From Dalymount to New York

Co-written with Michael Kielty

Certain things are hard to ignore, just as a ringing phone demands to be answered, the revelation that Bohemian FC had a sister club playing in New York in the 1920’s was something that I couldn’t put to one side after reading about it. I discovered an article entitled “New York Bohemian FC, USA” in a copy of the “Football Sports Weekly” newspaper from 1927 when carrying out some other research and being honest, it raised more questions than answers; Who were these men? How did they end up in America? What happened to the club? Were they even any good?

The original article mentioned some basics. Where the team played; the New York Oval with a stated capacity of 60,000, it mentioned that through fundraising the team had raised $1,000 and also listed the various players who had joined the club and in some cases short notes about their earlier playing careers. Most were ex-Bohs men but clubs like Seaview, Bedigo and Glentoran also featured. But first, it is probably worth providing a little historical background.

Irish immigration to the United States in the 1920’s was no new phenomenon. It is estimated that as many as 4.5 million Irish arrived in America between 1820 and 1930. Between 1820 and 1860 alone, the Irish constituted over one third of all immigrants to the United States. While emigration slowed down in the 1920’s there were still significant numbers travelling across the Atlantic, leaving an Ireland that was economically depressed and still in the early stages of rebuilding after the War of Independence and the division of the Civil War.

The Bohemian players did not travel as professional players to the States, although plenty of footballers from Ireland would do this, rather they were clerks, actors, labourers and tradesmen in search of a better life who happened to be talented amateur footballers who sought to recreate their beloved Dublin club in New York City. The correspondence back to Dublin makes this clear. Letters were sent to Bohs’ trainer Charlie Harris and were later published in the Evening Herald. These letters came from Billy Cahill and Godfrey O’Rourke, ex players for Bohemians in Dublin but if their names don’t seem familiar it shouldn’t be taken as much of a surprise. Cahill and O’Rourke were mostly players for Bohemian’s “B” side, plying their trade in the Leinster Senior League, still that didn’t stop Cahill from perhaps exaggerating his prowess, with one report in America noting that he was top scorer in Ireland 3 years in a row!

Their letters do give some insight into their motives and ambitions. They mention that the new club had approximately 80 members and wore the traditional red and black of Bohemians. They had grand plans to rename the Oval where they played as “Dalymount Park”, and arrange a visit to play in Dublin which never materialised. O’Rourke did mention that one crucial ingredient was missing from their Bohemian vista, that was the absence of “The Hut”, then, as now, a favoured watering hole of the Bohemian faithful. As this was the United States in the 1920’s the prohibition laws made getting post-match refreshments that bit more difficult.

There were some more senior Bohemians as part of this ex-pat group, such as goalkeeper Freddie Mason who had played first team football for Bohemians and had even featured against a touring South African national team in Dalymount, half back Ernie Gillespie also had first team experience for Bohemians and among the forwards was Joe Stynes who had scored 11 goals for the Dublin Bohemians in the 1925-26 season.

Joe Stynes pic

Joe Stynes in his Bohs days

Stynes had come to soccer later in life, born in Newbridge, Co. Kildare he became well-known as a Gaelic Footballer, winning the 1923 All-Ireland final with Dublin. He was also an active participant in the War of Independence and the Civil War. After being captured by the Free State Army he was imprisoned in the Curragh Camp which is where he took up the Association game in the cramped confines of “Tintown” as the camp was known. While there he played with a teenage Jimmy Dunne who would later win a league title with Arsenal, become Ireland’s record goalscorer and also manage Bohemians. Such was his fondness for his new sport that Stynes defied bans from the GAA to line out for Shelbourne and then later with Bohemians. He moved to the United States in 1926 and worked for Cartier Jewellers but also appeared for the New York Bohemians and other soccer teams such as “Dublin United”.

The fortunes of the New York Bohemians were mixed, they played in the highly competitive New York amateur leagues and there was plenty of interest from the media about the club. For a practice session ahead of a game against top local side Galicia F.C. over 1,000 fans turned up to see the two Bohemian practice XI’s put through their paces. However, if one were to summarise their success of the NY Bohs on the pitch one could best describe them as solidly mid-table. While they possessed in their ranks some stars who would even play professionally in the States there were many players of a lower standard.

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Incidentally, Galicia played Bohemians as a warm up for a match against a prominent touring side from Europe; Real Madrid! The New York Bohemians continued on until at least 1929 in the New York leagues and several of their players, such as Stynes had longer careers for other clubs in and around the Eastern coast of the United States.

Indeed Dinny Doyle, the former Shamrock Rovers player recalled bumping into actor, musician and former Bohs man Bob O’Brien in the following circumstances “When only a short time in America, Dinny was playing a game in Boston when he was amazed to hear as he himself put it ‘come on Bohs’ and at half-time out trotted Bob O‘Brien, the old Bohemian player.”

