Category Archives: Sports History

Book Launch alert: Soccer in Munster, 1877-1937

I know I’ve been quiet on this blog for some time, but that’s due to the imminent release of my first monograph, and a move of country. Next month, I’ll be celebrating the publication and launch of my monograph, Soccer in Munster: A Social History, 1877-1937published by Cork University Press.

This book is based in part on the work completed for my PhD thesis but also includes material and research first presented in rough form on this blog, which has been an integral part of the formulation of myself as a writer and historian over the past number of years.

So, if you find yourself in Cork this June, I’d love if you could join me at my launch, details of which are below.

And, if you’d like a sample of some of what’s coming in the book, you could do worse than visit Irish Garrison Towns blog, pick up the most recent issue of Lookleft (available in Eason’s and other good newsagents), on or buy Issue 2 of Póg Mo Goal.

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Filed under Events, Irish History, Nineteenth Century, Sports History, Twentieth Century

Call for Papers: Sport History Ireland 10th Annual Conference.

Here on the Dustbin, I have been responsible for a substantial amount of sport history appearing on the blog since we began. So it is with great pleasure that I post today to bring  to your attention a major milestone in the historical study of sport in Ireland.

On 20th September 2014, St. Patrick’s College, Drumcondra will host the 10th Annual Conference of Sport History Ireland, the body set up to encourage and foster scholarly research into Ireland’s sporting past. The history of sport has emerged in Ireland in the ten intervening years as a vital and exciting aspect of much of the new social and cultural history that has emerged in the same period. The call for papers is now open, until the 20th June 2014.This is an event not to be missed. For further details, here’s the poster:Image

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Filed under British History, Historiography, Irish History, Nineteenth Century, Social History, Sports History, Twentieth Century

Jewish Waterford, 1893-1940

Cormac Ó’Gráda’s book Jewish Ireland in the Age of Joyce, was a ground-breaking work for looking at religious and ethnic minorities in Ireland historically. I recently heard Ó’Gráda speaking as part of the UCC Historical Society’s History Week. Ó’Gráda spoke about the potential of the 1901 and 1911 census, especially in relation to the study of minorities in Irish life from that period. With that in mind, and following on from some tentative work which I had done for my PhD thesis, I’ve decided to sketch a portrait of Waterford’s Jewish community from the end of nineteenth century up to the beginning of the Second World War.

The Beginnings of the Jewish Community in Waterford

According to Louis Hyman, in his history of Irish Jewry up to 1910, ‘At the close of the seventeenth century, the Council of the Waterford Corporation encouraged the settlement of foreign merchants.’ One man who applied to trade freely in the city was Jacob Nunes who was given the freedom of the city to conduct trade in 1701.[1] Thus Nunes has a fair claim to being Waterford’s first Jewish settler. Again, Hyman notes that ‘individual Jews resided in Waterford in the eighteenth century, and some were there in 1805, one of them, surely Josias Jacob, registered with the Dublin Goldsmith’s Company in 1809. About the middle of the nineteenth century, the grandparents of the late Professor James Desmond Bernal settled in the town.’[2] According to the census of 1871, there was still only a solitary Jew in Waterford, however that was all about to change. With the introduction of what are popularly known as the May Laws, many Jews in Tsarist Russia made their way to Britain and Ireland. As Hyman notes, this movement of Jews from what was sometimes called Russian Poland, and Lithuania, had the effect ultimately of strengthening the communities of Jewish settlers in places other than in Dublin and Belfast.[3]

One of the earliest mentions of the new Jewish community in Waterford comes from 1893 with the death of Joseph Diamond at the age of 68, who lived on 8 Manor Street in the city centre, a street in Waterford that would in time form a central part of the Jewish community in the city.[4] Many of the Jews then settled in Waterford were Welsh, and were part of the Jewish community in Britain that were middle-class emigrants from Central Europe, what were known in Ireland as “English Jews”. The lives of these Jewish people were in stark contrast to those who would come to make up the bulk of Britain, Ireland, and Waterford’s Jewish communities in time, those fleeing pogroms and persecution in Russia.

Shortly after the death notice of Joseph Diamond, the Jewish Chronicle noted that a congregation had been established in the city, with Mr R Smullian as president, and so prayers were held for the  Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, for probably the first time in Waterford’s history.[5] A year later, the Jewish Chronicle again mentioned the new congregation noting that:

Mr and Mrs Goldring presented a Scroll of the Law to the newly-established congregation. In the evening they gave a party to which every Jewish resident of Waterford was invited. Mr M. Simon presided  and great satisfaction was expressed by the Chairman, Mr Hanasan[sic], President of the congregation, Mr R. Smullian, Mr Levy, Mr Diamond and others at the formation of the congregation.[6]

With the congregation up and running in Waterford city, the Jewish community there could do perform rites of their faith in their new home, rather than travelling to other cities in Ireland with synagogues. The development of the congregation breathed life into the city’s Jewish community and it wasn’t long before the city saw its first Jewish wedding, something which attracted a great deal of interest from Waterford people generally:

On Wednesday 14th inst the first Jewish wedding that has been solemnised in Waterford took place in the synagogue 88 the Manor. The couple were Miss Fanny Diamond and Mr Jack Lappin. The ceremony was performed by Rev J. E. Myers of Cork assisted by the local minister Rev Simon Aarons. The wedding created a great deal of interest  in Waterford and the synagogue was filled with Christians. Rev J. E. Myers  preached on Sabbath morning and also at a special service on Sunday evening, the latter attended by several Christians. Mr Goldring, President, and his wife have made handsome presents to the synagogue. Mr Robinson is Treasurer and Mr J. Levy is Hon Sec.[7]

The development of the community was of interest in particular to JE Myers, who ministered to the Cork congregation, and who visited Waterford on a number of occasions.[8] The community was growing in strength and in no time, there was a plan to open a Hebrew School in the city.[9] As the Jewish community grew and developed, children were born into families in Waterford, like the Sherowitz family. The progress of the community in Waterford was followed closely by the Jewish Chronicle, and many notices, no matter how small, relating to the city’s community, appeared throughout its pages. And so we know that some of the members of Waterford’s Jewish community got involved in politics, like Harris Sherowitz who sent a letter to John Redmond MP on the Aliens Act in 1905, signed by many, in the hopes that he would seek amendments to it. There was a significant difference between the size of the community in 1901 and by 1911. The interwar period was the peak of the Jewish community in Waterford, built as it was by the community that had developed and was captured in the census of 1911. Waterford’s Jewish community was at its most numerous in the city then: there were around 62 Jewish people in Waterford at that date. It was never bigger, before or since. While these numbers obviously pale in their significance when placed next to the Jewish communities of Dublin, Cork or Limerick, nevertheless the Jewish community in Waterford left their mark on the city. These maps show where Waterford’s Jewish community settled in the city (click images to enlarge them):

Fig. 1: Jewish Settlement in Waterford, 1901

Fig. 1: Jewish Settlement in Waterford, 1901

As you can see from Fig. 1 above, the very small community that existed in 1901, was centred in the main around John Street and Manor Street. This concentration would remain in 1911, as you can see from Fig.2, below:

Fig. 2: Jewish Settlement in Waterford, 1911

Fig. 2: Jewish Settlement in Waterford, 1911

To get the full effect, Fig.3 below shows both the 1901 and 1911 settlements overlaid on each other:

Fig.3: 1901 and 1911 Jewish Settlement in Waterford, overlaid on each other.

Fig.3: 1901 and 1911 Jewish Settlement in Waterford, overlaid on each other.

These few streets then, encompassed Waterford’s Jewish community until the beginning of the Second World War.

