Gilford loses a boxing legend who enriched the whole community

Albert U'prichard picture during his war service.
Albert U'prichard picture during his war service.

DERBY winning jockey Ray Cochrane helped carry his coffin through a crowded and appreciative Gilford. Barry McGuigan wrote the foreward to a recent and excellent book on his life (penned by local woman Anne Murphy). He recently received his Second World War Service Medal (70 years late) due to the efforts of great friends Matt McClatchey and Dale McNeill.

These compassionate, caring actions summed up the attitude of the community to the life and times of the revered ‘Master’ Albert U’prichard, a legend in Gilford and surrounding area, who died recently in Craigavon Area Hospital at the age of 93.

Anne Murphy, who wrote the book on the man so many admired, has helped the Portadown Times with the obituary, starts off by thanking the hospital staff for their expert care, and recording that Albert is survived by his older sister Mrs Maureen Hill (Stratford Upon Avon) who attended the funeral service and with whom he was very close.

Albert U’prichard had a privileged start to life, being born at Elmfield Castle in Gilford, the son of William and Nancy, and the youngest of four children, three boys and a girl.

It was an era of parlour maid and chauffeur, an idyllic life where Albert went to Mourne Grange Boarding School in Kilkeel, followed by Sed-Bergh Public School in Yorkshire. But that rather elite education did not create an elitist attitude. Throughout his life, Albert rubbed shoulders with lords and ladies, with young hopeful boxers from the estates of Portadown, Lurgan, Banbridge and their hinterland. And he treated everyone with the same respect. Respect that was returned in full measure.

In a crowded but useful life, boxing was his greatest love. Anne Murphy, his boxing club secretary at nearby Laurencetown, takes up the story - ‘Albert has been at the very core of boxing in the community for more than 60 years and he created the Laurencetown HML Club which produced countless champions.

‘Always at the working face of the club, Albert coached, refereed and managed and was up until his death, president of Banbridge ABC. At one stage in the 1970s, he had over 90 members in the club – boys travelled from Portadown, Lurgan and Banbridge. Members from all denominations boxed out of Laurencetown and it was this cross-community ethos which was central to Albert’s thinking.

‘He inspired generations of young people to achieve their dreams, reach golden heights and be better citizens. He did this through the sport of boxing and dedicated his life to making the sport safer while determining standards that brought better boxing conditions for all concerned.

‘Albert earned his title, ‘The Master’ as an accomplished, knowledgeable and decisive, master of the hounds, an expert horseman who had an uncanny understanding of animals and hounds in particular. His horse-riding activities started at the age of 15 when he won the Armagh point-to-point on ‘Miggs’, the first of several winners on horseback.

‘He also loved to ride with the hounds and was Master of the Iveagh Hounds, along with his great friend Lord Brian Faulkner, once Prime Minister of Northern Ireland who died in a freak accident with County Down hounds in 1977.

‘While Albert enjoyed hunting activities during the day, it was his evening sport which was the great love of his life. At the age of eight he was given a pair of boxing gloves for his birthday and this helped him through his schooldays at Mourne Grange. On returning to Laurencetown, he was invited to help Fr Albert McGovern to start a boxing club. He went on to manage Banbridge professional boxer Bunty Adamson, who topped the Ulster Hall Bill, time and time again with memorable title bouts.

‘But it was the amateur game which really enthused Albert for these past 50 years. He was the driving force behind the Hallsmill Laurencetown Club and created countless champions and an extensive team of officials. Albert had always a personal interest in refereeing and indeed this was the active role that he played for years. He last refereed at the age of 80.

‘Always the competitor, he wanted to set a record and was welcomed into the ring at a show in Clones. He refereed three contests before exiting the ring to loud applause and set a record which I think will be unbeatable. That the kind of person he was - determined, enthusiastic, unstoppable.

‘As President of Ulster IABA, Albert was formative in making crucial changes which are still in place today - head guards, 10-ounce gloves and championship weigh-ins. That’s the kind of impact he had on the sport. Up until his death he was the president of Banbridge Boxing Club and he had recently been at Stormont for a boxing reception.’

On top of all that boxing glory, Albert U’prichard had remained silent on his rather unique service in the Second World War - this was drawn out of him by friends like Matt McClatchey and Dale McNeill, and included in the long and admiring address by the Rev Arthur Young, rector of Tullylish, at his funeral service.

He recalled that Albert joined the Officer Training Corps at Queen’s University in 1939 after which he joined the North Irish Horse ‘B’ Squadron.

He was chosen by Major Prichard to join the Special Forces being formed by Churchill and trained with 11 SAS Battalion in Manchester and in the Highlands of Scotland. There, he completed the training and was ready for war. But his father took ill and he had to return home to run the family business, and this ended his dream.

But there was a follow-up - 70 years later - Matt McClatchey and Dale McNeill arranged for him to have the service medal presented by Colonel Robin Charley and thus the circle was completed.

The Gilford-Laurencetown area and far beyond will miss Master Henry U’prichard. But people can take comfort that their community was infinitely better for the wonderful service he rendered over such a long time.

Burial was at the Quakers Burial Ground at Moyallon.