Jack Kyle RIP ” Irish sport has revolved around a debate on the right way and wrong ways of conducting yourself”.










A selection of  tributes to the late great Jack Kyle, fixed in the minds of my generation as the ideal sportsman. It was in a way fortunate that in the days of the amateur game, a man’s character could be  expressed in other fields.

From the Irish Times 

Out-half on the Grand Slam-winning Irish rugby team of 1948, the Belfast surgeon played 46 times for Ireland and another six with the British and Irish Lions.

He won a Grand Slam, two triple Crowns and another Five Nations in 1951 and played on for Ireland until 1958. Upon his retirement, he was the world’s most-capped rugby international.

Because Jack Kyle stopped playing rugby in the late 1950s, several generations of people never got to see him playing in the flesh. But his name has become a kind of shorthand for sporting talent, and for attitude and manners which both reflected a certain era and transcended it. For much of this week, Irish sport has revolved around a debate on the right way and wrong ways of conducting yourself.

Jack Kyle was one of Ireland’s greatest rugby players. Known for his deft, elusive moves, he was nicknamed the Ghost and the Scarlet Pimpernel. When a new scrum half once asked him where he should pass the ball, Kyle replied, “Just pass it as far as you can and I’ll catch it.”

However, to thousands of people living in Africa, he was simply “Dr Kyle”. When his playing career ended he moved to the continent as a surgeon and spent three decades working in a hospital in a mining town in Zambia.

A deeply modest man, Kyle said: “I was only the second opinion. They always saw the witch doctor before they saw me,.

From the BBC

He made a lasting impact on the late Cliff Morgan after the legendary Wales and Lions out-half – and also a playing contemporary of Kyle – saw him play for the Barbarians.

Morgan said: “He was so beautifully balanced and had this gift of lulling opposition into a false sense of security. You’d think he was doing nothing, and yet in an instant he’d pull the ball back, and there he was in a position to score or make a try.”

And famously, the Irish Independent wrote of Kyle in 1953 after Ireland had played France:

They seek him here, they seek him there,

Those Frenchies seek him everywhere.

That paragon of pace and guile,

That damned elusive Jackie Kyle.”

jack kyle 2pacemaker





















From The Times (£)

Kyle’s daughter, Justine, who was born in Zambia, returned to Ireland to boarding school and was taken to watch a rugby match, she recalled: “All these men came over and they were going on and on and on about dad.” She later wrote a memoir about his life. “He always felt that rugby was a gift which just came naturally to him because he played on instinct. But I think he felt that the surgery was much more difficult to achieve.”

Of his rugby, Kyle agreed. “These things are done on a subconscious level. The ball goes into your arms, and suddenly an opening appears and away you go.”

Both his children settled in Ireland and, finally, in his mid-70s he followed them, retiring to a house in Co Down. He had always maintained close links with his homeland. No Ulsterman was more popular in the Republic than Kyle. He expressed pleasure that it was for the whole of Ireland that he played rugby.

From the Guardian

In 2002 Kyle was voted Ireland’s greatest player, underlining his standing alongside Brian O’Driscoll and Willie John McBride as the country’s most-celebrated rugby players.

Rory Best led widespread tributes by hailing Kyle as “a genius of the game”. The Ulster and Ireland hooker said: “I remember my father and grandfather talking about Jack Kyle and what a great player he was in his time. But for him still to be looked upon by modern-day players as a genius of the game shows what a legend he was.

“There are very few players who transcend generations like he has done, but when you look back at clips of some of the stuff he did, he was well ahead of his time.

“We talk about his playing achievements but he was a real gentleman as well as a rugby great. I’ve met him a few times, particularly in 2009 when we won the Grand Slam, and he spoke so fondly of his time playing rugby.

“He spoke so graciously to us and you genuinely felt that he was happy to share what we’d been through because he’d done it back in 1948.

“He never tried to force anything on you but he had so much knowledge to impart that you couldn’t help but listen and be engrossed by what he had to say.

“There is a wonderful tribute to him in the new tunnel at Kingspan Stadium and it’s very special to have his legacy to inspire us.

 “He was one of the greatest players to ever play the game and it’s a privilege to follow in his footsteps as an Ulster Rugby player.”

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  • MainlandUlsterman

    Before my time but my Dad, who was just a few years younger than him, raved about him and I grew up knowing the name if not the deeds of Jack Kyle. My Dad knew him a little I think (in my parents’ generation everyone seems to know everyone else); he also knew a few Ireland players and even British Lions of that era but Jack Kyle was always talking about in different terms – a genius, in a class of his own. Along with George Best, Rory McIlroy and Willie John McBride, he is one of the few genuinely world-leading sports people we’ve produced.

    I also have one vaguely personal connection to Jack Kyle – we both played outside half for B.R.A. There the similarities end.

  • Turgon

    I heard him once speaking about his work in Africa. He did not seem to feel the need to mention his rugby brilliance at all. The mark of a great yet seemingly genuinely modest and humble man. So different to many sports “personalities” all too keen to reference their sporting career. As Brian Walker says a man who seemed able to conduct himself entirely appropriately.

  • Dan

    That makes two of us!

  • delphindelphin

    I remember hearing Jack Kyle at school – BRA. As I recall the 5th and 6th forms were wheeled in to hear a famous rugby player and ex-pupil speak. I was expecting some sort of rugby based pep talk, but he was far from that. I now can’t remember much of what he said, but went away hugely impressed by the man’s intelligence, integrity and
    Isn’t that a great picture of him and Brian O’Driscoll – worth at least a thousand words!

  • Ulick

    “No Ulsterman was more popular in the Republic than Kyle.”

    It is extremely irritating when people come out with such silly statements in eulogies when someone dies. Does nothing for the departed and only serves scepticism on the rest of the piece. Where would Seamus Heaney or Van Morrison come in the popularity stakes? Pat Jennings, Packie Bonner or even Eddy Irvine? Frank Akin, Eoin O’Duffy or John Hume? Brian Friel, Samuel Beckett, Stephen Rea, Liam Neeson? Jack Kyle was undoubtedly a good man, extremely popular in rugby circles, rugby did not have mass popular appeal when he played. He subsequently spent 30 years in Africa so lets face it Jim McDonald from Coronation St was probably more popular in the south than Jack Kyle – and that still takes nothing away from his remarkable achievements, great talent personal humility.

  • Brett Lockhart

    He embodied what we “have loved long since and lost awhile” in sport as in life. A gift which thrilled, but also a character and humility which accentuated the talent. Resquiscat in pace to a wonderful human being.

  • Eamon Hanna

    I know several people who knew Jack Kyle and he seems to have been an exceptional human being, truly a man for all seasons. People like former Senator John Robb, a near contemporary and, like Kyle, a surgeon, and my dear friend, Dr Claude Field, relict of Dorita Field, who was the first SDLP councillor for Balmoral. Claude, still a powerfully-built man, played against Jack and is still going strong at ninety six. Even at nearly seventy years remove Claude testifies to Jack Kyle’s tackling power!

    The recently-published book, ‘Conversations with my father’ by Jack Kyle’s daughter, Justine, is terrific. I think a society which produces a man like Jack Kyle has plenty to be proud of,

    Just on the point as to how Kyle was regarded in the Republic, I believe Kyle’s popularity probably transcended most of the names mentioned earlier. I can remember in the early sixties a set text for the Senior Certificate was a book “English Essays” which had, inter alia, an essay by Robert Lynd with, as I recall, the sentence “They would die for Kyle in Dublin”. Yes, rugby was a minority sport in the Republic during Kyle’s career-as it was played mostly in fee-paying schools-but it has grown greatly in popularity in places like Galway, where I spent a lot of time, over the last twenty years.

    One personal memory of Jack Kyle I have is from the early fifties and walking down the long corridor in the Royal Victoria Hospital. My late mother, a camogie-playing Falls Road woman who I am certain had never been at a rugby match in her life and possibly would not even have known a rugby ball was oval, but who had an authoritative way of speaking, nudged me at the sight of the approaching young man in a white coat: “That is Jack Kyle. He’s the greatest rugby player in the world”. I was suitably impressed as I had never heard anybody or anything being defined as ‘the greatest in the world” though even as a small child I was surprised how relatively small in stature Jack Kyle seemed to be.

    I think we need to celebrate our diversity with the maximum possible generosity. I remember a few years ago telling a surprised friend from the Protestant community that his neighbour, and fellow lawyer, Sean O’Neill, ex-Down GAA player and winner of three All-Ireland medals, was also probably the greatest left wing forward ever in GAA football.

    My friend and neighbour, the poet Michael Longley, who was a useful rugby player at RBAI, made his way down to my house last year to watch the astonishing Clare versus Cork senior hurling final, and its replay, on RTE. We both agreed, pace Yeats, that romantic Ireland was not quite dead and gone.

    We should all take pride in our diversity and exceptional achievements and, as they say in the Irish, “Ni bheidh a leitheid ann aris/We won’t see his likes again”. Rest in Peace, Jack Kyle.