The Figure of the ‘Jewman’ in Popular Imagination and Memory in Waterford

Once the community strengthened, and became a more visible presence in the city, centred as it was around John Street and Manor Street, the figure of the ‘Jewman’, in that peculiar Irish turn of phrase, was a figure of curiosity and later, folk memory. In Waterford a song was sung called ‘The Jewman’, and according to Dermot Power was popular at one time with workers in Denny’s Bacon curing factory back in the late 1920s and 1930s, when the community was at its height. If as Hyman’s history of the Jews in Ireland has it ‘they knew no trade but peddling’, a fact contested in Ó’Gráda’s work, then this aspect of Irish Jewry is well summed up in the opening verses of ‘The Jewman’:

 At the top of town, Anne Street, a lady does dwell,

Her name I won’t mention, I dare not tell,

One cold winter’s morning the Jewman did call,

And unslung his bag outside of the hall.

He knocked at the door with his usual grin,

Saying good morning, missus, is your husband within

Says she no he’s not I want nothing today,

Ah take something said the Jewman don’t send me away.[10]

In the song, the woman takes some blankets on the promise of payment the following week, and duly the following week no payment is forthcoming, so the Jewman makes a grab for his goods, is hit over the head with a can by the woman before both are brought before a court, the song finishing with the testimony of ‘a big red nosed Bobby’ and a suitably amdmonished Jewman:

Said the Jew oh your Worship my poor head is sore,

And I’ll never go look for me wool anymore.[11]

As Cormac Ó’Gráda notes of such songs, and this particular one seems to have existed in a variety of versions Dublin as well, were indicative of views among Irish people that were ‘more xenophobic than strictly Anti-Semitic.’ Indeed, he contends that ‘the outlook of most Irish people of all persuasions was blinkered, parochial, and prejudiced by today’s standards.’[12] Such was the power over the local imagination of this figure, the ‘Jewman’, that one of Waterford’s lanes, Kneeff’s Lane, was popularly known as ‘Jewman’s Lane’. Indeed, the popular folk memory of the ‘Jewman’ and ‘Jewman’s Lane’ were revisited in a recent documentary about the Barrack Street area in the heart of Waterford city (the relevant segment is from 36:00 to 38:45):

As we’ve seen, the first Jewish marriages and other occasions were of deep interest to many locals, and something of this interest first present in the 1890s remained in the 1930s, as when the Munster Express carried a small notice relating to the Jewish Day of Atonement in September 1931.[13] Members of Waterford’s Jewish community found themselves in court on occasion, and in a rare display of anti-Semitism, a local District Court judge told a member of the family that he should count himself lucky, given what was happening to his people in Hitler’s Germany, though many rushed to defend the judge saying his comments were not meant in such a way.[14] There was also this joke which appeared in the pages of the Munster Express:

Munster Express, June 26 1936

Munster Express, June 26 1936

Still, whether this properly reflects the relationship between the Jewish community and their hosts is difficult to ascertain for certain, perhaps like the figure of the ‘Jewman’ this was more parochial than anti-Semitic. One of the more unusual stories involving Ireland’s Jewish community and Waterford comes from the late 1930s as well. Frank Edwards, a member of the Communist Party of Ireland and rugby player with Waterford City RFC and teacher in Mount Sion, took a leave of absence from his teaching duties in the school to join the International Brigade  to fight fascism during the Spanish Civil War. Upon returning, Edwards was refused his old job and barred from teaching in any Catholic school. Rev. Herzog, the Chief Rabbi in Ireland, gave Edwards a job teaching in Zion Schools, recently established on Bloomfield Avenue in Dublin, where Edwards would work for the next thirty years.[15]

The legacy of Waterford’s Jewish Community

Ray Rivlin’s Jewish Ireland: A Social History, contains a chapter on sport and entertainment.[16] The chapter opens with the story of Maurice Woolfson, a Jewish Waterford man who led local club Evergreen, when they achieved great victory on the field in the 1930s. The Woolfson name is an important one in the early history of Waterford soccer. Isaac Woolfson, was in the 1930s, chairman of the Waterford and District Association Football League and a key figure in establishing the first Employer’s League in 1931, forerunner to the factory leagues. Like many of the figures explored in Anthony Clavane’s Does Your Rabbi Know You’re Here?, men like Isaac, Maurice and later ‘Duffy’ Woolfson, emigrant Jews from the poor edges of Russia, who were not of the middle-class “English Jew” origins of earlier Jews in Waterford, used sport, and soccer in particular as a means of integration and acceptance. Cormac Ó’Gráda, discussing the wide variety of sporting and other bodies established by Ireland’s Jewish community noted that success in the sporting arena ‘fostered communal pride’ but he also noted that it wasn’t long before many Irish Jews, and the membership of their sports clubs, moved beyond the community itself. [17]In 1938, with Maurice Woolfson as chairman, Evergreen won the FAI Minor Cup, beating Sligo United 2-1 in a game held at Kilcohan Park in the city. On his leaving for Dublin 1940, the loss was lamented by all involved in the club.

The Woolfson family dispersed from Waterford but returned in 1971 for the inauguration of the Maurice Woolfson Perpetual Challenge Trophy for the local Schoolboy League at half time during a League of Ireland game between Waterford and Finn Harps. However, as was noted by a journalist at the time, the contribution of the Woolfson family to Waterford soccer amounted to a lot more than just a silver trophy, ‘no matter how magnificent’.[18] The same might be said of the entire Jewish community, who breathed life into the streets on which they lived in Waterford, leaving a long lasting impression on the city and its people.

[1] Hyman, Louis, The Jews of Ireland: From Earliest Times to the year 1910, Shannon: Irish University Press 1972, p.22

[2] Hyman, The Jews of Ireland, p.79

[3] Hyman, The Jews of Ireland, p156 and 161

[4] Jewish Chronicle, 1 September 1893

[5] Jewish Chronicle, 22 September 1893

[6] Jewish Chronicle, 20 October 1894

[7] Jewish Chronicle, 23 November 1894

[8] Jewish Chronicle, 27 March; 17 July 1896

[9] Jewish Chronicle, 6 November 1896

[10] Power, Dermot, The Ballads and Songs of Waterford from 1487, Waterford: Munster Express 1992, pp.10-11

[11] Power, Ballads and Songs of Waterford, p.11

[12] Ó’Gráda, Jewish Ireland in the Age of Joyce: A Socio-economic history, Princeton: Princeton University Press 2006, p.180

[13] Munster Express, September 25 1931

[14] Munster Express, Septembr 27 1935

[15] Rivlin, Ray, Ireland: A Social History, Dublin: The History Press Ireland, 2011, p.110

[16] Rivlin, Ray, Jewish Ireland, pp.209-210

[17] Ó’Gráda, Jewish Ireland, pp.186-187

[18] Munster Express, April 23 1971


Filed under Irish History, Memory, Nineteenth Century, Social History, Spanish Civil War, Sports History, Twentieth Century

The Cork International Car Race, May 1937

I have posted here before about early motor racing in Tramore, Waterford, but today I am going to take a quick look at the Cork Car Race, an international motor racing contest that took place in Cork in May 1937.

My interest on this occasion is less to do with the races themselves or how they came about but rather their popular reception and the way in which they were reported on. I encountered this motor race while doing other research in the Cork City Library’s Local Studies Room. I was trawling through the microfilm of the Evening Echo, Cork’s long-running evening daily, when I happened upon the Cork Car Race and the extensive coverage afforded it by the Echo. Two things in particular struck me about the coverage of the race. One was the employment in the newspaper of photographs, cartoons and even the advertisements in the issue of the paper covering the Race.

