Gerard Siggins chats about his love for rugby and his passion for books ahead of the publication of the fifth book in the Rugby Spirit series – Rugby Runner!
I never really intended to write for young readers. I had enough problems making older ones engage with my weekly column on that esoteric (for Ireland) sport of cricket. But a series of coincidences and chance meetings led me to write the Rugby Spirit series, the fifth of which has just been published.
I grew up – and still live – beside Lansdowne Road, a magical site soaked in the sweat of 100,000 sportsmen and women where the dramas and delights of sport have been played out for nearly a century and a half. As boys, we used it as a playground – in those pre-security guard days we had free run of the stadium and even got to kick and run on the holy turf of the main pitch.
I grew up and became a sports journalist, and found myself returning to Lansdowne Road for big games. Every visit was special, and always brought back memories of my own and of the deeds of the past.
When it was decided to level the grand-stands and bring it back as a shiny, kidney-bowl shaped stadium, I resolved to capture those deeds in a book. With colleague Paul Howard, (later replaced by Malachy Clerkin when Paul, by then busy with Ross O’Carroll-Kelly, “couldn’t be orsed”), we put together a series of tales under the title Lansdowne Road, the Stadium, the Matches, the Greatest Days (O’Brien Press 2010).
Malachy was a youngster, so he got to do the easy work of talking to players and those who had seen action on the ground. I got the front half of the book, which involved burrowing in the Gilbert and National Libraries, and other dusty archives.
One of the stories I came across was that of Brian Hanrahan, the only player ever to die from injuries sustained in the ground. He was largely a forgotten figure, ignored in several histories of Irish rugby, so I resolved to find out as much as I could about his life and death, and it became a chapter, ‘The Fatal Scrum’, in our book.
Brian’s story stayed with me, however, and I wanted to write about him again.
I had been making up bedtime stories for my youngest son Billy, who particularly enjoyed the story of a kid who meets a ghost who helps him play soccer and become the best player in his team.
I met Joe (Little Croker and Legends Lair) O’Brien at an awards dinner and, chatting about children’s books, I told him about my story. He encouraged me to write it down and gave me a few hints. I struggled at first, but had a brainwave to turn Billy the soccer player into Eoin the rugby player – the ghost became Brian and the location Lansdowne Road.
As they had published two previous non-fiction books of mine, I sent the first draft to O’Brien Press and happily they accepted it. Since then, Eoin and Brian have gone on to have several adventures, each time being joined by a new real-life rugby-playing ghost such as All Blacks WW1 hero Dave Gallaher; Irish rebel and Belvedere winger Kevin Barry; Russian Prince and England winger Alexander Obolensky; and the man credited with inventing rugby, William Webb Ellis.
At the time of writing this blog, Rugby Runner is just hitting the shelves of the nation’s bookshops, and I’ve just finished writing the 17th chapter in book six. Looking outside, the glass-wrapped wall of the stadium fills my back window and reminds me every day of the power of sport to bring joy.
* Rugby Runner is out on February 13th.
Gerard Siggins, February 2017
The Rugby Spirit series is available here and in all good bookshops!