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 H. Otto, the versatile Bohemians half-back, better known as Billy, who captained the team. This piece is as much an appeal for information as the summary of a career.
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 name and without having 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 some of his story remains untold.
What we do know is that Billy Otto was born around 1898, son of another W. H. Otto, most likely in Cape Town, South Africa. There is no mention of Billy on either the 1901 or 1911 census of Ireland. In fact the only Otto residing in Ireland is a Friedrick Otto, impressively a Professor of Literature, Geography, History, French, German. Friedrick was 33 in 1911 and was born in Hannover. Although he was married with children he was resident in Ranelagh by himself. This would seem to give us no connection to Billy and here the trail runs cold so we don’t really know for definite when he first came to Ireland.
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 thatyear with the club also finishing as League runners-up the following year. 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 new life in 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 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.
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.
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.
One other interesting item to note was that another obituary mentioned that Billy had served with the South African infantry during World War I, its reports stated that Billy returned to Ireland in 1920.
At present this is as much information as I can glean on the illusive Billy Otto. What remains a mystery is when he first arrived in Ireland, the details of his military career, and indeed some aspects of his later life. What is intriguing is that Billy may have been the first footballer born in Africa to lead a European side to a league title. Another first for Bohemians perhaps? As a former league winner and club captain I’d love to find out more about him. If you have any information on William H. Otto, or indeed on Christine Quigley or any of their three sons please get in touch.
With thanks to Simon O’Gorman and Stephen Burke for their assistance and input.
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
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, the 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
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, won through the charm of Steve Wright and the bankbook of Dundalk F.C. coupled with the beginnings of a generation of young local players such as Joey Donnelly had begun to bring success; 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 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 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.at their time of need and going and he personally was one of the largest 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. While he had remained active as an architect into the 1950s where he was joined by his son Daniel (trading as V.J. O’Connell & Son), 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.
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 any 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, skilful 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.
In 1916 as youngsters of 15 and 12 they 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 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 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.
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 burn 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 that 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 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.
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.
With special thanks to Eamon Robinson and Frank Robinson for their assistance and sharing their family research and photos.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
A good while back I did up a League of Ireland International XI elsewhere on this blog. It seemed to go down well and provoked a little bit of discussion. My previous version featured those players who had been capped by other nations and had featured in league football in Ireland, it included the likes of George Best, Bobby Charlton, Uwe Seeler and of course Avery John. That post deliberately excluded Irish internationals but I’d like to redress this by compiling my Irish International League of Ireland XI. My criteria are that all players included have to have been capped for Ireland while playing for a club in the League of Ireland. I’ve focused on players from the immediate years after the split with the IFA right up to the modern day. I’ve tried to represent various different eras basing much on pieces of research and reportage and the input of various older football fans. As always this is just a personal selection of players I like or that interest me so this will obviously reflect my own bias and interest but hopefully might create a bit of discussion, hence the sizeable bench! Anyway in goal I’ve gone for….
Goalkeeper – Alan Kelly Sr. (Drumcondra, 47 caps): A man with a strong claim to be one of Ireland’s greatest ever keepers and a founder of somewhat of an Irish goalkeeping dynasty. (Not the only one mind, hello to the Hendersons) Alan Kelly Sr. was a FAI Cup winner and a League champion with Drumcondra during their 1950’s heyday when he made his debut for the Republic of Ireland as they defeated World Champions Germany 3-0 in Dalymount Park. Before long a move to Preston North End beckoned and he spent 14 years as a player at Deepdale making a club record 513 appearances, including an impressive performance in the 1964 FA Cup final where the unfancied Preston were deafeated 3-2 by the West Ham of Bobby Moore and Geoff Hurst. Such was his importance at Preston that in 2001 a redeveloped stand was named after him. Kelly would later manager Preston and would assist John Giles during his managerial reign as well as being caretaker manager for Ireland during a 2-0 win over Switzerland.
Right-back – Paddy Mulligan (Shamrock Rovers, 50 caps, 1 goal): Paddy was already a four-time FAI cup winner and an Irish international by the time he left Shamrock Rovers to head to West London and the glamorous surroundings of one of Chelsea’s pre-Abramovich high-points. While at Chelsea he tasted European glory as Chelsea beat the might of Real Madrid 3-2 on aggregate in the Cup Winners Cup final before moving onto Crystal Palace and later West Bromwich Albion, managed at the time by his international team-mate Johnny Giles. While Paddy finished his career with a very respectable 50 caps he didn’t have the easiest start to his international career, he was a part-timer with Shamrock Rovers while also holding down a job with the Irish National Insurance Company when he was called up to the Irish squad in 1966, his employers weren’t too happy about his decision to travel with the squad to face Austria and Belgium and he was issued with an official warning by the company directors!