Photographs of the racers in their cars abounded, but more strikingly, there was a cartoon and one particular advertisement that showed perfectly the cross-section between major sporting events of this kind, commercialism and popular entertainment at that time. And so, first to the cartoon:


The cartoon depicts a disgruntled fisherman whose weekend leisure has been disrupted by the noise and pageantry of the big event, the Cork Car Race. Clearly, such novel sporting events were not to everyone’s taste!

Secondly, there was this advertisement:

Source: Evening Echo, May 22 1937

Source: Evening Echo, May 22 1937

Anyone who knows Cork, knows that Tanora holds a special place in the hearts of many Cork people. Here we see the company cleverly employing ad copy to capitalise on the novelty of the Cork Car Race. This shows brilliantly the intersection between sport and commercialism that had become so developed in the interwar period (the Evening Echo of this period is equally full of cigarette and drink advertisements showing hurlers, footballers, tennis players and jockeys among other things).[1] It may be the case that the ad was used before or since, but the timing of the ad in this particular edition of the Evening Echo in which about a quarter of the paper was given over to the Cork Car Race is especially remarkable.

As with the races that had taken place earlier in the decade in Tramore, the speed and excitement was the main draw for the many spectators, and the Evening Echo reported crashes and even stories of cars catching fire in great depth, the crash of Bira (Birabongse Bhanudej), Prince of Siam, being of special interest. Most of the scrapes were fairly tame in reality, however one driver from England, Cyril Mervyn White, who only weeks previously had come inside the top 10 in a race in Britain in his Bugatti, ended up in the Mercy Hospital following a crash during a time trial and later died from his injuries.[2]

The race was a major international event, the second of its kind in Cork, even  being the subject of a British Pathé newsreel. The race would only run one more year, in 1938, but as can be seen from these images of 1937, the Cork International Car Race was not just an exciting (or if you fancied a quiet spot of fishing, excruciating) experience, but was ripe too for commercial exploitation by local firms such as mineral water bottlers like John Daly.

[1] For a discussion of the various aspects of sport and commercialism see Collins, Tony, Sport in Capitalist Society: A Short History, London, New York: Routledge 2013; see also Collins, Tony, and Vamplew, Wray, Mud, Sweat and Beers: A Cultural History of Sport and Alcohol, Oxford: Berg, 2002

[2] Evening Echo, May 22 1937; May 26 1937

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Filed under Events, Social History, Sports History, Twentieth Century

Bloody Sunday: November 21 1920 – Representation and Legacy

As we wend our way through the next decade of commemorations great and small, sometimes with a sure footing, sometimes without, Fintan O’Toole has written that ‘the decade that is being marked is not only about violence and conflict but it is undeniably steeped in bloodshed, animosity and disastrous division. History should not wallow in these swamps, but it cannot stay clear of them either.’[1] Violence and sport are age-old bed-fellows – whether on the pitch or in the stands – violence, and the threat of it, forms part of the frisson of sporting endeavour. However, some forms of violence enacted in sporting contexts are utterly unexpected. Violence doesn’t tend to form as strong a part of Irish people’s conception of their sporting history as it does say in England, where violence at football in particular has been absorbed into its narrative particularly in the last forty years. Largely this is because the same phenomenon, hooliganism, hasn’t received quite as much attention in an Irish context – except by a sensationalist press – and because it happened on a much smaller scale. There is an exception to this: one violent act does loom large in Ireland’s sporting history.


One of the stand-out sequences in Neil Jordan’s biopic Michael Collins are those depicting the events of November 21 1920, more commonly known as Bloody Sunday. One of the most arresting aspects of Jordan’s portrayal is the Gaelic football match between Tipperary and Dublin in Croke Park. As with much of the film, Jordan took some liberties in portraying this retaliatory event, though having read some contemporary reports, there seems little need since the reality strikes me as being sufficiently shocking. Two of Jordan’s key changes, partially for the purposes of narrative drive but also for visual impact, was firstly to have the shooting done by Auxiliary Forces rather than the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), and secondly to have an armoured tank come on the pitch to do the shooting, but this did not happen, rather the tank was outside the ground firing into the air. Sean Crosson, discussing the scene in an article on representations of the GAA on film says this scene was one of the most controversial on the films release in Ireland, in November 1996. According to Crosson ‘Jordan has defended his use of armoured cars as he wanted this “scene to last more than 30 seconds”‘.[2]

“A Thrilling Game Expected!”: A Challenge Match

Due to the disruptions to normal life caused by the war of independence, there were serious knock-on effects for sport too. Matches were less frequent and competition difficult to compete. It was in this context that a challenge match was arranged between Tipperary and Dublin to be played in November 1920. An ad in the Irish Independent the day beforehand let us know a thrilling game was expected between the challengers and the Leinster champions.[3] Somewhere between 5,000 and 15,000 people turned out to witness the game. What few of the spectators would have known was that morning, some 14 British intelligence officers were shot around various parts of Dublin (according to Ferriter several were not in fact intelligence agents at all and one was a cousin of Michael Davitt).[4] FSL Lyons wrote that ‘this multiple shooting spread a wave of horror through both England and Ireland’ but, he continues on ‘the horror was redoubled by the revenge of the Black and Tans’, where in Lyons’ words they ‘fired indiscriminately on the players and the crowd.’[5] Not long into the match, shots rang out as according to some armoured vehicles were parked at each corner of the ground. Amid the confusion, 13 civilians – some of them children – were killed and one player, Tipperary captain that day Michael Hogan, was shot in the mouth as he scrambled to duck from the firing.  Mike Cronin, Paul Rouse and Mark Duncan’s The GAA: A People’s History wrote of it that ‘of all the bloody days of the War of Independence, this was the bloodiest of them all – at least in terms of its impact on the public psyche.’[6]

Press Reporting

In the days and even weeks following this event, the newspapers were full of reports of the events as more and more of what happened slowly came to light. The thrilling match that had been advertised turned out to be something rather different. Rather than a tale of sporting exploits, the headline in the Irish Independent that Monday read starkly:

Irish Independent, Monday 22 November 1920

Irish Independent, Monday 22 November 1920

The newspaper reported ‘terrifying scenes’ when the RIC, military and auxiliaries made their appearance. They reported too that there were ‘most painful scenes’ as the dead and injured were picked up and brought to hospital for treatment.[7] The Freeman’s Journal wrote about a priest who ministered the last rites to the injured and dying.[8] The same issue of the newspaper carried an official statement from Dublin Castle to say that the RIC and other personnel had gone to the grounds on information of finding some particular suspects.[9] The Freeman’s Journal a few days later reported that Sir Hamar Greenwood in response to a query in Parliament about the matter that ‘the firing by the Crown forces was fully justified in the exceptional circumstances of the situation Sunday last.’[10] The Irish Times reports were the only ones to acknowledge that there was some ambiguity to the exact sequence of events, and conflicting reports. Given the papers political stance, the front page next Saturday led with the murder of the famous ‘Cairo Gang’ but their front page also had this as a follow on from that story:

Irish Times, Saturday 27 November 1920

Irish Times, Saturday 27 November 1920


In the aftermath of the event, Hogan was buried in his Tipperary jersey, his coffin draped in the Irish tricolour. In their people’s history of the GAA Mike Cronin, Paul Rouse and Mark Duncan write of Bloody Sunday 1920 being ‘for the GAA… an entirely new aspect to the place of Croke Park in the story of the Association. This was now more than merely a playing field: it was martyred ground’. It was, they write ‘the place where people had been shot because they attended a Gaelic football match.’[11] Echoing this, John Sugden and Alan Bairner described the event as one ‘etched in the consciousness of Gaels’ and argue that ‘events like [Bloody Sunday] rapidly accelerated the alienation felt between the authorities and the Irish people’, thus ‘undermining the basis for continued British rule in Ireland.’[12]

