Rovers of the sea

A great distance separates the Pacific coast of South America with the more modest expanse of Dublin Bay yet it connects the lives, and the deaths of two former football teammates who died within months of each other more than 100 years ago.

I came across the premature demise of these two Shamrock Rovers players while doing some research on an upcoming piece focusing on the development of the great rivalry between Bohemian F.C. and Shamrock Rovers I started looking at the earliest recorded meeting between the two sides over 100 years ago in January 1915. As often happens with such investigations I got sidetracked down a different path and onto a tragic tangent of the lives and deaths of James Sims and William Skinner in 1914-15.

William was born in 1880 and grew up in Thomas Street in Ringsend, a street which has since disappeared and which is now roughly occupied by the Ringsend Library. He was son to Laurence, a Dublin born labourer and Lizzie a housewife originally from Co. Wexford. Lizzie gave birth to 14 children during her lifetime but sadly just six of them would survive beyond childhood.

William was listed as a labourer in the 1901 census but just two years later when he was getting married to Catherine (Kate) McDonnell, who also grew up on Thomas Street, he listed his profession as a “sailor on a Man of War”. William had obviously joined the Royal Navy by this stage. When we next encounter William it is in the 1911 Census and he is back in civilian life working as a Hailing Man in Dublin Port and had moved just north of the River Liffey to Russell Avenue in East Wall. He had also become a father to two children; Laurence, born in 1907 and Mary born in 1909. By 1913 the family had moved once more this time to St. Joseph’s Square in Clontarf. This perhaps shows improving fortunes for the family, moving from a smaller, single-storey cottage, to a two storey, terrace in Clontarf.

1914 would be a year of significant change both globally and locally. July saw the outbreak of the First World War. More locally Shamrock Rovers reformed at a meeting in Sam Beatty’s barber shop in Bridge Street, Ringsend, some eight years after they had folded and withdrawn from the Leinster Senior and Junior League due to difficulties securing both a home ground and sufficient player numbers.

In 1914 William and his younger brother James would be listed as Rovers players, William was described as “a very useful forward” while James was mentioned as “a reliable forward with an accurate and speedy shot”. However 1914 would also see William return to the Royal Navy. He immediately re-enlisted once war was declared.

William’s war was not going to be a long one, at 34 at the time of enlistment and with his previous experience in mind he was already somewhat of a veteran.  He was posted aboard the HMS Good Hope. In August 1914 the Good Hope was ordered to reinforce the 4th Cruiser Squadron and became the flagship of Rear Admiral Christopher Cradock. In  October the British learned from intercepted radio messages that the Germans planned to attack shipping on the trade routes along the west coast of South America.  Cradock’s small squadron was sent to prevent this from happening. On the 1st November 1914 the German Vice Admiral Graf Maximilian von Spee, commander of the East Asia Squadron, identified the light cruiser HMS Glasgow, (part of the British Squadron under Cradock) at the Chilean port of Coronel and pursued the ship in order to engage it. The ensuing encounter was one of the first major naval battles of the War and became known as the Battle of Coronel.

The German squadron of armoured cruisers, SMS Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the light cruisers SMS Dresden, Leipzig and Nürnberg engaged Cradock’s squadron with the Good Hope as the flagship after its pursuit of the HMS Glasgow. The Scharnhorst hit the Good Hope with one of its early salvos causing severe damage. Cradock’s ship was at a disadvantage to the Germans in terms of the range of their guns so his only hope to to charge at the German squadron to get them in range by charging down their flagship. The Germans concentrated their fire on the Good Hope and close to 8pm that night, with much of the ship aflame their forward ammunition magazine exploded. The force of the blast severed the ship in two and sank in the darkness. The Good Hope (along with the HMS Monmouth) was sunk with all hands in the chill waters of the ironically named Pacific Ocean. It was the first defeat the British Royal Navy had suffered in combat in more than a hundred years. A total of 919 officers and enlisted men lost their lives including Able Seaman William Skinner from Ringsend.

A year later William’s younger brother James joined the Army Service Corps as a driver. He had been certified as a “Chauffeur” by the Irish Automobile Club and saw action in Egypt and Greece, ended up contracting Malaria, surviving, and being sent to London to work as a driver at the munitions docks at Woolwich before being eventually discharged in 1919.

The HMS Good Hope (source wikipedia)

Much closer to home is the story is that of James Sims, highlighted in the photo above. Born in 1892 in Ringsend, James became a star midfielder with Rovers after their re-emergence in 1914. He was the centre-half in the side that had defeated Derry Swifts 1-0 in the final of the Irish Junior Cup in April of 1915. Sims was not part of that first Rovers side that took on Bohemians in the first of those great derby games (Bohs won 3-1 by the way) in January 1915, but he appeared regularly in team line-ups from February of that year onward.

In August of 1915 Shamrock Rovers at a meeting of the Leinster Senior League Shamrock Rovers were elected to the top division, unlike the situation in 1906 the revived Rovers were better equipped this time to fulfill their fixtures. They played a warm-up match against neighbours Shelbourne on August 28th, James Sims started that game at centre half. Their first Senior League fixture was a game against Strandville on September 18th followed by a League match against Bohemians the week after. Just eight days before the League kicked off James Sims was dead.

Like many men in Ringsend at the time, given it’s close proximity to the city docks James “Sailor” Sims made his living as a hobbler and occasional fisherman. Hobblers were groups of intrepid, entrepreneurial sailors who set off in groups of between 3 and 6 men in lightweight skiffs or hobbling boats. The purpose of these boats was twofold, to lead cargo vessels into Dublin Port and to be the boat that unloaded the incoming vessels onto the quays.

“Hobbling” was a very competitive business, the small, lightweight boats could be out for hours or even days in attempts to get a ship coming into port. When a ship was spotted it was a rush between the different hobbling boats to get to it first and agree a price with the ship for their services. Hobbling was also dangerous work, as well as the usual dangers of being at sea, the small lightweight boats were trying to load large cargo at sea from winches and cranes, a mistake could mean a severed limb or a capsized boat.

At five in the morning on the 10th of September 1915 James Sims was in a hobble boat with John Lawless (who owner the boat) and John Lynch about 2 and a half miles beyond Poolbeg Lighthouse when they spotted a steamer coming into port. It was the Huanchaco, named after a Peruvian town, which plied a route from the west coast of South America, including the port of Coronel. It would like have traveled much the same route as William Skinner’s final journey many times.

The exact details of what happened next to James Sims and his friends is not completely clear. It seems that the 390-foot Huanchaco, either refused their hobble, or were in discussions about a fee when the small skiff got caught in the backwash of the far larger ship. The result was that the smaller vessel got dragged behind the Huanchaco and into its huge propeller. The reports are thankfully more restrained that much modern reportage but the smaller boat was cut in two, Lynch and Lawless were able to jump into the sea and then scramble back onto what was left of their craft before being rescued by a Michael Tallon in one of the pilot boats and brought to the safety of Dun Laoghaire harbour. James Sims however,was struck by the propeller and killed outright. He met his gruesome end at just 23 years old.

Shamrock Rovers were due to play Orwell F.C. the following day but the game was called off as a mark of respect. At a specially convened meeting Shamrock Rovers issued a notice of condolence with the Sims family and there was a large, well-attended funeral for James in the Ringsend area.

Just two days after James had been killed the Huanchaco was involved in another accident leaving Dublin Port. The Huanchaco under the command of Captain Pierce crashed into the Irish Steam Packet company steamer the Lady Martin badly damaging its starboard bow. Two incidents in the space of three days seems to suggest either extreme bad luck or shows just how dangerous shipping could by at the time even away from the heat of battle.

In 1934 the practice of “hobbling” was finally prohibited although the modernisation of the port also played a part. The main catalyst for this decision was the death of three young men from Dun Laoghaire; brothers Henry and Richard Shortall and their friend John Hughes, all drowned when their boat capsized when they were attempting to hobble a boat into port. A decision that came some 20 years too late for James Sims.

These weren’t the only tragedies to affect Rovers at the time, the Great War dominated the decade, and as I’ve highlighted at other clubs like Bohemians and Shelbourne, claimed its fair share of young sportsmen. In Rovers case one of their early heroes from their beginnings at the turn of the century was full-back James Keogh. Like many he joined the Royal Dublin Fusiliers but never made it back from the battlefields of France.

These men left families and friends behind, they also never got to see the club they re-founded go on to enjoy success as Rovers progressed within ten years from Junior football to League and Cup champions.


For more on life in Dublin Port check out “The Dublin Docker” by Aileen O’Carroll and Don Burnett. Also a thank you to Rovers historian Robert Goggins for proof reading this piece.



Taking a Lax attitude- George & the magic magnetic board


The dim light of the training lamps strung along the old main stand illuminated the thin strip of touchline as the players sprinted by, full tilt. They were trying to impress the coach with their pace and athleticism before turning into the darkness of the shed end. The floodlights that would come to define Dalymount and become a landmark in the Dublin skyline wouldn’t be installed for another year and the majority of the pitch was in complete darkness. As the players, all amateurs, reached the Connaught Street side some of the more experienced ones stopped. Now subsumed into the darkness the only light was the faint amber glow of embers as they lit up their cigarettes. Their plan was to wait until the rest of the team had made their next lap of the pitch and save their energies for another sprint past their coach. The man that they hoped to impress, who unlike his charges was a professional football man, was a middle-aged Yorkshireman in thick glasses by the name of George Lax.

George had first encountered Bohemians as they encountered a period of comparative decline. In the opening decades of the League of Ireland Bohemian F.C. enjoyed more than their fair share of successes. Foremost among these triumphs was the “clean sweep” of the 1927-28 season when the Bohs won every competition available to them. Three further league titles, an FAI cup and an array of other trophies made their way to Dalymount of the following ten years but by the end of the 30’s things were beginning to change.

The end of the 30’s and into the 40’s other teams were coming to dominate the major prizes in Irish football, Shamrock Rovers, Shelbourne, Drumcondra, Dundalk and especially a rampant Cork United side were collecting league titles and cups. Bohs were increasingly being left behind. After winning the league title in 1935-36 Bohs could only finish 7th the following year, and 9th the year after.

The Gypsies policy on remaining an amateur club was beginning to affect their performances on the pitch. While the club, even by this stage had a long and proud history, one of the best stadiums in the league, and a strong record of bringing through talented players, unsurprisingly many of these same players would leave for other clubs prepared to pay them.