While relatively short-lived and only moderately successful the New York Bohemians experiment demonstrates that the draw of home and of club is such a strong influence that over 90 years ago, men who travelled 3,000 miles from home tried to rebuild Dalymount in the borough of Queens.


A version of this article featured in the Bohemian F.C. match programme for the game against Finn Harps on 15th February 2019.


A legal alien? – “Foreign” Footballers in early 20th Century Britain

“The Ministry of Labour states that professional foreign footballers are not to be allowed to play for English teams. This ruling has been promulgated in the view of the unemployment throughout the country.” – these were the words of a 1930 English newspaper report. A modern reader might be surprised to learn that not only did the Football Association not have a problem with this ruling by Labour Minister, Margaret Bondfield (Britain’s first ever female cabinet minister); they positively endorsed it. The Council of the F.A. stated they were “not in favour of granting permission to alien players to be brought into this country” and a year later in 1931, the International Football Association Board (IFAB), the effective rule-makers of the game, went even further and wrote this point into law.

This august body made up of representatives of the four “Home Nation” associations as well as FIFA stated that “a professional player who is not a British born subject is not eligible to take part in any competition under the jurisdiction of the Association unless he possesses two years residential qualification within the jurisdiction of this Association”.

This approach was not unique to football. The UK had introduced immigration legislation as early as 1905, in what was known as the ‘Aliens Act’. This act was in part a response to immigration from the Russian Empire into the UK, specifically into areas around London’s East End. Much of this immigration was from Jewish communities fleeing the upheaval in Tsarist Russian that followed the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881. This political assassination triggered waves of anti-Semitic pogroms and saw a large number of Jewish people flee their homelands, escaping potential violence but also searching for new opportunities and a better standard of living. By 1901 the British census recorded 95,425 Russian and Polish Jews as being settled in Britain. Further pogroms followed in Russia in the early years of the 20th Century which in turn prompted further westward migration.

In response to this new pattern of migration, the Alien Act of 1905 was instituted after pressure from the likes of the British Brothers League (BBL), an anti-immigration group with links to some prominent Conservative MPs. They campaigned for restrictions on immigration with the slogan ‘England for the English’.  The BBL had launched itself with a 1,000-strong rally in London’s East End in May 1901 and by 1902, even the future Archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Gordon Lang,  then still a Bishop in Stepney, London, accused immigrants of “swamping whole areas once populated by English people”.

Anti-Semitism was very visible, especially in parts of the East End, as the Russian and Polish Jews became a prominent immigrant community, but there were also many Germans, Romanians, Austrians, Dutch and Chinese immigrants arriving during the latter years of the 19th Century and the early decades of the 20th Century.


Plaque at the Alexandra Palace

By 1930 when the FA and the department of Labour were effectively banning the transfer of foreign players, the Alien Act of 1905 had been superceded by the Aliens Restriction Act 1914 and the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act 1919. The 1914 Act was brought in after the outbreak of World War I and obliged “foreign nationals to register with the police, enabled their deportation, and restricted where they could live“. This act was used to deal with those members of British Society deemed “enemy aliens” and in a somewhat grotesque twist of fate some 17,000 German, Austrian and other civilians were imprisoned during the course of the war in the grounds of the Alexandra Palace, the so-called “People’s Palace” managed under a Public Trust for the free use and recreation of the London public.

The 1919 Act extended these wartime conditions into peacetime and further restricted employment rights of foreign residents in Britain, barring them from certain jobs while targeting those viewed as criminals, the destitute and so-called ‘undesirables’. Under this legislation, British women lost their British citizenship upon marriage to a foreign citizen, even if the woman in question did not acquire her husband’s nationality. For children born outside Britain or its dominions, citizenship relied on descent through the legitimate male line only, and was limited to one generation. This provides some context to the actions of the FA and the IFAB. Rather than being seen as aberration from the norm, their position should be viewed as part of the wider establishment viewpoint.


A British Brothers’ League poster

The player who sparked these restrictive actions was Rudolf “Rudi” Hiden, the Austrian international goalkeeper. Hiden had starred for the Austrian national team in a 0-0 draw with England in May 1930, which likely piqued the interest of Arsenal manager Herbert Chapman. The reports of the game, played in front of some 55,000 spectators in Vienna, heaped praise on Hiden for his agility, reactions, his exceptional talent for long throw-outs, and even his good looks. The same papers did however, note that Hiden tended to use his feet too much and was unused to the British habit of barging the goalkeeper, which was considered a foul on the Continent, but not in Britain. He was also praised for his very British style of sportsmanship; upon leaving his goal to help an injured England player to the touchline for treatment.