The  naming of a stand after the Tipperary player who died, Michael Hogan, four years later attests to this – it is indeed hard to sit in a seat in the Hogan Stand and not, even briefly, cast your mind back to the event and so to the surrounding events. This stand was built in time for the 1924 Aonach Tailteann, a project for promoting the newly independent state to the world via the medium of sport.[13] Brian Hanley informs us the events of Bloody Sunday were being used in the mid-1960s in an United Irishman newspaper article on the ban on foreign games where the journalist insisted that on that day in 1920 the Black and Tans “knew where to find the Fíor Gael” and that was at Croke Park and not at Lansdowne Road or Dalymount.[14]

A ticket from the Bloody Sunday match, recently sold at auction. Image Source:

A ticket from the Bloody Sunday match, recently sold at auction. Image Source:

Former President of the GAA Peter Quinn (1991-1994), reflected that when the GAA was during his tenure considering the redevelopment or building of a new state-of-the-art stadium that the management committee decided that ‘tradition, history, the symbolism of Hill 16, the memory of Bloody Sunday and a myriad of other factors’ dictated against a new ground and instead the redevelopment of Croke Park as it then existed.[15] According to an Irish Examiner report, a ticket from that match (pictured above) was sold at auction in Co. Clare in 2012 for over €5,000. The same article notes that another ticket from the match had a few years previously, in 2007, sold for around the €7,500 mark. The Irish Examiner article places this March 2007 sale in the context of the opening of Croke Park to foreign games.[16] The event was a central part of the Queen’s visit to Croke Park as part of her visit to Ireland in the summer of 2011, where according to a report on then President of the GAA, Christy Cooney, while making reference to the tragic events of Bloody Sunday 1920 said that

We also know that in our shared history there have been many tragic events which have inflicted hurt on us all.

While acknowledging the significance of the past and honouring all those that have lost their lives, including those that died in this place, the Gaelic Athletic Association has consistently supported and helped advance the peace process in Northern Ireland.

This use of the event stands in stark contrast to that which Brian Hanley noted in the 1960s in the pages of the United Irishman. This particular articulation of the event, as being part of a shared history, is in keeping with the more conciliatory role the GAA has been seen to play since the 1990s, and noted by both Bairner and Sugden in their work on sport and sectarianism in Ireland. Of all the legacies, tributes, and modes of commemoration, one stands out most. The most poignant tribute made to Hogan was the one when Tipperary would play Dublin for the title of 1920 All-Ireland champions in 1922, and upon winning, the Tipperary players gathered at the spot where Hogan was shot to hear the music struck up by the CJ Kickham band.[17]

[1] Fintan O’Toole, “Beyond Amnesia and Piety” in Horne, John and Madigan, Edward, Towards Commemoration: Ireland in War and Revolution, 1912-923, Dublin: Royal Irish Academy 2013, p.158

[2] Seán Crosson, “Gaelic Games and ‘the Movies’”, in Cronin, Murphy, Rouse (eds.) The Gaelic Athletic Association, 1884-2009, Dublin: Irish Academic Press 2009, p.119

[3] Irish Independent, 20 November 1920

[4] Diarmaid Ferriter, The Transformation of Ireland, 1900-2000, London: Profile Books 2005, p.235

[5] FSL Lyons, Ireland Since the Great Famine, London: Fontana Press 1985 edition, p.419

[6] Cronin, Duncan, Rouse, The GAA: A People’s History, Cork: The Collins Press 2009, p.154

[7] Irish Independent, 22 November 1920

[8] Freemans Journal, 22 November 1920

[9] Ibid.

[10] Freemans Journal, 27 November 1920

[11] Cronin, Duncan, Rouse, The GAA: A People’s History, p.154

[12] Sugden, John and Bairner, Alan, Sport and Sectarianism in a Divided Ireland, London: Leicester University Press 1993, p.33

[13] Cronin, Mike and Higgins, Roisín, Places We Play: Ireland’s Sporting Heritage, Cork: The Collins Press 2011, p.96; See also Mike Cronin, “The Irish Free State and Aonach Tailteann”, in Bairner, Alan (ed.) Sport and the Irish: Histories, Identities, Issues, Dublin: UCD Press 2005, pp.53-69

[14] Brian Hanley, “Irish Republican Attitudes to sport since 1921”, in McAnallen, Hassan and Hegarty (eds.), The Evolution of the GAA: Ulaidh, Éire agus Eile, Dublin: The GAA 2009, p.179; Interestingly though, one of the Tipperary players that day – James McNamara, had less than ten years previously won trophies playing soccer with Cahir Park Football Club, see Paul Buckley, Cameos of a Century, Cahir: Cahir Park 2010, p.9

[15] Peter Quinn, “From Tigh Mór to Croke Park”, in McAnallen, Hassan and Hegarty (eds.), The Evolution of the GAA, p.48

[16] Irish Examiner, 15 February 2012

[17] Cronin, Duncan, Rouse, The GAA: County by County, Cork: The Collins Press, pp.362-3


Filed under Irish History, Memory, Sports History, Twentieth Century

James J. Corbett’s The Roar of the Crowd

Libraries can be curious places, as anyone who spends too much in them can tell you. Usually thats because of those who spend too much time in them, but they can be strange in plenty of other ways too – some of the books you’re liable to find among the stacks can be truly remarkable, quirky little volumes. ‘Gentleman Jim’ Corbett was a well-known Irish-American boxer and World Heavyweight Champion, who defeated the great John L. Sullivan. While doing some research for a paper that included another Irish champion boxer, Jem Roche, I came across Jim Corbett’s memoir of his boxing career, The Roar of the Crowd in the sports section of University College Cork’s Boole Library. The book was unusual on a couple of fronts.

Inside the cover, there is a green slip of paper with a typed dedication glued to the cover, reading:

Presented to

University College Cork

by the

American Irish Foundation

in memory of

George W. Burkitt

Born Moneymore, County Derry, 1849.

Died Houston, Texas 1923.


George W. Burkitt emigrated to the United States at the age of 13 and became a naturalised citizen in 1883. A successful timber merchant and railroad contractor, he was Republican candidate for Governor of Texas in 1912.

The American Irish Foundation was born out of John F. Kennedy’s trip to Ireland in 1963 and was initiated by both Kennedy and de Valera to foster connections between the two countries. The remarkable thing about it is that Corbett’s book was published in 1894, while the particular edition which was given as a gift by the American Irish Foundation to the Boole Library in UCC was a reprint of Corbett’s book published by New York Times imprint Arno Press in 1976 based on a 1925 edition of the text.

Corbett’s book was originally published in 1894 by GP Putnam’s  of New York and London, under the imprint of The Knickerbocker Press, whose imprint logo was De Halve Maen (The Half Moon), a Dutch East India Company boat that sailed to New York in 1609 as part of a trip covertly trying to find a route to China. George Putnam, the publisher of Corbett’s book, is another intriguing character – he married Amelia Earheart, whose career as a female flyer he helped promote, in 1931, six years before her disappearance. The story of Corbett’s career was initially serialised in the newspaper before being brought out in book format.

The particular edition reprinted by Arno Press in 1976 of Corbett’s memoir was part of a wider series of titles being produced by them, entitled ‘The Irish-Americans’, a series of some 42 titles on topics from the full range of Irish-American experience from histories of the Tammany Hall machine, the role of the Irish in the American Labor movement and all points in between. The Arno edition of Corbett’s The Roar of the Crowd, we also learn from the Boole Library copy, is based on one to be found in the University of Missouri Library, likely to be the Ellis Library built in 1914.