While amateur on the pitch the Bohs management committee looked to take a more professional approach to training and management of team affairs. To this end they brought in an English coach not long finished his playing days, George Lax, for the beginning of the 1938-39 season. Important to realise was that while Lax would be responsible for training, coaching and physio work with the players, the starting XI was still primarily decided by a selection committee and this would remain the case until the 1964 appointment of Seán Thomas as Bohs first manager in the modern understanding of the word.

Early days

George Lax was born in Dodworth, a coal mining village near Barnsley in South Yorkshire in 1905. Unsurprisingly young George began his professional life with Frickley Colliery near Wakefield having come from a mining family. The Colliery, one of the deepest coal mines in Britain had a strong sporting tradition, they had swimming baths, cricket clubs, athletics clubs and of course a football club, Frickley Colliery F.C. founded just after George was born. A teenage George lined out for the team at right-half and in his early 20’s was spotted by the legendary Wolves manager Major Frank Buckley and signed by them for the 1929-30 season.

Lax immediately became the sides’ regular right half as Wolves finished in the top half of the second division and continued a good run of form into the next year. His good fortune continued and during his spell at Wolves he also got married, tying the knot with his fiance Kathleen Hill in the Spring of 1932. However, a series of injuries including a badly broken jaw and later a broken ankle began to limit his first team opportunities at Molineux. This saw George move back to his birthplace to sign for Barnsley in 1932 after making 66 appearance for Wolves, although it would not be his last time working with Major Buckley. Further moves, first to Bournemouth and later to non-league sides like Evesham Town and Worcester City. As his playing career wound down he was beginning to get involved as a manager and coach alongside his playing duties.

In 1938 Lax was on the move again, this time having hung up his boots, he was off to Dublin to take over the management of Bohemian Football Club from the former Liverpool star and Irish international Billy Lacey. Lax had benefited greatly from working with Major Frank Buckley, a character with a fearsome reputation who had led the Footballers regiment during the First World War and had fought at the Battle of the Somme. Buckley’s teams were well known for their robust and very direct, physical football but this belied the fact that he was also somewhat of a pioneer and moderniser in other aspects of the game.

Buckley had placed great emphasis on fitness and diet (and allegedly the use of stimulants and animal gland injections) and contrary to popular wisdom at the time had encouraged players to do plenty of ball-work in training. He had also helped Wolves gain promotion to Division One and greatly improved their scouting network and youth system which would help lay foundations for the success enjoyed by Stan Cullis’ Wolves teams in the 1950’s. Lax borrowed heavily from Buckley’s methods and was also one of the first participants in the FA’s early coaching courses.  While Bohs amateur status might have seemed a throwback to a bygone age, even by the 30’s, in their choice of trainer they were selecting a man in his early thirties whose coaching methods were cutting edge for their time.

Among the modern elements of the game that Lax brought to Bohs was his “magnetic demonstration board”. While such coaching aids as a tactics board are hardly unusual today its use in the League of Ireland in the 1930’s seems to have raised more than a few eyebrows. He also brought with him a number of other tactical innovations such as “The Switch” which entailed the swapping of roles between the outside-right (usually Kevin O’Flanagan) and the team’s centre forward (Frank Fullen at the time). While this may not seem that groundbreaking to a modern football audience, the idea of swapping a centre-forward with a right-winger as part of a usually rigid W-M formation employed by the vast majority of British and Irish teams was revolutionary. It no doubt helped that O’Flanagan was an exceptional and versatile sportsmen and one of the best forwards in the country. These tactical innovations bore closer resemblance to the type of tactical experiments being tried out by coaches in Hungary or Austria.

It is worth remembering that it was only in 1953 when Hungary’s wandering centre-forward Nándor Hidegkuti helped dismantle the English national teams defense as they destroyed Billy Wright and Co. 5-3 that such tactical experiments began to get greater credence in Britain and Ireland.

Such was the success of this tactical innovation ( no doubt worked out on the infamous magnetic tactics board) that other Irish sides soon started copying the ploy with Belfast Celtic using their international winger Norman Kernaghan in the O’Flanagan role.

Call of battle and the return to English football

Lax had two spells with Bohemians, joining in 1938 before leaving in 1942 at the height of the Second World War to enlist in the RAF. As someone resident in neutral Ireland at the time he could have conveniently avoided the danger of the conflict but instead chose to enlist. He was eventually demobilised some months after the end of the War in February 1946. The high-points of his first spell as coach of Bohs included a 3rd place league finish in the 1940-41 season as well as back to back League of Ireland shield wins (1938-39, 1939-40) and a Leinster Senior Cup win also in 1939-40.

George’s first spell at Bohs would see him succeeded by Sheffield United and Ireland legend Jimmy Dunne who had fallen out with Shamrock Rovers where he was previously player-coach. Once he was demobilised George was straight back into his sporting involvement, first with non-league Scunthorpe United where he was coach but also an occasional player and then onto second division Hull City as a “trainer-coach”.

George’s job at Hull was secured by the intervention of his former mentor Major Frank Buckley who wrote to club Chairman Harold Needler stating that Lax was a “grand servant, of irreproachable character, keen, willing and loyal”. Buckley also boasted that it was “on my recommendation that he went as trainer-coach to the famous amateur Irish club, the Bohemians of Dublin. He gave grand service to them and it was the war that caused their severance”.

George was joined by his mentor Buckley as manager at Hull just a month later in May 1946. Hull were stuck in the unglamorous world of the English Division Three North, however they certainly had ambition, over the course of the next few seasons Hull sought promotion to the second division, succeeding by winning Division Three North in 1948-49. By that stage Major Buckley had already moved onto Leeds United where he would help start the careers of John Charles and later Jack Charlton.

His trusty lieutenant George Lax remained on Humberside working for Raich Carter who took over as player-manager. Carter had been one of the most highly-regarded and stylish inside-forwards of his era and over the coming years he brought some big names to Hull’s new ground at Boothferry Park. Joining Carter were players like England centre-half Neil Franklin, Danish international Viggo Jensen and an up and coming young forward named Don Revie.

Carter retired in 1951 and his role was taken over by Bob Jackson, a league winning manager with Portsmouth only a couple of years earlier. George Lax stayed on as part of his coaching team although Hull, despite all their ambition couldn’t do better than lower mid-table finishes in the second tier. After almost ten years with Hull as coach, trainer and physio among other roles George left for a new challenge. During his time at Hull he’d played second fiddle to some of the most famous and successful English managers in the game but perhaps he wanted to be in charge of himself again.

George had been a player-manager at Evesham before he had even hit the age of 30. During his time there he’d helped to launch the career of players like future West Brom and England forward Jack Haines. He was used to being his own man. Still it was with some surprise that in 1955 he moved the short distance to take over the management of Goole Town of the Midland league. During his brief tenure George led the club to the third round of the FA Cup, their best ever result in that competition.  George’s time in Goole was short and by 1957 he was heading back to Ireland, but this time not to Dublin but to a new club from Cork.

A return to Hibernia

In 1957 yet another Cork football club went the way of the dodo, this time it was the short-lived Cork Athletic. Although they had won back to back titles and two FAI cups around the turn of the 50’s, and had even coaxed George Lax’s old boss Raich Carter out of retirement to lead them briefly as player-manager, by 1957 financial difficulties saw them withdraw from the League. Their spot was taken by another Cork based club, this time it was Cork Hibernians. Their first manager was to be George Lax.

A tough first season for the Hibernians finish bottom of the 12 team division but gradual progress was made in the following seasons with Hibs finishing 9th and then by 1959-60 up to 6th place. George had set up a comfortable life in Cork, he ran a physiotherapy practice in the city and was on a considerable salary of £1,000 a year to manage the team. However despite the steady progress Lax was making he left Cork Hibernians to return to Dublin and to Dalymount to take on a Bohs side that had finished bottom the previous two seasons. By the time he left the press credited him with having “moulded Cork Hibs into a first class side”. Lax took the reigns again at Bohemians for the beginning of the 1960-61 season, some 22 years after he had first arrived at Dalymount.

While the side that George had inherited in the late 30’s had some genuine stars like the O’Flanagan brothers, Fred Horlacher, “Pip” Meighan, Kevin Kerr and Billy Jordan. The side of the early 60’s unfortunately wasn’t so blessed and the drawbacks of the enforced amateur ethos at the club was being keenly felt. Some genuine greats of Bohs history were to join not long afterwards, most notably centre-half Willie Browne who would go on to win three Irish caps during his time in red and black and became captain of the club in only his second season.

After two seasons of propping up the table, including the 59-60 season where Bohs had finished without a single win and with a paltry five points there was some modest yet clear improvements under Lax. Bohs finished 11th out of 12th in his first season back in charge and 9th the year after. The following year however Bohs once again finished bottom in a reduced 10 team division and bottom again the following season (1963-64) as the division expanded again to 12 sides. Despite the initial improvements and the fact that he had helped bring through players like Browne, Billy Young, Mick Kearin and Larry Gilmore the club felt it was time for a significant change.

Lax left the club at the end of the 1963-64 season and the club directors finally agreed to the abolition of the 5 man selection committee that still picked the starting XI. Full control of team affairs was to be entrusted to a team manager for the first time and Phibsborough local Seán Thomas was given the reigns. Thomas’s talent and the additional authority invested in his role had the desired impact and Bohs finished the following season in 3rd place and saw the emergence of future Irish internationals like Jimmy Conway and Turlough O’Connor.

During his less successful second stay George remained true to his footballing philosophy. Unlike his mentor Major Buckley the focus on Lax’s teams was always on trying to play good football even on the boggy winter pitches of the League of Ireland. He told the Evening Herald that “there is no substitute for good football and it only will draw the crowds”. He had a focus on discipline and skill, players were instructed strictly to never argue with the referee, a practice that certainly isn’t a new phenomenon. In training his focus was always on improving touch and ball control, often preferring to organise 5-a-sides with various handicaps such as players only taking two touches or only using their weaker foot so as to build technique.  Practices that might now seem commonplace but were certainly ahead of their time for the league in the 1960’s. His commitment to this footballing ideal wasn’t even shaken during times of duress. Commenting after a heavy 6-0 defeat to a strong Drumcondra side Lax rejected the idea that his team should have tried to spoil or play more direct, stating simply “I’ve made it quite clear, I want them to play football all the time”. In many ways despite the struggles of the team in the early 60’s George Lax certainly seemed to try to embody the three golden rules of Bohemian F.C.  “never say die, keep the ball on the floor and the best defence is attack”.

After leaving the Bohs George’s services were quickly in demand. He was  signed up by St. Patrick’s Athletic to replace Ronnie Whelan Snr but he would spend only a season in Inchicore before quitting. He would later take on a physio role at Dundalk and later at Shelbourne where he was working well into his 60’s. He continued to run a physiotherapy practice in the Phibsboro area and treated many prominent GAA players and other athletes in his private practice.

