Hamilton, Willoughby James (1864–1943), tennis, badminton, and soccer player, was born 9 December 1864 in Monasterevin, Co. Kildare, seventh child among six sons and three daughters of the Rev. Canon William Alfred Hamilton, rector of Taney, and canon of Christ Church, Dublin, and Henrietta Katherine Hamilton (née Cole) of Annestown, Co. Waterford. Hamilton was educated in England at Haileybury and Oxford University. A multi-talented sportsman, he is credited with introducing association football to Dublin when he formed the city's first soccer club, Dublin AFC, with his brother William Drummond (‘Drum’) Hamilton (1859–1914) in 1883–4. In 1885 both brothers were capped for Ireland in an 8–2 defeat against Wales in Belfast. It was in tennis, however, that he made his name. He won the Irish men's doubles title three years in succession (1886–8). His victory in the 1889 Irish singles championship (he also won the mixed doubles title that year) was the first time an Irishman had won the title since it had attained international significance. In doing so he achieved the distinction of beating both of the Renshaw brothers, Willie and Ernest, who dominated tennis in this period. In 1890 Hamilton became the first Irishman to win the Wimbledon singles title, beating Willie Renshaw by three sets to two and depriving him of an eighth Wimbledon singles win. This was the first of seven Wimbledon singles titles for Irishmen in the 1890s.
An illness prevented Hamilton from defending his title in 1891 and ultimately forced him to give up tennis and turn to badminton. He went on to play badminton at international level, and won the first Irish Open mixed doubles title in 1902. Although his frail appearance and pale features earned him the nickname ‘Ghost’, at his peak he cut a dashing figure on the tennis court with his good looks and exuberant playing style, distinguished by a running forehand drive taken at full speed which became known as the ‘Irish drive’. He married (31 May 1894) Sophia Jane Thompson of Dundrum, Co. Dublin; they had no children. A stockbroker by profession, he was for many years a familiar face on the floor of the Dublin Stock Exchange. He died 27 September 1943 in Dublin at the age of 78.
The Hamilton family have a right to be considered one of Ireland's most remarkable sporting dynasties. As well as gaining an international soccer cap, Willoughby's brother William Drummond Hamilton played cricket fourteen times for Ireland (1883–96), with a highly respectable batting average of 28.05 runs per innings. He also played cricket for Oxford. Another brother, Blayney Balfour (‘Bud’) Hamilton (1872–1942), played for Ireland in four different sports. As well as winning one cap for Ireland in hockey and nineteen in cricket, he was an international tennis player and Ireland's first badminton champion and international, winning the first of seven Irish Open titles in 1902.
Three of Blayney's children went on to have distinguished sporting careers: Willoughby (‘Rat’) Hamilton (b. 1907) won over twenty Irish and international badminton titles; while Arthur Hamilton (b. 1905) played badminton and tennis at international level, and won the first Irish squash title in 1932. Between them, Willoughby and Arthur won thirty-seven caps for Ireland in badminton. Their sister, Mavis MacNaughton (1911–58), won twenty caps for Ireland at badminton (1930–39), winning the Irish singles title five times in succession (1932–6). The entire family between them won over forty Irish titles and almost twenty Welsh and Scottish Open badminton titles between 1902 and 1939.