Playing football with a battleship

In February 1937 Seán Lester, the noted Irish diplomat became Deputy Secretary of the League of Nations, a forerunner organisation to the modern-day United Nations. As a result of his promotion he left his role as High Commissioner in the Free City of Danzig (modern day Gdansk in Poland) and moved to the Swiss city of Geneva where the League’s headquarters were based.

His time living in Danzig had been fraught, he had witnessed first hand the rise of Nazi Germany and clearly understood the threat it could pose to the independent port city of Danzig and to wider Europe in general. When speaking about his biography of Lester, his son in law Douglas Gageby described him as “the first western diplomat to receive the full force of Hitler’s hatred” due to his opposition to the Nazi regime. Lester spent the remainder of his time before and during the War trying to stop the League of Nations falling under the the control of the Axis powers. The efforts of this brave Irishman seem to have gone virtually unnoticed by Irish football’s governing body (and many others) however, just months before the outbreak of War the Irish national team played the German national side (which now included players from post-Anschluss Austria) in Bremen and performed a Nazi salute prior to the game in an infamous moment in Irish sport.

Perhaps less well-known is another game that took place in Dublin just two months after Lester’s departure from Gdansk. It was a match between Bohemian F.C. and the crew of the German battleship, Schleswig-Holstein. This was this same battleship that in September 1939 sailed to Gdansk under the pretext of a diplomatic engagement before firing the first shots of the Second World War, attacking the city that Lester had known so well, as German marines over-ran the once Free port city.

This is a brief account of the visit of the Battleship Schleswig-Holstein (pictured above) to the port of Dun Laoghaire in April 1937 and the huge popular reception they received from the Irish people. Among the film-screenings, dinners, tours and parties that were undertaken to welcome the ship to Dublin there was even time for that game of football.

The battleship itself was launched in 1906 as an early part of Kaiser
Wilhelm II’s plan to develop and modernise the German navy and make the nation a  world naval power. By the time of the ships’ completion the German navy had already seen further technological development as they had begun the roll out of the German dreadnought class of even larger battleships. However the Schleswig-Holstein still saw action during World War I, taking part in the Battle of Jutland where it was damaged and had three of its men killed after being struck by a British shell.

After the First World War the Schleswig-Holstein was one of the ships that the German navy sought to retain under the terms of their disarmament agreements and when Hitler came to power and began to redevelop the German military machine the Holstein became a training vessel for the many new German cadets recruited for a growing Navy. As part of one of these training missions the ship went on a seven month voyage into the Caribbean and south Atlantic calling at ports in Brazil, Venezuela, Costa Rica and Bermuda among others. Their stop at Dun Laoghaire was their first stop-off back in Europe before their return to the naval base at Wilhelmshaven. On board were 31 officers and 785 petty officers and crew which included over 170 naval cadets.

The Schleswig-Holstein arrived into Dun Laoghaire on the 9th April 1937. Due to heavy fog the ship was two hours late in arriving but was still greeted by a 21 gun salute from an artillery battery near Dun Laoghaire’s East Pier. The battleship returned the salute by blazing its cannon in reply and soon after hoisted the Irish tricolour from its mast-head where it fluttered next to the German standard emblazoned with the Nazi swastika at its centre. Several hundred people were gathered at the harbour to see the ship berth, including a sizable contingent from the German legation in Ireland, there to welcome their fellow countrymen. Among them was Erich Schroetter, the head German diplomat in Ireland. Schroetter later fell foul of the influential Dublin-based, Nazi Adolf Mahr and would be replaced within months of the ship’s visit by Eduard Hempel. Mahr, as well as being the Director of the National Museum of Ireland was also head of the Nazi party in Ireland. He was represented on Dun Laoghaire pier that day by his Dutch wife Maria.

This welcoming party was only the first in a cavalcade of social engagements for the ship’s officers and crew. On the afternoon of their landing a deputation from the Schleswig-Holstein, along with members of the German legation visited with the Irish Army Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Michael Brennan and the Minister for Defence, Frank Aiken in Army Headquarters before stopping off at the Mansion House to drop in on the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Alfie Byrne. The Lord Mayor would pay a return visit to see the German battleship in Dun Laoghaire before the end of their stay and even Taoiseach Eamon De Valera took time out on the Saturday after the battleship’s arrival to meet it’s Captain Günther Krause along with the aforementioned Erich Schroetter.

During their brief stay the crew were not left short for entertainment. While members of the Dublin public were allowed to take tours around the battleship the German sailors quickly became a common sight in both Dun Laoghaire and Dublin City Centre. During the week of their visit they were invited to the Pavillion Theatre in Dun Laoghaire for a special showing of a German film production of the popular opera The Gipsy Princess. Afterwards there was a screening of an Irish tourism short, painfully entitled Top of the Morning. They visited Portobello Barracks (now Cathal Brugha Barracks) where they were introduced to the Irish Army’s own German officer, Friedrich Wilhelm “Fritz” Brase. “Fritz” was the head of music for the Irish Defence Forces and had also briefly been Chairman of the Nazi party in Ireland until advised to step down by his Irish military superiors, at which point he was replaced by Mahr.

Apart from their musical engagements there were excursions arranged for crew members to Dublin’s most prominent tourist attractions, many would still be on most tourists’ itinerary today, namely, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Trinity College and the Guinness brewery.

Other excursions meant travelling slightly further from the city which allowed Adolf Mahr to indulge his passion for ancient Irish history. He lectured the visiting Germans on monastic Ireland at Glendalough and also provided guided tours to Newgrange and the historic ruins of Monasterboice. Several of the ship’s compliment even climbed the 168 steps up the column of that British naval hero Horatio Nelson to get a better view of O’Connell Street from the top of the pillar.

Somehow among this myriad of social engagements, tours, parties and public concerts by the ship’s band, a selection of the crew also got to squeeze in a football match against Bohemian F.C. in Dalymount Park. There was a good sized crowd in the ground for a Tuesday afternoon as Bohs fielded a fairly strong side against the visiting Germans. Some 120 of the German officers and sailors attended the game among thousands more local spectators. When one considers that contemporary reports stated that over 10,000 locals visited the battleship at berth in Dun Laoghaire it is no exaggeration to say that perhaps more than 20,000 Dubliners must have been to see the German’s either aboard ship or at another event such as the football match during the six days of their visit.

Despite the fact that Bohemians had a league fixture against Shamrock Rovers the following day they named a competitive side including some veterans and “B” team players. Among the starting XI were Irish internationals like Harry Cannon (who was a Captain in the Irish Army and who would work through “The Emergency”), Kevin O’Flanagan and Fred Horlacher (himself the Irish-born son of German immigrants).  Despite the pedigree of the Bohs side the German XI put on a good display and only lost by the odd goal in three. Their goal was scored by their midfielder Bischaf while a Barry Hooper goal and a header from Kevin O’Flanagan had given Bohs the victory. The match had been refereed by Johnny McMahon, a former Bohemian player and a member of An Garda Siochána.

After the game the Germans put on a display of “field ball” which by photographs and reports seems like an 11-a-side version of Olympic handball played with a full sized football. It was reported to be a sport favoured by the German armed forces as a way of keeping fit and developing muscle mass.