However, despite Chapman’s interest and a fee of £2,500 being agreed with Hiden’s club Weiner AC, the transfer never went through. On three separate occasions, Hiden was turned back by immigration officials at the port of Dover after they consulted their counterparts in the Department of Labour, who determined that Hiden had no right to work to Britain. Hiden had been a baker by trade in his native Vienna, and apparently Arsenal had gone so far as to arrange a job for him as a chef in London while also being paid on the books at Arsenal. This, however, cut no ice with the immigration officials, and his move to Arsenal never materialised.

Hiden did however get his move abroad, winning a league and cup with French side Racing Club de Paris in the 30’s. He was also part of the Austrian side that trounced Scotland 5-0 in Vienna less than a year after the Arsenal debacle.

The goalkeeping options available to Arsenal in 1930 present an instructive window into the views towards “foreign players” at the time. The 1930-31 season saw Arsenal frustrated in their attempts to sign Hiden, but they were successful in signing Dutchman Gerrit Keizer from Margate. Keizer had kept goal as an amateur with Ajax before moving to London where he worked as a greengrocer while playing on the weekends for Margate, where he was spotted by Arsenal’s scouts. Keizer was initially signed as a professional but after the issues with Hiden, the Ministry of Labour forced Keizer to continue as an amateur, first at Arsenal and later at Charlton Athletic and Queens Park Rangers.


Gerrit Keizer in 1946 (source  Nationaal Archief Fotocollectie Anefo )


Arsenal featured two other keepers around this time, one being Charlie Preedy, born in Neemuch, India in 1900 as the son of a British Army Artillery officer. Preedy spent the first seven years of his life in India before his family returned to England. Their final keeper was Bill Harper, a Scottish international who re-joined Arsenal in 1930, having spent the previous three years playing professionally in the United States.

The double standards were clear, Hiden was not allowed into the country and the fear was expressed that this would set a precedent for foreign players coming to Britain to take the jobs of British workers in the direct aftermath of the Wall Street crash and the Great Depression. Keizer was forced to play as an amateur and earn his living as a greengrocer. However those British players who chose to play abroad professionally as other professional leagues began to emerge (in the USA, in France and elsewhere) were free to travel and return home when it suited them.

The same went for coaches. Hiden’s international coach with Austria was Jimmy Hogan. During a hugely influential and peripatetic career, Hogan had coached club and national sides throughout Europe, from the Netherlands and Germany to Hungary and France.  This Lancashire-born son of Irish immigrants perhaps did more to spread the gospel of football around the continent of Europe than any other Englishman.

Hogan was not alone in this work as a footballing missionary, other English coaches were hugely influential in developing organised football throughout Europe and beyond, bringing through new generations of local coaches and players. Men like Fred Pentland in Spain, Ted Duckworth in Switzerland, Vic Buckingham in Spain, Greece and the Netherlands or William Garbutt in Italy. Britain helped give football to the world but some didn’t want the footballers of the world to come to the home of the game. The place that they had heard so much about from their illustrious teachers and viewed with such reverence.

Rudi Hiden of course was not the first foreign born footballer to try to play in Britain. There were a number of players born outside Britain who had managed to make appearances in League football. In the 1890’s there was Walter Bowman from Waterloo, Canada, who twice toured Britain as part of a North American selection and was signed by Accrington (then of the first division) in 1892 before later signing for Ardwick F.C., subsequently renamed Manchester City, where he played alongside the likes of Billy Meredith.

As an infant Max Seeburg was one of those thousands who made that journey west across Europe to London in the 1880’s. Born in Leipzig, Germany he made a solitary appearance for Tottenham Hotspur in 1908 before enjoying short spells with Burnley and Grimsby Town.

The early recruitment of foreign players was haphazard, and one couldn’t identify anything approaching modern scouting or indeed any sort of systematic approach to recruitment. A player like Bowman was selected because he’d impressed on a tour to Britain. It was a similar story that led to Liverpool signing three players from a touring South African side in 1924. One of those players, Gordon Hodgson, would score 233 league goals for Liverpool (including a still-standing club record 17 hat-tricks) during his 11 years at Anfield, before being signed by Aston Villa at the age of 32 for £3,000. Hodgson was a boiler-maker from the Transvaal who was the son of English immigrants and, despite arriving in the UK as a player for a South African national team, he would end up lining-out three times for his new homeland.

As with Rudi Hiden, players were also recruited after performing well in international matches or tournaments. Nils Middleboe impressed for Denmark against England in both the 1908 and 1912 Olympics, and became the first foreign international to ever play for Chelsea. He worked in a London bank for the entireity of his career at Chelsea.

