Beamish, Sir George Robert (1905–67), rugby international and air marshal, was born 29 April 1905 in Dunmanway, Co. Cork, son of Frank George Beamish of Carthall, Coleraine, Co. Londonderry, inspector of schools for Ireland, and Mary Elizabeth (‘May’) Beamish (née Graham), teacher, originally from London. Educated at Dunmanway national school, Coleraine Academical Institute, and RAF College Cranwell, he was commissioned in 1924; on passing out he received the sword of honour as the best all-round cadet. For the next three years he served as a pilot with No. 100 Squadron and later took an instructor's course at the Central Flying School.
He played rugby for the RAF, Leicester, and Midland Counties, and appeared twenty-five times for Ireland (1925–33), which made him Ireland's most capped no. 8 for almost fifty years. Over 6 ft (1.83 m) tall and weighing over 16 stone (101.6 kg), he was a dynamic ball carrier and powerful tackler and was nicknamed ‘the Irish Hercules’ by the press. Out of the game from injury (1926–8), he returned to play a leading part in Ireland's first win over England at Twickenham (13 February 1929). He captained Ireland when they shared the international championship in 1931, and was captain again in 1932. He toured with the Lions in Australia and New Zealand in 1930, playing twenty-one games in all (more than any other player on the tour), including all five tests. In 1931 he captained the East Midlands team that inflicted the only tour defeat on the visiting Springboks. In his day he was regarded as one of the best forwards in the game, and was much admired in New Zealand as one of the best foreign forwards ever to play there. He was also RAF golf champion (1925) and heavyweight boxing champion (1929).
In 1941 he took charge of RAF forces in Crete and escaped only on the last night of the allied evacuation. Later that year he was given command of a light bomber wing of the Desert Air Force. In 1942 he was appointed senior air staff officer of No. 1 Tactical Air Force and played an important role in directing air operations in North Africa and Sicily, gaining a reputation as an unflappable, rock-like figure. Aged 37 he became the first RAF-trained officer to be promoted to air commodore. At the end of 1943 he was appointed AOC of No. 44 Group and six months later of No. 45 (Transport) Group. He became air ADC to George VI (1944) and president of the RAF selection board after the war. In August 1947 he was appointed director of weapons at the air ministry and in 1949 commandant of the RAF College Cranwell. He was AOC Iraq (1950–52), director general of personnel at the air ministry (1952–4), AOC Transport Command (1954–5), and AOC-in-C Technical Training Command (1955–8). He was made CBE (1942), KCB (1955), and promoted air marshal (1956).
After his retirement in January 1958 he lived in Castlerock, Co. Londonderry. He was captain of Royal Portrush Golf Club and served as high sheriff of Co. Londonderry (1962). He died 13 November 1967 in Castlerock; he never married.
All his siblings served in the RAF: Victor (qv) and Charles (1908–84) were both highly decorated RAF fighter pilots who reached the rank of group captain; Cecil (1915–99) became an air vice-marshal and director of the RAF's dental services (1969–73); and his two sisters, Eileen and Kathleen, served as dentists in the WAAF. The Beamish brothers all played rugby for Ulster: Charles was capped twelve times for Ireland as a prop forward and hooker (1933–8) and was the first Irish player to score a try against the All Blacks (1935); Victor was an Irish reserve; and Cecil played for the RAF, Leicester, and the Barbarians.