Saint Saviours – searching for a Farrell

The above photograph features my grandfather and namesake Gerard Farrell. Well at least I think it does, I’m fairly sure he’s the guy in the back row, fourth from the left, standing next to the goalkeeper. The photo was found as with wider Farrell and Taylor clans sat in a pub in Cabra looking through various albums and mementos that had belonged to my grand-aunt Betty whose funeral we’d just attended that morning.

A close look at the crest on the jersey seems to confirm it is the now defunct Saint Saviours football team who were based around the Dominick Street area of Dublin’s north inner city. The crest relates back to the Dominican order and the impressive Saint Saviours church and priory complex that remain on Dominick Street to this day. The most notable success of Saint Saviours F.C. was their winning of the FAI Junior Cup in 1959 although the team would fold only a few years later.

My father played for Saint Saviours under-age sides in the 50’s before moving to Drumcondra F.C. and later Bohemians. From talking to both my Dad and my auntie Betty I know that my grandfather Gerard Farrell also played for Saint Saviours and was by all accounts a prolific centre-forward for them. This would have been somewhere roughly between 1937 and 1940. This would have been the era when the photo was taken.

Last week was the first time I’ve ever seen this photo. I don’t know of any other family connections who would have resulted in this photo ended up among my aunt’s belongings. I’d love to find out more about the members of this team and confirm for definite that it is my grandfather in the back row but there are so few people left who would remember or recognise members of a local side from more than 70 years ago.

If anyone does know more about the Saint Saviours team from this era, or indeed recognise and Farrell’s in the photo please do get in touch.

Oh commemorate me where there’s football

Do we make a political statement when we as a society decide who to remember and who to forget, whose home or resting place is commemorated, and those who remained unmentioned? This is an argument as old as portraiture and statuary, but one that seems especially relevant today.

Beyond our shores, the ‘Rhodes must fall’ protest movement in South Africa, and more recently in Britain, has campaigned for the removal of statues depicting Cecil Rhodes, as part of a wider protest against institutional racial discrimination. Protests in the United States, especially in the south, have focused on the commemoration of Confederate icons of their Civil War. This has included groups calling for the removal of statues of figures such as Jefferson Davis, while also sparking some counter-protests from torch-wielding white supremacists. This has recently culminated in the outbreak of deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia due to the local government’s decision to remove a statue of the Confederate General and slave-owner Robert E. Lee.

In Ireland the contested nature of symbols and artwork has been especially prominent in recent years. The 12th of July commemorations by sections of the Unionist community in Northern Ireland continue to be a highly sensitive issue with occasional flashpoints, while last year saw the huge state commemoration of the 1916 Rising. While there seemed to be broad public support for the tone and content of the commemorations, they have not been immune from criticism. The commemorative wall in Glasnevin Cemetery which listed all the dead from the Rising, and included not just Irish Volunteers and civilians but also British soldiers, was vandalised with paint only a few months ago. Similarly, the statue of Irish Republican Sean Russell that stands in Fairview Park has been repeatedly been vandalised over the years by various groups, including its decapitation, due to his wartime links with Nazi Germany and indeed the Soviet Union.

These historic events and personages are marked either by significant commemorative events, like the 12th of July “festivities” with marches and bonfires, or by physical monuments, like the remembrance wall in Glasnevin, or the statue of Russell. There is also much to be said about the nature of a society in showing who is not commemorated in word, art or celebration. The Tuam babies story, of over 800 children buried in an unmarked grave in a former septic tank has dominated public discussion and forced the nation into uncomfortable reflection about our recent past.  For decades, the remains of these babies and toddlers from the Sisters of the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, Co. Galway, were disposed of as though they were detritus. It was only the work of local people, especially the meticulous research of amateur historian Catherine Corless that brought this story to national attention and meant that these deceased children could at least be remembered and perhaps suitably commemorated.

To try and consider all physical points of remembrance or indeed collective amnesia in a country, or even a city like Dublin would be a lifelong task, but living around Dublin 9 and having a particular interest I’ve decided to focus my modest talents on how our city commemorates something a little more trivial, though still important to many: its footballers.

Dublin has long been the hub for football in the Republic of Ireland, producing more international players than all other counties combined. Areas like Cabra or Ringsend could field full international XI’s out of players born in those suburbs alone. The city is also home to the main stadiums used for international matches, Lansdowne Road, which hosted its first football international in 1900, and Dalymount Park, home to Bohemian F.C. since 1901 and for many years the main home stadium for the Republic of Ireland national team after the FAI/IFA split in 1921. Other stadiums from the past and present such as Drumcondra’s Tolka Park and Glenmalure Park in Milltown also feature prominently in Irish football history. Yet the sport has also seemed controversial to some, viewed as an un-Irish, “garrison game” that was not truly representative of a post independent Ireland. My focus is on who and what we as a supposedly football-loving city have chosen to commemorate.

Plaque build-up

From a quick examination, the commemoration of football in Dublin street signs and plaques is fairly limited to ex-Ireland internationals of prominence, or those sites associated with the creation of the most well-known city clubs.

In terms of playing personnel, there are three men commemorated publicly that I could find; John Giles, Liam Whelan and Patrick O’Connell. Giles, who was the first of these three to receive a commemorative plaque, is also the youngest of the three and the only one still alive. His plaque is located in Ormond Square, Dublin 7, just off the city quays close to the house where he was born.

Giles collage
John Giles Irish International Footballer was born and raised in Ormond Square – Heroes come from here

The square of houses surrounds a playground area and, appropriately, the plaque is mounted on a low wall surrounding this space. It was unveiled in 2006 and the intention of the message seems to aim as inspiration for children living in this part of the city. It seems to suggest that if Johnny Giles could make it as an elite player for Manchester United and Leeds United, play for and manage Ireland then the future should likewise be wide open for other children from this area.

Giles is of course something of a national institution, rightfully regarded as one of the country’s greatest ever players. He also managed Ireland for seven years, and later became known to successive generations due to his extended service as a newspaper, radio and television football pundit through the many highs and lows of the Irish national team.

Giles seems to still be held in affection by the vast majority of Irish football fans despite his playing or managerial involvement ending almost 40 years ago. As a player he was one of our most technically gifted and sought to encourage a more expansive style of play when Irish manager. He found success in England as a cup winner with Manchester United before his move to Leeds United, where he won two league titles, an FA Cup, League Cup and two Fairs/Uefa cups.

Liam Whelan bridge
Liam Whelan Bridge, Connaught Street, Cabra, Dublin 7

Not a great distance from either of the two spots in Dublin that John Giles called home stands a plaque to another ex-Manchester United star, Liam Whelan. The plaque in question is on the east side of a bridge that links Connaught Street across the old railway lines, now part of the extended Luas green route, to Fassaugh Road. The bridge has been known as Liam Whelan Bridge since an act of Dublin City Council gave it that name in 2006. It’s is a fitting location, as the bridge is just a few seconds walk from St. Attracta Road, where Liam was born.

While Liam was an exceptional player, a back to back league winner with the stylish Manchester United side of the mid-fifties, it is more his tragic death in the Munich air disaster at the tender age of 22 for which he is most remembered. Whelan made but 98 first team appearances for Manchester United and won only 4 four senior caps for Ireland, two of those appearances made in Dalymount Park, located just yards from the bridge that bears his name.

Then as now, Manchester United were a hugely popular team in Ireland. They had been captained to FA Cup glory in 1948 by Irish international Johnny Carey, and a year later 48,000 fans packed out Dalymount Park for a testimonial match for Bohemians’ legendary trainer Charlie Harris, between Bohemians and Man Utd .

The “Busby Babes” team were famed not just for their youth but for the appealing, attacking style of football they played. Liam had been their top scorer when they won their second consecutive title in the 1956-57 season, scoring 33 goals in all competitions. His loss, and that of his team-mates symbolised the unfulfilled potential of a group of young men cut down before even reaching their prime.

Patrick O'Connell
Patrick O’Connell plaque at 87 Fitzroy Avenue, Dublin

The most recently unveiled football related plaque in Dublin City is in remembrance of Patrick O’Connell. He was born in Dublin in 1887, growing up on Fitzroy Avenue in Drumcondra, just a stones throw from Croke Park. Patrick was a successful footballer for Belfast Celtic before moving across the Irish Sea with spells at Sheffield Wednesday, Hull City and Manchester United. He also made six appearances for the Irish national team and was a member of the victorious Home Nations Championship winning side of the 1913-14 season, Ireland’s first victory in the competition.

Despite a relatively successful and eventful playing career (captaining Manchester United, becoming embroiled in a betting scandal, winning the Home Nations), O’Connell is best remembered for his managerial achievements. He began his managerial career as  player-manager with Ashington before moving to Spain in 1922. During more than 25 years in Spain he managed a host of clubs, including Racing Santander, Real Oviedo, Barcelona and both of the major Seville clubs; Real Betis and Sevilla. O’Connell even lead Betis to their sole league title in the 1934-35 season. Strangely, despite the influence of Irish players and managers in Britain, this is success is more recent than the last time an Irish manager won the League in England, Belfast’s Bob Kyle with Sunderland in 1913.

O’Connell is revered as a hero in Betis for this championship victory, and is similarly lauded in Barcelona as the man who saved the club from going bankrupt during the tumult of the Spanish Civil War by arranging a series of lucrative foreign tours that kept both the club coffers full and the players out of harm’s way.

The tireless activities of O’Connell’s descendants and enthusiasts has meant that this previously forgotten footballing pioneer is now commemorated not only in Dublin but in Seville, Barcelona, Belfast and in London where he is buried. The efforts of this small group has seen television and radio documentaries commissioned as well as a biography being published. In this regard O’Connell is the 3rd Manchester United player commemorated in Dublin, but the only manager. His unique achievements in Spain and his crucial role in the history of Barcelona setting him apart in an Irish footballing context.

Pubs, clubs and housing estates

Many League of Ireland fans understandably feel that our domestic game gets a raw deal in wider Irish society, and with the FAI and the Irish media in particular. John Delaney’s description of the league as the “problem child” of Irish football only seemed to confirm this to the die-hard supporters of clubs around the country. However, it was not always thus. In the early days of the FAI, domestic clubs held significant sway and grandees of League of Ireland sides made up many of the committees of the FAI, including the selection committees for the national team.

Dublin has always been at the forefront of the game in this country. Again, the capital alone has comfortably provided more international players than every other county combined and the Dublin clubs have generally tended to be among the predominant clubs in the league, regardless of the era.