By the time of the 1930 ruling, there had even been a couple of Egyptian players appearing in the Football League. Hassan Hegazi had played against British soldiers as a teenager in Egypt, and moved to London in 1911 to study engineering.  He joined non-league Dulwich Hamlet where he starred as a stylish and gifted forward, he made a single appearance for Fulham (when he scored) but decided his loyalties lay with the Hamlet in non-league football. Tewfik Abdullah had a longer league career in both England and Scotland after appearing for Egypt in the 1920 Olympics. He signed for Derby County and was referred to by one publication on it’s cover as “Derby’s Dusky Dribbler” before spending time north of the border at Cowdenbeath in the Scottish Second Division.

Either because of their status as amateurs, their parentage, or perhaps because their careers were not very high profile the players mentioned above managed to operate in British football prior to the Hiden ban.  The fact that Hiden was a high-profile international, and as an Austrian a wartime enemy just over ten years before, may have impacted on his application. However, his proposed transfer spurred the Home Office into action. Among their other targets were Aberdeen, Rangers and Hearts who were all contacted by the Home Office in 1930 about the presence in their ranks of a number of Canadians and Americans, the clubs were however able to point out in each case, that although the men involved had lived in North America they were born in Scotland and had at no point taken on any other citizenship.

A player who succeeded where Rudi Hiden had failed was Bert Trautmann. Like Hiden he was a goalkeeper and like Hiden he was a former wartime enemy of Britain. In Trautmann’s case literally so. Raised in Bremen, Germany, Trautmann was an exceptional athlete from his earliest days as well as being a fervently devoted member of the Hitler Youth from the age of 10. He was a paratrooper during the Second World War and served on the Eastern Front where he witnessed the mass murder of civilians by one of the infamous Einsatzgruppen death squads. After later being transferred to the Western Front he was captured shortly after the Normandy invasions.

Trautmann eventually ended up in a prison of war camp in Cheshire and was rated as a category “C”  prisoner which identified him as an ideologically committed Nazi rather than simply a soldier drafted into the German war machine against their will or despite their ideological beliefs. Trautmann gradually began a new life in England, slowly rejecting his earlier beliefs and surprisingly befriending an Jewish Army Sergeant, Hermann Bloch for who he acted as a driver, and eventually marrying an English woman named Margaret Friar. During this time he was also keeping goal as an amateur for St. Helen’s F.C., where he was spotted by a Manchester City scout and was signed by the club in 1949. As he’d been resident in Britain for more than two years and had been playing as an amateur this Iron Cross winning, Nazi paratrooper had managed to circumvent the restrictions on foreign players.


Bert Trautmann at Manchester City

Despite a protest from over 20,000 Manchester City supporters, Trautmann quickly won them, and the wider footballing public, over with a string of impressive displays. In 1956 he was named Footballer of the Year, the same year he played a famous role in City’s cup final victory when he continued playing for the final 15 minutes of the game with a broken neck after making a save from Birmingham’s Peter Murphy. In the space of a little over six years Trautmann had gone from a prisoner of war pariah into a hero and icon of the English game.

Despite occasional cases like that of Bert Trautmann, the effective ban on foreign players in England would remain in place until 1978, though Scotland took a more relaxed attitude in the 1960s, which saw a small influx of Scandanavian players immediately thereafter. The English football authorities were found to be in breach of the rule on free movement required by the European Community (EC), which Britain had joined in 1973. This EC ruling came only seven years after the UK had further amended it’s laws with the 1971 Immigration Act which meant that British Commonwealth citizens lost their automatic right to remain in the UK, and they now faced the same restrictions as those from other nations. Commonwealth citizens would in future only be allowed to remain in UK after they had lived and worked there for five years.

1978 became a watershed year for football transfers: Tottenham Hotspur signed Ossie Ardiles and Ricardo Villa, though the recently appointed PFA Chairman Gordon Taylor noted that this meant there “could already be two players out of a job at Tottenham.” Sheffield United brought in their own Argentinian in Alex Sabella, while Manchester City brought in Polish World Cup star Kazimierz Deyna.

This late 70s trickle of foreign players, however, did not turn into a flood. The rhetoric used by the likes of Gordon Taylor and PFA Secretary Cliff Lloyd was still very much language evocative of the 1930s and the Depression, and that every foreign player meant the loss of work for a British player. Lloyd warned that what started as a “trickle could finish in a deluge”, and that every “foreign player of standing in our league represents a denial to a UK player of a place in the first team”.

The FA, while complying with the European Community requirements, put in a number of qualifications: work permits would only be issued to “overseas players of established international reputation who have a distinctive contribution to make to the nation’s game”. It was, however, well into the Premier League era and the concurrent removal of player nationality restrictions in European competition before that large scale movement of international players to Britain would begin.