Centre Back – Al Finucane (Limerick, 11 caps): An elegant, ball playing centre-half Al Finucane won all of his 11 international caps while on the books of his home-town club Limerick. However his time in the green of his country coincided with a dreadful run of results and his international record reads played 11, won 0, drew 1, lost 10. There was to far most success on the domestic front where he captained Limerick to two FAI Cups (1971 & 1982 when he was 39!) as well as lifting the famous old trophy with Waterford in 1980. Only the second player to achieve this after Johnny Fullam who captained both Shamrock Rovers and Bohemians to victory. Finucane’s longevity was astonishing and along the way he picked up a number of records in his 28 year League of Ireland career including the record number of appearances by any player in the league and also becoming the oldest player ever to play in a UEFA competition. At the age of 43 years 261 days he lined out for Waterford United against Bordeaux in the Cup Winners Cup, breaking a record previously held by Dino Zoff. His final game was at the age of 45 for Newcastlewest.
Centre Back – Con Martin (Drumcondra, 30 caps, 6 goals): Con Martin made his first two international appearances as a Drumcondra player and in somewhat unexpected circumstances as a goalkeeper. His first appearance came as a substitute away to Portugal. With Ireland trailing 3-0, thanks in no small part to the prolific Sporting striker Fernando Peyroteo, the Irish keeper Ned Courtney is forced to go off injured. Courtney kept goal for Cork United and was an officer in the Irish Army, he had also won a Munster title in Gaelic Football with Cork. Brought on in his place was Con Martin, who at the time was in the Irish Air Corps and had also won a provincial GAA football title, with Dublin in 1941, he kept a clean sheet for the remainder of the game and started in goal in the next match, a 1-0 victory over Spain. Martin was a hugely versatile player, he lined out as a centre half for Drumcondra he played almost an entire season in goal later in his career for Aston Villa and also regularly played as a half back or at inside forward. He was a regular penalty taker for Ireland and it was Con Martin who opened the scoring in the ground-breaking 2-0 win over England at Goodison Park.
Left Back – Mick Hoy (Dundalk, 6 caps): While the selection of the likes of James McClean and Marc Wilson has generated some ire with those in the IFA they are certainly not the first men born north of the border to play for an FAI selection. Mick was born in Tandragee, Co. Armagh and began his career at Glenavon before moving south to Dundalk in 1937 the same year he made his international debut in a 3-2 defeat to Nroway. He started that game alongside his fellow Dundalk team-mate Joey Donnelly. Mick won five further caps and his debut was to be the only game where he finished on the losing side. His final match for Ireland was the 1-1 draw away to Germany in 1939, the nation’s final international fixture before the outbreak of War.
Midfield – John Giles (Shamrock Rovers, 59 caps, 5 goals): To celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2004 UEFA asked each of its member associations to select their greatest player of the preceding 50 years. The FAI selected Johnny Giles. While there will always be
differences of opinion regarding the selection of any one player over another there would be a general consensus that Giles was worthy of the accolade. He was a FA Cup winner with Man Utd in 1963 before moving to Leeds where he won two league titles, another FA Cup, a League Cup and two Inter-City Fairs Cups and played in the final of the 1975 European Cup where Leeds finished runners-up to Bayern Munich. Only two years after playing in that final Giles was lining out as player-manager for Shamrock Rovers in the League of Ireland where he was attempting to make Rovers not only a force in Ireland but also in Europe with the introduction of a full-time, professional ethos, the “Milltown project” as it was dubbed by some. While this approach did yield an FAI Cup in 1978 it yielded little else in terms of silverware. During this time however Giles was a very busy man. As well as being player-manager at Rovers he was also the national team player-manager and also spent a summer in 1978 playing in the NASL for Philadelphia Fury! During this time he continued to add to his caps total, his final game coming in 1979 at the age of 38.
Midfield – Frank O’Neill (Shamrock Rovers, 20 caps, 1 goal): Frank O’Neill is the most capped League of Ireland player in history with a total of 20 to his name. All of these came during his time at Shamrock Rovers. Despite treading the well-worn path going from Home Farm schoolboy to England, joining Arsenal aged just 18 it was as one the classiest players in Rovers’ “Cup Kings” sides that he made his name. After only two league appearances for the Gunners, O’Neill, then aged 21 joined Rovers on their Summer 1961 tour of North American where they took part in the grandly titled Bill Cox International Soccer League against the likes of Dukla Prague, Red Star Belgrade and Monaco. O’Neill impressed grabbing six goals in seven games after which he was signed for £3,000. O’Neill would make over 300 appearances for Rovers, winning a league title as well as six consectutive FAI Cups, mostly playing on the right wing. His international career coincided with a downturn in the national team’s fortunes though there were highlights including the scoring of his only international goal against Turkey in a 2-1 victory.