German sailors photo
Image and caption from The Irish Times

The teams on the day were as follows: Bohemian F.C. – Capt. Harry Cannon, Kevin Kerr, Jack McCarthy, Barry Hooper, Ivor Hooper, Fred Horlacher, Kevin O’Flanagan, Billy Dennis, Paddy Ennis, Tommy Fitzpatrick, Joe Mullen

Schleswig-Holstein XI: Haas, Gobel, Grosser, Bischaf, Lux, Kaiser, Nowack, Hinneberg, Brix, Gronert, Bucker

Four of that side (Kerr, Barry Hooper, O’Flanagan and Horlacher) would play against Rovers the following day and, perhaps not unexpectedly given the circumstances, lost 3-0.

The Germans left for their home port of Wilhemshaven on the Thursday after the game. Large crowds gathered to see off the German battleship from port and  “Deutschland uber alles” was played followed by the Irish national anthem, which were both greeted by cheers from the quayside. The previous afternoon Captain Krause had entertained several guests at a farewell lunch aboard ship. Along with members of the German legation in Ireland were Free State Government Ministers, Frank Aiken and Seán Murphy. The coverage of the battleship’s visit was overwhelmingly positive. Captain Krause praised the hospitality of the Irish and he and his crew seem to have been viewed as minor celebrities during their week in Dublin.

Captain Krause upon returning to Germany was replaced in command of the Schleswig Holstein by Captain Gustav Kleikamp, and Krause was soon rising up the naval command chain. Krause had always seem blessed with his timing, he had been a U-boat commander during the First World War and had twice been awarded the Iron Cross. During his period in command of the submarine UB-41 in 1917 he had sunk eight enemy ships but less than a month after his transfer the submarine was sunk by a mine with the loss of all hands. The Captain who had so charmed the Dublin public would end the Second World War as a Vice Admiral in the Kriegsmarine and survived the War unscathed, living to the grand old age of 93. He was well departed from the Schleswig-Holstein by the time its crew had to scuttle it in the waters of the Baltic sea in 1945 in order to stop it from falling into the hands of the advancing Soviet Armies.

This couldn’t save the ship from its ultimate ignominious fate however. Once a flagship of the German Navy, the Schleswig-Holstein that so impressed the crowds who had gathered to see her in Dun Laoghaire was raised by the Soviet Navy in 1946 and spent the next two decades off the coast of Estonia being used for Soviet target practice. What became of the eleven sailors who played a match in Dalymount, or their colleagues who climbed Nelson’s pillar to gain a bird’s eye view of Dublin we don’t yet know.

During their Dublin visit criticism of the sailors or of the violently repressive Nazi regime and military that they represented was non-existent in the press reports of the major papers. This is interesting to note as on the same pages that gave over considerable column inches to photos and articles about the German sailors there were also articles detailing the escalating tensions between Nazi Germany and other nations including the United States and the Vatican. The Irish people could not realistically claim complete ignorance of such matters. But such issues do not seem to have bothered the general public who flocked to see what by naval standards was already an old and somewhat obsolete battleship, or the newspapers (particularly The Irish Times and Irish Press) who lavished coverage on the German visitors.

Perhaps the only nod to any controversy or discomfort surrounding the emergence of the Nazi state was when one columnist in The Irish Times noted that whatever-

“views the citizens of Saorstát Eireann may have upon the political philosophy of contemporary Germany – and we do not think that there is much doubt on that score- they demonstrated in the clearest possible way that politics are not permitted to interfere with the cordial – even enthusiastic – reception of our German guests.”

The only other qualm that seems to be expressed in relation to the German visit was that O’Connell Street was a trifle too dirty and that the visiting sailors may have been unimpressed with the levels of litter in Dublin City Centre.

By the close of August 1939, just two years after her Dublin visit, the Schleswig-Holstein sailed to Danzig under the pretext of a courtesy visit, but this one was very unlike the one she had enjoyed at Dun Laoghaire. On September 1st at 4.45am she began to shell the Polish garrison at Westerplatte with its 15cm cannon from near point-blank range as the shock troops hidden in her hold spilled forth to attack the Polish garrison.  World War II had begun.

As often is the case, thanks again must go to Bohemian F.C. historian Stephen Burke for his assistance in identification of several players involved for Bohs on the day of the match. For more on Adolf Mahr it’s worth checking out Gerry Mullins’ biography of him entitled “Dublin Nazi Number 1”.


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.

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

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.

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.

Building football at the halfway house – The story of Vincent O’Connell

Debate is raging at present as to whether the current Dundalk F.C. team are the greatest that has ever been produced in the history of the League of Ireland. There is plenty to recommend this Dundalk crop for that accolade; they’ve won three consecutive league titles, they won a double in 2015 and most notably they have had (by Irish standards) significant success in European competition. In terms of overall trophies Dundalk are second only to Shamrock Rovers in the medals table, having won 12 league titles and 10 FAI Cups. In this regard I’m sad to say that in recent seasons Dundalk have overtaken my own dear Bohemian F.C. in terms of League titles won despite Bohs having been 13 years longer in existence than even the earliest incarnation the Louth team.

However Bohemian F.C. as one of the earliest founded and most prominent clubs certainly played a role in the growth of football in Dundalk. For example it was a former Bohs player, Steve Wright who led Dundalk to their first league title way back in the 1930s. The

Steve Wright – source

focus of this article is another former Bohs player was one of the a number of men instrumental in helping to organise the sport of association football in that town and with helping to found one of the first proper leagues there.

That this is the case shouldn’t be too surprising, in research for this piece I came across a Sunday Independent article from 1956 which declared of Dundalk that “Soccer stopped at the half-way house” as Dundalk occupied the geographic midpoint between the early footballing hot-beds of Belfast and Dublin, it seems only reasonable that Dublin would have some baring on the games development.

As well as its location there were plenty of other reasons for football to take root in the town. These included presence of a British Army barracks staffed with many active young men, many of whom would already have been familiar with the game, and the growth of the railway industry, specifically what became the works side of the Great Northern Railway (GNR) from which the present Dundalk F.C. developed. One of the biggest games in early Dundalk football history was the arrival of the Bohemian F.C. side to take on a local Dundalk AFC side in the Leinster Senior Cup on St. Stephen’s Day 1895. Bohs emerged as the victors from a 3-1 scoreline, however the Dundalk side had competed well and the significant crowd despite the particularly cold winter weather had shown that there certainly was an audience for the sport in the Louth town.

One of the Bohs men who had an influence in shaping the football landscape of Co. Louth was Vincent J. O’Connell. A local lad, Vincent was born in Dundalk around 1882 or 1883 as fourth son of Henry O’Connell a grocer, of Dundalk, and his wife, Mary. Vincent was a good student and pursued a career as an architect which was what brought him to Dublin to study with the Hague & McNamara firm who were based on Dawson Street. He had been involved with various scratch teams in Dundalk around the turn of the 20th Century and also featured with a side named Dundalk Rovers F.C. who competed occasionally in the Leinster Senior Cup. Vincent would have been roughly 20 by the time he moved to Dublin to study with Hague & McNamara and continued to pursue his interest in the sport by joining Bohemian F.C. in 1902. There is mention of him lining out as a half-back for Bohs in a December 1903 match against the Dublin University club from Trinity College. The Bohs starting XI was described as “not at full strength” and they suffered a heavy 6-1 defeat. O’Connell remained a Bohemians member until 1907 by which stage he had returned to Dundalk and had set up his own architectural firm on Earl Street in the town.

