William (Billy) McCluggage Nicholl

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William McCluggage Nicholl, BA Hons. (1927 – 2015) passed away in the Ulster Hospital on 7 July 2015 aged 88.

Billy as he was better known, made a tremendous contribution to Dalriada School over a forty year period and also gave a lifetime of service to Ballymoney Rugby Football Club.

Born on 1 May 1927 to Ellen and Edward Nicholl, Billy lived with his parents and siblings Eileen, Bobby and Bertie on the Shankhill Road in Belfast.

Billy attended Methodist College from 1939 until 1945 where he excelled in Languages, Maths and Science. He then progressed to Queen’s University and graduated in 1948 with a Bachelor of Arts honours degree in Classics. His first teaching post was at Abbotsholme College, a boys’ boarding school in Staffordshire, England.

In 1950 Billy was appointed as teacher of Latin in Dalriada School and so began a remarkable 40 year teaching career in the Ballymoney school. Soon he became Head of Classics and took on many other responsibilities. He organised internal school examinations, was in charge of arrangements for emergency evacuations, completed a register each year of out-of-class activities and played a major part in coaching rugby and cricket as well as supervising matches.

For many years Billy was stage manager at the annual Dalriada drama productions and was responsible for overseeing the use and care of all stage equipment, much of which he made himself. He was appointed Senior Teacher in September 1977, a position he held until his retirement in June 1990.

His love of the outdoor life was evident and he organised numerous camping trips for boys including trips to his beloved Mournes where he jointly owned a property known as Spence’s Cottage. This was a special place for Billy and he regularly travelled from Ballymoney spending weeks in the summer working on projects such as installing gas, running water and planting vegetables. He also made all the wooden furniture for the cottage including beds, chairs, tables and cupboards.

Billy’s long association with Ballymoney Rugby Football Club began when he became one of the founding members and since that time until his retirement as team secretary in 2001, he kept detailed records of every game, every team and every player who has worn a Ballymoney jersey during that time!

Billy Nicholl gave a lifetime of service to Ballymoney Rugby Football Club and his leadership, loyalty and dedication to the club was exemplary. As a player he developed into a formidable hooker and his performances for Ballymoney resulted in Billy representing the County Antrim team for a number of seasons. He was Club Captain from 1954–56 and again in the 1963–64 season. He was Honorary Secretary from 1956-62 and held the position of Match Secretary for an incredible 39 years from 1962-2001.

Following a serious leg injury Billy took up refereeing and acted as official referee for the Club for a number of years. After he stepped down as referee he took it upon himself to prepare the pitches at Kilraughts Road every Saturday setting up corner flags and post protectors before matches and faithfully putting them away afterwards. He would also meet and greet the visiting referees every Saturday and make sure they were well fed and watered after the match.

His dedication to Ballymoney Rugby Football Club was officially recognised in 2001 when he was the worthy winner of the Sports Administration Award at Ballymoney Sports Advisory Awards presentations.

When the Club celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2002, the newly refurbished boardroom was renamed “The Billy Nicholl Room” as a mark of respect for a man held in the highest esteem by all at Ballymoney Rugby Football Club. Billy also became Club Patron in 2001.

Billy loved singing and in his early years in Ballymoney he was a member of Ballymoney Male Voice Choir. He also loved the outdoors, walking, mountain climbing, canoeing and fishing. Billy did lots of these activities with his brother Bertie who was tragically killed on 13 July 1964 whilst on holiday in Switzerland. This had a powerful effect on Billy for the rest of his life.

In 1997, at the age of 70 he made a remarkable recovery from a stroke. When he could no longer drive because of macular degeneration he moved to Annalong in 2001 to be nearer the cottage which he continued to visit as often as possible until his health deteriorated.

Billy Nicholl was a remarkable man with many qualities. He had great self-discipline. He was a person of routine and order, there was a place for everything and everything was to be kept and put back in its place. He kept a strict mealtime regime with afternoon tea at 4.30pm a great tradition. He kept notebooks and records of everything and in later years with failing eyesight, everything was written down on white index cards or A4 pages in his large handwriting.

He was a tenacious man. He would keep going at something until he found a solution or until he could get someone else to help him. He had the ability to accept his situation and just get on with it. When he had to make changes to his life due to health problems he did so without complaining.

Billy had a love for learning, for books and music. He kept an open mind and was interested in everything. He was fascinated by new advances in technology and what could be done with smartphones, iPads and computers and was keen to know how it all worked. Even in his eighties, he quizzed his great nephews about Twitter and just the week before he died he was helped to use Facetime with family overseas!

Billy Nicholl was an exceptional man who made a lasting impact on the pupils he taught, the colleagues he worked with, the members of a rugby club he devoted so much of his time to, but most importantly his family members and friends who loved him dearly.

Gratiam tibi maximan habent omnes.