A city can often be known simply by an architectural or geographic feature but it’s not often that a city is known for its smell. However, on certain days, depending on how the wind is blowing there is an aroma that is quintessentially Dublin as the rich, sweet smell of roasting hops wafts down the Liffey in testament to the presence of Europe’s largest brewery, St. James’s Gate. The Gate is home to Guinness, the product, for better or worse, that is most associated with Ireland.
The brewery is situated on an early monastic site and those monks used the fresh water resources of the district for their own brewing, perhaps as far back as the 13th Century. The name of the brewery references it’s history as a site for pilgrim voyages back as far as medieval times when devout Dubliners would set off in pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain to venerate the relics of St. James. When the Guinness family signed the famous 9,000 year lease on the brewery site in the 18th Century they quickly grew from being just one of a number of breweries in the city to becoming one of the country’s largest industries. In the years after independence the economy of Dublin was often derogatorily referred to as one of “beer and biscuits” as Guinness and Jacobs were among the dominant large manufacturers in an economically deprived city.
Unsurprisingly both of these large employers followed a trend common with many large manufacturers in Britain and formed sporting and social clubs for their staff. Guinness had long had a reputation as a “good employer” and offered a rare example a decent, well-paid and steady work in a city where such employment was a scarce commodity. The Guinness family had generally demonstrated a strong paternalism towards their staff as well as to the wider city in terms of the construction of public baths, social housing and the donation of St. Stephen’s Green park as a gift to the city. Such paternalism and munificence motivated the establishment of the St. James’s Gate Football Club in 1902.
A fair share of the credit for these developments must rest with Dr. John Lumsden, chief medical officer with Guinness at this time and a tireless campaigner who made countless improvements to the lives and health of Guinness workers and their families. Born in Drogheda, the son of a Scottish banker, Lumsden was a man of many passions and talents. As a medical doctor as well as his work with Guinness he was a physician at Mercer’s Hospital, he was a hugely active member of the St. John’s Ambulance Brigade, tending to the injured on all sides during the 1916 Rising, and can also lay claim to involvement in the foundation of the Irish Red Cross and what would eventually become the Irish Blood Transfusion Service.
As the medical officer he visited over 1,700 homes of Guinness workers to assess the quality of their accommodation, he set up cookery classes to ensure families of employees knew how to cook nutritious meals, he successfully lobbied to have public baths included in the Iveagh Trust housing developments and he also clearly saw the benefit of sports and exercise to the Guinness workforce. He also had a keen personal interest in sport and helped establish one of Dublin’s first golf clubs.
The St. James’s Gate football club was just one of several works teams that emerged in Ireland around this period, others such as Dundalk, Linfield, or Jacob’s had similar beginnings in other industries (railways, linen and biscuits respectively), but the Gate also had something in common with a continental European model of a wider multi-sports club. As well as playing football the Guinness employees pursued athletics and cycling and later tennis, cricket and rugby. They had access to gymnasiums and swimming baths, and eventually had their own designated sports complex at the Iveagh grounds. All of which gave them an advantage over many other clubs.
Dr. Lumsden who was instrumental in the creation of St. James’s Gate F.C. in 1902 also played an important role in finding the club a permanent home. In their first decades they played their home matches in Inchicore and later in Dolphin’s Barn but by 1928 Lumsden and the club members had secured the purchase and development of the Iveagh Sports Grounds in Crumlin. These were bought, developed and donated to the Guinness Athletic Union by their patron Edmund Guinness, the 1st Earl of Iveagh after whom the grounds are named.
Those early decades were the most successful for the football club, in the 1919-20 season the Gate won both the Leinster Senior Cup and also the Irish Intermediate Cup against Dunmurray. Recreation F.C. Given this success it was no surprise that St. James’s Gate were one of the of the sides who formed the inaugural season of the Free State League of Ireland after the split from the IFA in 1921.
That debut league season was an all-Dublin affair and featured only eight teams in total. While Shelbourne and Bohemians may have been the bigger names, having previously been Irish Cup winners and regular competitors in the earlier, Irish League it was to be a season dominated by the men from the Gate. Not only did they win the title but they added the FAI Cup and Leinster Senior Cup for good measure.
It was a turbulent time in Irish society,, the Gate’s FAI Cup final win against Shamrock Rovers took place just months before the outbreak of the Civil War and the game was marred by a pitch invasion from irate Rovers fans and a standoff in the Dalymount dressing rooms between the Gate’s Charlie Dowdall and Shamrock Rovers’ Bob Fullam. This was only ended when Dowdall’s brother John pulling a gun and Fullam and Co. sensibly backed off.