Like many Bohemians of this area his talents weren’t limited just to football and he was also a well know cycling enthusiast. In the business world Vincent prospered and in 1909 he was appointed to the position of engineer at Newry Port, he even branched out by opening a new office in Newry by 1911. As an architect he designed the stores along the Albert Basin not too far away from the Showgrounds where Newry City AFC currently play. Despite these increasing work commitments his

Vincent J. O’Connell in 1909

interest in football maintained and he was recorded as the Vice Captain of the St. Nicholas football team for the 1910-11. St. Nicholas had been training at the Dundalk polo grounds and had competed in local leagues and in the Leinster Junior Cup for a number of years by this stage and by 1910 were a well enough established side on the local football scene.

Vincent continued this involvement with local football when he served on the board of the of the Dundalk and District league in the tumultuous year of season of 1920/21. The War of Independence was raging in Louth and in the sporting boardrooms the Leinster Football Association had formally decided to cede from the IFA. At the AGM of the Dundalk and District league the member clubs were encouraged to align their loyalties to the Leinster association, Vincent was at this stage the Dundalk and District League vice-president. Perhaps most surprising to note was that the league that season consisted of six teams, three of which were representatives sides drawn from British Army regiments in and around the town.

By 1926 the Dundalk GNR (Great Northern Railway) club had become a League of Ireland member and in 1930 they renamed to became the Dundalk F.C. we know today. In the 1932-33 season they had become the first provincial side to take the title out of Dublin but they had done so at great financial cost to the club. Led by former Bohemians player Steve Wright as their trainer/manager Dundalk had taken advantage of the fact that the FAI were not recognising player registrations of clubs in Britain or Northern Ireland meaning that players could freely move to Ireland without Irish clubs having to buy out these registrations. Effectively free transfers.  Dundalk brought in a number of British pros, men like forward Jimmy Bullock who had lined out for Manchester United before moving across the Irish Sea or the veteran former Celtic star Joe Cassidy. These signings were won through the charm of Steve Wright and the bankbook of Dundalk F.C. and coupled with the beginnings of a generation of young local players such as Joey Donnelly had begun to bring success. There was a Cup final appearance in 1930/31 with a league title following in 1932/33. However a number of factors such as the professional wages paid to these new players, the unpopular entertainment tax levied on football matches by the Irish government, a loss of revenue due to the cancellation of previously popular cross-border matches with Northern clubs and the continuing effects of the Great Depression meant that money was extremely tight and there was even some chance that the club might go under.

By the time all this was taking place Vincent O’Connell was busy operating his main business premises out of 15 Earl Street in Dundalk, one of his most recent projects had been the design of the new chapel for St. Mary’s College in 1933, a school that had been central in popularising the game of football in the town. Vincent had maintained his own interest in football long after his playing days were done. In January of 1934 he joined a fundraising committee to keep Dundalk F.C. going in their time of need and he personally was one of the largest financial donors, donating a guinea, a similar sum to that donated by Dundalk board members like Bob Prole and, my own great-uncle, Peadar Halpin. Through their fundraising efforts sufficient finances were raised to keep the club afloat.

Vincent maintained his interest in football and many other sports for the rest of his life, the 1956 article quoted above described him as the “prominent Dundalk architect whose enthusiasm for all forms of sport has left him with an invaluable store of memories.”  Less than a year after that interview Vincent passed away in July 1957, he was survived by his wife and three children. He had remained active as an architect into the 1950’s where he was joined by his son Daniel (trading as V.J. O’Connell & Son), and over the course of his more than 50 year career he worked on projects as diverse as monasteries, to hospitals to cinemas. However at his passing the various obituaries tended to spend as much time discussing his many sporting successes, especially his time at Bohemians and his early role in helping to develop the sport in his native Dundalk.




Bohemians and brothers in arms – The Robinsons

The great Bohemians team of the 1927-28 season is one that has rightly gone down in the annals as one of the finest sides in Irish football history; simply put they won everything there was to win, the League, the FAI cup, the Shield and the Leinster Senior Cup. An achievement all the more impressive when you remember that Bohs were strictly amateur at the time. Such was the confidence and camaraderie in the team that season that Jeremiah “Sam” Robinson, the tall, well-built and versatile half-back or full back, said that the Bohs players of that season never doubted that they would win the game, the only question was by how much. Sam was joined in that successful team by his older brother Christy, smaller and lighter than Sam, he was a tricky, skillful inside-left whose 12 goals had been crucial when Bohs won the league in 1923-24. He also holds the honour of scoring Bohemians first ever goal in the FAI Cup when he netted the first in a 7-1 win over Athlone Town in 1922.

For these achievements alone the brothers are significant and worthy of discussion, however by the time the Robinson brothers had joined Bohemians, as still young men, they had already led an extraordinary life. Both brothers had been active in the IRA in Dublin and Sam had even become a member of the Active Service Unit and later joined Michael Collins’ infamous “Squad ”.

Both brothers played in the Cup Final of 1928 when Bohemians defeated Drumcondra 2-1, although it was touch and go for Sam. Incidentally the reason Sam was known as Sam, and not by his given name Jeremiah was because of the fondness as a boy for using “Zam-buk” soaps and ointments for his legs, something he may have needed in getting ready for the Cup final. During some dressing room hijinks celebrating yet another victory Sam had his leg badly scalded by a bucket of hot water. The damage was so bad that it looked like he would miss the game until the intervention of Bohemians own Dr. Willie Hooper who bound up Sam’s leg (like a turkey cock as he later remarked) and tended to him regularly as they prepared for the final. The squad were worried that the Sam might not make the game but he was declared fit enough to play. Bohs won the match in front of 25,000 at Dalymount, Billy Dennis and Jimmy White getting the goals.

Bohemians have a long tradition of brothers playing in the same team. The aforementioned Willie Hooper and his brother Richard both captained Bohs in the early 1900’s while Sam and Christy had the distinction of becoming the first brothers to play for Ireland after the FAI had split with the Belfast-based IFA. Christy was part of the Irish Olympic squad that went to Paris in 1924 and defeated Bulgaria before being knocked out by the Netherlands in the next round. In all, six Bohemians were selected (Bertie Kerr, Jack McCarthy, Ernie Crawford, John Thomas & Johnny Murray were the others and were trained by Bohs’ Charlie Harris) The Irish team also played two friendlies after being knocked out of the tournament, Christy played and scored for Ireland in the game against Estonia as Ireland won 3-1 and would also represent the League of Ireland XI in their first ever representative fixture, against the Welsh League that same year. Sam won two senior caps, in 1928 and 1931 with a victory over Belgium and with a draw against Spain respectively.

Sam would eventually move on and play professionally for a period, he joined Dolphin F.C. based in the Dolphin’s Barn area of the city in 1930 and won his second Irish cap while there. He was also part of their team which contested the 1932 FAI Cup final, losing out to Shamrock Rovers in a tight game, while also guesting on a number of occasions for Belfast Celtic.

Christy and “Sam” were born in the Dublin’s north inner city on East Arran Street in 1902 and 1904 respectively, their home was close to the markets where their mother Lizzie worked as a fish dealer. Lizzie’s earnings had to support the family; the two boys and daughter Mary, when their father Charles died in 1905.