Upon creation of the Free State League in 1921 after the split from the IFA, the entirety of the eight-team division were Dublin based clubs. Prior to that, the only non-Ulster based clubs to compete in the Irish league came from the capital. Bohemian F.C. and Shelbourne, two clubs formed in the 1890s who remain in existence today and both their founding locations are commemorated.

Gate lodge
The gate lodge at the North Circular Road entrance to the Phoenix Park. Bohemian FC were founded here in 1890.

Bohemian F.C. were founded on the 6th September 1890 in the Gate Lodge at the North Circular Road entrance to the Phoenix Park. Those forming the club were young men in their late teens from Bells Academy, a civil service college in North Great Georges Street, and students from the Hibernian Military School, also located in the Phoenix Park.Gate lodge plaque The early matches of the club were played on the nearby Polo grounds. By 1894 the club had its first major piece of silverware, the Leinster Senior Cup, defeating Dublin University 3-0 in the final. It was to be the first of six consecutive victories in the competition. Less than two years after that first victory John Fitzpatrick became the first Bohs player to be capped at international level, captaining Ireland on his debut against England.

The club continued to grow, purchasing Pisser Dignam’s field in Phibsboro as their new home ground. Dalymount Park, named after the nearby line of terrace houses remains the club’s home to this day. It also played host to dozens of cup finals and hundreds of international matches. Bohemians were founder members of the Free State league, becoming champions for the first time in 1923-24. The club have proceeded to win the title on a further ten occasions.

Shels collage
Shelbourne F.C. plaque on Slattery’s Pub


Shelbourne were founded in what is now Slattery’s Pub at the corner of South Lotts Road, Bath Avenue and Shelbourne Road in 1895 by a group of dock workers from the local Ringsend/Sandymount area. Their name was reportedly decided upon by a coin toss between the various nearby streets. By the 1902-03 season they were champions of the Leinster Senior League and by 1905 they had become one of the first Dublin clubs to begin paying players, with James Wall receiving the princely sum of a halfpenny per week!

Paying players seemed to pay dividends because by 1906 the had become the first side from outside of Ulster to win the IFA Cup beating Belfast Celtic in the final. Other triumphs would follow and to date Shelbourne have won 13 league titles and seven FAI Cups.


Commemorating the founding of Shamrock Rovers in 1901. The building is located on Irishtown Road.

Shamrock Rovers, as with Shelbourne mentioned above, took their name from a street in the local area around Ringsend, in this case Shamrock Avenue. The street as it was then no longer remains, but is roughly located where the Square is today, a small side street off Irishtown Road. The first home ground of the nascent Rovers was Ringsend Park, just to the rear of Shamrock Avenue. The club was formed at a meeting held at number 4 Irishtown Road, the home of Lar Byrne, the first secretary of Shamrock Rovers. The plaque shown above commemorates this event, and can be found on Irishtown Road near to the corner with the Square, opposite the Ringsend public library.

Ringsend map collage
Irishtown Road past and present

Ringsend Park would not remain Shamrock Rovers’ permanent home for too long, as the club moved to a number of grounds in their early years and withdrew for competitive football completely on a number of occasions. However, by the early 20s, they were on the rise. They finished as runners-up in the inaugural FAI Cup final in 1921, and would win the league title a year later. By late 1926, Rovers had begun playing their matches in Glenmalure Park on the Milltown Road, and they had been playing on other pitches nearby in the years immediately preceding 1926. Glenmalure Park would remain Rovers’ home until 1987, when it was finally sold for redevelopment as a housing estate by the club’s owner, Louis Kilcoyne. The Rovers support had strongly opposed this move, and formed the pressure group KRAM (Keep Rovers At Milltown) to fight this decision. Ultimately, they were unsuccessful and the intervening years would see Rovers lead a peripatetic existence, moving to Tolka Park, Dalymount Park, the RDS and Morton Stadium amongst others, before finally relocating to their present home in Tallaght in 2009.

Glenmalure Park retains a strong significance for Rovers fans, and more than a decade after leaving, a monument commemorating their time on the Milltown Road was unveiled in 1998. In credit to Shamrock Rovers, a particularly active brand of their support have been prominent in recording and marking their heritage and history, not just with the plaque above, but also with initiatives like the fundraising for a new headstone for their former striker Paddy Moore.

Monument collage
Monument to Glenmalure Park on the Milltown Road at the former site of the stadium

This is pretty much the sum total of the football commemorations that I could find, although I would appreciate any other suggestions. For clarity I’ve excluded and plaques, monuments and such that exist within football grounds and clubhouses. A quick review shows that despite the long football heritage of the city, very little of this is marked physically.

Statues of other sports stars adorn other parts of the country, from the recently unveiled statue of Sonia O’Sullivan in Cobh, to numerous GAA stars remembered in bronze in other parts of the country, hurlers Nicky Rackard in Wexford Town and Ollie Walsh in Thomastown being two personal favourites. There is a statue of Spanish golfer Seve Ballesteros at Heritage golf club in Co. Laois, and even our four-legged friends have been immortalised, with the legendary racing greyhound Mick the Miller getting pride of place in the centre of Killeigh, Co. Offaly and another of his ancestor Master McGrath just outside Dungarvan. In terms of football, there is a statue of big Jack Charlton in Cork Airport, but if you didn’t know him as the former Irish manager you might think it commemorates a noted angler.

So what have we learned? In Dublin, to be a footballer and receive a physical commemoration, it really helps if you’ve played for Manchester United! Apart from the three mentioned above, the city’s three biggest clubs are all remembered at their places of birth, while Rovers’ home ground at their peak has also been commemorated in granite and bronze. Perhaps Tolka Park will receive similar treatment if and when it is redeveloped? I for one would certainly hope so.

I’ll end on one final commemorative plaque. This one is on Parnell Square East and marks the birth place of the inimitable Oliver St. John Gogarty. The plaque commemorates Gogarty as a Surgeon, Poet and Statesman. Plenty more terms could be added. He was the inspiration for the character Buck Mulligan in James Joyce’s Ulysses, and he was also a fine sportsman, in swimming, cricket and indeed football. Gogarty was a Bohemian F.C. player from 1896 until at least 1898 and featured as a forward in the clubs first XI. It may not be as a footballer that he is best remembered but it was certainly another string to his bow.Gogarty2

Devlin’s of Parnell Street

Walk down Parnell Street towards the Rotunda hospital and you’ll pass the junction with O’Connell Street, followed by the Parnell Heritage Pub (formerly the Parnell Mooney) and then at the corner you’ll reach Conway’s Pub which is closed at present. Opposite Conway’s across the junction with Moore Lane is a hoarded off site.  Wooden panels and advertising boards hide an empty space fronting out onto Parnell Street. Behind that is a small surface car-park and next door is the Jury’s Inn hotel.

It’s a fairly featureless site, but one with a certain weight of history associated with it. This site, 68 Parnell Street was formerly home to Devlin’s pub and hotel. A building of huge significance during the War of Independence and the subsequent Civil War.

The building itself was once a four-storey structure with a bar at ground floor level and rooms to hire on the floors above. It was bought by Liam Devlin and his family in 1920.

Devlin's Parnell Street
Devlin’s as it appeared in the Irish Times in 1924. Conway’s pub is visible to the left.


In his Bureau of Military history witness statement Frank Thornton, the Deputy Assistant Director of Intelligence to Michael Collins spoke about how Liam Devlin had taken over the licenced premises in mid-1920 and began running it with his wife. Devlin was originally from Derry but had moved to Greenock in Scotland and had become involved with the Irish Volunteer movement while based there. He moved to Dublin around 1918 and took over the running of what became Devlin’s pub in 1920 along with his young family. Liam Devlin’s son Denis Devlin (born 1908) would later gain a certain literary fame as a poet while also working for as an Irish diplomat in Italy during the 1950’s.

Through his existing connections with the Gaelic League and the IRB Liam Devlin came to be introduced to Michael Collins and quickly offered Collins and his Intelligence staff the use of his premises as a safe-house and meeting place.

Collins used a number of city centre premises as offices and meeting places during the time of the War of Independence, many in the Parnell Street and Square area such as Vaughan’s Hotel and Jim Kirwan’s. Information would be sent to him in these locations, and he would also use them to meet new recruits and make plans for upcoming operations. Devlin’s soon became a sort of unofficial HQ for Collins and his men.

Again as Frank Thornton’s witness statement noted;

We used Devlin’s extensively and every night Mick, [Collins],  Gearóid O’Sullivan, Liam Tobin, Dermot O’Hegarty, Piaras Beaslaí, Frank Thornton, Tom Cullen and Joe O’Reilly met there, the events of the day were discussed and plans were made for the following day. Any particular Column leader or Brigade Officer arriving in town was generally instructed to report to Devlin’s.

Eamon “Ned” Broy, the infamous double agent who was nominally a “G-man” intelligence officer with the Dublin Metropolitan Police but was in fact feeding information to Collins also remembered Devlin’s well. He remarked that it was known by the men as the “No 1 joint” at the time. It was to Devlin’s pub that Broy went to meet Collins after he had been released from prison. Many expected Broy to be killed and were delighted to see him safe and well, Collins celebrated his release in a somewhat unusual manner, Broy remembers Collins marking their reunion “by demanding a wrestling bout with me”.

The benefits of a welcoming city centre location were obvious but the hospitality of the Devlin family was an added bonus, while the premises’ status as a pub provided a good cover. As Thornton noted:

Mrs. Devlin acted in the capacity of a very generous hostess. Visitors from the country never left without getting a meal and in quite a large number of instances a bed for the night. It can be readily understood that a headquarters of this kind in the heart of the city was valuable to the movement generally and particularly to the Intelligence end of things, for, being a public house, no notice was taken of people continually going in and out.

This helps show the role of Devlin’s in the War of Independence and it was of clear importance and use to Collins personally, however it also had a significant role at the end of the Civil War. After the cessation of hostilities between the pro and anti Treaty forces in May of 1923 a general election was held in August of that year which elected the new Cumann na nGaedheal government led by W.T. Cosgrave. One immediate issue facing the government was how to demobilise a national army that had grown to a great size during the Civil War but was no longer needed in peacetime.

A hardcore of army officers, many of whom had been members of the Dublin Guard such as Liam Tobin, feared for their own positions under this demobilisation and some viewed themselves as being unfairly treated in relation to some former British Army officers who had joined the pro-Treaty forces during the Civil War. On the 7th March 1924 an ultimatum was sent to Cosgrave signed by Tobin and Colonel Charles Dalton demanding an end of the demobilisation.