Several of that successful James’s Gate side would go on to represent Ireland at the Paris Olympics in 1924, among them Charlie Dowdall and team-mates like Ernie McKay and Paddy “Dirty” Duncan. It was Duncan who would get the first goal in an international competition for the Irish Free State, grabbing the only score in a 1-0 victory over Bulgaria in the sparsely populated Stade Olympique de Colombes.
Ultimately there would be five St. James’s Gate players in that Olympic squad. The Olympics at the time was an amateur competition in keeping with a certain Corinthian spirit of the time. The James’s Gate players were nominally amateurs but even by the time of the Cup final they were not necessarily all Guinness employees. There was a quota of a maximum four non-Guinness players allowed play for the club.
Among those not employed by Guinness included Ernie McKay, the son of a Scottish soldier, Ernie worked for at the GPO for decades while also remaining involved with James’s Gate as a player and administrator well into the 1940’s. His team-mate at inside-left, Charlie Dowdall who had worked for Guinness briefly but spent most of his career working at the Inchicore railway works.
The Olympics of 1924 wasn’t the only time that James’s Gate players would pull on the green of Ireland either. Joe O’Reilly, one of Ireland’s most prominent inter-war internationals and team captain on numerous occasions finished his league and international career while a Gate player. Alf Rigby, a centre-forward who twice finished top scorer in the League of Ireland won his three international caps while a St. James’s Gate player though he failed to find the net.
One player who didn’t have that problem was Paddy Bradshaw. Top scorer in the 1939-40 season as St. James’s Gate clinched their second ever league title Bradshaw had a somewhat unusual route to football stardom. A dock worker for much of his life he played at Leinster Senior League level until he was 26 before making an immediate impact upon signing for the Gate in 1938. He would win five international caps, scoring four goals. His first came only 20 seconds into his debut game against Switzerland in a match that ended as a 4-0 victory for Ireland. He grabbed a second in that game as well as scoring against both Hungary and Germany. The outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 brought a premature end to his brief but successful international career.
That short era of the late 1930’s was a period of triumph for the Gate as they won not only the title in 1939-40 but also the FAI Cup in the 1937-38 season, defeating Dundalk 2-1 in front of a crowd of 30,000 in Dalymount Park. A penalty scored by Irish international Peadar Gaskins proving to be the decisive goal.
While players like Bradshaw were coming to the fore in this era perhaps the most famous player to play for the club also got to make his fleeting impression as a Gate player around this time. Despite a first team career at the Iveagh Grounds that last just a matter of months St. James’s Gate have every right to be incredibly proud of the achievements of Johnny Carey. The young Dubliner debuted for the Gate aged just 17 in the 1936-37 season and quickly began to turn heads. He was spotted playing for the Gate in a match against Bohemians by Billy Behan, a one time Manchester United goalkeeper who now acted as a scout for the club in Dublin. With him at that game was Louis Rocca, United’s chief scout who had come to run the rule over Bohs’ forward Benny Gaughran. Rocca was disappointed to learn that Gaughran had already agreed to join Celtic but Behan convinced him that the teenage Carey was worth a closer look.
Ultimately Carey was signed by United for a fee of £250, a reported record for a League of Ireland footballer. By the age of 18 he was starting at inside-left for Manchester United and helping them win promotion from the Second Division. When he left United 16 years later he had captained them to victory to both the FA Cup and a League title while becoming the first Irish player to be named Football Writers Player of the Year. He’d also won 29 caps for Ireland and captained a European XI in a challenge match against a combined Great Britain side.
Despite recruiting top quality players in the late 30’s and enjoying success in both the league and cup within a couple of years of these triumphs St. James’s Gate would be bottom of the league. That misfortune came to pass in the 1943-44 season and the club were not re-elected to the league for the following season; their spot being taken by another Dublin club, Brideville who had moved between the Leinster Senior League and the League of Ireland on a number of occasions. This, however, wasn’t quite the last experience the Gate had at League of Ireland level.
Forty-six years after failing to be re-elected St. James’s Gate returned to the League of Ireland, rejoining as a First Division side in 1990. During their second spell in the League they never finished higher than 5th in the First Division and even finished bottom on two occasions. The club withdrew from the League before the beginning of the 1996-97 season with their place (albeit briefly) being allotted to St. Francis.
St. James’s Gate continue to this day as a football club, playing in the Leinster Senior League, perhaps one of their most famous recent players was Irish international Katie Taylor who achieved greater international fame in the boxing ring rather than on the football field.
In 2017 St. James’s Gate F.C. celebrated their 115th anniversary, that same year the sale of the Iveagh Sports Grounds to Trinity College Dublin was agreed. As a result the grounds will now be home to the various sports teams associated with the College though it is likely that the Gate will continue to play there for future seasons. As Guinness advertisements regularly note, they are only a short time into the 9,000 year lease on the St. James’s Gate brewery site, you’d hope that the famous football club had plans for similar longevity.
This article originally featured for the SSE Airtricity League website