Sam Rob5
From left to right Christy, Lizzy and Sam Robinson

In 1916 as youngsters of 15 and 12 they would presumably have witnessed first-hand the fighting around the Four Courts just yards from their home and the family would likely have known some of the victims of the infamous North King Street massacre when British Army soldiers shot dead unarmed men and boys. Whatever the reason we know that by 1919 Sam, then aged only 15 had joined the IRA. He was a friend of Vinny Byrne who would also form part of the “Squad” and it was Byrne who brought him along to be inducted. At the time Sam lied about his age and claimed to be 17. The family story was that Michael Collins, on seeing young Sam told the boy that he wasn’t running a nursery and he should go home, however Sam insisted that he wished to join and both Byrne and Paddy Daly (one of Collins’ senior officers) vouched for the young man. It was to begin a long association between Sam and the armed forces.

Christy, also joined the IRA and though he didn’t become as deeply involved as his younger brother he still took part in a number of notable actions, the most prominent probably being the raid on a British Army party at Monks bakery on Church Street in September 1920. This was the operation in which Kevin Barry was captured. Christy Robinson was one of the section commanders within H company of the Dublin brigade of the IRA during the raid when they encountered a much larger British army force than expected. Kevin Barry found that his new-fangled automatic pistol was jamming and hid under a lorry hoping to escape the attentions of the British forces. After heavy gunfire which left three British soldiers dead, H company withdrew but were unaware that Kevin was still hidden under the lorry on the side of the street. The unfortunate teenager was spotted by the British forces, arrested, and later became the first Republican prisoner to be executed since the Easter Rising over four years earlier.

Kevin Barry had attended the prestigious Belvedere secondary school and had been a promising rugby player. He had graduated and was studying medicine, in fact he intended to go sit an exam only hours after the raid on Monk’s bakery and was not a full time soldier. Most of the members of the Dublin Brigade were men who took part in operations when they could but had to hold down jobs in order to support themselves and their families. Christy Robinson fell into this category. The IRA however saw the need for a full time force of both soldiers and intelligence staff. This led to the creation of the Active Service Unit (ASU); full time soldiers who were expected to make themselves available as operations required them, they were paid a good wage for the time. Sam Robinson would eventually join this select group of full time soldiers; a role he would continue after Independence.

The Robinson family had been victims during this period of bloodshed, two of the brothers’ cousins met violent ends just weeks apart in 1920. William Robinson, a former British soldier and a goalkeeper for the Jacobs football team was shot dead on Capel Street, just yards from his home in October 1920 by men identifying themselves as “Republican Police”. Another cousin, also named William, but better known as Perry Robinson was one of the youngest victims of the Bloody Sunday shootings in Croke Park. Aged just 11 years old Perry was shot in the shoulder and chest as he was perched in a tree watching Dublin take on Tipperary. The trainer of the Dublin side that day was none other than Bohs’ own Charlie Harris who would accompany Christy Robinson to the Paris Olympics just four years later.

The Dublin Football team on Bloody Sunday- Bohemians trainer Charlie Harris is at the back row, far right.

The Robinson family history tells that Sam was out that morning that would be remembered for all time as “Bloody Sunday”, in the company of his friend Vinny Byrne. Their destination on that fateful day was 28 Upper Mount Street, their targets British Lieutenants Aimes and Bennett. This was a late change to the plans due to a recent piece of intelligence received by one of Collins’ intelligence officers, Charlie Dalton who was also at the time also a member of Bohemians. Byrne and fellow Squad member Tom Ennis led the party. Although not named in these accounts Sam always claimed that he was out with Byrne and his group that day when Aimes and Bennett were shot dead in their beds, Byrne’s own witness statement mentioned that there were a party of about ten men involved and that the operation did not go as smoothly as hoped. The sound of shooting aroused the attention of other British military personnel in the area and the men keeping an eye on the entrance to Mount Street came under fire. Most of the party fled to the river and rather than risk crossing any of the city bridges back to the north side where they could be intercepted. They crossed by a ferry and disappeared into the maze of streets and safe-houses of the north inner city.

Not long after the events of Bloody Sunday Sam became a full time member of the “Squad” when it was reinforced in May of 1921. Within weeks they would be pressed into service in one of the largest operations ever undertaken, the attack on the Custom House, one of the centres of British administration, local Government and home to a huge amount of records.

Sam Robinson Custom House
Sam being arrested at the Custom House, he is fourth from the right with his hands on his head.


This was going to be a huge job and a symbolic attack at one of the nerve-centres of British rule in Ireland, up to 120 men of the 2nd Dublin Brigade along with members of the Squad and the Active Service Unit took part.  They were poorly equipped, armed only with revolvers and a limited supply of ammunition, they did however have plenty of petrol and bales of cloth which was used to destroy the records and ultimately the building itself which burned for five days straight. The raiding party soon drew the attention of a brigade of Auxiliaries. Unable to stay in the burning building, surrounded by the British forces and very quickly running out of ammunition the Republican forces knew they were in serious difficulty. Most of the men surrendered but some made a run for it, a few escaped, but others like Sean Doyle were killed as they tried to get away. Among the more than 70 IRA men captured was Sam Robinson, although he was not to be in captivity long. Within two months a truce had been called and the Treaty negotiations had begun and Sam was released by Christmas of 1921.

Upon his release Sam became part of the new Free State Army, by the 1922 Army census he was listed as a Lieutenant and he was heavily involved during the Civil War, seeing action in areas of some of the heaviest fighting around Cork, Kerry and later Sligo. He was in the Imperial Hotel in Cork City along with other serving officers to have breakfast with Michael Collins the day he was shot. Despite Collins’ initial scepticism about this teenager who had lied about his age to join the IRA he had trusted and promoted Sam. In turn Sam, like many other officers became a great admirer and loyal follower of the “Big Man” and was devastated to learn of his death at Béal na Bláth. In another freak Bohemians connection, the man who tended to Collins as he died was General Emmet Dalton, a former Bohemian F.C. player and later President of the Club.

Sam was promoted to the rank of Captain in February of 1923 and remained in the Army throughout the horrific violence of the Civil War but left, somewhat disillusioned, in 1924. There was concern among members of the Free State army about plans to significantly decrease the size of the army in peacetime and there was also a feeling among some soldiers that ex-British army officers were being favoured for advancement within the Free State forces. Such was the seriousness of this issue that Charlie Dalton (the ex-Bohs player we encountered above, and brother of Emmet Dalton) and General Liam Tobin were accused of attempting an Army Mutiny due to their opposition to the proposed demobilisation.

Sam Rob army pic
Sam in his Irish Army uniform

The army’s loss was Bohemians gain however and the civilian Sam Robinson joined his brother at the club and helped build towards the eventual dominance of the 1927-28 season. It was not to be Sam’s last involvement with the Army however, upon the declaration of the national state of Emergency during World War II Sam re-enlisted and was made a Captain of C Company of the 14th Battalion, his years of experience no-doubt appreciated by younger troops. He stayed in the Army until the end of the War before returned to the trade he had developed as a plasterer. In fact he started his own plastering company, Robinson & Son near Church Street in Dublin.

