Maclear, Basil (1881–1915), rugby international, was born 7 April 1881 in Portsmouth, Hampshire, England, fifth son of Henry Wallich (‘Harry’) Maclear, major in the British army, who had been born in Cape Town, South Africa, with family connections in Bedford, England, and Mary Maclear (née Casey) of Liverpool. His paternal grandfather was Sir Thomas Maclear (qv), astronomer royal at the observatory in Cape Town, and a native of Newtownstewart, Co. Tyrone. His mother's father, William Comerford Casey, was a native of Dublin. Maclear was educated at Bedford school and at the RMC (Royal Military College), Sandhurst. It was at Bedford that he began to play rugby, and a perceptive sports master recognised his true talent by moving him from the forwards into the back division. His rugby career was inextricably linked with his army career, both in the sense of curtailing his opportunity to play the game and also providing him with the opportunity to play international rugby for Ireland. He graduated from Sandhurst in 1900, gaining the sword of honour, and won the Bedfordshire 100 yards sprint title the same year.
He joined the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in August 1900 and was promoted to lieutenant in 1904. Quartered at this time in Fermoy, Co. Cork, he played rugby for the Cork county club. It was this residency qualification that entitled him to be selected for Ireland. In 1905 one of the English selection committee, Sir Rowland Hill, who saw him play as a guest for Bedford in a game in which he converted twelve out of thirteen tries (two of which he had scored himself), famously rejected him as ‘not good enough’. It was a decision that would come back to haunt the English selectors in the years to come. Ireland subsequently selected him for their team to meet England in Cork that year and Maclear, playing in the three-quarter line, had a superb debut, scoring a try and making two others as Ireland crushed England 17–3. He made a habit of playing well against his native country, being selected as a ‘rover’ (a sort of third half-back who pushed in the scrum) the following year against England as Ireland won 16–6. Indeed, he finished on the winning side in all three of his appearances against England, as Ireland won 17–14 in 1907. Although his international career was short, spanning just three seasons (1905–7), seldom has a player made such an impact in such a relatively short space of time. In eleven internationals he finished on the winning side five times: three times against England, and once each against Scotland and Wales, scoring four tries in the process. In 1905 he had the distinction of playing against the touring New Zealand side four times: for Ireland, for Munster, and as a guest player for Bedford and Blackheath. He was used both as a three-quarter and as a wing for Ireland, and in 1906 he scored one of the great individual tries for Ireland against a visiting South African side. Ireland were trailing badly at the time but he ran 80 metres, beating four different men, to score a try that almost inspired what would have been a famous victory. His final game for Ireland was a humiliating 29–0 defeat to Wales in Cardiff in 1907.
Despite his relatively short career, he was regarded by many contemporaries as Ireland's best ever player. Mossie Landers (qv), who played with Maclear in his debut game in 1905 and later became rugby correspondent for the Cork Examiner, wrote that he was ‘the greatest back Ireland ever had’ (Van Esbeck, 78). E. H. D. Sewell, writing in 1911, described him as ‘the most dangerous scoring three-quarter once fairly on the move that the game has seen during the past decade’ (The book of football, 29). Maclear was a big man for a back; at thirteen stone (82.7 kg) he could run a hundred yards in a little over ten seconds. He was an excellent place kicker and had a powerful hand-off that allowed him to escape the clutches of would-be tacklers. A flamboyant player, he usually took to the field wearing a pair of white kid gloves.
He took part in the Boer war in 1900 and served in the Orange Valley and Transvaal in South Africa up to 1902, seeing further active service in Aden (1903) and was awarded the Queen's Medal with five clasps. He was based in Ireland during his international career and was later appointed to the staff at RMC Sandhurst (1911), where he remained until he was sent to the western front in March 1915. A captain in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers by this time, he was the first Irish rugby international to die in the war, being killed by shrapnel on 24 May 1915, towards the end of the second battle of Ypres, as he led a bombing party to drive the enemy out of a British trench. He was unmarried. Three of his four brothers were also killed in the war: Maj. Percy Maclear, of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, in Cameroon 30 August 1914; Joseph Arthur Maclear in action at Gallipoli 29 June 1915; and his eldest brother, Lt-col. Harry Maclear, at Loos 16 March 1916.