All of this is incidental information quite apart from the content of Corbett’s book or indeed it seems from the life of George Burkitt, in whose name the American Irish Foundation saw fit to gift this book to UCC’s library in the bicentennial year of America’s declaration of independence from Britain for whatever reason. There are with certain books, treasures contained in the covers alone, to say nothing of the treasures contained in their pages.

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Filed under Book History, Irish History, Nineteenth Century, Sports History, Twentieth Century

A Forgotten Occupation: Ireland’s Billiard Markers

Last weekend (1st and 2nd March) I attended a conference as part of UCC’s Studies in the Irish Revolution series on the 1913 Dublin strike and lock-out. This post is inspired by the work I heard over the weekend.

As times change, so too do the jobs that are in demand for people to work in and, as times have changed so too has the expectations around children working. Until relatively recently in Ireland, i.e. well up to and including the 1960s it was quite normal for children to work and have their own spending power. Legislative change and increased access to continuing education have changed but a century and more ago, it was quite normal for children to have a full-time job in their early teens, indeed in many households it was an economic necessity. Among the jobs that young people could do then is a job that no longer exists. That of the billiard marker.

Billiards was an extremely popular game in the last quarter of the nineteenth century in Ireland and into the early part of the twentieth. The game, played in dedicated halls, in pubs, hotels, or just as often in the club houses of other sporting or associational organisations, required someone to keep score of the match and to keep the drinks fresh. It was an ideal job for, especially, young teenage boys. A look at the online census returns reveals some interesting results. For instance, in the 1901 census there were 197 people employed in the country as a Billiard Marker, and  52 of those 197 are between 13-18 (26.4%), while 104 of them are range in age between 13-21 (52.8%), making up as it does the bulk of those working at the job. Perhaps unsurprisingly the vast bulk of those working in the job can be found in two of Ireland’s most urban and industrial cities with 37 of the 163 are employed in Antrim, and largely Belfast (21.5%) and 30% of the total working at this job to be found in Dublin.

The numbers employed in this way drop a decade later. From the  1911 census  there was a total of 179 employed this way.The ages ranged widely again from 14 all the way up to 75. However, as had been the case a decade earlier, the bulk of those employed this way were between the ages of 14 and 21. According to the census returns online, there were 49 billiard markers working aged between 14-18 making up 27.3%. Extending the age group again, we can see that 77 of 179 were aged between 14-21, 43% of the whole, worked at this job. Again a huge proportion of those who found employment in this way came from counties with bigger urban areas like Antrim (20.1%),  Dublin (34%), and  Cork (8.3%).

Freeman's Journal, 7 April 1900

Freeman’s Journal, 7 April 1900

At the start of the last century in 1901, the youngest person recorded to work at this job was Thomas Kirkpatrick of Banbridge, Co. Down the son of James Kirkpatrick, a 44 year old bleacher who is a father of six children while the eldest working as a billliard marker was 64 year old Peter McGahen of St. Anne’s Ward, Belfast – a widower father to two daughters and a son – his daughters worked respectively as a servant and a paper bag maker, while his son was a boot and shoe maker. By 1911 the youngest employed as a billiard marker  is 14 year old Denis Callaghan of Mallow, Co. Cork the son of a painter, while the eldest is John McGaghey, a 75 year old who could not read. Billiard Markers, as well as being a regular feature of the classified pages of Irish newspapers before the First World War, were also occasionally to be found in the court pages; sometimes, as above, their occupation having little enough to do with their criminality, but on others, as below, their occupation being central:
Irish Independent,  1 September 1905

Irish Independent, 1 September 1905

Irish Times, 16 January 1904

Irish Times, 16 January 1904

On this occasion the judge felt the case a difficult one and decided to defer judgement. Another court case involving a billiard marker in 1904 was part of what the Irish Times was calling the ‘Grand Canal Mystery’, where a woman’s body had been found in the canal and her husband, a billiard marker, was the prime suspect. Bridget Devereux’s body had been found by a policeman on duty in the Great Brunswick Street area and it transpired according to some witnesses that she had had a row with her husband Edward Devereux, outside of the Workingmen’s Club on Wellington Quay in Dublin. For two weeks the Irish Times covered the story, before the judge decided the case required to be tried by Grand Jury because it was difficult to place the accused anywhere near where the body had been found, but when this was challenged the case was dismissed. Other examples of criminal behaviour involving billiard markers – in petty robbery and assault are below:

Weekly Irish Times, 28 November 1908

Weekly Irish Times, 28 November 1908

Weekly Irish Times, 22 June 1912
Weekly Irish Times, 22 June 1912

Such instances of criminality indicate a lot to us about the social position of those young men who took up the job of billiard marker, but of course can’t be the whole story of the billiard markers of Ireland. Census data can be illuminating, but the occupational divisions of reports can hide away specific jobs undertaken, as in this case, by dozens; thankfully through wonderful resources like our online Census Archives of 1901 and 1911 and digital newspaper archives, we can find the people who worked at these jobs, and bring their stories to life; remembering a forgotten occupation.


Filed under Irish History, Social History, Sports History, Twentieth Century

Anatomy of a Football Ground: Turner’s Cross, Cork

Our notions of what constitute a historical site can be limited, and limiting. As Shane Faherty has previously shown here on The Dustbin, landscape and memory intersect in remarkable fashions. Following on from this, I am going to consider the interaction of landscape and memory of a football ground in the heart of Cork. Since I moved to my current residence in Cork, I have been closer than ever to two of the city’s most active sports grounds – Musgrave Park, Munster’s second home and Turner’s Cross, home ground of League of Ireland football club, Cork City. Being so close to both, I take advantage regularly and watch games at both grounds. Turner’s Cross is a particularly interesting football ground so here’s a look at how the ground has changed, both physically and in usage, over the years.

OSI Historical 25" Map of Turner's Cross.

OSI Historical 25″ Map of Turner’s Cross.

There was a time, before the First World War, when to play football ‘at the Cross’ in Cork meant something rather different than it does today. Prior to the outbreak of that war, football’s home in Cork was the grounds at Victoria Cross, rather than those which are now the home of Cork City Football Club at Turner’s Cross. This ground at Victoria Cross was in use from about 1909 when a team calling themselves Cork City opened the ground – Victoria Cross would continue to be used right into the 1920s, often for big games, like when Cahir Park of Tipperary were beaten by Cork Bohemians 2-1 in front of a crowd of roughly 6,000 in the Munster Senior Cup final.

Athletics Ad, Turner's Cross from Irish Independent, September 1906

Athletics Contest, Turner’s Cross from Irish Independent, September 1906

John Bale’s work Landscapes of Modern Sport identified ten views of the sports landscape including viewing them as artifacts, history, and place. His work along with that of Simon Inglis’ on the football grounds of Britain have previously shown the deep historical layers of the football ground – as a place of history and memory in its own right as well as one that is a  part of the historical process of modernisation; you need only think of the impact on surrounding areas in the wake of a grounds’ construction. Mike Cronin and Roisín Higgins contend  that sporting grounds require a rethink with regards to heritage – its is not merely a matter of built heritage, but for many sports grounds they suggest ‘are important for the games that were played there, the historical forces that shaped them and the people who played and watched.’¹Above in the very first picture, we can see Turner’s Cross before it became a football ground, where it is simply a recreation ground with a cycling track around it. Initially it was used by rugby club, Cork Constitution, who had been founded as a cricket team for staff of the Unionist newspaper by editor Henry Laurence Tivy in 1892 and who took up rugby in the winter months to maintain their fitness. At the same time as it was being used for rugby it was also being used for GAA. For instance in 1901, the Freeman’s Journal reported of a match between Constitution and Cork on April 6th that was witnessed by some 2,000 spectators, while a Gaelic football match between two representative sides of Cork and Tipperary had been reported by the same newspaper back on January 15th the same year. It would take some time before this ground was changed into anything resembling the football ground that exists there today, before it could become the kind of football ground where in the words of JB Priestley, you pushed through the turnstiles ‘into another and altogether more splendid kind of life.’