As Brexit approaches and certain ‘hard Brexiteers’ insist on a revocation of free movement that forms a core tenet of the European Union, there could be an opportunity to return to a type of footballing ‘Alien Act’. However, unlike the situation in the 1930s, it is unlikely that the FA, the leagues, or the clubs would welcome this. They could not so harmoniously support such regulations being imposed by government departments in the way their predecessors had. Despite almost 50 years of forced insularity, the English top-flight is now global in not only its players, but its fanbase, coaches, ownership and sources of revenue, probably more so than any other professional sporting league in the world.

It strikes me that some highly vocal advocates for a hard Brexit and the removal of free movement would feel more at home in 1930, sending a Austrian baker away at the port of Dover or insisting that a Dutch greengrocer living in London couldn’t earn money playing football. But Football has moved on from those times even if others haven’t. Britain helped bring football to the world, and looking at English football today you could say that football, in all its multifarious forms and wonderfully unusual manifestations has finally been allowed to come home.


This article first appeared in the Football Pink. The headline photo is from the mural that commemorates the Battle of Cable Street in London’s East End.





Freebooting around the rock of Gibraltar

Co-written with Michael Kielty

Given that Gibraltar are one of the newest members of UEFA you wouldn’t expect there to be much of a footballing history between the tiny British Overseas Territory and Ireland, but what if I told you there was a prominent footballer from Gibraltar playing in Dublin at the very dawn of organised football? That man was Gonzalo Canilla and he was a fixture on the Dublin sporting scene of the 1890s, lining out for both Bohemian F.C. and Freebooters F.C. as well as excelling on the cricket pitch.

Canilla was born in Gibraltar in 1876, he came from a pious Catholic family, with his uncle and namesake having been made Catholic bishop of Gibraltar in 1881. The younger Gonzalo was sent to England to further his education, where he attended the prestigious Catholic boarding school, Stonyhurst College in Lancashire, and this is where his connection with Irish football first emerges. Among his fellow classmates were many young men from prominent Dublin families, including Oliver St. John Gogarty and the Meldon brothers George and Philip.

Gogarty found his greatest fame as a writer but was also a talented athlete, he was a strong swimmer and was also a Leinster Senior Cup winner with Bohemians as an outside right, while Phillip Meldon, one of the founding members of Freebooters F.C, became an Irish international footballer.  Freebooters, one of Dublin’s earliest clubs, were based in Simmonscourt, near the present-day Aviva Stadium and were also founding members of the Leinster Football Association.

Canilla, played for both clubs after leaving Stonyhurst for further studies in the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin. He even took his preparatory exams in Bell’s Academy on North Great George’s Street. Several students at Bell’s Academy had been among the founders of Bohemians in 1890.  It’s during this time that an 18 year old Canilla first appears for Bohemians as a full back against Athlone in January 1895. By then Canilla was also playing cricket for Phoenix Cricket Club. This was quite common at the time and many of his footballing teammates were also colleagues or opponents on the cricket pitch.  By 1897 there are reports of Canilla lining out for Freebooters and by the end of the following year he had formalised this by switching his registration to them, from Bohemians. The club, with Canilla in their side at full back finished in second place in the Leinster Senior League.

By 1899 however, having successfully completed his final examinations in the RCSI, Dr. Gonzalo Canilla departed Ireland for his native Gibraltar. Newspaper reports described him as someone “long and favourably associated with cricket and football” and that a “large crowd of sportsmen” gathered to see him off from Westland Row station to the strains of Auld Lang Syne.  In total Gonzala Canilla’s Irish sporting career lasted about four years which saw him play at the highest level in Dublin at the time.

Canilla married his wife Antonia in 1904 and they had at least two children. Gonzalo practiced medicine in England until 1916 then becoming the Rio Tinto mining company doctor in Huelva, Spain. He played competitive cricket in Spain and then recreational golf until his retirement, he passed away in 1955.

His grandson David Cluett was also a successful footballer, he won 69 caps as a goalkeeper for Malta, including an appearance in a 2-0 defeat to the Republic of Ireland in 1989 as well as winning numerous honours in the Maltese game, primarily for the Floriana club.

Cricket team 1901

Dr. Canilla is in the front row holding the cricket bat


With special thanks to the Canilla/Cluett family for their assistance. This piece featured in the Ireland v Gibraltar match programme (June 10th 2019) and has also been shared on 


Podcast: Football in Pre-Partition Ireland — Outside Write

We talk to Dublin-based football historian Gerard Farrell about how association football took off in Ireland before partition in 1921 into what are now known as the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Gerard runs the blog A Bohemian Sporting Life, and provides a fascinating insight into how soccer competed for attention against the other […]

via Podcast: Football in Pre-Partition Ireland — Outside Write

The American Bohemians

I’ll be co-hosting a talk on a somewhat niche and under-explored part of my club’s history on Saturday 26th at 1pm in Dalymount Park, Phibsboro. It’s going to focus on the New York Bohemians Football Club as well as on the wider pattern of movement in both directions of Irish footballers and the United States of America.