Things went well for Sam’s business for a while and he was a generous man always making sure that old Army or footballing colleagues were helped out with a job if they fell on hard times. Among those employed at one stage by Sam was his former Bohs team-mate John Thomas. However, in 1957 perhaps because of his generosity, Robinson & Son went out of business, Sam’s auditor incidentally at the time was a young man by the name of Charles J Haughey! While this was a setback Sam used it as an opportunity to travel, his trade took him to Canada, Malta, Britain and even Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) before he returned to Ireland. Fate would have it that one of his final jobs as a plasterer was on the Phibsboro shopping centre, overlooking the pitch at Dalymount that had been so familiar to him.

Sam’s connection with Bohemians continued long after his playing days ended. His nephew Charlie Byrne began his career for Bohemians in the 1940’s while Sam remained a club member until the day he died in 1985.

Member card2
The Bohemian membership card of Jeremiah “Sam” Robinson



With special thanks to Eamon Robinson and Frank Robinson for their assistance and sharing their family research and photos.

Bohemians of World War I

An introduction to just some of the Bohemian F.C. members who swapped the playing fields of Ireland for the killing fields of Europe.

Fred Morrow was only 17 when he took to the pitch for Bohemians at the curtain raiser at their great rivals’ new home, Shelbourne Park. The Bohs v Shels games were known then as the Dublin derby and as with many derbies, passions were inflamed. But this game’s atmosphere was even more heightened and it wasn’t just to do with the 6,000 spectators packed into the ground. Even in just getting to the ground Morrow and his teammates had seen over one hundred Dublin Tramway workers picketing the game.

The 1913 Dublin lock-out was only a few days old and Jim Larkin had declared that there were players selected for the game who were “scabs”: Jack Millar of Bohemians and Jack Lowry of Shelbourne were the names identified during the strike. The striking tramway workers subjected the players and supporters to (in the words of the Irish Times) “coarse insults” and had even tried to storm the gates of the new stadium. Foreshadowing the events of the next day, there were some violent altercations with the officers of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, with 16 arrests made and over 50 people suffering injuries.

This can’t have affected the teenaged Morrow too badly as he scored Bohs’ goal in a one all draw that day. Although less than 5’5” in height, the youngster was shaping up to be quite a prolific centre forward. Fred had started his career early, lining out for his local side Tritonville FC based in Sandymount, and while with the club he had won a Junior cap for Ireland, scoring in a 3-0 victory over Scotland in front of over 8,000 spectators in Belfast. The following season he’d been persuaded north of the river to Dalymount, and he was to enjoy a successful season including scoring a hat-trick in an unexpected 3-1 victory over title holders Linfield.

The Shelbourne side that Bohs faced that day included in their ranks a new signing of their own, Oscar Linkson, who had just been signed from Manchester United. Linkson had made almost 60 appearances for United and had been at the club when they won the FA Cup in 1909 and the League in 1911. Quite the coup, then, for Shels. Oscar moved to Dublin with his 17 year old wife Olive and his son Eric, who would be joined by a baby sister just months later. He faced Fred Morrow that day as part of the Shels defence.

Within a year of this game, War would be declared. Both Fred Morrow and Oscar Linkson volunteered to serve in the  British Army, Oscar with the famous “Football Battalion” of the Middlesex Regiment alongside a whole host of star players which included the Irish international John Doran. Neither Fred nor Oscar would return, by the end of 1917 both were dead on the fields of France.

The events that the players had witnessed leading up to that Bohs v Shels game had far-reaching consequences, with the violence in the adjoining Ringsend streets at the game growing worse over the following day, culminating with violent clashes between the Dublin Metropolitan Police and striking workers on Sackville Street (now O’Connell Street). Hundreds were wounded amid baton charges and three striking workers were killed. The dramatic events convinced Union leaders James Connolly, James Larkin and Jack White that the workers needed to be protected, and that an Irish Citizen Army needed to be formed for this purpose. Ireland’s decade of lead had begun.

A year earlier in 1912, in response to the passing of the third Home Rule bill, and the possibility that Home Rule would finally become a reality in Ireland, hundreds of thousands of Irish Unionists signed what was known as the Ulster Covenant, where allegiance was pledged to the King of England. They stated that Home Rule would be resisted by “all means necessary”. This included the very real possibility of armed resistance, as demonstrated by the Ulster Volunteers (formed in 1912) importing thousands of rifles into the port of Larne from Germany in April 1914. In response, the Irish Volunteers, supporters of Home Rule formed in order to guarantee the passage of Home Rule bill, also imported German arms into Howth in July 1914; just days before the outbreak of the First World War. This mini arms-race in Ireland mirrored the greater stockpiling of armour and weaponry by the great European powers in the lead-up to the First World War; the whole Continent was in the grip of militarism. Violence seemed, to many people, to be unavoidable.

O'Connell street 1913 again
Clashes on Sackville Street during the 1913 lock-out

Over 200,000 Irish men fought in the First World War. To put this in perspective, the total male population of Ireland at the 1911 Census was just over 2.1 million. Those who fought did so for many reasons. Some, including many members of the Irish Volunteers, heeded John Redmond, the leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party who called on Irishmen to go and fight to help secure Home Rule, as a gesture of fidelity to Britain, in support of Catholic Belgium and in defence of smaller nations.

Redmond asked Irish men to prove “on the field of battle that gallantry and courage which has distinguished our race” in a war that he said was fought “in defence of the highest principles of religion and morality”.

Some men went in search of adventure, unaware then of the horrors that awaited them. Many Dublin men joined up as a way to financially support their families, the city at the time had a population of 304,000, with roughly 63% described as “working class”, the majority of whom lived in tenement houses, almost half with no more than one room per family. The army might offer death but least it offered a steady income.

What we also know is that many Bohemians joined up. Some like Harry Willits or Harold Sloan may have simply joined out of a sense of duty, that this was the “right thing to do”. Most joined in what was known as a “short service attestation”, meaning that they were only joining for the duration of the war, which many mistakenly assumed would be over quickly. In one edition of the Dublin based weekly paper Sport, it was estimated that Bohemians lost forty members to War service, among the highest of any club in the whole country.

Roll of Honour
Bohemian F.C. Roll of Honour – Evening Herald, September 1915 source @Cork1914to1924

Some like Harry Willits did return to resume their football career. Several did not return at all. Corporal Fred Morrow, who we met earlier as Bohs centre-forward, was a member of the Royal Field Artillery in France when he died of his wounds in October 1917. His mother had to write formally asking for the death certificate that the armed forces had neglected to send so that she could receive the insurance money for his funeral.

Private Frank Larkin was only 22 when he died just before Christmas 1915. He had been a Bohs player before the war. At this time, due the growing popularity of both the club and football generally in Dublin, Bohs often fielded several teams. Frank featured for the C and D teams, but like many Bohemians, was a fine all-rounder. He played cricket for Sandymount and rowed for the Commercial Rowing Club. He and two of his colleagues from the South Irish Horse were killed by a shell on December 22nd in Armentieres, Belgium. His will left a grand total of £5 14 shillings and 2p to his two married sisters.

T.W.G. Johnson
Thomas Johnson as pictured at Royal Lytham & St. Anne’s Golf Club in his later years

Thomas Johnson, a young Doctor from Palmerstown was just 23 when the War broke out. He had won an amateur international cap for Ireland and was a star of the Bohs forward line, usually playing at outside right. He was a hugely popular player who the Evening Herald described as “always likely to do something sensational”. He was another fine sporting all-rounder with a talent for both cricket and golf. Johnson became a Lieutenant in the 5th Connaught Rangers during the War and later brought his professional talents to the Royal Army Medical Corps. He was awarded the Military Cross for his actions at Gallipoli. He received numerous citations for bravery, for example at the Battle of Lone Pine during the Gallipoli campaign the Battalion history notes “Second-Lieutenant T.W.G. Johnson behaved with great gallantry in holding an advanced trench during one of the counter-attacks. Twice he bound up men’s wounds under heavy fire, thereby saving their lives”.

