Harry McKibbin

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The Independent Online

Henry Roger McKibbin, solicitor, rugby player and rugby administrator: born Belfast 13 July 1915; married (three sons, one daughter); died Belfast 3 September 2001.

The name of McKibbin has a special place in the annals of Irish rugby and the leading light of an amazing sporting family was Harry McKibbin.

Harry and his younger brother Des both played for Ireland and two of Harry's three sons, Harry junior and Alistair, also represented their country. A third son, Roger, was an Irish trialist before injury ended his career. The family achievement matches that of the Collopys, who also had a father and two sons capped by Ireland.

Harry senior's international career lasted for only four caps before it was interupted by the Second World War. Yet, despite losing his best playing years to the war, he went on to stamp his mark on the game in many other ways. He later rose to the highest chains of office in the game, becoming president of the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) in its centenary season, 1974-75, and chairman of the International Rugby Board, 1967-87.

Born in Belfast, McKibbin learnt his rugby at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, where he was head boy and a member of the school 1st XV for four years, and at Queen's University, Belfast, where he read Law. His first-class rugby career began at university before he switched to Instonians.

McKibbin made his Test début as a 22-year-old in 1938, when his Ireland team lost to Wales 5-11. A few months later he was on the boat to South Africa with a British Lions tour party captained by his Irish team-mate Sammy Walker. Although his international career started on a losing note, McKibbin went on to become a permanent fixture in the Lions' side and kicked a vital penalty goal and conversion to help the tourists to a 21-16 victory in the third and final Test – the first Lions victory over the Springboks since 1910.

In 1939, McKibbin helped Ireland to a 5-0 victory over England when he converted a Sinclair Irwin try. Ireland then beat Scotland 12-3, but were denied the Triple Crown when Wales travelled to McKibbin's native Belfast to record a 7-0 victory. That was McKibbin's fourth Irish cap, and the outbreak of war meant it was to be his last.

He joined the Royal Artillery, reached the rank of Major and had a distinguished war record. At the end of the war, he resumed his career as a solicitor, and played for Instonians before embarking on the second phase of his rugby career, rising to become one of the most signifcant and influential administrators of his time.

McKibbin was an Irish selector for four years from 1960 and was assistant manager of the Lions team which toured South Africa in 1962. He served as one of Ireland's representatives on the International Rugby Board for 20 years from 1967 – including a spell as chairman – and was selected by the Irish Rugby Writers to be inducted into the Ireland Hall of Fame. He was appointed CBE for his services to rugby in 1975.

McKibbin always maintained strong links with Queen's University and served a term as president of the University Rugby Club. His lifelong love of rugby at all ages and levels was revealed by his regular attendance at his old school, the RBAI, right up to last year.

McKibbin's younger brother Des won eight caps for Ireland at prop and, like Harry, became president of the IRFU, the only instance of two brothers filling that position.

Robert Cole

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