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Frank McNally announces NCFIS event in 'An Irishmans's Diary' - The Irish Times

 

A SOMEWHAT less ominous anniversary will be celebrated in Limerick next week. It concerns sporting links between Ireland and France and takes the title “Entente Cordiale?” Which question mark, combined with the timing of the event – November 11th (“lest we forget”) – might suggest it has something to do with the second anniversary of a certain infamous handball incident in Paris.

But no. The gathering in Limerick is dedicated to rugby, a sport in which French ball-handling skills are justly admired. And despite the equivocation in its title, the evening will be an unalloyed celebration of “a century of rugby rivalry”, featuring a number of former combatants.

Strictly speaking, the centenary celebrations are two years late. After all, the first Ireland-France rugby international was in 1909, when the home team won comfortably and this newspaper’s match report could patronise the visitors as follows: “Until quite recently, France has never been seriously considered as a football country, but what she has done this year, and particularly on Saturday, suggests that before very long, and with a few more lessons, she may take her place in the game without consideration of any kind.” It would require a decade or so of lessons before the French finally graduated, after which they quickly became masters of the fixture, a role they have rarely since lost. Poignantly, as if to foreshadow the annual tragedies ahead, the Irish captain in 1909 was a man named “Hamlet”.

As for the two-year lag in the centenary celebrations, it’s not, apparently, because Hiberno-French antipathy was running too high in 2009 to risk such an event. It has more to do with Limerick being European City of Sport for 2011. To mark which, the National Centre for Franco-Irish Studies has organised the event at Mary Immaculate College, with guests including Mick Galway, Peter Clohessy, Donal Spring and former French scrum-half, Jean-Michel Aguirre.

The event will also feature a talk by Dr Philip Dine entitled "La Vie en Rose: Reinventing French rugby in the professional era". More information about the National Centre for Franco-Irish Studies, based at the Tallaght Institute of Technology, is at it-tallaght.ie/ncfis.

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