28 December 2020

by Clarence Hiles


a reflection on the contribution of former stalwarts who gave to Ulster cricket…...

Bob Kerr lived for and loved his cricket.  Sadly, at the pinnacle of his achievements, he died in the most unfortunate circumstances.  A former Cricket Ireland President, he was celebrating with the Irish team and supporters at Orco Rios, Jamaica, after they had won that historic game against Pakistan in the Cricket World Cup 2007, but the following morning he suffered a heart attack, and died a few days later.

Robert James Little Kerr, better known as Bob, was born on 24 August 1938 in Tempo, County Fermanagh.  He was a pupil at Portora Royal School in Enniskillen, and then pursued a career in teaching.  He was a popular teacher, and became Headmaster at Jones Memorial Primary School in Enniskillen, and later at Dungannon Primary School from 1979-1999 before retiring.  He was also a former President of the Ulster Teachers’ Union.

Bob married another teacher Hope in 1968.

But Bob’s other career was cricket.  His name is synonymous with Tyrone and Fermanagh cricket, and little wonder he was often called ‘Mr. Cricket.’ He started from humble cricket origins, but rose to become the President of Cricket Ireland in 2004, and won many friends for his commitment, integrity, dedication and acumen. Bob was a terrific organizer, and had the vision to look beyond local cricket and see the bigger picture. 

He was an ideal Captain, and usually opened the batting.  He was solid and determined, much akin to the Roy Harrison ilk, and difficult to remove.  Over the years he played for Enniskillen CC, Kesh CC, Dungannon CC, Western Counties CC, and ultimately North Fermanagh CC.  Bob was a founder member of North Fermanagh in 1975 with Bob Stewart, Willie Wilson and George McFarland, when they merged with Western Counties CC and Kesh CC.  The club built a clubhouse and ground on the outskirts of Kesh.

Bob travelled for miles to promote and encourage cricket.  The cornerstone was his involvement as player, Captain and Secretary in the Tyrone and Fermanagh Cricket League.  The matches stretched from Enniskillen to Omagh to Dungannon, and for many years Bob was almost single-handedly organizing fixtures with expertise and efficiency.  He was Captain at Kesh CC when I first met him in 1977.  I played for Clogher and Fivemiletown CC, captained by Tom McCormack, a former Instonians CC player and at the time was Ulster Bank Manager in Clogher.  Tom recruited me when I was travelling in the area.  I faced Bob several times in the ensuing years, and found him a tough opponent.

However, the battle of wits was largely between the two captains. Tom was a canny, shrewd skipper, but Bob was more than a match in the battle of mind games.  Sometimes the match was akin to a standoff, as neither gave an inch, but Kesh was a strong team, and more often than not, they usually won.  On their patch at Kesh they were almost invincible.

Bob was always chivalrous in victory, and the first to buy a drink in the clubhouse. He was a tough adversary, but fair and honest.  Bragging was not his way, because he loved the camaraderie with fellow cricketers.

Bob’s vision was to expand the midweek league to Saturday cricket, and to join the North-West Cricket Union.  Several others shared his vision, and over the years he brought about change.  Kesh became Western Counties CC to create a wider appeal, and ultimately North Fermanagh CC.  Bob was the catalyst for change, and after a modest entry into the North-West Intermediate Leagues, they became a Senior team.

Bob became the club’s delegate to the North West Cricket Union and the hierarchy loved his involvement.  He was knowledgeable, astute, and wanted North-West cricket to play a bigger role in Irish cricket.  He relished participation with other Provincial Unions, and it was no surprise that he became involved with the Northern Ireland Cricket Association and the Irish Cricket Union.

I met him twice at the NICA meetings when I was NCU Chairman in 1990, and I could see he was moving into the higher echelons.  In due course, he was Secretary and then Chairman of the NICA.  He was responsible for appointing their first Cricket Development Officer, Ireland cricketer Garfield Harrison.

Bob’s enthusiasm and interest increased in Irish Cricket when he became a North-West Cricket Union delegate.  Ireland cricket was exciting and developing fast in the late 1990s, primarily through the players, and fulltime Coaches, but also from a professional administration that brought Irish cricket onto the world stage.  Bob played a significant role, primarily as Chairman of Cricket Ireland 2002-04, and President in 2004.  Bob travelled widely throughout Ireland to further the game.  He became Vice-Chairman of the North-West Cricket Union in 2004, and then Chairman the following year.

Bob never forgot his roots, even after he ended playing.  He was a Fermanagh man at heart, but when he worked in Dungannon he was frequently asked to play at the local club.  He played a few times in 1968 in the NCU, but a call from Dungannon Skipper Billy Adrain in the 1980s brought him back again to help the struggling club. Bob played 49 matches for Dungannon, but after retiring from playing cricket, he kept his connections through golf.  The Annual Dungannon CC Golf Championship was a highlight every year for Bob, and he won the title 6 times.  He played a lot of golf in Derry, Donegal and Tyrone, and travelled to many other courses.  I remember seeing him at Donegal Golf Club, Murvagh, when he was playing off a 7 handicap. No mean achievement!

Sadly, ‘Mr. Cricket’ died at the peak of his success aged 68, he had so much more to give to Irish cricket.  Ireland was buzzing on the international stage after that memorable victory on St. Patrick’s Day in 2007.  The tragic news of Bob Kerr’s death was preceded with the dramatic news that Pakistan Coach Bob Woolmer also suffered a heart attack in his room, and died during the night.  

Irish cricket was stunned following Bob’s death and the Irish President Mary McAleese phoned the team to offer her condolences, and referred to Bob…

 “as a great champion of Irish cricket.”

The news spread quickly, and his North-West colleague and close friend Joe Doherty, the then Cricket Ireland Chairman said

” I am stunned at the news.  Bob has given outstanding service to Irish cricket at club, Province, and national level, holding almost every senior position in the land with distinction.”

Following his death, Bob’s wife Hope contacted the ICU offering sponsorship to honour him in a tangible way.  The Committee was delighted, and decided to rename the Irish Senior Cup as the Bob Kerr Irish Senior Cup.

Hope Kerr was delighted, and later added

“My husband was a real enthusiast for cricket and the All-Ireland dimension of the game was particularly important for him.  For that reason, I am pleased to give his name to this Senior All-Ireland Trophy.” 

The then ICU President Tom Prior endorsed that decision

”Bob was a great supporter of the Irish Senior Cup, and I believe it is very appropriate that his name will now be commemorated in such a manner.”

“Gone, but not forgotten… BOB KERR.”



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