a)Rugby Football Playing Career
1897/98: St. Peter’s RFC Juniors (No School Boy Rugby in these early days). Played over 11 seasons for Cardiff 1st Fifteen.
1898/99: First season with Cardiff (Captained that year by the great Gwyn Nichols).
1899/1900: Still with the Cardiff team.
1901/02: Awarded Glamorgan County Cap.
1903: Picked for final Welsh Trial. (No Cap).
1903/04: Vice–Captain of Cardiff.
1904/05: First capped for Wales against Scotland & Ireland (Wales Win Triple Crown).
Awarded 11 caps in all + reserve twice.
Presented with a Gold Watch for the Cardiff invincible season of 1904/5.
Presented with a Silver medal for playing in the Cardiff team that defeated New Zealand in 1905 and presented with Silver Cigarillo for playing in the Cardiff team that defeated South Africa 17–10 on 1st January 1906 and the Welsh team that beat South Africa later that month.
Billy was invited to join the first British (Lions) teams to go to Australia and New Zealand but had to decline as he was unable leave his employment on the Dowlais Iron Ore Wharf in Cardiff Docks for the six months required.
1906/07: Played against England and Ireland and was selected against Scotland on Saturday 5th February, 1907, and photographed but withdrew after he received a telegram of his mothers death and returned home immediately.
1907: Selected for Wales (Rugby Union) and Wales (Rugby League) teams, both against England.
1910: He was again selected for Wales Rugby Union team to play against England in February. This match was postponed due to frost–bound ground and was played at Easter. He was photographed, but had to withdraw when disqualified due the rule on broken working time and amateurism.
b) Northern Union Record
1908/9/10: Warrington NURFC.
1908/09/10: Selected for Wales in all League Internationals versus England.
Selected to tour Australia for the first British Rugby League team. He was the only Welsh–born forward in the final match.
William/Billy Neale/Neil: oral history tells us that the name ‘Neale’ was used to conceal his Catholicism. O’Neil is the real family name.
The O’Neil family landed in Wales by accident in 1860. Billy O’Neil’s father, William O’Neil, was born in Dungarvan, County Waterford in 1844. His mother, Catherine Burke, was born to a farming family in Dunmanway, West Cork, 1844. They met when William went to work on the farm in Dunmanway 1859.
The couple fell in love. Catherine may have been with child when they eloped to Cork City where their first child was born and baptised at Blackpool.
The family sailed from Cork City on the ‘Concordia’ bound for the USA via Liverpool. The ship foundered and the passengers were landed in Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire.
Catherine was now heavily pregnant with Catherine O’Neil, grandmother of John Sweeney, and so the family was unable to travel on to the USA. William and Catherine set out to walk to Cardiff. They were not allowed to enter the town and were settled at Penmark in the Vale, as it was feared they carried fever (Cholera–Typhus), then common in devastated Ireland.
The family moved to 10 Milton Street (City Road Irish Ghetto) Cardiff about 10 years later and Billy O’Neil was born there.
The above information was supplied by his son, William (‘Billy’) O’Neil of Richmond Road, Cardiff to John Sweeney, Chairman, Wales Famine Forum, who is a son of Billy O’Neil’s cousin, Margaret Sweeney (née O’Brien). William O’Neil, who was over 90 years old at the time, died in early 2005..
Published in The Green Dragon No 10, Spring 2002
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