Belfast - Ormeau Cricket Ground

Ormeau Road : BT7 2EZ Belfast - Ormeau Cricket Ground : Map credit PRONI Northern Ireland maps
The Ormeau Cricket Ground was the home of the North Ireland Cricket Club (NICC) from 1866 and the North of Ireland FC rugby club was founded at the ground in 1868. The first bicycle race at the Ormeau ground was at the NICC athletic sports on 6th and 7th May 1870 and was advertised in the Northern Whig of April 27th 1870. The meeting included a one mile bicycle race (open to all comers, except professionals). The bicycle race was the only event that was not confined to ‘Gentleman Amateurs'. The NICC sports were an annual affair with bicycle races over one mile scratch and one mile handicap.

June 9th 1876 Mr Pring, a local amateur, overthrew the crack riders from England in winning the one and five miles open amateurs races. On the second day of the meeting there were two more bicycle open handicap races over one and four miles.

Queens College (Belfast) held their sports at NICC on May 5th 1877. Class divisions were to the fore, The Northern Whig of May 7th 1877 described the attendance "The ground set apart for spectators was divided into two enclosures. One was occupied, for the most part, by tradespeople, while in the other were assembled the elite of the town and neighbourhood, professional men, scholars, lawyers, doctors, divines, merchants, politicians..." In the bicycle races, T Sabin of the Coventry Bicycle Club easily won the 2 miles open race for the Professors cup, but on scratch, he was handicapped out of the 4 miles race, which went to local man, A Kelso off 390 yards.

Queens College held their sports at Ormeau cricket ground for several years, the meetings were spread over two days and included a bicycle scratch race usually over two or three miles. Queens College paid £50 for the use of the NICC ground, but were reported to have made a small profit on their meetings. It is interesting that newspapers report that bookmakers attended events at NICC and betting was not frowned upon.

At the 1879 NICC annual sports, there were four bicycle races and HH Law of the promoting club, won the 1 mile open handicap off scratch and came second in both the 4 and 5 miles races. HH Law was a four times Irish champion winning the 50 miles track event in 1876, the road race and 4 miles and 10 miles track events in 1878.

By 1880, the NICC annual sports had six bicycle events, but the sports were in decline and it was rumoured that NICC made a loss on their meetings. The annual sports carried on until 1890.

The Queens College sports at the Ormeau ground continued until 1902. In the 1888 sports, the two sons of Harvey du Cros were competing. Du Cros was a financier of John Boyd Dunlop and developed Dunlop's tyre, forming the Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre Company in 1896.

William Hulme of the Cruisers' CC, made history at the May 18th 1889 NICC sports by riding pneumatic tyres to win all four races. Hulme was one of the first people to buy a bicycle fitted with Dunlop pneumatic tyres and Dunlop persuaded him to use them in a race. Harvey du Cros was at the meeting and he saw the potential of pneumatic tyres that led to him to eventually patent the tyre. The Northern Whig of May 20th 1889 describes the tyre as a "broad, hollow, flexible tyre with which each of the wheels is fitted, and which is distended with air by means of a pump until it becomes rigid." Hulme's bicycle was christened the ‘infernal machine' by the spectators. Hulme won the events with comparative ease and du Cros' sons Alf and Harvey junior ‘declined to trouble the starter' after their first race against Hulme. Later that year, Hulme went over to Liverpool to race his pneumatics.

The 1892 Queens College sports were not a success, rain made the track into a ‘veritable quagmire'. The attendance was poor, the people attending were either competitors or University people and the group of the ‘betting fraternity'. The star rider RJ Mercredy competed at the meeting, winning the one mile open handicap off scratch. It was reported that "the competitors had almost to be dug out of their envelope of mud at the end of the journey." The track was also described in 1892 as low-lying and in one meeting, more than half the competitors came to grief because of the poor state of the track.

Queens' College sports were revived at the Ormeau ground on May 27th 1899, but they were for college students only and there were no bicycle races. In 1902 their sports included a one mile bicycle race, which was probably the last bicycle race to be held at the ground. In 1903 the College sports moved to the Ulster Cricket Club grounds in Ballynafeigh.

The NICC continued at Ormeau Cricket Ground until 2001, when it merged with Collegians to form Belfast Harlequins. They moved from Ormeau Cricket Ground to Deramore. The old stadium was demolished and the ground was re-developed as housing, known as Lavinia Square.


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