Noel Purcell (water polo and rugby union)

Noel Mary Joseph Purcell (14 November 1891 – 31 January 1962) was a water polo player who represented both Great Britain and Ireland at the 1920 and 1924 Summer Olympics respectively. He was also an Ireland rugby union international and rugby union referee. He was the first Olympic athlete to represent two different nations. He is also the only Ireland rugby union international to ever win an Olympic Gold medal. In 2012 his collection of medals and international caps were donated to Belvedere College by his daughter Rosemary and son Noel.

Noel Purcell
Birth nameNoel Mary Joseph Purcell
Date of birth(1891-11-14)14 November 1891
Place of birthDublin, Ireland
Date of death31 January 1962(1962-01-31) (aged 70)
Place of deathDún Laoghaire, Ireland
SchoolBelvedere College
Clongowes Wood College
UniversityTrinity College, Dublin
Rugby union career
Position(s) No. 8/No. 9
Senior career
Years Team Apps (Points)
Dublin University
Provincial / State sides
Years Team Apps (Points)
19xx–19xx Leinster 8 ()
National team(s)
Years Team Apps (Points)
1921 Ireland 4
Refereeing career
Years Competition Apps
1927 Five Nations

Early lifeEdit

Purcell was born in Dublin. He was the son of Daniel Purcell, a solicitor who was originally from Limerick, and Mary Clara Hoey who was from Dublin. He had two older siblings, a brother and a sister. In 1911 the Purcell family were living in Leeson Street.[1] Purcell was educated at Belvedere College, Clongowes Wood College [2] and Trinity College, Dublin.[3] During the First World War, he served as a second lieutenant and then as a captain with the Leinster Regiment. He was injured while serving on the Western Front.[4][5]

Water polo playerEdit

Noel Purcell
Playing information
Years Team Pld T G FG P
191x–192x Dublin University S.C.
192x–192x Dublin S.C.
Total 0 0 0 0 0
Years Team Pld T G FG P
191x–192x Leinster
1910–1932 Ireland
1920 Great Britain

Clubs and provinceEdit

Purcell was a member of both Dublin University Swimming Club and the Dublin Swimming Club. As a swimmer he won four Irish Amateur Swimming Association championship titles between 1911 and 1920. In 1911 and 1912 he won the titles over 880 yards, in 1919 he won the 220 yards gold medal and in 1920 he was champion over 440 yards. In 1913 and 1921, as a water polo player, he won two Leinster Senior Cups with Dublin University. He also helped Dublin University win an All Ireland title in 1920. In a 1921 Leinster Senior League game against Pembroke, Purcell scored all four goals for Dublin University in a 4–2 win. Purcell also represented Leinster at provincial level.[3][6]

Great BritainEdit

Olympic medal record
Men's Water Polo
  1920 Antwerp Team competition

At the 1920 Summer Olympics, Purcell was a member of the Great Britain team that won the gold medal. It was originally intended that Great Britain would be represented by the England national team. However, in a final trial game, England were beaten 6–0 by a Rest of Great Britain team featuring Purcell. This subsequently saw Purcell included in the Olympic squad. Although representing Great Britain, pictures from the Olympics, show Purcell wearing a swimming costume with a shamrock and the word "Ireland" on it. In the Olympic final, Great Britain beat Belgium 3–2 to win the gold medal. Other members of the team included Charles Sydney Smith, Paul Radmilovic, Charles Bugbee, Christopher Jones, William Peacock and William Henry Dean.[3][4][7]


Purcell played for Ireland from 1910 to 1932.[6] At the 1924 Summer Olympics he captained the Ireland team. Having previously represented Great Britain in 1920, Purcell now became the first Olympic athlete to represent two different nations.[citation needed] In the quarter final against Czechoslovakia, Purcell scored twice as Ireland lost 4–2. Purcell was also selected to represent Ireland at the 1928 Summer Olympics. However he declined because of his business commitments as a solicitor. He also wanted to give younger players the opportunity to play at an Olympics.[3][4][8][9] Purcell also represented Ireland at the Tailteann Games.[2]

Rugby union careerEdit

Clubs and provinceEdit

Purcell played club rugby union for both Dublin University and Lansdowne. He was club captain at Lansdowne for the 1919–20 and 1920–21 seasons. He also represented Leinster at provincial level and toured with the Barbarians.[3][7][8][10][11]


In the 1921 Five Nations Championship, Purcell played in all four games for Ireland. He made his debut against England on 12 February at Twickenham. He then played against Scotland on 26 February and Wales on 12 March. He made his final appearance for Ireland against France on 9 April at the Stade Colombes.[3][4][11][12]

Referee and SelecterEdit

Purcell refereed the 1927 Five Nations Championship match between England and Scotland. As a referee, he was not as fast around the field as he had been as a player. A match report in The Times noted "NM Purcell from Ireland refereed casually and from a great distance." Between 1939 and 1941 Purcell also served as selecter for Ireland.[4][8]


  1. ^ "Census of Ireland, 1911". Retrieved 17 January 2018.
  2. ^ a b "Around the Province". Irish Jesuit News. 2 May 2012. Retrieved 17 January 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Trinity Olympians Noel Purcell" (PDF). Retrieved 17 January 2018.
  4. ^ a b c d e "GB Olympic Champions 1896-2014 - Water Polo". 15 January 2005. Retrieved 16 January 2018.
  5. ^ "Medal card of Purcell, Noel M Corps: Leinster Regiment". Retrieved 17 January 2018.
  6. ^ a b "Dublin Swimming Club, A Proud History". Retrieved 25 November 2015.
  7. ^ a b David Needham: Ireland’s First Real World Cup -The Story of the 1924 Ireland Olympic Football Team (2012, The Manuscript Publisher) ISBN 978-0-9571157-2-9
  8. ^ a b c "Purcell's double Olympic honour". Retrieved 16 January 2018.
  9. ^ Games of the VIII Olympiad: Official Report p.489
  10. ^ "Lansdowne FC Hall Of Fame Noel Purcell". Retrieved 16 January 2018.
  11. ^ a b "Observing the real all-round sport stars". 15 January 2005. Retrieved 16 January 2018.
  12. ^ "Noel Purcell Ireland". Retrieved 19 January 2018.

See alsoEdit

  • Cotton, Fran (Ed.) (1984) The Book of Rugby Disasters & Bizarre Records (Compiled by Chris Rhys. London. Century Publishing. ISBN 0-7126-0911-3 )