While his medical skills were a great asset in saving lives Johnson also was a fierce soldier during the most brutal and heavy fighting. He was awarded the Military Cross specifically for his actions around the attack on the infamous Battle of Hill 60 where so many Irishmen perished. The battalion history states that on August 21st 1915

“Lieutenant T.W.G. Johnson went out to the charge, with rifle and bayonet, and killed six Turks. He shot two more and narrowly missed killing another one. Later, although wounded severely, he reported to the commanding officer, and showed exactly where the remaining men of his company were still holding their own, in a small trench on “Hill 60.”

It was by this means that these men eventually were carefully withdrawn, after keeping the Turks at bay for some hours.” . Hill 60 of course was for many years the name by which Dubliners knew the terrace at the Clonliffe Road end of Croke Park, it was only in the 1930’s that it became known as Hill 16 and later the apocryphal story emerged that the terrace had been built from the ruins of O’Connell Street after the Easter Rising.

Bohs with Sloan Crozier
Herbert Charles Crozier – back row far left. Harold Sloan – front row third from the right

Other Bohemians suffered serious wounds but managed to make it through to the armistice. One of the most prominent of these was Herbert Charles “Tod” Crozier. He had joined Bohemians as a 17 year old and took part in the victorious Leinster Senior Cup final of 1899. In 1900 he appeared for Bohs on the losing side in an all-amateur Irish Cup Final, which was won 2-1 by Cliftonville. Crozier was described as one of the most “brilliant half-backs playing association football in Ireland” and he formed a formidable and famous midfield trio of Crozier-Fulton-Caldwell who were still revered for their brilliance decades after their retirement. “Tod” had a long association with Bohemians and was also a prominent member of Wanderers Rugby Club. He grew up on Montpellier Hill, close to the North Circular Road and not far from Dalymount.

Herbert Crozier1
Major H.C. Crozier

His Scottish-born father was a veterinary surgeon but “Tod” became a career military man with the 1st battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. In 1908 he was awarded the Bronze Star by the Royal Humane Society while serving in Sudan for trying to save the drowning Lieutenant Cooper from the River Nile. It was noted that he behaved with great bravery despite knowing of the “dangerous under-current and that crocodiles were present”. He was a Captain at the beginning of the War and was part of the Mediterranean Expedition Force that travelled to Gallipoli. It was here that he was wounded, and as a result of his actions was awarded the Military Cross, and later, after a promotion to the rank of Major, the Military Star. Despite the wounds he received at Gallipoli he returned to Montpelier Hill in Dublin and continued to attend football and rugby games. He was still enough of a well-known figure that he was the first person quoted in a newspaper report about Bohs progression to the 1935 FAI Cup Final. He lived to the age of 80, passing away in 1961 and was buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery.

One man who returned from the War and then joined Bohemian F.C. was the legendary Ernie Crawford. Born in Belfast in 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. He would later be named President of the IRFU. 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.

Crawford collage
Ernie Crawford in uniform, on a Tongan stamp and as an Irish Rugby international

He was, however, a successful football player who turned out for Cliftonville and for Bohemians. Ernie, a chartered accountant by trade, 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 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.

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 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. He was a recipient of the British War and Victory Medals. Ernie later returned to Belfast where he became City Treasurer. 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. He passed away in January 1959.

So who were these men who went to war? From looking through the various records available (very much an ongoing task) it is clear to see that they were of a variety of different backgrounds. Most were from Dublin, though some like Sidney Kingston Gore (born in Wales) were only in Dublin due to Military placement. Some like Harry Willitts came to Dublin as a young man, others like Crozier and Morrow were children to parents from Scotland, Belfast or elsewhere. They were of various religious beliefs with Catholics, Church of Ireland and Presbyterians among their number.

By the outbreak of the War Bohemian F.C. was not yet 25 years old, some of those who had helped to found the club as young men were still very much involved. The employment backgrounds of the men who enlisted seem to have connections back to those early days when young medical students, those attending a civil service college as well as some young men from the Royal Hibernian military school in the Phoenix Park helped found the club. There were a number who are listed as volunteering for the “Pals” battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, in this case more than likely the 7th battalion. This battalion was made up of white collar workers and many civil servants, they were sometimes referred to as the “Toffs among the toughs”.

The 7th Battalion also featured a large number of Trinity College graduates, as well as many Rugby players encouraged to join by President of the Irish Rugby Football Union, F.H. Browning, a number of those who joined would end up dead on the beaches of Gallipoli. Browning later died after encountering the Volunteers on return from maneuvers at Mount Street Bridge during Easter 1916.  The medical profession is clearly represented by men such as Thomas Johnson and J.F. Whelan. There were also characters like Alfred Smith and Tod Crozier who were career military men.

We know that like many Bohemians they were great sporting all-rounders, many being talented Rugby players, rowers, tennis players and cricketers in addition to their talents on the football field. In most cases they were young; Fred Morrow was still a teenager when he joined up, Frank Larkin only 21. Even the prematurely bald Harry Willitts looked much older than his 25 years.

Those who did return from the trenches came back to an Ireland that was changed utterly. The events of the Easter Rising, the growth in Republican Nationalist sentiment and the gathering forces that would soon unleash the War of Independence meant that those who returned may well have felt out of step with the Dublin of 1918-19. Those mentioned above are only a small selection of the Bohemians who took part in the First World War, there are many more stories; of Ned Brooks the prolific centre forward posted to Belfast who ended up guesting for Linfield, of Jocelyn Rowe the half-back who had also played for Manchester United who was injured in combat. There are many others forgotten to history. Those men described above often only appear in the records because of their death or serious injury, many more passed without comment. For men like Harry Willits and Tod Crozier, they could return to familiar surroundings of Dalymount Park whether as a player or just as a spectator. Some of those who returned, like Ernie Crawford, were yet to begin their Bohemian adventure. Among this latter group was a dapper Major of the Dublin Fusiliers named Emmet Dalton. He was a man who had won a Military Cross for his bravery in France and trained British soldiers to be snipers in Palestine. On his return to Ireland, he would join Bohemians as a player along with his younger brother Charlie. Both men would also join the IRA. They would play a central role in the War of Independence and the Civil War though they weren’t the only Bohemian brothers with this distinction as I’ll outline in my next piece.

A partial list of Bohemian F.C.members who served in World War I

Captain H.C. Crozier (wounded, recipient of the Military Cross) 1st Royal Dublin Fusiliers. Later promoted to Major.

Lt-Colonel John Francis Whelan Royal Army Medical Corps, recipient of the Distinguished Service Order for his actions in Mesopotamia (Bohemian committee member and club vice-president). Later awarded and O.B.E. as well as an Honorary Master of Science degree by the National University.

Surgeon Major George F. Sheehan, Royal Army Medical Corps. Awarded the D.S.O.

Lieutenant Sidney Kingston Gore, 1st Battalion Royal West Kent Regiment (killed in action). He died after being shot in the head on 28th October 1914 near Neuve Chapelle he was a talented centre-forward who was particularly strong with the ball at his feet.

