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The day New Zealand All Blacks trooped past Army at Ravenhill

Soldiers were among Ravenhill spectators for famous clash with Ulster in 1972

The All Blacks walking past soldiers at Ravenhill in 1972. According to rugby fans, the troops were simply there as enthusiastic spectators
The All Blacks walking past soldiers at Ravenhill in 1972. According to rugby fans, the troops were simply there as enthusiastic spectators

By Eddie McIlwaine

Every sporting picture tells a story - but take a close look at my photograph today and I'll tell you it isn't all that it seems.

Yes, armed British soldiers appear to be on guard close to the dressing rooms at Ravenhill as the famous All Blacks take to the playing arena to tackle Ulster in a famous rugby match.

The date was November 18, 1972, when the Troubles were at their peak, but the New Zealand stars, on a UK tour, came to Belfast anyway.

My research into a game in which Ulster, captained by Willie John McBride and coached by my old friend Syd Millar, shows that the home side gave those All Blacks, led by Ian Kirkpatrick, a fright even though they were beaten 19-6.

But there is another side to that great day in sport. Rugby fans who were there, and to whom I have talked in my research, claim that the Army weren't at Ravenhill on duty at all. My information is that a patrol, possibly of Greenjackets, were just ending their tour of duty in the area when they realised the All Blacks were just across the road, about to be challenged by Willie John and his men.

So as spectators they headed for the stadium in their two jeeps to see the game which, according to folk like George Williamson of Lisburn, who was there, explains the military presence.

Apparently the soldiers couldn't get their jeeps into the crammed car park at Ravenhill - there was a crowd of 25,000 at the game - and had to pick a vantage spot not far from the dressing rooms to leave the vehicles and from where to watch the action on the pitch.

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The All Blacks were just as delighted to see the soldiers as the Greenjackets were to see them and there were handshakes all round as the team from New Zealand took to the field. The Army men weren't disappointed, as Ulster served up a display that is talked about to this day.

Belfast Telegraph journalist Nevin McGhee, who was in the Press Box, wrote these words: "Ulster nearly brought the All Blacks to their knees."

I'm told that after the final whistle, both teams had a brief confab with the military.

If anyone reading this version of Ulster v All Blacks was at Ravenhill that day, tell me what you remember about the afternoon the rugby men met the soldiers.

The Biblical mystery that inspired poem by celebrated hymnwriter

Hymnwriter Cecil Frances Alexander, the anniversary of whose death at 77 in 1895 is soon to be commemorated, was intrigued by the mystery of the final resting place of Moses.

Her poem The Burial of Moses is based on the following words in the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy: "And He (the Lord) buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor; but no man knows the place of his burial to this day." (Chapter 34,verse 6). Her poem was published in 1856 and Alfred Lord Tennyson, Poet Laureate at the time, said he would have been proud to be its author.

Here are the first and last verses:

By Nebo's lonely mountain,

On this side Jordan's wave,

In a vale in the land of Moab

There lies a lonely grave,

And no man knows that sepulchre,

And no man saw it e'er,

For the angels of God upturn' the sod,

And laid the dead man there

Cecil Frances was the wife of William Alexander, Bishop of Derry and Archbishop of Armagh. There is an Ulster History Circle Blue Plaque at her former home in Derry's Bishop Street, where she wrote more than 400 hymns including All Things Bright and Beautiful and There is a Green Hill Far Away.

However, The Burial of Moses is still looked on as her best work.

She is buried in the City Cemetery in Derry.

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