Lion king Willie John is special guest at event

Willie John McBride, who will be principal speaker at the Oliver Turkington Memorial Dinner in Coleraine on Saturday 13 September.
Willie John McBride, who will be principal speaker at the Oliver Turkington Memorial Dinner in Coleraine on Saturday 13 September.

British and Irish Lions rugby legend Willie John Bride will be theprincipal speaker at a unique memorial dinner being held at Coleraine Academical Institution on Saturday 13 September.

It is 25 years since “Inst” became the first Irish school to play rugby in Japan when a 21-player First XV squad and three coaches embarked on the groundbreaking tour to the Far East.

Sadly in 2007, Oliver Turkington – generally regarded as the stand-out player on the four-game trip – died aged 35 after a long battle with cancer.

“Bringing the squad back together to mark the 25th anniversary of the tour was an obvious thing to do,” said current CAI First XV coach Richard Beggs who, as a 16-year-old, travelled to Japan with the 1989 squad as an outside half.

“But the evening will now have much greater meaning as we have decided it will be an open charity event held in Oliver’s memory. Everyone who wants to come along will be made very welcome.

“Following consultation with the Turkington family, half of the money raised will be donated to Cancer Research UK with the remainder going towards rugby development at the school. I hope very much that thepublic, both in and a round Coleraine and much further beyond, will get behind us and buy tickets in large numbers.”

In a real coup for the school, the great Willie John McBride – who remains the most capped British and Irish Lions Test player in history – has agreed to give an address.

“My son Paul was a boarder at Coleraine Inst and was the tour captain in Japan, so I could hardly say no!” Willie John joked.

“More seriously, Oliver Turkington was a close friend of Paul’s and I got to know him very well personally over many years. He was a fine young man and he fought cancer with incredible bravery and remarkable good humour.

“Oliver’s death was a desperately sad event for everyone, and I think it is a wonderful credit to him that his old teammates are reuniting to celebrate his life, share tales and raise some money for good causes in so doing. I’m sure it will be a tremendous evening.”

Bruce Turkington, Oliver’s younger brother, said that he and his family had no hesitation in throwing their full support behind the event.

“I know Oliver would have been delighted – and probably a little embarrassed – to know that his friends were getting together in his name,” said Bruce.

“A lot of effort has already gone into the planning and I know many different elements are being worked on to ensure everyone has a memorable time.

“I was particularly amused to be told that it won’t be a black tie dinner as Oliver had a tendency to be a bit scruffy. Quite right too.

“As a family, we are all really looking forward to it and to doing what we can to make the evening a success.”

Ticket details for the Oliver Turkington Memorial Dinner will be announced next month.