Sgt-Major Jocelyn Rowe, 1st Battalion, East Surreys (wounded in action)

Company Sgt-Major Alfred J Smith, Army Service Corps, (amatuer Irish international, wounded in action)

Private Joseph Irons, on guard duty at the Viceregal Lodge during Easter 1916 he later served duty in the Dardanelles campaign

Lieutenant P.A. Conmee, Royal Navy (a former Rugby player and a goalkeeper for Bohemians)

Sgt-Major B.W. Wilson Inniskilling Dragoons

Lieutenant JRM Wilson, Bedfords (brother of above)

Lieutenant Thomas William Gerald Johnson, 5th Connaught Rangers and later Royal Army Medical Corps (wounded in action, awarded the Military Cross for his actions in taking the infamous “Hill 60” during the battle for Gallipoli). Also an Irish amateur international player.

Private Frank Kelly, Army Service Corps

Lieutenant Ernie Crawford, Inniskilling Dragoons and Royal Fusiliers

Corporal F. Barry, Black Watch

Private James Nesbitt, Black Watch (killed in action 16/07/15)  the son of W. H. and Jeannie Nesbitt, of 54, North Strand Road, Dublin. James was a Customs and Excise Officer at Bantry, Co. Cork, at the outbreak of war. Although badly injured he directed medical attention to other wounded men. He walked back to the field hospital but died soon afterwards.

Private A. McEwan, Royal Dublin Fusiliers

Private P. O’Connor, Royal Dublin Fusiliers

Private A.P. Hunter, Royal Dublin Fusiliers

Private J. Donovan, Royal Dublin Fusiliers

Sergeant Harry Willitts, Royal Dublin Fusiliers

Corporal Fred Morrow, Royal Field Artillery (formerly of Tritonville F.C. Bohemian F.C. and Shelbourne), killed in action 1917.

Private Angus Auchincloss from Clontarf joined the Army Cycling Corps in 1915 and transferred to the Royal Irish Rifles in 1916. He was discharged in 1919 and died in Eastbourne, England in 1975 at the age of 81.

Lieutenant Harold Sloan, Royal Garrison Artillery killed in action January 1917.

Major Emmet Dalton, Royal Dublin Fusiliers

Lieutenant Robert Tighe, 5th Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers

Private G.R. McConnell, Black Watch (wounded)

Trooper Francis Larkin, South Irish Horse (killed in action)

Captain Fred Chestnutt, 6th Lancashire Fusiliers (former goalkeeper for Bohemians and for Trinity College’s football team)

Private J.S. Millar, Black Watch

John C. Hehir, the star goalkeeper for Bohemians until January 1915 he was also capped by Ireland. He left Bohs to take up an “important role” with the War Office in London

Lieutenant William James Dawson, Royal Flying Corps. Injured in 1917 he returned to action but died in 1918. He was also a member of the Neptune Rowing Club and the Boys Brigade.

Captain J.S Doyle, Royal Army Medical Corps

William Henry (Billy) Otto, South African Infantry

Private F.P. Gosling, Black Watch and later the Machine Gun Corps

Lieutenant L.A. Herbert, Veterinary Corps

Private William Woodman, 7th Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers and his brother Private Albert Woodman, Royal Engineers. After the war Albert returned to his job at the General Post Office, working there until his retirement. During World War II, he worked as a censor and redactor. He bought a home on Rathlin Road, in Glasnevin. Albert passed away in 1969, at the age of 78. For more on the Woodman family see here.

Private F. W. Taylor

Corporal H. Thompson, Royal Engineers

Trooper Griffith Mathews, North Irish Horse

Part of a series of posts on the history of Bohemian F.C from 1913-1923. Read about Bohs during Easter 1916 here or about the life and career of Harry Willits here.

Harry Willits – the Darling of Dalymount

Co-written with Brian Trench

When Harry Willits finished his first season as Bohemian captain in spring 1916 he had other major responsibilities on his mind. He had joined the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in late 1915 “for the duration of the war” and soon he would be sent to the western front in France during the Battle of the Somme.

He had followed his friends and several Bohemian colleagues in signing up for the army. His choice was the Commercial Battalion of the Dublin Fusiliers, established to cater for young men of the “commercial class” and farmers.

Willits was not the military type, according to his daughter Audrey, still living in the family home aged 93. But English-born and a civil servant, he moved in circles where enlisting for military service would have been regarded as a matter of duty.

He was promoted to corporal in February 1916, three months after enlisting. According to military records he became a sergeant in July 1916, though he was already identified in a June 1916 report of a cricket match between King’s Hospital and 10th Dublin Fusiliers as “Sgt Willetts”, bowled out for a duck.

He had a short period – three months – of active military service, yet he lived all his days with the consequences of it. In October or November 1916 he was wounded in the thigh, and he spent several months in hospital in southern England before returning to Dublin, and to Bohemians. His injury was serious enough for amputation to have been considered.

He missed all of the football season, 1916-17, as he recovered from his injury. The mark of the wound remained visible and the strain of playing in a weakened condition took its toll on his health in later life.

Harry Willits was born in Middlesborough in 1889 and already made a strong impression as a footballer in his teens, when he played for Middlesbrough Old Boys, Cambridge House and the famous South Bank club where a team-mate was later English international George Elliott.

Willits’s father was headmaster of Middlesborough High School when Harry and George were pupils there. But it was apparently in order to get away from his over-bearing father that Harry sat the civil service examinations and then, when he was admitted to the service, chose to take up a post in Dublin. He worked in the Post Office stores and later, over several decades, in the Registry of Deeds.

He joined Bohemians just after the club had captured the Irish Cup for the first time in 1908. He was a regular first-team player over the following years in the forward line, at inside-left or outside-left, alongside internationals Harold Sloan and Johnny McDonnell.


In spring 1916 he played football and cricket for the Dublin Fusiliers as well as captaining Bohemians. When he resumed service with Bohemians in late 1917, he was profiled in the Dublin weekly newspaper, Sport, as The Darling of Dalymount. The writer claimed there were many who came to Dalymount specifically to see Willits play.

Willits army updated
A feature on Harry in a 1917 edition of Sport

Tall and prematurely balding, he was a striking figure. He was best-known as a skilful passer and crosser of the ball, but also contributed goals, including some from the penalty spot. Willits and Johnny West were a potent partnership at inside- and outside-left. (West was also a popular baritone singer, who performed at summer evening ‘promenades’ in Dalymount during the war years.)

Willits lived for a time near the Botanic Gardens with his mother, who had moved to Dublin following the death of Willits’s father. In 1919, however, Harry married Annie ‘Cis’ Wilson and with her inheritance they bought a house in Lindsay Road that remains in the family nearly a century later. The furniture includes a large dining-room sideboard that was a wedding gift to Harry and Cis from Bohemians, and a mark of the high esteem in which the club held him.

Willits was Bohemian captain again in 1920-21, when he was reported to have had a “new lease of life” as a footballer. Now in his thirties, he was prominent also in the Bohemian team that won their first League of Ireland title in 1923, and was selected with four other Bohemians for the new league in their first representative match against their Welsh counterparts in 1924. Willits played for club and league alongside Christy Robinson, who had a very different military record as a member of the IRA during the War of Independence.