This was understandably viewed as a mutinous act from a section of the armed forces. Immediately afterwards a number of recruits refused to parade and arrest warrants were issued for Tobin and Dalton. By the 18th of March a group of roughly 40 armed men, including Dalton and Tobin decamped to Devlin’s to plan their next move and in response Kevin O’Higgins, the Minster for Justice who had token over the de facto leadership of a government divided by the issue sent lorry loads of loyal Army troops straight to Parnell Street. Two Cumann na nGaedheal TDs, Joseph McGrath and Daniel McCarthy attempted to negotiate with the surrounded mutineers to deescalate the situation. Tobin and Dalton, knowing Devlin’s well from their days there with Collins escaped along the building roofs and ultimately any threat of a wide scale army mutiny or even a coup d’état soon disappeared. The 1924 mutiny resulted in Richard Mulcahy resigning from his role as Defence Minister as well as nine TD’s resigning their seats from the Cumann na nGaedheal government.

More importantly it demonstrated that after almost a decade of death and violence, and only months after the end of a bloody Civil War, that it was elected government, and not the military that held the power in Ireland. It may be argued that the gun began to leave Irish politics after a period of intense militarisation on a spring night on Parnell Street outside a long demolished pub.


Ernie Crawford he’s our friend

Regular attendees to Dalymount Park may have noticed a new flag appearing around Block F. It features a bare chested man with a Charlie Chaplin moustache and bears the legend Ernie Crawford – He’s our friend, he hates Rovers. But who, you may ask was Ernie Crawford?

Born in Belfast in November 1891 Ernie was perhaps best known for his endeavours on the Rugby pitch. He starred for Malone in Belfast and later Lansdowne Rugby Club and won 30 caps for Ireland, fifteen of them as Captain between 1920 and 1927. After retirement he was heavily involved in administration as President of Lansdowne Rugby Club between 1939 and 1941 and President of the IRFU in the 1957/58 season as well as being an Irish team selector between 1943 and 1951 and again between 1955-1957. His obituary in the Irish Times listed him as one of the greatest rugby full-backs of all time, he was honoured for his contribution to sport by the French government and even featured on a Tongan stamp celebrating rugby icons.

He was also a successful football player who turned out for Cliftonville, for Bohemians and on a number of occasions for Athlone Town. He was even a passable cricket player. Ernie was a chartered accountant by trade and moved to Dublin to take up the role of accountant at the Rathmines Urban Council in 1919, and this facilitated his joining Bohemians. Despite his greater reputation as a rugby player, Ernie, as a footballer for Bohs, was still considered talented enough to be part of the initial national squad selected by the FAIFS (now the FAI) for the 1924 Olympics in Paris. In all, six Bohemians were selected (Bertie Kerr, Jack McCarthy, Christy Robinson, John Thomas & Johnny Murray were the others and were trained by Bohs’ Charlie Harris), but when the squad had to be cut to only 16 players Ernie was dropped, though he chose to accompany the squad to France as a reserve. The fact that he was born in Belfast may have led to him being cut due to the tension that existed with the FAIFS and the IFA over player selection. However, even as a travelling supporter, he caused some controversy. He was stopped by customs officials en route to Paris and had to explain the presence of a revolver in his possessions. Ernie’s reply was merely that he brought the gun for his “piece of mind”. Not that this was Ernie’s first experience with firearms.

Crawford collage
Ernie in military uniform, appearing on a Tongan postage stamp and in rugby kit

Ernie had served and been injured during the First World War. That he could captain the Irish Rugby Team and be selected for the Olympics is even more impressive when you consider that during the Great War Ernie was shot in the wrist at Arras, France in 1917 causing him to be invalided from the Army and to lose the power in three of his fingers. He had enlisted in the 6th Inniskilling Dragoons in October 1914 and was commissioned and later posted to the London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers), becoming a Lieutenant in August 1917. After his injury he finished his war service on the staff of the Ministry of Munitions. He was a recipient of both the British War medal and Victory Medal.

Ernie later returned to Belfast where he became City Treasurer in 1933. It was in Belfast in 1943 that Ernie encountered Bohs again, as he was chosen to present the Gypsies with the Condor Cup after their victory over Linfield in the annual challenge match.

One of the reasons that his memory has lasted nearly a century with the Bohemians faithful and why a group of us decided to get a flag made up bearing his image centres around a minor cup tie. Ernie, due to his Rugby and also his professional commitments tended to not be a regular starter for Bohemians, his appearances tended to be because of the injury or suspension of other players or as part of reduced strength sides in smaller cup competitions.

As we all know however, when it comes to games against Rovers there are no “smaller ties”. After one particularly tough cup game against Shamrock Rovers an angry Crawford removed his jersey challenged Rovers star forward Bob Fullam to a fight in the middle of the pitch. It’s this moment that the image on the flag imagines!

Fullam himself was no shrinking violet, as well as being an accomplished footballer who was capped twice by Ireland he supplemented his income as a docker in Dublin Port. He finished the 1922 FAI Cup final amid a mass brawl after Rovers were beaten by St. James Gate. The fighting only ceased when the brother of the Gate’s Charlie Dowdall reportedly confronted Fullam with a pistol.

Ernie himself seemed to have been one of those “larger than life” characters, quite aside from bringing a gun to the Olympics and bare-chested on-pitch scraps he also fell foul of Rugby referees one of whom complained about Crawford’s back-chat and claimed that such was the roughness of his play “that the definition of a “tackle” should be sent in black and white to him”. On another occassion an English rugby opponent remembers Crawford treating him and his wife to dinner and giving them a lift back in his car which didn’t happen to have any working headlights. Ernie in an attempt to beat traffic tried to get between a tram and the pavement without much success, badly denting the side of his car and scratching up the paintwork of the tram car. The angry tram driver jumped from the vehicle but on recognising that the other driver was non other than Irish rugby captain Ernie Crawford he let the car pass unhindered, taking off more paint as he went.

In 1932 he became the first man from Britain or Ireland to be awarded the silver medal of honour by the French ministry of sport and physical education for his contributions to the world of sport. Apart from sport he was obviously professionally successful, being City Treasurer of Belfast until his retirement in 1954, he was also trained as a barrister and took an interest in economics. He died in 1959 and was survived by his wife and three children.

Ernie Crawford, he’s our friend.


Useful resources on Ernie’s career include Paul Rouse’s History of Irish Sport, Tadhg Carey’s When we were Kings and David Needham’s Ireland’s first real World Cup and the Dictionary of Irish biography.

Stanley Matthews at Drums – A Ballon D’Or winner at Drumcondra F.C.

Fagan’s pub of Drumcondra is well known to many sports fans in the city of Dublin; in business since 1907 its close proximity to both Croke Park and Tolka Park means that it is regularly frequented by supporters of the both Dubs, Shelbourne F.C. and their various opponents. The walls of the pub bear witness to this, with many photographs and pennants of various sports teams but one that caught my eye on a recent visit were a collection of match programmes from Tolka Park’s former residents Drumcondra F.C.

Fagan’s pub in Drumcondra, a short walk from Tolka Park

Surrounded by advertisements for tobacco, bingo halls and pubs are the starting XI’s for both Drumcondra and their visitors Glentoran of Belfast. To the left of the line-ups is a nice little action photo of former Bohemians player Amby Fogarty who had joined Glentoran from the Dalymount club in 1955. A date for the game didn’t appear on the programme page but a little research showed it had taken place on Wednesday October 24th 1956.

A few of the names on that Drumcondra side were familiar to me by reputation, in goal was Alan Kelly Sr.  who became a legend at Preston North End and won almost 50 caps for Ireland. Also in the side was Christopher “Bunny” Fullam, another former Bohs player who also tasted success with Shelbourne, as well as other Drums legends like Tommy Rowe, later a league winner and manager with Dundalk.

Drums v Glentoran
Drumcondra v Glentoran match programme inlay

One name I wasn’t sure of was the number 7, Matthews at outside right. A little more research revealed it to be none other than the wing wizard himself, Stanley Matthews. At the time of the game Matthews was 41 years old but was still an England international and had just enjoyed the best league season of his career, with Blackpool finishing as runners up to the Busby Babes of Manchester United. In fact less than two months after lining out for Drums Matthews would be named as the inaugural winner of the Ballon D’Or, defeating competition from Alfredo Di Stefano and Raymond Kopa to be named as the best player in Europe.

While another Ballon D’Or winner, George Best would later play a handful of games for Cork Celtic in his peripatetic later career, this was seven years after he had won Europe’s greatest individual honour and was sadly just another interlude on the downward spiral or his stellar career. Similarly an ageing Bobby Charlton, recently released from coaching duties at Preston North End, played a handful of games for Waterford in 1976 some ten years after his Ballon D’Or’ win. Despite Matthews advanced years for a footballer he was still in the elongated prime of his career. He would win his second Football Writers Player of the Year award in 1963 and played his final top flight game for Stoke City in 1965 at the age of 50.

Matthews was obviously the main draw for the game and provided much of the entertainment, “beating players with ease” and delivering “delightful passes”. Drums ran out 3-2 winners against Glentoran with a hat-trick coming from Drums other winger on the night, Dermot Cross. Glentoran’s goals came from brothers Dara and Cyril Nolan, both former Drumcondra players, with Cyril’s coming from the penalty spot. One other player of note for Glentoran was their thrice beaten keeper Eamonn McMahon, he had kept goal for Armagh in the All – Ireland Footfall final against Kerry in 1953. His talent in the Gaelic code attracted the attention of Glasgow Celtic with whom he had a brief spell before returning to Ireland to play for Glentoran.

A league of Ireland side with a future European footballer of the year playing for them might seem a bit odd nowadays (even for a friendly) but the game against Glentoran was in fact the third time Matthews had lined out for Drumcondra, having appeared for them twice in the late 40s in a pair of benefit matches played in Dalymount Park.

The first was in 1946 when he played in a benefit match for Drums’ Scottish trainer Jock McCosh (surely the most Scottish name since Hamish MacBeth).  The second game came a year later when he appeared in a match for Drums’ player Paddy Daly.

This first game to feature Matthews (for Drums trainer Mr. McCosh) was appropriately against Scottish opposition in the form of Greenock Morton. Drums were on an upward swing having just won the FAI cup for the third time in their history. However Greenock (who would narrowly lose the Scottish Cup final in a replay to Rangers later that year) were far too strong for Drums, riding out comfortable 6-0 winners. Matthews had chartered a private plane to get him to Dublin for the game but had a limited impact. His performance started well and he linked up nicely with both Kit and Jimmy Lawlor while keeping the opposing fully busy with his crossing and dribbling skills. However, he had not fully recovered from a recent injury and his impact waned as the match progressed with reports on the match describing him as “not at his best”.

