In May 1996, at the General Congress of the International Ice Hockey Federation, the Republic of Ireland was nominated to be accepted as a member to the world governing body of ice hockey. The vote was put forth to the 54 member countries of the IIHF, and in a historic moment, Ireland had earned a place on the international ice hockey scene. The membership to the IIHF was the culmination of years of commitment, dedication, and more than a little love for the development of ice hockey within Ireland.
After many years of ups and downs, Irish ice hockey has survived in Ireland despite inadequate facilities and lack of professional instruction. Today the IIHA holds over 300 members of old and young alike whose love for the game has compelled Irish ice hockey to finally compete at the international level. The IIHA has undoubtedly earned its success, and managed to become the best thing to happen to ice hockey in Ireland. The Irish Ice Hockey Association achieved Full Sport Ireland National Governing Body of Sport status in September 2018 following a successful 2 year mandatory probationary period. This is a significant achievement for the association and the sport.
The following history is only an icy taste of over two decades of pure admiration, unbridled enthusiasm, and unlimited commitment to the sport of ice hockey. These pages contain the beginnings of a proud tradition in a novel Irish sport, and represent the dreams of a few highly motivated Irish ice hockey players.
Ice hockey has existed in Ireland for over 30 years, yet its exact birth is unclear. Some athletic historians have reported that the first rink was built over 40 years ago in the West Coast of Ireland, but these accounts have yet to be substantiated. The first documented ice facility built was The Dublin Ice Rink located on the south side of the city in Dolphin’s Barn Rialto. The ‘Barn’ was converted from an old cinema, and originally catered primarily to public skating. The ice surface was quite small compared to today’s standard; it was roughly only 1/3 of regulation size. When the doors were open to public skating, the rink was inundated with people who wanted to learn how to skate. Due to enormous interest in the new facility, it was not long before rink management discovered ice hockey could be an additional source of income, and the first Irish ice hockey players took to the ice. Irish ice hockey was born.
Most of the first hockey sessions were local kids who were just learning how to skate. Children shared sticks and pads as ice hockey equipment was very hard to obtain. The young Dubliners played a rudimentary version of hockey, but they had no experience in the sport. It was only a matter of time before Dolphin’s Barn lured experienced hockey players from abroad. After a few years of the local lads fending for themselves, the rink finally attracted some Canadian players studying medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. The Irish had the desire and the enthusiasm to learn, and now they would be taught ice hockey by true Canadians, the leaders in the sport.
This was unquestionably a huge step forward for the sport as the kids were given the opportunity to see a higher standard, learn the rules, and test their skill against the Canadians and their team, the R.C.S. Blades. It was apparent the Irish talent was a level below the foreigners, but this motivated the young players to excel and form a new team that strived to pick up their standard of play. Despite only basic equipment, sticks, and skates, and insisting on playing full contact hockey, the Dublin Ice Hockey Team became the first Irish team to take to the ice. Players scraped together equipment, and even the goaltender had a home made stick consisting of aluminium and concrete and leg pads kept intact by string and tape. Bruises and cuts were commonplace, but the boys took their team seriously. From time to time, the club canvassed north and south Dublin for new players to complement the core of regulars. Some of these regulars are still members in the club today. Much of the progress of Irish ice hockey can be attributed to these original members of the Dublin club who still get excited when ice hockey is on in town.
By the mid 1980’s, the Dublin club was maturing and local competition was not enough. The Dublin Ice Rink in Dolphin’s Barn was still the only ice rink in Ireland. The team had to look to Britain for competition, but finances unfortunately kept them from travelling. Since inviting teams for home matches were out of the question due to the facility, the team lost momentum and the players started to leave. Ironically, even after interest in hockey was fading, an ice rink in the north side of Dublin was opened in 1987. Another converted cinema became the Silver Skate Ice Rink in Phibsboro, and rumour has it that the plans for the facility were based upon those of a swimming pool. This new rink was again well under regulation size, but this did not deter players from bringing ice hockey to the new Pool. Ice hockey now had a fresh boost as the new rink led the way for competition in Dublin. A team from each rink reformed and Dublin had itself its own hockey rivalry. The revamped Rialto Rockets of Dolphin’s Barn faced off against the converted Phibsboro Flyers. The new rivalry was ambitious and intense. When games were played, the team with most physical presence on the day usually came out the winner. The Irish standard of skill had improved and the inner city matches were hot tempered and hard.
As the 90’s approached, both teams found difficulties maintaining player lists and trouble keeping in the good favour of both rinks’ management. Since demand was high for general public skating, ice hockey often took a back seat at times. Both teams were apparently headed towards folding, but in retrospect this was probably for the best. For a few Irish players committed to the sport, new challenges arose to keep hockey alive in Ireland. The core players of the Rockets and the Flyers united in an effort to continue the progress of Irish ice hockey, and the new and reformed Dublin Flyers were created.
The Dublin Flyers set the standard for ice hockey in Ireland. They were successful as the longest running team in Irish hockey history behind the original core of players. With the skills of the Irish developing each year, the Flyers brought their game to tournaments in Scotland. At first the competition was overwhelming, but again the Irish love of the game and determination to improve eventually paid off. In 1995 and 1996 the Dublin Flyers won the Glenrothes Winter Challenge Cup and in 1997 the coveted Scottish Cup left Scotland for Dublin for the first time in its history. With the success of the Flyers in its prime, the Irish Ice Hockey Association was the direct result of their momentum.
The IIHA with the support of the international body and a hard working experienced staff can now develop youth hockey with professional instruction, and provide a solid foundation for the future of Irish ice hockey. Beyond the shadow of a doubt, the establishment of the IIHA has proven that ice hockey certainly has a place in Ireland, and the commitment of a few individuals has been gladly rewarded with the formation of the first ever Irish national ice hockey team.