Alistair travels the world to renew old rugby bonds

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How many of us never really bother going to class reunions?

They’re all a bit of a hassle.

That’s certainly not the case for Dromore man Alistair Shiells, who went around the world and back, just to make sure he was there.

Alistair took the lengthy trip back to his old home of Central Otago, New Zealand at Easter time, all so he didn’t miss the Clyde Earnscleugh Rugby Football Club 125th jubilee.

The 52 year-old had enjoyed a five year adventure on the other side of the globe between 1985 and 1990 and says he couldn’t miss the once a in a lifetime chance to catch up with his old pals.

He explained: “One of the boys called me before Christmas and said that they were having a 125th year anniversary reunion. I hummed and ha-ed about going because it would obviously be a long trip to get out there.

“But then I thought, you never know what’s around the corner and you’re a long time dead so I gathered a few pounds and went for it. My wife, Niamh, was brilliant about it. She told me to go and do what I had to do.

“I just went on my own because it would have been too expensive for all the family to go out. I spent a couple of days in Kuala Lumpur on the way out, then eight days in New Zealand and another two days in Kuala Lumpur on the way home again.

“I had an absolute ball of a time out there. It was just great to see some old friends again. The boys presented me with a special anniversary rugby shirt as well, which was a nice touch.”

Alistair could certainly be considered a bit of a globe-trotter. Originally from Dungannon, he grew up playing school and club rugby in the town but his journey to his current home in Dromore went around the world for a shortcut.

He first went off to South Africa to work as a plumber and it was there that he decided he wasn’t ready to return to his Northern Ireland home just yet.

He said: “I had worked in South Africa in Johannesburg from 1983 and I met a couple of guys from Clyde. They happened to be going home at the end of 1985 and I decided to go out with them.

“I was originally planning to stay out there for six months but I enjoyed it so much I stayed on and managed to get a New Zealand passport.

“I had no ties then and played a lot of sport out there. We played golf and lived not too far away from the ski fields as well so during winter we would play rugby on the Saturday and then going skiing on Sunday.”

After leaving New Zealand in 1990, Alistair made his next stop in London where he and his wife Niamh, from Wales, decided to move to Northern Ireland and ended up in Dromore.

Despite all his travelling, Alistair says his trip this Easter-time did awaken some butterflies in his stomach.

He said: “I was a bit apprehensive about going out and worried that everything would have changed and the people would have changed but they hadn’t. I walked into the put in Clyde and the same people were sitting there as all those years ago. That made the whole thing very easy.

“We all played some golf and the boys took me up to Queenstown.

“It’s a beautiful part of the world, especially around Central Otago. There are a lot of orchards there and at this time of year, there are some great colours with the blooms.”

Alistair become so attached to his New Zealand home that he even named his son after the town - Oscar Clyde Shiells.

Perhaps it won’t be his last visit. If his wanderlust flares up again, who knows?