Even after the period 1914-1921 in which the demographic make up of football in Cork changed considerably, with the haemorraghing of its military base, Turner’s Cross was not necessarily the premier soccer ground in the city – as it had been previously, it was used by a variety of sports. For example in the space of a fortnight in September of 1923 it was used, according to reports in the Irish Independent for both hurling and soccer matches.  UCC’s Mardyke grounds would for many years also be an important site of football in the city, with many clubs playing their football there, including Cork’s first League of Ireland club, Fordson’s. As it happens when this club became Cork FC in the 1930s they played games in both the Mardyke and also at Turner’s Cross.  For instance, that ground was used for a rare home international in 1939 that took place outside of Dublin, as Ireland took on Hungary. John A. Murphy notes in his history of the Mardyke, Where Finbarr Played, that football was one  sport that managed to see an interaction as it were between ‘town and gown’ when soccer was played at the Mardyke, as  when Cork’s League of Ireland sides was Cork Athletic.² As well as the Mardyke, another ground, this one in the Ballintemple area of Cork,  was also an important football ground: Flower Lodge.³

Best FL

George Best runs out for a game at Flower Lodge

Flower Lodge, at one time home to Cork Hibernians is no more, instead it it is now Pairc Uí Rinn, the second home of GAA in Cork after the much larger Pairc Uí Chaoimh and named for Cork’s most famous hurling son, Christy Ring. During the 1970s when Cork Hibs were at their height, there were two big sides in the city, the others being Cork Celtic whose home was in Turner’s Cross, who made it their home from 1959 to 1979. The new Cork club, Cork City FC founded in 1984 played their football in Flower Lodge until the owners of the ground, the AOH, sold it which saw Cork City move to Turner’s Cross in 1986.

Flower Lodge

Grounds where Flower Lodge were built on OSI 6″ Map

FL 2005

Aerial view Flower Lodge (now Pairc Uí Rinn) in 2005

Now with only one senior team playing in the League of Ireland, football in Cork did eventually settle in its home of Turner’s Cross. And so as well as being the home of Cork City FC, it is also the home of the Munster Football Association, the regional body in charge of the game in the province and organisers of the Munster Senior Cup, Munster Junior Cup and the Munster Senior League.

The turnstiles of Turner's Cross with MFA above it, before this sign was done up recently.

The turnstiles of Turner’s Cross with MFA above it, before this sign was done up recently.

Brilliant rare footage of Turner’s Cross as it was in the 1970s is available to us through In My Book We’re Ahead, an RTÉ production that followed Dublin football club, Shelbourne FC, during the 1975 season (see especially 7:00 to 10:30 in the video below):

Of course, the ground is rather different today to how it appears in the documentary and has gone through many structural changes since the early 2000s. As you can see from these two aerial shots below, even in a five year period the ground changed considerably – seating was installed in the ‘away’ end, behind the left-hand goal as we are looking at it here, and as well as the main Donie Forde stand being roofed, so too now was the smaller stand on the opposite side of the pitch, even though the ‘Shed End’ remained intact.

Aerial View of Turner's Cross in 2000

Aerial View of Turner’s Cross in 2000

Turner's Cross in 2005 before the redevelopment of the Shed End (righthand side behind goal).

Turner’s Cross in 2005 before the redevelopment of the Shed End (righthand side behind goal).

The Shed too though would change after 2005, covering as it does now the whole of that end of the ground:

Turner's Cross after redevleopment of Shed End.

Turner’s Cross after redevleopment of Shed End.

More recent improvements to the ground include the building of a roof on the away end so that now all four stands in the ground have roofs. Of course, that is only part of the story – the structural story of the grounds development from the recreational origins and its cycling track to what it is now. It has another story of development too – a more personal, qaulitative one that is harder to pin down – one of memories – of sporting triumph and tragedy which is much harder to track than any structural changes. My own memories of Turner’s Cross vary – Waterford United’s 3-2 victory over Cork City in the 2011 season stands as one of my most enduring and treasured, but I have also enjoyed many nights where I can cheer on Cork City quite untroubled by the implications, since the outcome in no way affects my support for Waterford United or their own progress in Irish football. Through this I finally understand Nick Hornby’s feelings toward football in Oxford when he was a student, away from his beloved Arsenal in Fever Pitch.

The Shed at Turner's Cross before redevelopment.

The Shed at Turner’s Cross before redevelopment.

An anatomy of a football ground is one thing from the outside and of course another from the inside – inside the ground there is on match day the colour and noise of the Shed End and the colour and noise of the Family Enclosure with their flags, trumpets, and drums, the power of the floodlights, such a feature of Irish football now, bearing down on the pitch. Turner’s Cross too has a slightly raised pitch, and slightly sank stands, so that you always feel close to the action no matter where in the ground you are. The story of Turner’s Cross and its varied usage is a perfect example of how an Irish sports grounds can offer a way into our complex historical and sporting heritage, where different sporting and political traditions were played and played out on the same blades of grass, surrounded by the same banks of earth, echoing from the nineteenth century to the twenty-first.

The Shed refurbished at Turner's Cross on match day

The Shed refurbished at Turner’s Cross on match day


¹ Cronin, Mike and Roisín Higgins, Places We Play: Ireland’s Sporting Heritage, Cork: The Collins Press, 2011, p.84

² Murphy, John A., Where Finbarr Played: A Concise Illustrated History of Sport in University College, Cork 1911-2011, Cork: UCC 2011, pp.100-117 for a full rundown of the links between soccer, the Mardyke and UCC.

³ For a comprehensive history of the move from Flower Lodge to Turner’s Cross see Carter, Plunkett, From the Lodge to the Box, available in the Cork City Library’s Local Studies Room.

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Filed under Landscape, Sports History, Twentieth Century

The Football Man: Willie Toms, 1910-1983

History for me is a deeply personal business – my profession, but also my passion. I couldn’t imagine it being any other way. I have written on this site already before about other family members: books belonging to my grandfather William Power, and  my grandmother Sheila’s brother, Paddy Neary. This post is about another relative – my paternal grandfather’s brother, Willie.

“The club director is the person in whom the fanaticism of the terraces and the urge for authority fuse. He is imbued with a desire to manage,  yet is activated principally by his partisan local involvement and the moral approach he brings to the wider issue. ”

– Arthur Hopcraft , The Football Man (1968), p. 140

Arthur Hopcraft was writing about the game in England when he penned those words, but he might well have been talking about the directorate of any of the League of Ireland’s clubs in the same era. Hopcraft’s book was published in 1968, the year Manchester United became champions of Europe for the first time. When the draw was made for the first round of the competition in 1968/69, a small city on the south-east coast of Ireland, with a long footballing tradition, recently crowned champions themselves at home could hardly believe their luck when they were drawn against the mighty European champions from across the Irish sea. Neither I’m sure could their board, including a relative of mine, Willie Toms.

Waterford v Manchester United at Lansdowne Road Programme

Waterford v Manchester United at Lansdowne Road Programme

When you begin work on a PhD where a large amount of that work is based in your own locality, and in the twentieth century, it is reasonable to expect that you would come across family members from time to time in the course of your research. They may even warrant a brief inclusion in your work as a nifty footnote if you’re feeling cheeky. But, for me, as my interest in the history of soccer in Waterford developed – moving from the period of its fruition in the 1920s right into the 1930s (although this was not in the end a part of my PhD thesis itself) it became obvious that from the 1930s on Willie Toms was no mere footnote to the history of soccer in Waterford – he was a vital part of it.

