned home from Scotland and found it hard to believe how bad things were for the club. He was ably assisted by Philip Walker, and it was down to these two men that we persisted through one of our worst times. Not only were these two running the administration side of the cricket section, they were also the star players of the first XI, which is quite often the case at smaller clubs.
It took 4 seasons to progress out of Section 4 and establish ourselves within Section 3, which should be the minimum standard for a club of Cregagh’s standing.
The turn of the century had brought fresh hope for Cregagh, the 1st XI won Section 4 in 2001 and three years later, the seconds won their league, to gain promotion to 2nd Division section 3. A great achievement considering at times we didn’t have enough players to put out two teams.
The new drive, determination, enthusiasm, and the motivation to succeed at Cregagh during recent years has steadily increased. Three teams had been entered for the 2006 season, our centenary year, not only that but youth cricket returned with two newly qualified coaches. Couple this with a strong committee things were certainly on the up. A great sponsor in the form of Danepak, who have showed unstinting support to cricket in East Belfast, and also Football I believe! It would certainly seem that Cregagh was on the rise again.
And that’s our story, not bad for unfashionable, when other clubs in the surrounding area didn’t make it Cregagh stood firm, albeit at times it was close! Our history was lost, sitting in attics in houses across East Belfast, and in the memories of players who had moved on, past players such as Jim Irvine. Jim was 1st XI captain during the 60’s and a great servant to the club, the amount of information that Jim has provided, personal stories and a constant supply of contacts, he has certainly played a role in putting our history in writing, and provided a great link to our past.
Now our Centenary year has passed and to mark the occasion a booklet was published going into our history in a lot more detail. A number of old photographs that were found along with a total playing record for each team along with the list of 1st XI captains from 1936 is also included in the booklet. These booklets are now on sale at the club and are also available in the local libraries and a copy has been placed in the National Record Office for the benefit of future generations.
What the next 100 years holds is up to the members of Cregagh today, I hope that in 100 years time, Cregagh is celebrating a double century and still playing cricket in the heartland of east Belfast, on the ground that was purchased all those years ago in memory of fallen friends.
A small piece of our rich and very interesting history as written in the Cregagh Cricket Club 100 Not Out: 1906 - 2006 Centenary Booklet.
Further details of our history can be found here
1st XI 1927
Senior Cup Finalists 1944
Graham Cup winners 1970
1st XI Section 4 Winners 2001