herald

Sunday 22 April 2018

Lions jersey back home 83 years after tour of NZ

The family of an Irish Lions hero who set sail for New Zealand in 1930 to play the All Blacks has told how the jersey he presented to a Maori beauty has finally returned home – 83 years later.

A new RTE radio documentary captures the romantic story of the jersey that criss-crossed the continents until it eventually reached Dublin.

The jersey belonged to Dublin solicitor Michael Dunne, who was one of five Irishmen chosen to play on the British and Irish Lions Tour in 1930 when he was 24.

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The Documentary On One: Lions On Tour – The Jersey Returns details how the forward gave his only Lions shirt to a beautiful Maori girl called Rao Ellison after his side beat the All-Blacks during their tour.

His family never knew the story of what had happened to precious jersey.

Both Michael and Rao went on to marry separately and have families, but she kept the souvenir for decades.

After her husband died, she spoke for the first time of her Irish admirer and asked her youngest daughter, Robyn Opie, to try to return it to Michael's family in 1976.

Robyn said it took her 30 years until she found them in Dublin this year.

She said: "I was given the jersey in 1976 to find the family. My mother was of the understanding that it was the only relic of that tour and she felt it rightly belonged with the Dunne family."

It was not until this summer when she happened to meet former MEP Eoin Ryan in London that the rugby hero's family were finally located.

Robyn said: "I met Eoin Ryan and out the story went again.

"He said, 'It's no problem, I'll find them'. And by 7.30 the next morning he had found them."

Michael's son, Peter, said: "I can't get over the condition of it.

"His rugby would have finished by 1935. He died in 1967 when I was 16 and a way of getting to know him was to read his diary about the tour."

hnews@herald.ie

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