Famous Irish Cricketers: Reverend Bobby Barnes
Reverend Robert James Barnes
Bobby Barnes dominated the cricket and rugby fields at School. Strongly built and broad shouldered, his left hand batting was based on powerful forward play.
As a leg spinner, he was orthodox and accurate. His ability as a rugby three-quarter made him wonderfully quick in the field.
He came from a cricketing family: his father was a stalwart of the Armagh club for many years, both as player and administrator, his two younger brothers were also fine cricketers, Jackie as a paceman who gained 2 Irish caps in 1937, and Stewart, a fast medium bowler with a nasty bouncer, who excelled for Dublin University and was denied representative honours by the War.
Bobby's School and Club performances gained him a place in the Ulster side in 1928. He justified this with 73 v Munster and a top score of 32* v Leinster. "A most promising all rounder," commented The Cricketer.
These innings saw him into the Irish team to play MCC at Ormeau in August. His Irish performances are discussed below. Bobby made his debut for Armagh as a 14 year old in 1925 and soon made his presence felt. In a match with Lisburn he was one of the few successes. Taking 4-26, he helped fellow future international Tom Ward put the Wallace Park side out for 117. Armagh then collapsed,leaving him, second top scorer, undefeated on 14.
In all he scored 2760 runs for the Club at 25.32 with a highest score of 111* against Cliftonville in a high scoring draw at The Mall in 1930. His best bowling came in Armagh's first League title winning season of 1928, though his performance was in the Cup against Woodvale, when he took 9-28.
That year he did not have a bad season for a 17 year old. He hit 563 runs at 40.57, with a best of 93 against reigning League champions North Down. He had several other big scores - incliding 90 against Ulster CC - besides taking 44 wickets."
After continuing brilliance for Armagh, one of the top NCU sides at this time, Bobby, powerfully built and prematurely balding, entered Dublin University in Autumn 1931, and, when available, was an automatic choice for the XI from 1932 - 1939.
"Probably the best batsman to play for the Club in the 30s," the DUCC History decided. He hit a record 14 fifties in competitive matches, with 5 in 1932, when he scored 430 runs in the short university season.
His two centuries, both against Merrion, were memorable. In 1937 he struck a violent 182, following this the next season with 130, while at the other end fellow star batsman Billy Mellon made 203*.
Nor did Bobby shrink from bowling duties. He had six 5 wicket hauls. His best all round season was 1932, when he scored 402 runs at 100.50 and took 18 wickets at 10. He scored 1423 competitive runs for the University, taking just 29 innings to reach the 1000. Only George McVeagh and Jacko Heaslip got there faster.
Away from these matches he was just as effective, for example notching 100* v Manchester University in College Park in 1932. While at University, he had continued his rugby career, already successful for Armagh. He was capped against Wales in 1932/33, at centre. It was a try-scoring debut, helping Ireland to a 10-5 win.
Alas, it was to be his only appearance in the green jersey as injury cut his playing days short.
He had also continued to play cricket for Armagh when possible. Indeed in 1932, he captained them in the NCU Cup Final v North Down. The Comber men won, as they tended to do then, but Bobby had a fine all round match. He made 40 in Armagh's first innings 121, and then with 7-49, bowled the Co Down team out for 137. Unfortunately the Armagh batting was only able to set a target of 107.
Graduating in 1939, he became Rector of Donacloney, including Waringstown within his parish. When Armagh ceased playing because of the War, he thus had a ready-made club to represent. His deeds for the Villagers matched anything he had achieved before. He was captain for 6 seasons, scored hundreds against Muckamore and North Down in 1942 and won two NCU Challenge Cup Finals in 1943 and 1944.
Sometimes, he found that his cricket on Saturdays made it difficult to prepare a sermon for Sunday's service. A car drive to Lurgan to see fellow cleric SR Redpath, who, in 1938, took all ten in the League for DUCC v Clontarf, would solve the problem. He allowed Barnes to "pinch" sermons.
In 1947, with normal cricket restored, Bobby hit a brilliant century for NCU v NWCU. His Irish debut in 1928 had seen him score 9 batting down the order. Though he made useful scores in 1930 with 25* and 24 v Scotland at Aberdeen and twice passing 40, v MCC in 1932, there were long gaps in his Irish career being out of the side for 5 years.
The selectors may have felt justified, for when he returned in 1937, for 5 matches, he met with little success. It was not until after the War, when he was probably past his best, that he became anything like a regular in the national side, though he was not always available.
Against Scotland at Greenock in 1946, Ireland's first post war game, he made a typical 48, second top score to Frank Quinn's 140. In the hosts' second innings, getting on to bowl after three other spinners, Hill, Boucher and Bowden, he had figures of 12-3-18-4, to bring Ireland a big win.
In his remaining matches, he was again sidelined as a bowler, with yet another spinner "Sonny" Hool coming into the team, but his batting talents were seen to advantage. As Ireland were destroyed on a Buxton green top by the Derbyshire seamers, his second innings 37, at 8, was top score.
In 1947, he came into the side for the one day match v South Africa, arranged when AMB Rowan had caused the scheduled two-day match to be completed on the first. Rowan stood down, and Jimmy Boucher routed the Springboks. Then Donald Shearer and Bobby (57) put on 83 for the 5th wicket to se Ireland home.
His final match was v Yorkshire on a crumbling College Park wicket in 1949. A declaration left Ireland 410 to get on the last afternoon. Stuart Pollock hit a brilliant 89, and Bobby and George Wilson also savaged the attack. Ireland finished on 248 all out, better than trying, vainly, to play out time. Bobby signed off with 59.
In the early 1950s, he left Ireland and became Chaplain to the Mission to Seamen in Hull. When he retired and returned to Belfast he was far from well and a long illness ensued.
Much earlier in his career he had a brief spell on the staff at St Columba's College near Dublin. Many years ago this writer asked a long-standing member of staff there what Barnes was like. The answer, accompanied by daisy decapitating swings of an umbrella, as vicious as any of Bobby's drives, took an age to come. "Barnes? Ah.... Barnes RJ... Vigorous."
That single adjective sums up Bobby's cricket, rugby and approach to life.
He is profiled in Siggins and Fitzgerald Ireland 100 Cricket Greats.
A third Barnes brother, Stanley, would most certainly have also gained an Irish cap but for the war. A hostile paceman, with a disconcerting bouncer, he took 42 wickets for Armagh and 165 for Dublin University. Hitler and his career as a surgeon in London, meant that he was lost to Irish cricket when on the threshold of possible greatness. Like his brothers he was also a fine all round sportsman.
I am much indebted to Brian Weir's "Armagh Cricket Club 150 Not Out".
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