The Old And The New Lansdowne Road, Dublin
Dublin’s Lansdowne Road was the oldest specially constructed rugby stadium in the world until it closed its gates to enter a multi million reinvention in 2007. From the official opening in 1872 up to the time of reconstruction, rugby teams from all around the globe came to play at Lansdowne Road. The endless list of world famous rugby giants through the 19th; 20th and now the 21st century, that lined out at Lansdowne would fill an entire newspaper.
Situated in Dublin 4 on Lansdowne Road, not too much soul searching was needed when the pioneers thought about a name for the venue. They simply named the venue after the street in which it was located.
The Lansdowne Road Stadium was the brainchild of Henry Dunlop, the organiser of the first All Ireland Athletics Championships. Dunlop, a decorated track walker and engineering graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, founded the Irish Champion Athletic Club in 1871.
After an initial meeting at Trinity College, the Provost of the College banned any further meeting on campus. Henry Dunlop now had to find a new home for his sporting pastimes.
Writing in 1921, Dunlop stated: "I was therefore forced to look for another plot, and after careful consideration chose the present Lansdowne Road one. In conjunction with the late Edward Dillon (my trainer), I took a 69 year lease from the Pembroke Estate, paying a ground rent of £60 per annum, of part only of the premises stretching from the railway to about 60 yards from the Dodder.
“I laid down a cinder running path of a quarter-mile, then laid down the present Lansdowne Tennis Club ground with my own theodolite, started a Lansdowne archery club, also Lansdowne cricket club, and last, but not least, the Lansdowne Rugby Football Club - and the colours would be red, black and yellow”.
On the tennis club grounds the first tennis championship was staged long before the Fitzwilliam meetings. Henry Dunlop was the founder of Lansdowne Rugby Club in 1872 and that club has played rugby union ever since at the famous grounds. Lansdowne became one of the most prominent and successful rugby clubs in Leinster and Ireland.
Wanderers Football Club, founded in 1869, joined Lansdowne at the Lansdowne Road venue later. The two clubs were tenants since 1869 and they also use the new Aviva stadium.
Over 300 cartloads of top soil from a trench beneath the railway was used to raise the ground, allowing Dunlop to utilise his engineering expertise to create a pitch envied around Ireland.
Rugby gradually became the main use of the grounds and the first representative rugby match was an inter provincial fixture between Leinster and Ulster in December 1876.
On 11th March 1878, Lansdowne Road hosted its first international rugby fixture, and the opponents were England. This historic match made Lansdowne the world's oldest Rugby Union Test venue.
For the use of the Lansdowne Road facility, Henry Dunlop charged the Irish Rugby Football Union £5 and he also claimed half of any profits over £50 after expenses were paid.
The first victory Ireland had at the Lansdowne ground took place on 5th February 1887, against England. Around this time, the treasurer of the I.R.F.U. Harry Sheppard, acquired the lease from Henry Dunlop and when Harry Sheppard died in 1906, the union paid his estate £200 for the lease.
The I.R.F.U. built the first covered stand in 1908 alongside the railway station. Also an uncovered stand was built over the Lansdowne club pavilion at the northwest corner of the ground. The first international soccer match at the venue took place on St. Patrick’s Day 1900 and again the visiting team was old foe England challenging Ireland. At that time Ireland had one team only representing the country in soccer internationals.
Soccer in Ireland was then controlled by the Belfast-based Irish Football Association. England were victorious by 2-0.
In 1926, the new Ireland team representing the 26 counties, played an international game against Italy at Lansdowne Road and this was to be the last soccer game at the stadium until Waterford played Manchester United in a European Cup tie in September 1968.
In a historic move and on the day after Britain declared war in August 1914, three hundred and fifty rugby union players, of middle class and professional background, consisting of solicitors and barristers and also many men working in banks and insurance companies, assembled at the Lansdowne Road ground.
The gathering was addressed by F.H. Browning, President of the I.R.F.U. and they agreed to volunteer to join the 7th Royal Dublin Fusiliers. They marched from Lansdowne through Dublin city on their way to the Curragh of Kildare. Some were soon commissioned as officers, others became NCOs and many of the others became specialists in the battalion.