If Matthews wasn’t at his best in the ’46 game it didn’t have an impact on the interest in the next game where he featured. The report of the Daly benefit match from April 1947 described Dalymount as almost full (at a time when attendances were on occasion reported around the 40,000 mark) and described Matthews himself as “the outstanding and most attractive players of his generation”.

Drums Matthews3
Irish Times headline from the 1956 match against Glentoran

This match was between a Drumcondra XI and a Distillery selection and there were plenty of other well-known players in attendance apart from Matthews. These included such popular names as Peter Farrell and Tommy Eglinton of Everton, both Irish internationals. Con Martin of Leeds United was also due to line out in goal for Drums but had to pull out at late notice due to injury. The Drumcondra selection ran out 1-0 winners in a poor game in which the Distillery tactics were described as “crude”.  As far as his personal performance Matthews stood apart among the standard front five although he wasn’t supported sufficiently and didn’t manage to get on the ball as much as expected. He obviously did enough to impress the reporters present with his talent when he did get on the ball being described as “well above the ordinary” and he was praised for his “excellent ball control and accurate passing”.

While it might seem strange that one of the world’s most famous players lined out on three occasions for a now defunct League of Ireland side it was far from uncommon at the time, especially for someone like Matthews. Having begun his career in 1932, and despite its longevity he was well into his 40’s by the time the maximum wage was abolished in England. Ever aware of the precariousness of a footballer’s existence Matthews had in his early years lived off his win bonuses and saved his regular salary, he developed sideline business ventures including running a guesthouse, signing an early boot deal and of course appearing as a guest player for what could be lucrative match fees for the time. Based for much of his later life in Blackpool, (even after a playing return to Stoke City) it was only short journey to Dublin and Drumcondra F.C.

One of Matthews final Irish involvements came a year after his last match for Drums. He lined out in a World Cup qualifier for England against the Republic of Ireland in Wembley. The English ran out 5-1 winners, with Manchester United’s centre forward Tommy Taylor grabbing a hat-trick. Taylor was born the year that Matthews had made his debut for Stoke. This was to be the second last of his 54 caps, his final one coming a week later in a 4-1 against Denmark. This final match meant that he was the oldest player ever to represent England, and despite having played in 3 of the four qualifying games Matthews was not selected for the England squad that travelled to Sweden for the 1958 World Cup.

Having played in many a benefit match Matthews had a testimonial of his own in 1965 when he finally hung up his boots professionally. The opposition was a star-studded World XI taking on a “Stan’s XI” who lined out in red and white, the colours of his beloved Stoke. The World XI won out 6-4 and Matthews was carried off the pitch by two of his opponents on the night Lev Yashin and Ferenc Puskas. Among the opposition that night were Raymond Kopa and Alfredo di Stefano, the two mean who had beaten to win the first Ballon D’Or nine years before.



On the Farrell family

Last year amid all the ceremony that surrounded the centenary of the 1916 Rising I set about researching some of the family history around that hugely significant event. I did of course throw in a bit about politics, football and a few other things and the resulting effort can be found here. That article had tended to focus more on the Kieran family; the family of my grandmother and some of their connections to the town of Dundalk.

The post was well received and seemed to be of special interest to family members as it jogged some recollections of long dead aunts and uncles, of half forgotten stories and the other various myths and tales that are told in all families. I was however admonished for not focusing enough on the Farrell side of the clan, after all theirs was a story worthy of telling as well. I’ve duly started to compile some information on the Farrell side of the family from around the same period (turn of the 20th Century) and the results compiled below.

But first back to the Kieran family! In the previous post I touched on the lives of Thomas Kieran and Jane Brennan, my great-grandparents. Thomas as mentioned had been born in Dundalk around 1889 and worked as an engine fitter at the Great Northern Railroad in Dundalk before moving to Dublin where he continued working as an engineer for the railways. He married Jane Brennan of Dominick Street in late 1915. Jane was born around 1891 to Jane and Michael Brennan.

Tom and Jane lived at 27 Blessington Street in the north inner city. As mentioned in the previous post Tom had been involved with the volunteers during the Rising in Dundalk and he maintained his republican interests while living in Dublin. On the evening of 16th December 1920 Tom was arrested at his residence in Blessington Street and the house was thoroughly searched for weapons though none were found. The arresting officer was one Lieutenant Percy Gerald Humfrey, who noted that upon being arrested Tom said nothing at all.

He wasn’t the only family member to be arrested around this time as I discovered tracing back the Farrell line. For reference here’s the basic family tree below because this can get a little complicated.


My great-grandfather is Leo Farrell (who my Da is named after) and he was born in early 1893, one of eight children that survived (there were ten born in total) to Terence Bellew McManus Farrell and Mary Farrell (nee Byrne). Leo was a  railway engineer who worked in the CIE yards in Inchicore and was also an active Trade Union member. He was also quite an athlete in his younger days, he was a member of Clonliffe Harriers running club. I’ve recently found a reference to Leo winning a one-mile race for Clonliffe Harriers back in 1911 when he would have been around 18. There is a short report on the race from the Dublin Daily Express showing Leo comfortably finishing the race in a sub 5 minute time.

Leo runs a mile- Dublin Daily Express 06.11.11
Report in the Dublin Daily Express from 6th November 1911


Leo’s younger brother Terence Patrick Farrell was born in late 1898. The younger Terence is quite an interesting character and it was he who was also arrested in December 1920, the same time as Thomas Kieran and from very close by too. Terence had grown up in the family home on Anne Street North, just off the city’s north quays near to the markets area however, the family later moved to 32 Mountjoy Street, just around the corner from Blessington Street where the Kieran’s lived.

32 Mountjoy St
32 Mountjoy Street as it appears today.

Terence became involved with the Republic movement even before the Rising while still a teenager, he joined Fianna Eireann and turned up at Jacob’s biscuit factory as part of E company of the 2nd Battalion of the Dublin Brigade during Easter week. However, he was only there for a few hours before being sent home due to his age (he could only have been 17 at the latest).

Terence rejoined E company of the 2nd Battalion in early 1917 and attended the various parades and drills required of an IRA member. By 1919 he had undertaken a first aid training course and was performing training classes for Cumann na mBan members once or twice a week in Finglas as well as in Summer Street just off Mountjoy Square.

Later in 1920 Terence was involved in an aborted rescue attempt for the recently arrested Kevin Barry. Interestingly Terence noted that it was a cousin of his (another Farrell involved perhaps? Another family store was that this was his cousin Rosie McGrane who smuggled Terence’s revolver out of 32 Mountjoy Square when he was arrested) who mobilised him for a the rescue attempt. He was armed with a gun and grenades and stationed at North Great George’s Street in what would have been a last-ditch, desperate attempt to liberate Barry from Mountjoy prison. Due to the large crowds gathering outside the prison and the growing number of military personal that were stationed there it was decided due to the expected carnage that would ensue that the rescue attempt would have to be called off. Kevin Barry was later executed by hanging.

42 North Great Georges St
A view from the spot on North Great George’s Street where Terence was stationed for the Kevin Barry rescue attempt

Undoubtedly the most significant incident in which Terence was involved was his role during Bloody Sunday, 21st November 1920.  He was one of the lookouts at the 22 Lower Mount Street where Lieutenant Henry James Angliss and Lieutenant Charles Peel were residing. Angliss, who was going by the code name Peter Mahon/McMahon, was a particular target due to his involvement in the murder of Sinn Fein Councillor John Lynch at the Exchange Hotel on Parliament Street in September 1920.

While Angliss was killed on Bloody Sunday, Peel managed to escape by barricading himself in his room. Terence was keeping guard in the hall when some passing Auxiliaries were alerted by the screams of the housemaids, they tried to escape from the back of the house but came under fire and they had to fight their way out through the front of the house. Terence was armed with a pair of revolvers and helped cover the group, expending all his ammunition as the rest of the party made their escape up Grattan Street. There is a wider account of the assassination here. Terence continued in other activities including the armed raid of the SS Clarecastle, a Guinness ship that was being used to transport weapons. The volunteers were successful in seizing arms from the ship. This must have occurred some time in 1918/1919 when many of the Guinness ships were under the control of the Royal Navy who had commandeered them after the outbreak of World War I, only returning them to the brewery in 1919.

SS Clarecastle
A view of the SS Clarecastle in front of Custom House Quay. Photo kindly provided by the Guinness Archives

Terence was arrested in early December 1920 at the family home at 32 Mountjoy Street. He was held in Ballykinlar, Co. Down, an army base turning internment camp, and was not released until December 1921. Terence’s autograph book which he kept during his imprisonment is held in the National Library’s microfilm collection.

Certificate showing Terence’s membership of the IRA, signed by Oscar Traynor

After his release he had a varied and full existence. He was heavily involved in the Trade Union movement. Terence like his father Terence Snr. was a bookbinder by trade and he soon became head of the bookbinders Union. Through his leadership of the bookbinders union he became more prominent in the Trade Union movement later becoming a the last President of the Congress of Irish Unions (CIU), one of the main Trade Union confederations before their amalgamation to become ICTU. Terence represented the CIU at the 1958 International Labour Conference in Geneva where he spoke about the importance “educational activity in the field of labour – management relations”,  Terence remained active with ICTU and was one of the party who attended the new organisations first meeting with then Taoiseach Sean Lemass. Among his other work was a role representing the Trade Union movement on a government committee set up to advise on the establishment of a national television station in 1958, two years before RTE Television was established.

Terence didn’t live quite long enough to see the first television broadcast of the new station on New Year’s Eve 1961, he had passed away in February of that year. The chief mourners at the funeral were his wife Elsie and and his six children. His brothers and sisters were also in attendance as were Taoiseach Sean Lemass and Minister for Justice Oscar Traynor who had known Terence from his days in the IRA. He was accorded full military honours at his funeral.

Terence funeral cap

Terence’s father Terence Farrell Snr. who was briefly mentioned above was also a printer by trade which gives us a hint how the younger Terence ended up becoming general secretary of the bookbinders union. He was born in May 1864 in Faithful Place to Patrick and Catherine Farrell. Patrick was a  wine barrel cooper while we don’t know if Catherine Farrell (nee Brady) had a job outside the home as this wasn’t recorded at the time.

Terence birthcert
Birth certificate of Terence Farrell Senior

The area where Terence Snr. was born is mentioned as 12 Faithful Place which no longer exists today. However in 1864 it was located in a the area marked by the red “x” in the centre of the map below on an area now just off Railway Street currently by City Council social housing complexes.

