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Post Memories: Ringing in 50 years of Dagenham vs Cork pub sport

PUBLISHED: 09:00 14 April 2017

Essex team 2011. From left, L.Smyth, B.Towner, P.Falvey, W.Dunn,D.Hallinan, F.Boylan, R.Haywood, J.Hallinan, K.Lander (kneeling), M.Dalton, M.O'Meara, V.O'Neill. Picture: Essex Rings League.

Essex team 2011. From left, L.Smyth, B.Towner, P.Falvey, W.Dunn,D.Hallinan, F.Boylan, R.Haywood, J.Hallinan, K.Lander (kneeling), M.Dalton, M.O'Meara, V.O'Neill. Picture: Essex Rings League.

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A cross-border friendship based on thirteen hooks, six rubber rings and a wooden board will be celebrating its 50th anniversary this Easter.

Essex Beacon pub team late, 1990s. Picture: Essex Rings League.Essex Beacon pub team late, 1990s. Picture: Essex Rings League.

On Saturday, more than fifty rings players will travel 550 miles from Cork to Dagenham to take part in this little-known pub sport.

Chair of the Essex rings league, Martin O’Meara, is looking forward to this landmark celebration.

“It’s nice, the Cork group are very friendly, welcoming people and they always welcome us with open arms,” he said.

“They look after us and we reciprocate when they come over.”

1970s players including Bob Towner, Richie Boylan, Pat Falvey, Ned O'Brien and Eddie Forest. Picture: Essex Rings League.1970s players including Bob Towner, Richie Boylan, Pat Falvey, Ned O'Brien and Eddie Forest. Picture: Essex Rings League.

The game came to the area with the Irish workers who emigrated from Cork in their thousands to work at Ford Dagenham from the early 1930s. Car production ceased at the factory in 2002, but the Cork and Essex leagues continue to take turns visiting each other every year, as they have done since 1967.

In the game, players take turns aiming rubber rings at differently-scored hooks. The six-a-side, pair or individual teams then battle it out to reduce their score from 300, 400 or 500 to zero.

Martin, a grandad-of-two whose own dad hailed from Tipperary, grew up watching the game.

“It’s a great competitive game, explained the 56-year-old Dagenham resident, who rose to Essex champion in 2013 only four years after taking up the hobby.

The 50-member Essex league is the only surviving one in the UK, with just four teams remaining, though popularity remains high in Ireland. Though numbers have dipped in recent years, Martin believes they can still get players hooked.

“It can get quite gripping,” said the engineering technician, who worked as a toolmaker for Ford for 36 years until 2013.

“It’s amazing when you are watching the serious games, the Cork players get really passionate and there’s great banter.”

Over a four-day visit the two leagues will take part in games at the Millhouse and Silver Hall social club in Rainham. The self-describing “swash-buckling” Medicine Celtic Folk Rock will ramp the entertainment up a few decibels when they appear on stage on Saturday evening.

This friendship is now about far more than a game of rings. When the Cork players come to the New Road club this weekend, they will be tapping into a shared history that is kept alive by a mutual passion.

“Many friends and memories have been made over the years,” reflected Martin. “We’d like to think it will keep on going for another 50 years, but only time will tell.”

Essex rings meet fortnightly at Millhouse Social Club on Sundays at 8pm. Email martin_omeara@yahoo.co.uk to find out more.

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