A memorial to the I.R.F.U. members who died in the Great War was erected on the inside of the external wall of the Lansdowne stadium after the war.
After the First World War, the members of Lansdowne and Wanderers clubs reclaimed land from the nearby River Dodder and created enough ground for two back pitches to be built, enabling the main pitch to be turned out around to the configuration used ever since.
In 1927, the old East Stand was built and a terrace created under it. Soldiers of the National Army filled the stand to test its strength. Unfortunately, the roof of the stand was not erected in time for the first match against Scotland. On the day of the big match torrential rain, drenched the spectators and the day was long remembered for the appalling weather conditions.
Lansdowne Tennis Club was a tenant at the grounds and had grass Tennis Courts where the South Terrace was later located. During international rugby matches, the Tennis Courts were covered over with planks of wood to allow spectators stand and watch the rugby matches.
In 1930, Lansdowne Lawn Tennis Club finally vacated the ground to move across the Dodder river to Londonbridge Road, taking the turf from the tennis courts with them.
The I.R.F.U. which had its offices within the stadium complex, allowed occasional other uses of the ground, including athletics (a crowd of 40,000 witnessed Olympic gold medalist Ronnie Delaney run there in an international athletics meeting in the 1950s).
In 1952 Lansdowne Road hosted the first colours match between U.C.D. and T.C.D.
In 1954, the arrangement whereby Ireland rugby internationals were shared between Ravenhill, Belfast and Lansdowne Road, ended with the building of the Upper West Stand at Lansdowne creating 8,000 additional seats.
In future, all Ireland internationals were to be played at Lansdowne Road and in September 1968 the first soccer match played at I.R.F.U. headquarters was when Waterford played Manchester United in the 1968-69 European Cup.
Further improvements came in 1977 when the old West Lower Stand was demolished and the new West Lower Stand was opened in 1978. The uncovered stand at the corner of the North Terrace was demolished and the terracing extended.
Lansdowne F.C. moved their clubhouse from under that stand to a new clubhouse within the grounds, near Herbert Bridge, beside the Dodder. The mock-Tudor tearooms of Lansdowne F.C. reverted to the I.R.F.U.
The East Stand replaced the Old East Stand in 1983 and was financed by the sale of ten year tickets.
In October 2005, a small fire in the north terrace put the terrace out of commission for all of Ireland's Autumn internationals. The terrace re-opened for the first game of the 2006 Six Nations Championship.
The Football Association Of Ireland first leased the ground for international soccer matches in 1971 and from 1990 to 2006, the ground was used by the F.A.I. for the vast majority of home fixtures by Republic Of Ireland teams.
Dalymount Park, in Phibsboro, was the traditional home of Irish soccer for many decades but was not considered an adequate venue for hosting internationals due to its lower capacity and fewer seats. It was primarily to allow mid-week international soccer matches to take place in the evening that floodlights were installed at Lansdowne Road in 1993. On 15th February 1995, following the 1994 I.R.A. ceasefire, English football hooligans caused the referee to abandon the game after just 27 minutes when rioting broke out.
The final international rugby match before demolition was a 61–17 Ireland win over the Pacific Islands on 26th November 2006. The final soccer international was a 5–0 win for the Republic of Ireland over San Marino on 15th November 2006.
Demolition work of Lansdowne Road began in May 2007 to make way for a 50,000 all seated venue and the opening of the new stadium took place on 7th August 2010.
During the closure period Croke Park, under the G.A.A. Presidency of Kerryman, Seán Kelly, made a historic decision to step into the breach for Ireland’s home engagements in rugby and soccer.
When England came to Croke Park to play Ireland in the six nations rugby match, 'God Save The Queen' hit the airwaves all over Croke Park and this sole act ushered in a new era for sport all over Ireland.
Rugby and soccer are currently the main occupants of Lansdowne Road and since it re-opened Ireland in rugby and soccer have recorded several memorable victories on home soil.