Faithful place map
Map of the area around Faithful Place. Lower Gardiner Street is visible to the left.

By the end of the 19th Century this area had become synonymous with vice and prostitution, it was the infamous “Monto” area, named after nearby Montgomery Street (now Foley Street), it was the “Night Town” of James Joyce’s Ulysses however around the time of Terence’s birth it had not quite become the red light district of the city, only becoming a focal point from the 1870’s onwards. While perhaps not the as infamous as it would later become it was a far from wealthy area, the photo below shows the condition of Faithful Place in 1913. While the area had originally been developed by the Gardiner family who had laid out and developed Mountjoy Square as one of Dublin’s finest addresses the area had declined in the early decades of the 19th century leading to the once opulent Georgian houses becoming tenements for the city’s struggling working classes.

Faithful Place - Monto
Faithful Place in 1913 (source

While Terence would go on to have a certain distant connection to the literary world of Dublin as he worked as a bookbinder but we know less of his parents Patrick and Catherine Farrell, the seem to have been married in April of 1843 in St. Andrew’s Church on Westland Row.  Their fate is a little less certain so if anyone comes across any other information on them please let me know.

I’d like to finish with a little bit on the Scully side of the family. Leo Farrell married Margaret Scully in 1916. Leo would have been 23 at this stage while Margaret would have been about 20 years old. Margaret was the daughter of Louisa and Michael Scully who lived in rooms in 70 Benburb Street in Dublin 7. Michael was born around 1869 and was listed as a general labourer. He died at the young age of only 30 on St. Stephen’s Day 1899 with the cause of death listed as pneumonia and heart failure, only two months earlier they had registered the birth of their baby daughter, also named Louisa. In the 1901 census Louisa Scully (nee Gavigan) had moved a short distance from Benburb Street, across the river to nearby Watling Street. She had been a widow almost two years by that stage and worked as a laundress and supporting her four daughters; Mary Ellen 15, Bridget 12, Margaret 7, and baby Louisa not yet 2.

Farrells & Scullys
Seated in front, Leo Farrell & Margaret Scully on their wedding day in August 1916. At the rear is Margaret’s sister Louisa Scully (aka Francie) and Terence Farrell. Thanks to my cousin Lisa Taylor for the photo.

Although Louisa could neither read nor write she was listed on the 1901 census as being able to speak both English and Irish, her place of birth was listed as Kildare. All her daughters were still in school and were literate. In the later 1911 census Margaret is the only daughter listed as being able to speak Irish as well as English, then in her later teens she was working as a shirt maker. This connection with the textile industries is something that was obviously passed on to her children, her older sister Bridget also listed her job as “ladies tailoring”, so there is a certain fashion connection in the family.

While in the 1901 census the family were all listed as Roman Catholic by 1911 all or Louisa’s daughters listed under the religion heading their devotion to the Roman Catholic sodality of the Sacred Thirst. This was part of the wider temperance movement at the time and was based in Father Matthew Hall on Church Street, the family were at this time living nearby at 144 North King Street. There was widespread interest in these Church led campaigns against drinking beginning in the 1880’s, especially in the working class communities of Dublin. There is some more information about the hall and the sodality here. I have wondered whether the death of their father Michael at the age of 30 might have had an impact on the girls and their devotion to the temperance movement. Deaths listed as pneumonia and heart disease (Michael’s listed cause of death) were often the result of alcohol abuse, might this be have been the root cause for their devotion?

Sacred Thirst Margaret Scully
Publications by the Sacred Thirst sodality based in Fr. Mathew Hall on Church Street.

I’m ending this particular chapter of the familial research in a familiar address, 15 Fassaugh Road. A location known to all the family, it was where Louisa Scully Sr. passed away on the 1st of July 1938. She was 72 years old and had at that stage been a widow for more than 40 years. Her causes of death were listed as senility and cardiac arrest, with the witness on her death certificate being her son-in-law Leo.


As with any family history there is always more to be told. Please let me know if I’ve missed out on anything, it certainly won’t be the end of my research, I’m already on to the print museum in Beggar’s Bush about the two Terence’s and am doing more digging on Leo’s association with the Trade Unions and on his sporting career. A big thank you to my second cousin, once removed Helen Farrell for all her assistance, her existing research has opened a lot of doors for me. Anyway I’m proud to be a ninth generation Dubliner, who knows what else we’ll find!

The remarkable life of Bohs captain William H. Otto

The 1923-24 season was to signal the first of Bohemian Football Club’s 11 League of Ireland title wins. That maiden title was captured in the penultimate game of the season, a 2-1 victory over St. James’s Gate in Dalymount. The goals that day came from English-born centre forward Dave Roberts and Dubliner Christy Robinson at inside-left. Between them they would score 32 of the Bohs’ 56 goals that season, with Roberts finishing as the League’s top marksman with 20. But while strikers tend to get the glory this maiden victory was of course a team effort. A number of those league winning Bohs players were selected for the Irish squad that travelled to the 1924 Olympics. Men like full-back Bertie Kerr, Paddy O’Kane, Jack McCarthy, Ned Brooks and Johnny Murray would win caps for Ireland and are still remembered for their contributions for the club. However, one man who was central to those achievements but leaves less of a trace is William Henry Otto, the versatile Bohemians half-back, better known as Billy, who captained the team.

Finding Billy

Anyone who has ever trawled through Irish newspaper archives or through any number of online census returns or genealogy sites will appreciate the difficulty in trying to track down a relative from the distant past. Particularly if that relative has a rather common surname, without having the specifics to hand working out if that John O’Sullivan or that Mary Byrne is your ancestor can be a thankless task. It is for some of these reasons that researching someone with the surname Otto in 1920’s Ireland is that bit more intriguing. However detail on the life of Billy Otto of Bohemian Football Club initially proved illusive and as his story developed it brought me on quite an unexpected journey.

What we know about Billy Otto begins with his birth in December of 1898, son of another William Henry Otto, in Robben Island just off Cape Town, South Africa. Robben Island is most famous for being the island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years from the 1960’s to 1980’s. However in 1898 it was a leper colony. William Henry Otto Snr. was a pharmacist which explains his presence on the island, though it was hardly the ideal place for a new born baby as part of the growing family. Billy being the 2nd born of a large family of 10 children.

In 1915, before he had even reached his 17th birthday young Billy had volunteered to join the 1st South African Infantry Regiment and was off to fight in World War I under the command of Brigadier General Henry Lukin. The Regiment was part of the South African Overseas Expeditionary Force which was a volunteer military organisation that fought on the British side against the Central Powers during the war. Billy’s regiment was colloquially known as the “Cape Regiment” as this was the area that provided the bulk of their manpower.

Early on the regiment fought along with the British in North Africa and Billy was involved in the Action of Agagia in Egypt in February 1916 as part of what was known as the Senussi campaign. The Senussi were a religious sect based in Libya and Egypt who had been encouraged by Ottoman Turkey to attack the British. The engagement at Agagia led to the capture of one of the Senussi leaders.

But by May 1916 the 1st South African Infantry had left Africa and had been transferred to Europe and the Western Front and where they were joined into the 9th Scottish Division. They would take part in some of the many epic and bloody engagements of the Battle of the Somme at Longueval and at Delville Wood. Brigadier-General Henry Lukin and his South African troops were ordered to take and hold Delville Wood at all costs. The battle was for a tiny and ultimately insignificant sliver of land as part of the huge Somme offensive and began on 15th July of 1916. By the 18th of July Billy had been injured in a massive German counter-offensive, the Germans shelled the small section of the Wood for seven and a half hours and over the course of day, in an area less than one square mile, 20,000 shells fell. One account described the trees of the woodland being turned to matchsticks by the end of the bombardment.

The South African soldiers would continue to be shelled and sniped at from three sides until the July 20th when suffering from hunger, thirst and exhaustion they were led out of the wood. The Battle of Deville Wood would be the most costly action that the South African forces on the Western Front would endure, of the 3,153 men from the brigade who entered the wood, only 780 were present at the roll call after their relief.

Deville Wood South African National Memorial (source wikipedia)

The injured Billy would ultimately be sent to England to recuperate and it is likely that from here he got the idea to travel to Ireland. What prompted this we simply don’t yet know.

What we do know is that Billy appears first as a sportsman for Bohemians in 1920, and featured regularly from 1921 as Bohemians competed in the first season of the newly formed Free State League. Billy usually played in a half-back (midfield) position in the team though did he feature in a number of other roles and proved an occasional goal-getter.

In April 1923 he features in the Bohemian XI that take on touring French side CAP Gallia in Dalymount, in what was the first visit by a continental side to Ireland since the split with the IFA. In late December 1923 Otto captained the Bohs side that travelled to Belfast to take on Linfield. Bohs won the game 4-2 in one of the first matches played against northern opposition since the split. He was then part of a selection under the Shelbourne banner (a composite side made up from several clubs) that took on members of the 1924 Olympic football team in a warm up game prior to their departure for Paris. Here he featured against his regular midfield teammates John Thomas and Johnny Murray.

Other prominent games were to follow in 1924, rather appropriately for Billy Bohemians took on the South African national team as the debut game on their European Tour.  Billy once again captained Bohs as the South Africans ran out 4-2 winners. Tantalisingly the Pathé news cameras were at the ground that day and recorded some of the footage of the game and the teams posing before the match. As captain it is Billy we see receiving a piece of South African art from his opposite number. Tall, slim and dark-haired Billy would have been around 26 years of age when this footage was shot.

Billy was Bohemian captain for the 1923-24 season, a time of progress for the club as they were crowned League champions and Shield winners that year with the club also finishing as League runners-up the following year, he would also become a member of the club committee. He continued as a regular team member through to the first half of 1927 when he disappears from the match reports of the club. We know that during his time in Dublin he more than likely worked for the the revenue service as we know he lined out for them as a footballer in the Civil Service League around the same time that he was on the books of Bohemians. This wasn’t too unusual as a number of Billy’s other team-mates would have also been civil servants (i.e. Harry Willitts) at what was then still a strictly amateur club.

Billy sets sail

While Billy Otto might have been finishing up at Bohemians he was about to begin another chapter of his life. On the 24th November 1927 he boarded the steamship Bendigo (shown above) on the London docks bound for a return to Cape Town, South Africa. Billy was by this stage 29 years of age and listed his residence as the Irish Free State, more specifically at 28 Hollybank Road in Drumcondra. On the ship’s passenger list the stated country of his future residence was South Africa and his profession was recorded as bloodstock. There is a possible Bohemian connection here as one of Billy’s former teammates, Bertie Kerr was already by this stage and established bloodstock agent who would go on to purchase and sell four Aintree Grand National winners.

