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©INPHO/Billy Stickland David Irwin goes on the attack against Tonga.
# Lions 2013
Former Lions centre recalls lucky escape after deadly IRA bombing
Dr David Irwin and two Ulster teammates were travelling to Dublin for a pre-World Cup training session when they were caught in the blast.

ONE MONTH BEFORE the 1987 Rugby World Cup, three rugby players were travelling from Belfast to Dublin to train with Ireland.

As they neared the border, driving through Killeen, Co Down, their car was caught up in an IRA bomb blast that killed Lord Justice Maurice Gibson and his wife Cecily.

Ulster captain Davy Irwin, who was driving teammates Nigel Carr and Philip Rainey to the training session, escaped relatively unharmed and bravely pulled the two passengers from the battered wreckage. Now working Ulster Rugby team doctor, Dr Davy Irwin describes the sense of devastation to

I was driving the car at the time and, for some reason, I managed to escape with singed hair and eyebrows. I managed to drag Nigel out, after some trouble shifting him, and went back for Philip.

Nigel sustained injuries that prevented him going to the World Cup. Philip got a head injury, a bad concussion, although he ultimately got to go [to New Zealand]. He was never 100% once he got down there for the tournament. That day, after it happened, I was capable of training. Mick Doyle, the manager, left a message saying I could take all the time I needed but I was in for training later that week.

The guys in the squad from down South were quite shocked. From my point of view, from the age of 10 until I was about 30, The Troubles were a part of your everyday life. It was the norm.

There was a determination in the squad, after the bombing, that it wasn’t going to stop us from going to the World Cup. We wanted to do well for Nigel. It was a shame as he would have done great for Ireland over there.

It was only years later, when RTÉ was doing a series called Bombings, that the three of us only talked about it, together and in depth, for the first time. The others, as they sustained bigger injuries, weren’t really aware of what had happened. It was good for me to be able to fill in the gaps. When I think back to the damage and devastation the bomb caused, we were all particularly lucky to survive.”

Irwin featured in two Test matches at the Rugby World Cup in 1987, including a victory over Tonga and a quarter final loss to Australia.

Growing Ulster contingent

Four years before the bombing, Irwin travelled to New Zealand with the British and Irish Lions. He started three of the four Test matches against the All Blacks. He recalled, “We played 18 matches, including four Tests, over a two month period with a squad of just 30 players. It was a bloody tough tour. The non-Test games were just as tough as everyone was looking to soften you up.”

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Despite the late squad call-up for prop Tom Court, Ulster are still waiting for their first Test-playing Lion of the 2013 Tour. The situation has not been helped by the poor throwing of hooker Rory Best and the hand injury to winger Tommy Bowe.

Tommy Bowe’s hand injury has healed and he is in Test contention. (©INPHO/Billy Stickland)

Irwin commented, “Tommy was always, in my opinion, going to be a Test winger. Over the years he’s got better and better; he’s got that x-factor. The fact that they still kept him on tour after his injury speaks volumes for how he is valued within the squad. With any luck, he’ll have a part to play later in the series.”

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