Midfield – Mick Martin (Bohemian FC, 51 caps, 4 goals): The second member of the prolific Martin football family in our team, Mick, son of Con began his career at Dalymount Park with Bohemians. His early international career didn’t get off to a great start as he was selected by new manager Liam Touhy for his début in a 6-0 defeat to Austria. The Irish team that day was comprised of League of Ireland players as the match had been scheduled just a day after a full English league fixture programme. He also made a number of appearances at the Brazil Independence Cup while still of Bohs player, scoring in a 3-2 win over Ecuador. Better was to come for Martin, he got to mark Pelé as part of a Bohs/Drumcondra select that took on Santos and shortly afterwards secured a move to Manchester United and later joining Johnny Giles at West Brom. In his club career he is probably most associated with Newcastle United, who he joined for £100,000 in 1978. He was hugely popular with the St. James’s Park faithful who dubbed him “Zico” and he got to play alongside the likes of Kevin Keegan and a young Chris Waddle during his time there.
Forward – Jimmy Dunne (Shamrock Rovers, 15 caps, 13 goals): Jimmy Dunne began and ended his playing career at Shamrock Rovers. In his first spell at the club the Ringsend native didn’t manage to get much playing time due to the dominance of Rovers’ “Four Fs” forward line of “Juicy” Farrell, Jack “Kruger” Fagan, Bob Fullam and John Joe Flood though when he did get a look in he usually scored. A move to New Brighton (a now defunct club on Merseyside) in the old Third Division North followed, as did the goals. He joined First Division Sheffield United in 1926 though he had to bide his time before getting a prolonged run in the first team. However he exploded into life in the 1929-30 season scoring 42 goals in 43 games and winning his first cap for Ireland (he scored twice in a 3-1 win over Belgium) that year as well. Dunne however wouldn’t be released by United for further fixtures (though he was allowed to play 7 times for the IFA selection) during his prolific scoring exploits over the next few years and he wouldn’t win a second cap until 1936 when he was playing for Arsenal by which stage he had fallen down the pecking order at Highbury due to the arrival of Ted Drake. A season at Southampton followed before Jimmy or “Snowy” as he was known to some returned to Dublin and to Shamrock Rovers in 1937 at the age of 32. It was while on the books of Rovers that Dunne would win nine of his 15 caps and score five of his international goals. Dunne still has by far the best scoring ratio for Ireland of any player who has scored 10+ goals at 0.87 goals per game and one wonders what his stats would have been like had he been made available to play for Ireland during his peak years at Sheffield United.
Forward – Glen Crowe (Bohemian FC, 2 caps): The best striker that I’ve personally witnessed in the League of Ireland and the most recent player to feature on this list. Crowe during the years of his peak was unplayable for opposing defences, he had strength, aerial ability and a cracking shot. He’s Bohs record league goalscorer, FAI Cup scorer and European scorer and was the League’s top scorer three years running. He’s also won 5 league titles (4 with Bohs, 1 with Shels) and two FAI Cups. At international level he featured against Greece under care-taker manager Don Givens and then again early in the reign of Brian Kerr in a cameo appearance against Norway.
Forward – Alfie Hale (Waterford, 14 caps, 2 goals): The Hale’s are one of the great football families in Waterford, a place that has given us plenty of them, including the Coads, the Fitzgeralds and the Hunts. Alfie’s father (Alfie Snr.) had been part of the first Waterford side to compete at League of Ireland level and at one stage formed an entire half back line for the club along with his brothers Tom and John in the 1930’s. Alfie Jnr. was born in 1939 and began his career with his hometown club before a somewhat peripatetic existence brought him to Aston Villa, where he would win his first international cap against Austria, and later to Doncaster Rovers where he would spend the majority of his stay in Britain. After seven years away Hale returned to Waterford where he was joined by Johnny Matthews and a little later by keeper Peter Thomas as part of a team that would dominate the League of Ireland, bringing five titles to the south coast between 1967 and 1973. Alfie’s final game for Ireland was as a Waterford United player in 1973 at the age of 34 when he came on to replace Don Givens in a 1-0 victory over a Polish side that had just finished ahead of England in World Cup qualifying.
Subs: Peter Thomas (Waterford) Tommy McConville (Dundalk & Waterford) Johnny Fullam (Shamrock Rovers) Willie Browne (Bohemians) Shay Brennan (Waterford), Peter Farrell (Shamrock Rovers), Tommy Eglinton (Shamrock Rovers) Joe O’Reilly (Brideville, St. James Gate) Paddy Coad (Shamrock Rovers) Paddy Moore (Shamrock Rovers) Pat Byrne (Shamrock Rovers) Paddy Bradshaw (St. James Gate) Jason Byrne (Shelbourne)
*a note on the layout, I’ve listed players’ Irish clubs when they received their international caps only but have listed their total number of caps won at all of their clubs.