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Yanks for the memories... when home of rugby hosted GI baseball and gridiron

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 04/08/2015

An image of GIs playing baseball at the now Kingspan Stadium in the early 1940s merged with Ulster Rugby in action at the ground recently
An image of GIs playing baseball at the now Kingspan Stadium in the early 1940s merged with Ulster Rugby in action at the ground recently
A rugby match in 1939 and present day
A rugby match in 1939 and present day
An American football match during the Second World War

It is known to thousands of fans as the traditional home of Ulster Rugby.

But these newly released photographs offer a glimpse of the Kingspan Stadium as you have never seen it before.

Dating back more than 70 years, they show the famous old ground playing host to baseball and even American football.

The spectacle was one of the more unusual aspects of wartime life in Northern Ireland.

By mid-1942 more than 40,000 US servicemen were stationed here.

And with them came aspects of American culture, from candy and bubblegum to baseball and gridiron.

A set of photographs released by the Public Record Office offers a fascinating insight into the period.

They show Kingspan Stadium - then known as Ravenhill - in the 1940s.

Staff from PRONI merged the images with pictures of the same locations in the present day, showing two very different sides to the stadium in one photograph.

Garreth Montgomery from PRONI explained: "These images caught my attention, as I thought it was very unusual to see sports such as American football and baseball being played here.

"The images show how much Kingspan Stadium has changed and how the ground was used during the war years by GIs.

"I came across these rare shots of GIs playing baseball and American football at the ground in the early 1940s", said Garreth. "Being a regular at Kingspan Stadium and following Ulster Rugby, I thought it would be interesting to try and merge these old shots with ones taken in the same location 70 years later during PRO12 league matches."

The first game played at Ravenhill was a clash between Ulster and Leinster in January 1924.

Last year it reopened after undergoing a £16m redevelopment.

Three new stands were built, raising the capacity from 11,000 to 18,000.

IRFU (Ulster Branch) president Bobby Stewart said the images were remarkable.

"They really emphasise how much Kingspan Stadium has evolved over the years, particularly since the redevelopment work was completed in 2014," he said.

The first recorded baseball game in Northern Ireland took place in April 1942.

Major General Russell P. Hartle, who was the acting commander of the US Army's Northern Ireland Force, was invited to throw out the first pitch in the game.

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