In this, the 30th Anniversary of his passing, I want to write about this man who I never knew personally, but having read his words in newspaper reports, in the archives, having heard stories about, and whose image is burned deep into my imagination, I feel a deep connection to. This connection started way back in 2006 for me, when as an eager Leaving Certificate student in  St. Paul’s Community College in Waterford, I decided for my special history topic I would research the founding of the Waterford and District Football League.

Arthur Hopcraft's classic, The Football Man.

Arthur Hopcraft’s classic, The Football Man.

I learned then, and have continued to learn, that in sports history, primary material can be extremely difficult to come by. I contacted the League, and was met by then secretary Jimmy O’Neill, who brought me into the back room, the meeting room, of the League in Ozier Park. They had little in the way of minute books or the like to offer me but they did have newspaper clippings from the Waterford News and Star in the 1970s – it was a series celebrating 50 years of football in the city. The clippings, I learned, had been collected by my father’s uncle, Willie, whose photographic portrait was one of those that adorned the walls of this room in Ozier Park. Some of the work I did for that special project remains a part of my PhD thesis now seven years on, though I would have scarcely known where to begin on that little project but for those clippings Willie Toms gave for safe keeping to the Waterford and District Football League. Willie Toms evidently understood the value of history, by keeping those newspaper clippings and sellotaping them as he did to giant white boards for safe keeping.

It never occurred to me that it would require explanation to anyone as to why it was important to research or study the history of sport in Ireland. It seemed to me to be obviously important – it formed (and continues to form) such a large part of life for many people I know/knew and for myself. Most people have greeted it with bemusement and wonder, but a sense that I must be really lucky. But like playing sport, researching its past is a deadly serious, and important endeavour to my mind. Journalist Rob Steen wrote in a guide book to budding sports journalists that ‘sport, in most cases, is full-contact ballet. In all instances it is the art of competition. At bottom, in its demands on body and soul, on head, heart and spirit it is a celebration of human possibility.’ Sport matters – for both its own sake and for what it can tell us about the world. I’ve never felt a need to justify my own interest in it – it’s  importance as a way of socialising remains self evident for me.

History also matters,  even if not to everyone it is nonetheless for everyone. Here one of the great sports historians, Richard Holt comes into his own writing that ‘history crudely weighed down with the apparatus of theory and couched in specialist language spoils the enjoyment of a subject without enhancing our understanding of it.’ This is part of what interests me so much in being part of a collaborative history blog. Making history through so open a medium seems as necessarily important as does say, Thompson’s instruction to rescue from the condescension of posterity. As my professional interest in history has developed, so too has my interest in reading the reflections of those in the historical profession. Some of the best history writing I have encountered in my reading is that history writing that manages to combine the historical and the personal – books like Eric Hobsbawm’s Interesting Times, Tom Dunne’s Rebellions, JH Elliott’s recent History in the Making  and others besides. One of the best exponents of this reflective writing, Tony Judt, in his wondrous and moving book The Memory Chalet commented ‘my latest writings have a far more inductive quality to them. Their value rests on an essentially impressionistic effect: the success with which I have interwoven the private and the public, the reasoned and the intuited, the recalled and the felt.’ (p.11) In my own extremely modest way, I hope this post will manage a similar interweaving of the private and public, reasoned and intuited, recalled and felt.

Chain Smoker: Irish Times, January 30 1954

Chain Smoker: Irish Times, January 30 1954

Willie Toms was born in Waterford in 1910. An able and intelligent student in Mount Sion school, where he played hurling, Willie won a wide variety of scholarships to carry on his studies past primary school –  he was one of just seven boys to win a massive £120 scholarship, £30 a year when he did his intermediate certificate in 1926 in which he got passes in subjects like English, History, Geography, Physics, Mechanics and Honours in Irish, Arithmetic, Algebra, Trigonometry, Geometry and the general Mathematics course . In 1928 as well as completing clerical civil service examinations and beginning a life working for the Waterford Corporation, he was also a cadet in the National Defence Forces, listed as an officer-in-training in the local newspaper on the same day the results of his civil service exams were published in the same paper. His most well-known role in the Corporation was probably that of Truancy Officer. Willie was instrumental in the establishing of proper schoolboys football in Waterford in the 1930s and to many young boys, truant and otherwise, his was a well-known face. He was later to work as Housing Officer for the corporation, a job which one brief portrait of him in 1956 described him as completing with ‘commendable tact’.

In The Public Gaze: Munster Express, 10 February 1956

In The Public Gaze: Munster Express, 10 February 1956

Well-known though he was throughout his life as a face in the city’s corporation, it was through football that he gained his fame. He began life playing the game with St. Joseph’s Boys’ Club, set up in 1924 by then Bishop of Waterford Bernard Hackett to cater for precisely the kind of boys who Willie would have had run-ins with as Truancy Officer. As well as sport, St. Joseph’s taught boys plenty of useful skills including woodwork and raffia-work. The boys set up a soccer team, much to the chagrin of some Irish-Irelander commentators in the local press. Willie Toms was strongly nationalist, and like much more well-known figures like Oscar Traynor, saw little or nothing wrong with the choice of sport he played as regards his nationalism. Indeed Willie was willing to conduct the affairs of the Waterford Football League through Irish at one point while he was secretary if it was to the satisfaction of those for whom such things mattered.

Willie was a skilful footballer, opening as he did the scoring  when St. Joseph’s beat Tramore Rookies 5-1 in the 1930 Infirmary Cup final. But, it would be in other areas of football that he would excel. Willie took on all of the jobs in football – referee, secretary, treasurer, chairman, director – which are usually derided but without which there would be no leagues, cups, no matches. Among the more ‘glamorous’ matches he refereed were the 1933 final of the George French Shield, a competition initiated thanks to the generous donation of the English music hall singer. It was in all of these duties that Willie showed himself to be a true football man. With a cigarette always drooping from his lips (he was an inveterate chain smoker), he was either on the pitch, the sidelines, or in the stands – it is evident from a trawl through the local and national newspapers that Willie was football to the core. When Waterford were chasing the FAI Cup in 1979, Peter Byrne of the Irish Times interviewed Willie, who recalled the 1937 win:

I still remember Eugene Noonan putting the ball in the net immediately below us for one of two goals which gave us the cup.  And later, there was the excitement of the homecoming as the team, on an open lorry, crossed the bridge on the way into the city.  So vast was the crowd that turned out to welcome the team that at least one person was injured as the people of Waterford gave vent to their feelings.

Waterford wouldn’t win the cup in 1979, having to wait another season to win it again. His career was wide and varied – as well as his work for his own club, St. Joseph’s, Willie in the late 1930s ambitiously tried to expand the remit of the Waterford and District Football League by establishing the newly-minted Waterford and North Munster Football League to widen the base of competition and offer clubs on the fringes a chance to join a high quality league. He was in the same period a member of the Junior Committee of the Football Association of the Irish Free State, and would end up on their selection committee for internationals. As well as that, in 1948 he was first elected a member of the board of Waterford Football Club   in the League of Ireland, acting as their League representative, as well as being a director of the club. He was even honoured in the mid-1950s with the position of President of the League of Ireland.

Willie Toms' Junior Committee, FAIFS badge, 1937-38 season. Author's family collection.

Willie Toms’ Junior Committee, FAIFS badge, 1937-38 season. Author’s family collection.

Willie Toms' Junior Committee, FAIFS badge, 1937-38 season inlay. Author's family collection.

Willie Toms’ Junior Committee, FAIFS badge, 1937-38 season inlay. Author’s family collection.