Billy and Bertie were known to be good friends outside of football. Is it possible that the Kerr family may have introduced Otto to the business? Perhaps, although there is strong evidence that there may have been a familial connection. Billy’s brother Johnny was a champion jockey in South Africa and later worked as a steward at the Jockey club.

28 Hollybank Road as it appears today. In the 1920s it was home to Bohs captain Billy Otto

In his personal life it must have been during his time living in Drumcondra that Billy was to meet his future wife Christine. Born Christina Quigley in Dalkey on 8th December 1900 to a Policeman; Thomas, and a housewife, Maryanne, by the 1911 census Christine was living on St. Patrick’s Road in Drumcondra. She is not listed as a passenger on Billy’s 1927 voyage and they did not marry in Ireland. However, we know that they did indeed get married and had three sons, tying the knot in December 1929 in St. Mary’s Cathedral in Cape Town. Records show that she had travelled to South Africa via Mozambique aboard the SS Grantully Castle just one month earlier. Christine Otto (nee Quigley) did make return visits to Ireland later in her life. She came back to Dublin via Southampton for a visit in 1950, the stated destination for her visit was  to 25 Hollybank Road.

Billy departs

In March 1958 a small obituary in the Irish Times noted the passing on the 13th of that month of William H (Billy) Otto at his residence of Wingfield on the Algarkirk Road, Seapoint, Cape Town. “Beloved husband of Chriss (Quigley) late of Drumcondra, Dublin. Deeply mourned by his three sons and members of the Bohemian Football Club”. Billy’s passing occured within a week of the deaths of two other team-mates, Ned Brooks and Jack McCarthy, from that same championship winning team. Christine remained in South Africa though she is listed as returning again to Ireland in 1960, two years after Billy’s death. The address that she was to stay at for an intended 12 months was, on this occasion, in Foxrock, Dublin.

Billy had lived out his days in his native Cape Town, he and Chriss had three sons, another William Henry, Brian Barry and Terrence John. Whatever about his interest in bloodstock and horse racing Billy also had other business interests running an off-licence (locally known as “bottle stores”) up to the time of his death in 1958. In just 60 years he had led quite the life and defied the odds in many ways. Born in a leper colony, as a teenager he had survived the horrors of the Somme to go on and become one of the first prominent South African born footballers in Europe. He captained his club to a League title and faced off against the national team of his home nation in one of their earliest games. He built a life, friendships and family across two continents and I hope I’ve done a small part in restoring him to the consciousness of the Bohemian fraternity.

With thanks to Simon O’Gorman and Stephen Burke for their assistance and input and a special thank you to Maryanne and all of the Otto/Calitz family for sharing information about their late grandfather.

A few thoughts on Millennial bashing

To begin with, a quick admission of potential bias, depending on which definition you read I am either just about a Millennial or just outside of this supposed generational, cultural catchment, born as I was in the early 1980’s. I finished school and started University around the turn of the Millennium and I grew up with the rapid, progressive changes in technology through that time so for the purposes of this piece I’m considering myself an old Millennial.

The dominant view of this generation is a pejorative one which views us as weak. We are lacking in focus, painfully sensitive to criticism or indeed any disagreement to our world view, naively idealistic and basically existing in some phase of arrested development where we forever remain overgrown children who cannot face, understand or process the realities of daily life. This tends to be joyfully prodded home on social media through things like memes contrasting a generation that came of age in the 1940’s going off to fight a war and a current generation who are upset by even the slightest challenge to them and who must then flee to their “safe spaces”. In this context we must understand that safe spaces are “bad” and only exist to coddle adults who should just learn to “pull it together” and get on with things.  Let me know if I’ve covered all the bases here folks.

The idea of successive generations being weaker than their forebears is one that is as old as history. The Greek poet Hesiod, writing somewhere between 750-650 BC makes this clear in his works like the Theogony  and Works and Days; here the descent of the “Ages of Man” sees mankind descend from a near-immortal co-habitation with the gods, a life filled with leisure, to the gradual indignity of short lives full of toil and suffering. This is echoed the epic poems The Iliad and the Odyssey which are ascribed to Homer. In these works Nestor, an aged Greek King often lectures the younger characters about the glories of his past and compares sufferings of the current generation of Greek heroes like Odysseus, with those of his youth, often emphasising his own bravery and that of his deceased contemporaries.

This focus on a glorious past makes a certain sense in these Greek texts, they were written around the 8th Century BC when the authors and audiences would have seen the gargantuan ruins of the vanished Mycenaean civilisation which had collapsed around 1100 BC. These abandoned palaces and citadels were testament to a vanished age of heroes, their knowledge and technologies having been lost by the time of the composition of the heroic epics of Homer. Surely the ruins of such a civilisation were the works of greater men, those closer to the divine?

The remains of the mighty Lion gate at the entrance to the citadel of Mycenae

This theme is not just confined to writings and myths of ancient Greece. The idea of the decline of mankind from a position of heroic, near godlike status appears in Irish mythology as well. Well known mythological figures like Fionn mac Cumhaill and Cú Chulainn possessed supernatural abilities in strength and cunning, in the case of Fionn this is passed down the generations to his son Oisín. In one of the many tales told around the world about the pursuit of the fountain of youth, Oisín is taken by his new wife Niamh a daughter of a god, to the island of Tír na nÓg. Oisín stays on the island for what he believes to be only three years but then returns to the mainland to find that 300 years have passed. Fionn is gone and the sites of the Fianna’s power are in ruin. The people who inhabit Ireland at this point are not of the heroic vintage of Oisín, they are seen as lesser specimens and Oisín has to stop to help them with the building of a road as they are too weak to move a boulder. When Oisín tries to help he falls from his enchanted horse and ages rapidly before dying.

The parallels appear again and again in different cultures, an idealised heroic past contrasting sharply with a fallen, degenerated present. This trend persisted. Across Western Europe the Roman empire may have retreated and eventually fallen but the immutable objects of their power and engineering genius remained, theatres, aqueducts, temples and villas dotted the landscape even centuries after the legions had left and in their vacuum contests for power, war and plagues later emerged. The knowledge and organisation of Roman rule moved eastwards and it was only during the middle centuries of the last Millennium that swathes of western European rediscovered the writing and learning of this Classical past. Only with this Renaissance could western Europe return to rediscover this connection with a near forgotten past.

In these instances we can see societies to some degree living in the shadow of earlier triumphs, inhabiting ruins whose creation they cannot fathom. In a way it made sense to view current or successive generations as somehow a decline of previous standards. As people and societies not evolving but degenerating. But this is a world away from modern experience.

Present generations can see technological progress before our eyes, we are more advanced and connected in these regards than any previous generation. In societal terms the last two centuries or so has seen progressive social movements that have helped lead to the abolition of chattel slavery and a spread of democratic government including the enfranchisement first of working class men and later women. The last half of the 20th century witnessed a growing independence movement among those nations that remained colonies of European powers. There was also the rise of a global civil rights movement that began to agitate against repressive regimes and legislation from places as diverse as South Africa, Northern Ireland and the United States.

The so-called Snowflake generation do not look back on the past cowed by the looming monuments of fallen empires that they are unable to recreate. They simply do not need or want to recreate them. We can see through our historical prism that we have moved on in many ways from our previous generations, we acknowledge and cherish the rights that previous generations fought to secure in the knowledge that there is a distance yet to travel, that there is further progress to be made, rights to be secured so that they may be bequeathed to the next generation.

In the United States the generation of men who went to fight in World War II were often referred to with the moniker of the “Greatest Generation”, they had survived the poverty and want of the 30’s and helped to defeat the scourge of fascism in the 40’s. In the process  they protected American interests and ensured that the United States emerged from the war as the pre-eminent western power.

Their generation assumed a gravitas that subsequent generations could not match, yet as the last members of this group disappear, it is their children and grandchildren who seek to objectify the Millennial generation as “Snowflakes”. This “baby-boomer” grouping enjoyed the peace that followed WW2, and the benefits that this brought. This is not to say that everything from 1946 onward was plain sailing but the scale of horror of the preceding decades was not to re-emerge.

In Ireland the most recent decades have seen a cessation of wide scale sectarian violence, a far greater social liberalisation than a post war generation could ever have imagined and rapid economic growth (at times far too rapid). It would be disingenuous for any Irish baby-boomer to say that the country is in worse shape now than when they were born in the 1940s/50s/60s. Can anyone really hark back to the days of Catholic Church dominance, subsistence farming, car bombs, and a beer and biscuits economy? It was not better back in the old days but nor is it perfect today.

For Millennials items like sky-rocketing rents, increased costs for education, lack of job security and the remaining anachronisms of an Irish theocracy, such as the 8th amendment, are legitimate issues of concern. But yet speaking out about something like the quality or security of your lodgings is seen being a needy Snowflake. Not as being a continuation of an Irish tradition that dates back to at least the land agitation of the 18th Century through to the housing protests against tenement conditions that continued well into the 1960’s in Dublin.

The ancient Greeks looked back into the murky mists of history through the ruins that dotted their landscape and invented the stories of great heroes. As Patrick Kavangh put it in his poem Epic

Till Homer’s ghost came whispering to my mind.
He said: I made the Iliad from such
A local row. Gods make their own importance.

Today it is baby-boomer Donald Trump who leads America, his rhetoric harking back to an idealised past that never existed. In his clumsy, repetitive speech he makes his heroes and myths. He invokes the past, the dead, and flanks his Oval Office desk with portraits of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, harking back to an ideal of America that ignores slavery, the Civil War and the Trail of Tears. His rallying cry remains “Make America, Great Again”, which implies it is not great now, it can only become great again by going back, by undoing. The future of a nation rests on the nostalgia for a world that never existed among a dying generation. This is the Millennials’ inheritance.

In Britain likewise an exit from the EU voted for overwhelmingly by middle-aged and older Britons. When old securities vanish, when a minority can vote in Trump, when a gerontocratic block ensures that a majority of young Britons who want to be a part of the EU won’t have that opportunity then yes a Millennial generation will feel aggrieved.

Every human generation has been compared unfavourably to its predecessors, even when every measure of progress suggest that this is baseless and unjust. Millennials are in good company and have a growing means to express themselves. As the stakes get higher, as far-right forces gain prominence in more nations generation snowflake won’t be melting away. In the end I think future generations might even be thankful for that.


The main photo image is of the Mask of Agamemnon, a gold death mask of an unknown Greek discovered at Mycenae. It was named the mask of Agamemnon by Archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann.