Newtownabbey Borough Council has renamed the sports hall at Ballyclare’s Sixmile Leisure Centre in honour of rugby legend Dr Willie John McBride MBE.
Known for his prowess on the rugby field, Willie John represented Ballymena, Ulster, Ireland and the British Lions. He played 63 tests for Ireland including 11 as captain, and toured with the Lions five times - a record that gave him 17 Lions test caps. He also captained the most successful ever Lions side, which toured South Africa in 1974.
Unveiling a special plaque to mark the occasion, Mayor Thomas Hogg commented: “We are delighted to have such a renowned world sporting figure residing within our borough.
“It gives me great pleasure to announce the renaming of the main sports hall at Siximile Leisure Centre the Dr Willie John McBride MBE Sports Hall.”
As part of the event held at the leisure centre to honour Dr McBride, pupils from Fairview and Tir na nOg Primary Schools put on a display of tag rugby.
The second row forward, who has lived in the Ballyclare area for over 40 years, played his last game for Ireland in 1975. After retiring, he coached the Irish team and was manager of the 1983 Lions tour to New Zealand.
In 2002 he was inducted into the Newtownabbey Sporting Hall of Fame, and in 2004 was named ‘Rugby Personality of the Century’ by Rugby World magazine.
Dr McBride is president of the Wooden Spoon Society and works tirelessly fundraising for the charity in support of its work with disabled and disadvantaged children. He is also chairman of the Newtownabbey Borough Council Sports Awards Committee.
His friend of more than 30 years, Deputy Mayor Pat McCudden, described the renaming of the sports hall as “a fitting tribute to a remarkable man.”
“Not only is he a legend in terms of his rugby career, but he is also president of the Wooden Spoon Society and works tirelessly for charity,” Alderman McCudden commented. “He has raised a phenomenal amount of money over the years to help disadvantaged children and rugby players who’ve been injured.”
The Alliance councillor, who played touch rugby alongside Dr McBride for many years at Ballyclare Rugby Club, added: “He is interested in wildlife, the environment and his local community. He is a keen gardener and he has a great interest in local history. He’s not just a famous rugby player, he’s a remarkable man in every sense of the word.”