According to Barnes, the earliest recorded instance a woman playing rugby relates to a match at Portora Royal School, Enniskillen in Northern Ireland in 1885.
The school, founded in 1608 and sometimes referred to as the “Eton of Ireland”, endured difficult times in the 1880s. The brief history on the school’s website suggests that this might have been due, in part, to the reaction of the then headmaster to the tragic death of his son in a boating accident.
For the match in question in 1885, a depleted school roll meant the school was short of players so fielded a team that included the daughter of the acting headmaster. The woman was believed to have been one Miss E. F. Valentine, who together with her three brothers, were instrumental in establishing rugby at the school in 1884.
Apparently Miss Valentine went on to become Mrs Galway and later emigrated to South Africa but her christian name is unknown.
Portora’s contribution to women’s rugby isn’t currently noted on the rugby page of its website. Is it recorded in Portora: The School on the Hill, published to celebrate the quatercentenary of the school in 2008?
Women’s rugby has come a long way since Miss Valentine first took her place as a three-quarter. The sixth Womens Rugby World Cup will be staged in England between August 20 and September 5, 2010. Matches will be played at the Stoop, Twickenham and Surrey Sports Park, Guildford.
The first and second Womens Rugby World Cups were also staged in Britain. The first WRWC was hosted in Cardiff in 1991.
The USA beat England 19-6 in the final in Cardiff on 14 April 1991. England and the USA met again in the second final in Edinburghin in 1994. This time, the tables were turned with England running out 38-23 winners. New Zealand has reigned supreme in the next three tournaments: Amsterdam (1998), Barcelona (2002) and Edmonton (2006). A review of past tournaments can be found on the RWRC website.