Although domiciled in Barbados since 1996, Clarence Hiles has remained in close contact with North Down Cricket Club and Irish cricket in general.
His boyhood dreams of emulating the great North Down cricketers of the past were largely ‘kept on hold’ for most of his cricketing career, as he played mostly in the junior teams until the late Seventies. He was the mastermind behind the ‘signing’ of Michael Reith from Waringstown in the autumn of 1979, but little did he realise at the time that he would be the bowling partner of Michael when Lawrence Hunter’s illness sadly ruled him out of cricket a few months later.
Clarence bowled off the ‘wrong foot’, wasn’t particularly agile in the field, and, by his own admission, wasn’t noted for scoring too many runs, although he did register a senior ‘fifty’ in 1976 against RUC in the first round of the Challenge Cup. On another notable occasion in 1979, when most of the team had feared the worst, he turned a losing Challenge Cup match around at the Demesne in Saintfield and secured a win. His batting aspirations were eventually sacrificed for bowling and under Reith’s tutelage he played a huge part in the successful North Down 1st XI side of the early Eighties. He had an uncanny knack of dismissing key opposition batsmen, usually the ‘pro’, and this alone guaranteed him a regular place in the side. But he was also a great team player, always encouraging and motivating, and to the forefront in defying the odds when faced with adversity.
For such a late developer his bowling record for the 1st XI was impressive, and he reached sixth place in the NCU bowling averages in 1980 and tenth in 1982.
He was a member of the 1981 Senior Challenge Cup winning team, and after he retired from senior cricket he joined his brothers Frank and John in the 2nd XI team that won the Junior Cup and Junior League title in 1986.
He was a great exponent of the ‘Sixes’ game, and captained North Down teams to victories at the Ballymena ‘Sixes’ and the RUC ‘Sixes’ tournaments in the Seventies. He also introduced the North Down ‘Sixes’ to the club and then brought Harp Lager to the table and for many years the club enjoyed their generous sponsorship. He produced a North Down ‘Sixes’ programme and with his wit and skill captured the nature of the competitors and almost provocatively predicted the results. In 1978, as the ‘Fly on the Wall’ editor, he produced a unique North Down newsletter entitled ‘The Bowler’. It was an informative satirical magazine designed to reach out to members in the off-season and keep them abreast of happenings in and around the club. It covered such items as tours, AGMs, sponsorship, fixtures for the forthcoming season, pavilion extensions, poems, clubhouse gossip, and profiles on players and officials. It was brilliantly and humourously produced and, even after 30 years, some
of the older members still recall its content, some of whom felt its sting on more than one occasion!
In 1985 Clarence produced the much more professional ‘Ulster Cricketer’ magazine that won praise from virtually every cricket enthusiast in the province. It collated statistics on Irish and Ulster cricket, cricket news items, profiles on cricket personalities, guest articles, and features on umpires, plus an abundance of quality photographs. It was almost compulsory reading for local cricketers and sorely missed when Clarence departed to Barbados in 1996. However, after an eight-year lapse it bounced back with Peter Shields as assistant editor in 2004 for a few years before switching to cyber.
Clarence had a passion for sports journalism and was the main editor of the NCU Centenary Brochure in 1986 which outlined the history of the NCU from its inception. He also produced many cup final and match programmes but his greatest work as a cricket journalist was writing the “History of Senior Cricket in Ulster”, a labour of love that took him over 14 years to complete. The work is an encyclopaedia of Ulster cricket, an excellent read, and as a source of local cricket reference is unsurpassable.
Clarence served the club in many roles and was particularly active in fund-raising. He was a born organiser and the driving force behind the club’s tour to Barbados in 1984. He was invited into the administration of both the Northern Cricket Union and the Irish Cricket Union in the late Seventies and rose to chairman of the NCU in 1990/1 and, for almost a decade, served collectively as assistant secretary, joint treasurer, NCU delegate and PRO in the Irish Cricket Union. He was chairman of the Ulster Town selectors and in 1995 when he announced his intention to relocate to the Caribbean, the Northern Cricket Union bestowed on him its highest honour when it awarded him an honorary life membership for his services to cricket.
Clarence worked hard for Ulster sport in general, and was a member of the NI Council of Physical Recreation for six years and appointed by the minister to serve on the Sports Council for Northern Ireland from 1993 to 1996. But he has never forgotten his North Down roots and remains as committed to the club today as he was when playing for the Boys’ XI almost 50 years ago.