One of the most remarkable things about Willie’s career in football is its length – Willie was still involved in the game right up to his last moments. When Waterford AFC sought voluntary liquidation in 1982, Willie was one of those who put up the money to have the club re-established a new limited company, Waterford United Football Club (1982) Ltd. The club would remain Waterford AFC for one more season before switching to the name which they currently retain of Waterford United. Willie was still involved in the club and in the game in Waterford right up until his death on 9 December 1983, when the news was reported in the Irish Independent the following day they noted that ‘for the past nine years he has been a Waterford delegate on the Management Committee of the League of Ireland.’

When he had taken ill while on a visit to his brother in London, the Munster Express wished him a speedy recovery, but by the time that day’s paper was read in the city, he had already passed away. Willie wasn’t just a football man either, a former president the Mount Sion Past Pupils’ Union, he had also served as president of the Catholic Young Men’s Society in the city and had remained a trustee of that organisation right up until his death. At the CYMS’ annual general meeting in January of 1984, Mr Acheson the Society’s treasurer recalled with sadness the recent passing of Willie. Introducing The Football Man, Hopcraft wrote that

no player, manager, director or fan who understands football, either through his intellect or his nerve-ends, ever repeats that piece of nonsense trotted out mindlessly by the fearful every now and again which pleads, “after all, it’s only a game.” (p.1)

Willie would I’m sure have agreed with the sentiment. My professional development as a historian is intertwined with my discovery of Willie, his story and the telling of it. Few men can claim to have had such a long and lasting impact in the game of football locally as Willie Toms did. A true servant of the sport in Waterford, he really was the football man, the sort no doubt that Arthur Hopcraft would have recognised. An opinion more intuited than that normally presented in traditional history writing perhaps, but one keenly felt nonetheless.


Filed under Irish History, Memory, Sports History, Twentieth Century

Fast & Furious: Motor Car Racing in Tramore, Co. Waterford

When writing PhD (or as I am, trying to!) you come across many little stories that you simply cannot find the space (or the relevance) to explore fully. This is one such story. History, and sport, share one thing more than any other in common: the failed endeavour. Here is a remarkable combination of the two.

Tramore, Co. Waterford is one of Ireland’s most well-known seaside towns. The long beach from which it gets it’s name (in Irish trá mhór means big strand) is well known to many a sun-bather; to those who enjoy the turf Tramore represents one of Ireland’s longest running and most popular race meetings; for children of all ages the amusement rides and arcades, the fish ‘n’ chip shops and sweet stands signify a thousand summer memories. Of all the things associated with Tramore, to my mind at any rate, motor racing’s pioneer era certainly wasn’t one of them.

tramore motors 3

Source: Jonathan Brazil

As you walk down the Lady’s Slip, towards the Baldy Man, at the furthest end of the beach istelf away from the town, there lies the ruins of the first horse racing track built in Tramore. But these ruins aren’t our focus. Instead, imagine that there might have been yet another set of ruins, not of a horse racing track, but of a motor racing one instead. When most people think motor racing in Ireland, they think Mondello Park.

But back in the late 1920s plans were afoot to turn Tramore, Co. Waterford into a centre of the emerging appetite for fast cars and motor bikes and commercial, spectator sport. Although it would take a long time for the motor car to become a regular part of the street furniture in Ireland, Waterford had early connections with the motor car, as local brewing and steamship magnate, William Goff Davis-Goff, was the first chairman of the Royal Irish Automobile Club (RIAC).

tramore motors 2

Source: Paddy Browne’s Road/Waterford History Group facebook pages

The 1920s tends to throw up images of great poverty, depression and in Ireland, the anxieties and aftermath of civil war. But there was levity in life too and commercialised sport was just beginning to grow with greyhound racing tracks opening in both Belfast and Dublin in 1927 to be followed hot on the heels by tracks in Cork and Limerick (Waterford’s greyhound track opened in 1934).

It was also in this era that Phoenix Park saw Grands Prix, 1929-31, organised by the RIAC – prizes included the Phoenix Trophy, The Eireann Gold Cup, The Saorstát Gold Cup (sponsored by the Daily Mail no less!), and the Wakefield Castrol Gold Cup. In 1929, just months before the world was plunged into a deep economic recession, spectators gathered at Tramore strand to witness the first annual motor car races.

Source: Michael O'Sullivan

Source: Michael O’Sullivan

According to a report in September, 1929 in the Munster Express this inaugural meeting of motor car and bike races attracted somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 spectators – a huge number of people, from far and wide, who came by train, bus, and naturally motor car. Being beside the seaside of course, getting things going had their complications:

The tide was an important consideration in fixing the start,  which took place shortly after one o’clock, laying out the course and deciding the probable time to be taken for each event, but so well was the whole worked out that, notwithstanding the encroaching sea, the programme was well through and the strand laid bare again before the encroaching waves could cause any inconvenience.

In total there were five races, including two for motor cycles. The Barrack Street Band played throughout the afternoon, their numbers including Rossini’s ‘The Barber of Seville’, Petrie’s ‘Asleep in the Deep’, a comedic foxtrot entitled ‘You Can Feel It Doing You Good’ – a hit from 1928, and finishing their programme with ‘A Nation Once Again.’ The majority of the prizes were put up by Wilf Iddon, proprietor of one of the arcades on the promenade, as well by another arcade proprietor, Mr. E Piper of the Atlantic Dance Hall. Other prizes were presented by Heine’s antiques, as well as the owners of the motor factors in the area. At the end of the day’s events, the mayor made a speech and Lady Goff distributed the prizes to the winners.

tramore motors 4

Source: Jonathan Brazil

Such was their success, that the races returned in June of 1930. This time though the strand was quite wet causing at least one car, in the memorable phrase of the reporter to ‘turn turtle’ during a race. On this occasion there were five events, the final event being a lady-drivers-only, 10 mile race for cars unlimited by horsepower class. The winner of the race was Miss Peggy O’Connell of Kilkenny, who came in at a time of 13 minutes and 28 seconds. At a meal following on from the race, one of the attendees, George Jackson of Carlow saw no reason why Tramore could not surpass Southport as a racing venue. This time too, the races were help under the auspices of the Motor Car Union of Ireland (MCUI).

In 1931, in July, the races were back – bigger and better it seems. One of the reports of the event stated that

The big strand affords excellent facilities for such events, and the continued success of the races may lead to big developmwents in connection with the fixtures… Tramore was gaily decorated for the occasion, and business folk spared no effort to cater well for the huge gathering of visitors who enjoyed a right good day by the sea waves.

This wasn’t just idle, hopeful speculation either. Mr Beglin, the MCUI representative at the 1931 races, at the meal for competitors and organisers, possibly emboldened by the refreshments, said of Tramore as a motor racing venue

This is the finest beach in the country for motor racing and you have one of the finest organising committees. It will be the biggest motor racing centre in the British Isles in a few years, if you go on at this rate.

Irish Times, July 1934

Irish Times, July 1934

The following year, 1932, saw a similar programme of events as well as races on a different beach, Duncannon. There was calls in 1933 prior to the motor races at Tramore, to be the biggest yet, for public support of a flag day for the Tramore Motor Racing Club. According to the Irish Independent there were further races in July and September of 1934 but after this, things seem to peter out for the sport in the seaside town.

Local press, like the Munster Express, also seem to lose interest in giving the races at Tramore the same kind of coverage afforded it just a few years earlier. Although Tramore never did become a major epicentre of motor racing sport in Ireland, as it was hoped it might, for a few summers at least the thrills were fast and furious as thousands watched in wonder at machines tearing up the strand at high speed; machines that as yet had not become everyday street furniture.


Filed under Irish History, Social History, Sports History, Twentieth Century, Uncategorized