Ahern (Aherne), Thomas (‘Bud’) (1919–99), soccer player, was born 26 January 1919 in New Road, Thomondgate, Limerick city, son of Patrick Ahern, sawyer, and Kate Ahern (née Gleeson) of New Road, Thomondgate. He initially made his mark as a hurler. As a member of the Irish army during the 1939–45 emergency, he was stationed in Crosshaven, Co. Cork, where, like many other prominent athletes who were posted there, he played hurling, Gaelic football, and soccer for local teams. In 1943 he joined his local soccer club, Limerick, playing in the streamlined wartime league; and in 1945, after his release from the army, he secured a transfer north to Belfast Celtic. He stayed with the club for three years, and won an IFA Cup winner's medal in 1947 and an Irish League winner's medal in 1947–8. He played in the fateful game against Linfield on 28 December 1948 – a match that saw serious rioting and precipitated Celtic's withdrawal from the Irish League. Aherne himself was treated for injuries after the game. Shortly after, he secured a transfer to English second-division club Luton Town for a fee in excess of £6,000, making his debut at left full-back in an away match against Tottenham Hotspur on 19 March 1949. Luton allowed him to travel with Belfast Celtic on their farewell summer tour of the USA, and he played in Celtic's most famous triumph, a 2–0 victory over the Scottish national side on 29 May 1949 in the Triboro Stadium, New York – this was substantially the same Scottish side that had just won that year's British Home Nations championship. Together with his full-back partner Billy McMillan and goalkeeper Kevin McAlinden he gave what the New York Times called ‘one of the most outstanding defensive performances here in years’ (Tuohy, 71). In his nine seasons with Luton as a player he went on to make 267 league appearances, helping the club to gain promotion to the top flight of English football for the first time in its history in 1955. His last appearance for the club was in a 4–0 reverse away to West Bromwich Albion on 23 February 1957. He remained at the club on the coaching staff until 1961, when he left to become coach to local non-league side Vauxhall Motors before leaving the game.
He won 20 international caps in total, being one of the last players to have played for both the Republic and Northern Ireland, and was a member of the last ‘all-Ireland’ team to take the field in the Home Championship match between Ireland and Wales on 8 March 1950. After that date, the IFA was no longer allowed to select players from the Republic of Ireland to play on its ‘Ireland’ team in the British Home Championship. A regular on the Irish League representative side during his time with Belfast Celtic, he won four international caps for Northern Ireland, making his debut against England in Belfast on 28 September 1946 (2–7) – one of four Belfast Celtic players to be selected – as well as playing against Scotland in 1947 (2–0) and Wales in 1949 (0–2) and 1950 (0–0). He also played in two ‘victory’ (unofficial) internationals for Northern Ireland in 1946. Four months before his first cap for Northern Ireland he made his international debut as one of ten newcomers in the Republic of Ireland side that lost to Portugal (1–3) in Lisbon on 16 June 1946. A week later his second international resulted in a sensational 1–0 away victory against Spain. He then missed his country's next ten internationals, returning for a World Cup qualifying victory over Finland (3–0) as a Luton player on 8 September 1949. The highlight of his international career was probably the Republic of Ireland's 2–0 victory over England at Goodison Park, Liverpool, two weeks later, as the Republic became the first non-British team to defeat England on their home soil. Aherne made a vital early interception in that game to deny England a goal. Another memorable international performance in which he was involved was Ireland's 3–2 victory (17 October 1951) over a West German team that went on to win the World Cup three years later. His sixteenth and final appearance for the Republic came in a 3–5 home defeat to France in a World Cup qualifying match (November 1953). All but one of his international appearances were in the left-back position. He is one of only six players to date to have been selected for the Republic of Ireland while playing their club football in Northern Ireland.
A tough tackling and tenacious defender, he was also extremely quick and an intelligent and tactically astute user of the ball. He played a vital role in helping Luton to gain first-division status in the 1950s, and their decline coincided with his retirement from the game. As easygoing off the field as he was competitive on it, he remained a very popular figure in Luton and after his professional career was over he settled there, working in the Vauxhall motor plant. His wife, Eileen (née Duffy), was a native of Belfast. He died 30 December 1999 in Luton after a long illness.