Willits program final
Harry stars in the first ever inter-league game against the Welsh League

Some newspaper correspondents suggested that, but for his English birth, Willits might have been selected for Ireland. From 1925 onwards, he was playing with Bohemians’ second team and scored in a 4-0 win over Dublin University (Trinity College) in 1929, when he was 40. He featured in a short Bohemian’newsreel’ of 1930 as a “model Bohemian” who was “still going strong” and “a sportsman to the core”. Nearly fifty years old, in April 1938, he lined out for an Old Bohs team in a charity match in Dalymount against an Old Rovers side.

Even before his playing days with Bohemians finally ended, Willits became involved with the club’s Management Committee, also later the Selection Committee, and he served as Vice-President.

From the 1920s Harry Willits was a keen and competitive tennis player, being club champion in Drumcondra Tennis Club several times over the period 1923-33. He served also as club president and vice-president.

A man of routines, he always had two books on loan – one fiction, one non-fiction – from the Phibsborough Library. He dressed formally, in suit, tie and hat, and walked from his home to the Registry of Deeds in King’s Inns, responding to the frequent greetings of Bohemian fans in the streets. He practised calligraphy and did charcoal drawings.

His daughter Audrey and son Alec were both kicking footballs with their father in the family’s Glasnevin garden from early days. Alec played briefly for Bohemians first and second teams in the 1940s, but could not live up to what was expected of him as his father’s son. He later played for the Nomads.

Audrey applied her kicking skills to keeping goal for Pembroke Wanderers hockey teams for many years, appearing also for Leinster provincial teams and serving many years in the club’s committees.

From 1937, as Audrey recalls, Harry Willits developed asthma due to the strain of living with a war wound and this had a serious impact on his quality of life, also taking a financial toll. Harry had to reduce his work to half-time, which also meant half-pay, and Audrey remembers that the family often struggled to get by.

Despite this, Willits continued his involvement with Bohemians, as club officer and selector, and even – up to the age of 60 – as a coach. He was actively associated with Bohemians in one capacity or another for over forty years. He died in April 1960, aged 70, and is buried with his wife in Mount Jerome Cemetery.

This post originally appeared on the official Bohemian F.C. website in May 2016. Co-written and researched with Brian Trench as part of an ongoing series on Bohemians players from the First World War to the end of the Irish Civil War

Bohemians during Easter 1916

In April 1916 Bohemians were coming to the end of a season disrupted by war, but in which they were rewarded yet again with the Leinster Senior Cup, their fifteenth win in twenty years. It took two attempts to secure the trophy from old rivals, Shelbourne. The first was on St Patrick’s Day, a scoreless draw watched by 6,000 spectators, the second on 1st April.
No Dublin clubs took part in the Irish League that season due to the war and several Bohemian players had enlisted with the army. But the club insisted that football should continue and they managed to maintain Dalymount Park as a playing pitch when some rugby and cricket grounds were taken over for relief works.

Half-back Josh Rowe was with the East Surrey Regiment and was wounded many times. At the end of March he was reported to be returning to duty after convalescence and, it was said, “he hopes to play football again”. Full-back J.J. Doyle had joined the Officer Training Corps in early 1916 but got leave to play for Bohemians in the Irish Cup semi-final, which Bohemians lost to Glentoran in Belfast.

Also involved in that cup campaign was outside-left Harry Willits, who was team captain in 1915-16. An English-born civil servant, he played during 1916 both for the Royal Dublin Fusiliers’ regimental team and for Bohemians. By the start of the next season, however, he was at the war front with the Dublin Fusiliers and in November 1916 was reported as wounded. He survived and was back with Bohemians in 1917-18. Bohemians’ squad in 1916, coached by the everlasting Charlie Harris, included two internationals, Billy McConnell and Johnny McDonnell, whose 1915 Irish shirt hangs today in the JJ Bar at Dalymount Park. Others included regular goal-scorers Ned Brooks and Dinny Hannon, and defender Bert Kerr, who had joined in 1915 and was to have a notable career with Bohemians, including as team captain. He also had a remarkable career as a pioneer in the Irish bloodstock industry.

On Easter Monday 1916, a Bohemian team travelled to Athlone to play an end-of-season friendly, as they had done for several years. So friendly was it that McDonnell and Hannon played for Athlone, in a team that included several army officers. (Hannon later won the Free State Cup with Athlone Town.) Neither team can have been aware of what was happening in Dublin as they played their game in bad weather (3-2 for Bohemians) and were later entertained at the Imperial Hotel and at a dance at the Commercial Quadrille Class. “The Bohemians expressed themselves highly pleased with their visit,” the Westmeath Independent reported. However, the trip was to end less pleasantly for the Bohemian team. Due to the Rising, train services were disrupted from Mullingar, and they had to arrange car transport back to the capital.

Their late return was reported in the Irish Times among the repercussions of the Rising: “Some of the [Bohemian team] members who lived on the south side of the city had to stay in Phibsborough for the [Wednesday] night and, after walking via Islandbridge, Kilmainham, Goldenbridge, Rialto, Crumlin and Dolphin’s Barn, these did not get home until Friday (April 28), at 1.30 p.m.”

While the Bohemian party were concerned about getting back to the city from Athlone the rebels were worried about the arrival of British Army reinforcements from the same location. Many of the sites occupied by the rebels were chosen for their ability to delay the troops coming into the city, most notably the engagement with the Sherwood Foresters at Mount Street bridge.

Bohs 1916 pic3

In Phibsborough members of B Company of the Dublin Brigade built barricades on the railway bridges on the Cabra Road and North Circular Road close to St. Peter’s Church. They even went as far as to try and blow up both bridges with gelignite.
While B Company was able to hold off a number of attacks from small arms and machine gun-fire, the arrival of artillery onto the Cabra Road (outside what is now the Deaf Village) and the use of shrapnel-loaded shells raining down on the bridges just yards from Dalymount Park and as far down as Doyle’s Corner meant that the Volunteers could not hold their positions. A number of civilians were killed by over-shooting shells, while 15-year-old Fianna Éireann scout Sean Healy was shot dead outside his Phibsborough home.
The rebels eventually abandoned their positions hoping to link up with Thomas Ashe in Finglas but by the time they got there he and his men had already left for Meath and the Battle of Ashbourne. Many of B Company found their way back into the city and some joined the garrison in the GPO and then Moore Street.

While there is no record of Bohemians fighting with the 1916 rebels, some Bohemians did work in the British administration during that period. Highest-placed of these was founder member Andrew P. Magill. He was an 18-year-old clerk in the Land Commission when he attended the club’s first meeting, and later a clerk in the office of the Chief Secretary for Ireland. He rose to become private secretary to Chief Secretary Augustine Birrell, who resigned in May 1916 after failing to predict or take preventative action to stop the Rising. Magill later worked in the post-partition civil service of Northern Ireland.
While Magill was serving the Chief Secretary, fellow-Bohemian Joe Irons, an army reserve who was called up when World War 1 broke out, was posted to the Vice-Regal Lodge in Phoenix Park, to what is now Áras an Úachtaráin, to protect the Viceroy.

This article was co-written and researched with Brian Trench for the Bohemian FC website where it appeared in March 2016. In later articles we will look further into the life and career of Harry Willits, report on other Bohemians who fought in World War 1, and tell the stories of some Bohemians who were IRA volunteers in the War of Independence.