Gibson, William H. – The Colonel

Colonel William H. Gibson (“W.H.G.”)

William Gibson’s knowledge of the early history of golf in Ireland is as encyclopaedic as it is peerless. What started out as research into the history of his local golf club (Curragh) led eventually to the definitive early history of golf in Ireland from the references to golf in the Montgomery Manuscripts in 1606, through to the playing of golf in Donnelly’s Hollow in the Curragh in 1852 to the origins on all the early Irish golf clubs in his seminal work, Early Irish Golf, which was published in 1988. One would imagine the National Library was a second home for the duration of much of his solitary research as digitised newspapers, magazines, censuses etc were not yet widely available which made the feat all the more incredible.

W.H.G. was a member of the Curragh Golf Club since 1968 and held many of its senior offices since then: Honorary Treasurer (1978 – 1984, apart from his tour of duty in the Lebanon 1980/81), Captain [1985], Vice-President [1986-88], committee member [1989] to club historian [1986 – Present]. W.H.G. served in the army as a cadet for two years and an artillery officer for a further forty years reaching the rank of Colonel when he retired in 2003. Nine of those years were on overseas missions including Cyprus (1966), Suez Canal & Golan Heights (1970-72), Lebanon (1980/81, 1987/88), Angola (1991/92), U.N. Headquarters New York (1995/98), Bosnia (2001/02).

The extent of his research into early Irish golf is breathtaking and prompting Peter Dobereiner to say: “The wonder is not that he did it so well as that he managed to do it at all.”. The seed for the journey was an innocent request by Mick O’Shea, the then captain of the Curragh G.C., to research the club’s foundation in 1981. Discovering evidence of his own club’s formation dating back to 1883 (1885 was thought to be the year of foundation but evidence of golf prior to that couldn’t be definitively proven until W.H.G.’s research). When organising the affairs of a golf club a race between the past, present and future will likely leave the former as an also-ran so convincing the club to celebrate their centenary the going was, to continue the racing analogy, hard and unyielding but his perseverance prevailed. A small sub-committee was formed (W.H.G., M. O’Shea & Colm Madigan) and the centenary celebrations including a Centenary Brochure, Centenary Monument* and presentations for V.I.P.s and entertainment resulted in a net expenditure from club resources, after sponsorship, of £2,500. W.H.G.’s influence and dogged determination extended to getting Captains of the Royal & Ancient G.C., Royal Musselburgh G.C. and Prestwick G.C. to attend the celebrations. By 1983 you might consider his job was done but realising there was no definitive research into the history of Irish golf W.H.G. set about on his one-man crusade to remedy this oversight.

His book, Early Irish Golf, covers the period 1606 -1922 and was a timely publication as only a handful of clubs had reached their centenary at this stage and for many this opus filled a major gap in their own histories. For some clubs it was controversial as W.H.G.’s research would suggest that both Cork G.C. [1988] and Woodenbridge G.C. [1984] had jumped the gun in celebrating their centenaries; documentary evidence pointed to 1994 and 1997, as the more likely foundation dates. However it wasn’t all one-way traffic as Newlands G.C. celebrated their centenary earlier than expected as W.H.G.’s research showed that the Robin Hood Golf Club was inextricably linked to Newlands and its formation date was 1910. W.H.G.’s research established proof for the formation of a golf club in Bray in 1762 and his military leanings helped chronicle the British regiments’ (stationed in Ireland) influence on early golf in Ireland together with tracing early records of golf in Ireland as far back as 1606 by the Scots who settled here. Later W.H.G. would discover proof that a golf club was established at Curragh Camp in 1858 and the club, with the aid of articles in the Freeman’s Journal July 1, 1858, Belfast Newsletter July 1, 1858 and Morning Chronicle (London) July 2, 1858, could legitmately claim to be Ireland’s oldest golf club.

W.H.G. would provide assistance to many clubs with their research including :- Royal Dublin (1985), Greencastle (1985), Royal Co. Down (1989), Limerick (1991), The Island (1991), Malahide (1992), Foxrock (1993), Portmarnock (1994), Abbeyleix (1995), Galway (1995), Naas (1996), Sutton (1996), Tipperary (1996), Bray (1997) Carlow (1999), Kenmare (2002), Athy (2006), Douglas (2006), Muskerry (2007), D.U.G.S. (2008), Monkstown (2009), Bandon (2009), Douglas (2009), Newlands (2009), Tullamore (2009), Heath (2009), Dunlaoghaire (2009), Letterkenny (2010), Borris (2010), Saintfield (2010) amongst others. Launched on 7 October 1988 and its significance was heralded by the fact it was reportedly the first Irish book to be included in the library of the Royal & Ancient at St. Andrew’s and both their historian (Bob Burnet) and former captain of the Musselburgh G.C. (Douglas Hewat) were on hand at McKee Barracks to mark the launch.

W.H.G.’s knowledge of the history of Irish and military golf have led others to tap into this rich vein of knowledge contributing: biographical material for past Captains of the Royal and Ancient G.C. in the book, “Challenges and Champions”; material for the history of the Irish Ladies’ Golf Union: An Illustrated Centenary History [1993]. W.H.G. also assisted Bill Menton with his, History of the Golfing Union of Ireland [1991] and helped Dr. Steven Reid get his book, ‘Get to the Point” (History of Co. Sligo G.C.), published. All the while keeping one eye and plenty of energy in celebrating his own club’s 125th anniversary and the 150th anniversary of the first record of golf being played at the Curragh [2002]. All this together with contributions to the British Golf Collectors Society’s, of which her has been a member of since 1989, publication “Through the Green”. When the G.U.I. were looking for someone to assist in setting up of a golf museum at their H.Q. in Carton House their first port of call was a no-brainer and he would write material for the first series of history panels for the museum, in conjunction with Peter Lewis of the British Golf Museum at St. Andrews.

Rather than rest on his laurels, W.H.G. continues to juggle other projects which lesser mortals wouldn’t even know where to start including work on “Early Military Golfers 1744 -1815.” much of the research having been done in England, Scotland, Ireland and USA from 1989 to 2005 and ‘Early Golf in India” in cooperation with a member of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, whose forebears left diaries and other material relating to unpublished early golf in India since August 2006. Hell you need two extra-strong panadol just thinking about the minutiae of the research he has, and is, undertaking and the forebearance of his family which much be of neigh on at biblical proportions.


Life Honorary Member Royal Musselburgh G.C. (Edinburgh) since 1985.

Life Honorary Member Curragh G.C since December 2009

Distinguished Service Award from Irish Golf Writers [ 27 January 2011 ]

Reading Sources:

William H. Gibson: Early Irish Golf – The First Courses, Clubs and Pioneers. Oakleaf Publications 1988

William H. Gibson (editor): A Centenary Journey from Robin Hood to Newlands 1910 – 2010

William H. Gibson: Curragh G.C. Centenary Brochure 1983 and 2006 (revised – Ryder Cup edition)

William H. Gibson: History of the clubhouses of the Curragh Golf Club [1993]

William H. Gibson (editor): A Century of Golf at Carlow – From Gotham to Deerpark 1899 – 1999

William H. Gibson (editor): Our Golfing Demesne – Castle Golf Club 1913-2013

*Designed by William H. Gibson, the Centenary Monument illustrates the historical connections of military & civilian golfers, horse industry and the importance of the 1852 golf course near Donnelly’s Hollow.