You can confirm attendance through the event listing on the Bohemian F.C. Facebook page.  More details below.

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The American Bohemians

Long before Red Bull were founding branded football teams or Man City’s billionaire owners were creating sister clubs across the Atlantic and even before Pelé and the Cosmos, there was the New York Bohemians.

Come to the Members’ Bar in Dalymount Park on Saturday 26th January (1pm) to learn about who the New York Bohemians really were and what their lives were like.

This is a story of a motley crew of clerks, labourers and revolutionaries left the poverty and turbulence of Dublin in the 1920s for a better life and then tried to rebuild Dalymount in Queens.

The talk will be given by Bohemian supporters and football historians Michael Kielty and Gerard Farrell.

The talk is free but there will be a collection in support of the Bohemians foundation. Light refreshments will be provided.

Border points

While there has been a lot of talk of “hard borders” recently on a relatively small island like Ireland of just over 6 million people there has always been plenty of movement between north and south, for family, for trade and indeed for football. Ever since the the split from the IFA in 1921 and the subsequent political partition of the island a brisk two way traffic of footballers plying their trade North and South of the border has remained.

Of course Derry City exemplify this having been League of Ireland members since 1985, the “Candystripes” adopted their familiar red and white jerseys from Sheffield United, who wore the pattern and was introduced by their manager, the Donegal-born Billy Gillespie who was a legend in the Steel City after his playing exploits with the Blades.

Of course cross-border traffic isn’t limited to the border counties like Donegal and Derry, Billy Hamilton who had starred for Northern Ireland in the 1982 World Cup found himself as a player-manager in Limerick in the late 80’s. A similar role had been filled a few years previously by Tommy Jackson at Waterford. Jackson had won 35 caps for the North and represented the likes of Everton and Manchester United before he wound up on the south coast. He subbed himself on in the 1980 FAI Cup final to help Waterford beat St. Pat’s and lift the cup for the first time in over 40 years. Even the greatest of them all, the Belfast Boy, George Best popped up in the rebel county with a short cameo run of three games for Cork Celtic in the mid 1970’s.

In terms of record breakers one need only look at the name at the top of the League of Ireland’s all-time top scorers list, at the top with 235 strikes sits Derryman, Brendan Bradley. Despite having two spells at his home-town club at either end of his career Bradley scored the vast bulk of his record-breaking haul while on the books of Finn Harps and Sligo Rovers. Bradley topped the league’s scoring charts on four separate occasions but was not the only Northerner to finish the season as top scorer. Omagh’s Dan McCaffrey was top scorer as he helped Drumcondra to the title in the 1960-61 season, he hit  total of fifty goals in all competitions that year. In that same era the likes of Belfast’s Jimmy Hasty was banging them in for Dundalk despite having lost an arm in an industrial accident as a teenager.

At the other end of the pitch there have been plenty of successful Northern Irish net-minders who’ve plied their trade in the League of Ireland. Alan Mannus has recently returned to Shamrock Rovers for his second spell at the club, he’ll be hoping to replicate his achievements when Michael O’Neill (now managing today’s opposition) was in charge at the Hoops, when Mannus picked up two league winner medals. Two other curious goalkeeping cases involve former Northern Irish international Trevor Wood lining out for St. Patrick’s Athletic, Wood won a single cap for the North but had little connection there having been born on the island of Jersey and using lax regulations to declare for another UK country. The most famous goalkeeper in the history of Irish football is the great Pat Jennings. Born in Newry, Jennings holds the Northern Irish international appearance record with 119 caps, while he never played in the League of Ireland his son Pat junior has represented the Shamrock Rovers, Athlone Town and most recently St. Patrick’s Athletic. Pat junior was born in England when his father was lining out for Arsenal and was never capped by Northern Ireland.

The traffic hasn’t been one-way of course, Michael O’Connor recently scored the winner for Linfield in the derby game against Glentoran, he follows in the footsteps of the likes of Kurtis Byrne, Pat Fenlon and Davy Walsh in starring for the Windsor Park club. There are many others who’ve enjoyed success north of the border.

The continued prominence of players born in Northern Ireland in the League today can be seen today in the success of Dundalk. Would they be league champions without the abilities of their Derry triumvirate of Michael Duffy, Patrick McEleney and Dean Jarvis? With all the talk of borders and division in the League of Ireland there will always be the common market of football.


This piece originally appeared in the Republic of Ireland v Northern Ireland match programme November 2018


The O’Sullivan side – Part I

I’ve previously focused more in my genealogical inquiries on my father’s side of my family but there are plenty of stories and lore on my mother’s side as well. As outlined in earlier posts I do take great pleasure in a long Dublin heritage on my Dad’s side and there are plenty of Dub’s on my Mam’s side as well. This is just the first part of a longer series.

