Enniskillen, in County Fermanagh, Ireland, was the beginning of it all. There, on the Royal Portora School ground rugby pitch in 1887, a woman played rugby for the first time. Well, officially, at least; it's the first time we have a formal record of a female playing rugby anywhere in the world.
In the early days of female sport, women playing contact sports was seen socially as disrespectful, and sometimes incited a violent response from the public, as it did in 1881, when a number of women’s football matches in Scotland and England were abandoned due to riots. Some of those games did get played, however, and while most of them were played under football rules, there was one match that may have played an early version of rugby, though it’s unconfirmed.
Truthfully, there could have been several exhibition matches of early women’s rugby played in the 19th century that no record exists of, either through lack of press reporting, or due to some level of intentional secrecy in order to avoid riots at the games, as there were in ‘81.
However, at Portora Royal School, where their dad was Headmaster, Emily Valentine’s older brothers founded a school rugby team in 1884. Three years later, when the team found themselves one man short in a game, 10-year-old Emily took off her hat and coat, subbed in at wing, scored a try, and the rest, as they say, is history.
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