Family tree pic

Both my grandmother Carmel and grandfather Thomas were born in Dublin. Carmel was born in July of 1915 at number 5 Cowper Street near the North Circular Road. Thomas was born in March of that same year on St. Agnes Terrace in Crumlin. Thomas attended Belvedere College and upon leaving went to work in the New Ireland Assurance company as a 17 year old. Carmel attended St. Gabriel’s national school on Cowper Street and later worked in Pim’s department store on South Great George’s Street. The Pim family were Quaker business-people and their huge department store occupied the site that is now home to the Castle House office building, next to the George Nightclub. Carmel and Thomas were married on the 28th July 1941 in the Church of the Holy Family in Aughrim Street. At the time Nana was living around the corner at 24 Carnew Street while Thomas wasn’t too far away, north of the city this time, at 33 Swilly Road in Cabra.

Carnew Street

Carnew Street

Thomas’ parents were John and Ethel O’Sullivan. John was originally from Co. Cork, but we’ll come back him in a later post. Ethel was born Ethel Beahan in Ellen Villas, once a part of Emmet Road, in June of 1884. The family moved a number of times during her early life but stayed in the wider Inchicore/Kilmainham area. In the 1901 census the Beahan family were living at 10 Hawthorne Terrace (part of the Tyrconnell Road) before moving again to 3 St. Patrick’s Terrace, a terrace of fine red-brick, two-storey homes that survives to this day and is situated close to the Inchicore railway works. Ethel was resident in St. Patrick’s Terrace with her family at the time that she married John O’Sullivan in the Catholic Chapel of Goldenbridge in September of 1907.

The Beahan family home on St. Patrick’s Terrace, and their focus on the Kilmainham/Inchicore area was not by chance, Ethel’s father Thomas was employed in the Inchicore works as a clerk for the Great Southern Railways. Thomas had married Mary Meehan in October 1883. Mary Meehan (now Beahan) was a near neighbour of Thomas’s being only from down the road in Goldenbridge.

One thing that jumped out upon carrying out a little bit more research on Thomas Beahan was that unlike his wife, or his nine children who were all born in Dublin, Thomas the railway clerk was born in India. As a result it has been much harder to find information about Thomas’ early life but we know from his marriage cert that his father’s name was James and his profession was listed as a clerk.

What we know about James Beahan is that before he was a clerk he was a soldier in the British army, and it was while he was serving in India that that Thomas was born around 1857 though later documents such as the census of 1901 suggest the later date of 1859. We know from the British Army worldwide index of 1861 that James was stationed in Meerut, India which is about 70 kilometers northeast of New Dehli as part of the 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars, a cavalry regiment.

By the time of Thomas’ birth in around 1857 James Beahan had already been in the British army for almost ten years.  Born in 1830 in the small village of Ballon, Co. Carlow he had joined the army as a 19 year old in 1849. This was still in the midst of the Great Famine and as James had listed his original profession as a Labourer, most likely a farm labourer, a stint in the Army would have offered decent pay and a chance for adventure as well as an escape from the horrors of the domestic situation in Ireland at the time. He joined up in Dublin and was initially he was part of the 6th Dragoon Guards, a cavalry regiment. In 1857 James was promoted to the rank of Corporal and in early 1861 he transferred regiments to join the 8th Hussars another cavalry regiment. By 1864 he had been promoted again to Sergeant and he remained at that rank and with the same regiment until he left the army in October of 1873.

James’s military records also provide us with some level of personal descriptive information, for instance we know he was 5′ 9″ in height with grey eyes and light brown hair. His commanding officer General John Charles Hope Gibsone stated that his character was “very good” and noted his attainment of good conduct stripes and a good conduct medal. In total he was in the British army for just over 24 years and served for 8 and half of those years abroad.

The 8 and a half years of service abroad consisted of a posting to the Crimean War with the 6th Dragoon Guards for a period of 11 months before spending almost 8 years serving in India. To try and put everything into the context of the geopolitical situation would take thousands of words but to summarise very briefly, the Crimean War began in late 1853 between an alliance that included Britain, France, the Ottoman Empire against the forces of Tsarist Russia. The War became famous, or perhaps better described as infamous, for it’s violence, the suffering of it’s soldiers and the foolish decisions of it’s generals. It also became associated in the popular imagination with a number if key events and figures. Florence Nightingale became a national hero in Britain for her commitment in nursing wounded soldiers, Leo Tolstoy was a soldier on the Russian side and his experiences directly impacted his literary works. Alfred Tennyson wrote his famous poem The Charge of the Light Brigade which commemorated the braveness or the British rank and file cavalry as well as the foolishness and incompetence of their leadership that became features of the war. The charge of the light brigade was an action that was part of the larger Battle of Balaclava, itself part of the wider Siege of the Crimean city of Sevastopol. The 8th Hussars were one of the cavalry regiments involved in the charge of the light brigade but James Beahan had yet to join that regiment.

However James was present during the Siege of Sevastopol with the 6th Dragoon Guards after they were transferred there in 1854. They would have had to endure horrific winter storms where many men and cavalry horses died of starvation and disease. Indeed starvation and disease killed far more men than the Russian guns. The Siege of the great port city continued all the way through to September 1855 with the final assault on the city being made by a force of around 60,000 men, the British forces were originally repulsed by the Russians but the French forces under the command of General MacMahon (a French descendant of an Irish lord who fled to France after the Williamite Wars of the late 17th Century) managed to break through, ultimately forcing the Russians to abandon Sevastopol.

The defeat at Sevastopol was the beginning of the end for the Russian forces who sought to make peace in March 1856. We know that James’s regiment the 6th Dragoon Guards were involved in the Crimean War and from his records we know that he received the Crimean Medal and that as well as serving at Sevastopol he was also stationed in Turkey for a period during the War.

James’s regiment was sent to India in 1857 as part of the British response to the India Mutiny which began in the city of Meerut in May of that year. There were many causes of the uprising which began among the Indian troops within the armed forces of the East India Company, but one of the main flash-points was around the use of grease manufactured from animal fats on the bullet casings of the ammunition provided to the Indian troops. Islam precludes the consumption of pigs while Hinduism precludes the consumption of beef, the bullet casings, which had to be bitten to get them to fit properly in the rifles were reported to be covered in the grease from the fat of both animals. Many Indian soldiers saw this as grave mark of disrespect to their respective religions.

The Indian Mutiny was hugely violent and led to the death of over 800,000 people by some estimates when events such as famine and disease caused by the violence are taken into consideration. The British response to the Mutiny was extremely ruthless, especially in retribution for the incidents such as the killing of civilians by the Indian mutineers during the Siege of Cawnpore. There are even descriptions of British troops tying captured Indian troops to the mouth of cannon before blowing them to pieces as a form of execution. The legacy of the Mutiny was that the British Crown took over the running of India as a colony, rather than as an area to be administered by the British East India Company. Violence wasn’t constrained just to combatants and the whole episode was marked by the deaths of many thousands of civilians.

James Beahan’s regiment saw little action during the India Mutiny but he pops up again in 1871 and then again in the year of his discharge (1873), as he plays a small role as a witness in one of the most infamous and controversial court cases of the 19th Century, a court case dubbed the Tichborne Affair by the press. The case centred around a man who claimed to be Sir Roger Tichborne, heir to the Tichborne baronetcy and family fortune, who disappeared and was presumed dead, only to return some twenty years later after a supposed shipwreck and a long interlude living in the Australian bush. Sir Roger Tichborne had been an officer in the 6th Dragoon Guards at the same time that James was serving. They had been stationed together in barracks in Tipperary.


Roger Tichborne

Many doubted the identity of the claimant. It was assumed the real Roger Tichborne had perished when the ship he had been travelling on had capsized off the coast of South America in 1854, however, others, including Lady Tichborne were convinced that the man who arrived from Australia in 1866 was indeed her long, lost son. Lady Tichborne died in 1868 and the supposed Sir Roger outraged many of her descendants by claiming the position of chief mourner at her funeral.

A civil case began in 1871 (effectively to decide if the claimant was indeed Sir Roger) but fell apart soon after, with the claimant being gaoled in Newgate prison for perjury. A criminal case began in 1873. James testified in both these cases and was one of a number of witnesses who claimed that the claimant was indeed the Sir Roger Tichborne that they had known from years before in Ireland.


Arthur Orton

All evidence seems to suggest that the claimant was in fact a man named Arthur Orton and that he had no connection to the Tichborne family, George Bernard Shaw, writing much later, highlighted a paradox whereby the Claimant was perceived simultaneously as a legitimate baronet and as a working-class man denied his legal rights by the elite. Whatever his true identity he had managed to convince James Beahan, his supposed mother, and the general public of his legitimacy as the heir to the Tichborne estates and titles. Arthur Orton (or was it really Roger Tichborne?) died in 1898, he was still infamous enough that 5,000 people attended his funeral. Such was the lasting impact of the case that a film on the subject was made in 1998 entitled The Tichborne Claimant featuring the likes of Stephen Fry and John Geilgud, though no actor is mentioned as playing the role of James Beahan.

James Beahan died two years later in 1900 at the age of 70 surrounded by his family in Dublin.