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Those Pesky Kids! Football on the Street

This post is driven by the same impulses as those that produced my piece on fish ‘n’ chips in Ireland, which you can check out here.

The part of Cork I live in is reasonably old, with most of the houses dating from around the 1880s. The oldest houses are in terraced rows. There are plenty of children in the area, and in the good weather they can be seen out and about, playing. One particular gable end is a favoured spot of some boys to either kick a ball or hurl a sliotar at. The importance of having a gable end that can operate as a goal, or as someone to pass the ball back to you tends to be underestimated. This particular gable end is in a wide open spot near the major road artery that brings you around to all of the streets in the area. This is usually only used by maybe one or two kids at a time and rarely are full-blown matches played here.

richardmaynefootballThe iconic image to the left, taken by British photographer Roger Mayne in 1956, captures the essence of playing on the street. There was a time, before the mass provision of outdoor and indoor facilities for sport in Ireland by the local club, the local government, or private leisure companies – the field of dreams for many was the street. Often narrow, usually packed, dirty, noisy, and always hard, they saw sporting triumph and tragedy to match any of the great pantheons of modern sport. For many kids, being out on the street playing was a necessity – small, cramped housing in many of Ireland’s towns and cities invariably meant that children were more likely to be found on the relatively spacious streets as opposed to their small homes.

Not surprisingly, much of this play was not looked on too kindly by some adults, and certainly not by the police. The antagonism between ball-playing youngsters and either local residents or police, has a long established tradition in Ireland. In Dublin Tenement Life, Kevin Kearns’ excellent oral history of inner-city, working-class Dublin, a huge array of stories abound on this subject. Take for instance the testimony of Senan Finucan, a Clare native who was a policeman in the Liberties in the 1930s:

Children all in the streets playing football and handball. They shouldn’t have been but they’d just give a signal that the police are coming and they’d run. And children swinging on the lamp-posts, that was dangerous with the lorries coming along. And scutting that was highly dangerous. We always tried to prevent that.

Throughout the book there are stories from people playing in the streets, in pitch ‘n’ toss schools, keeping sketch for policemen that might be coming. Such things weren’t restricted to Dublin’s inner-city though. Way back in 1875, in Nenagh, north Tipperary, football was already popular with young boys in the area with many being brought before the Petty Sessions in order to be fined either for playing football on the street or trespassing in farmer’s fields to play games with a football.

On one occasion a total of more than thirty young boys were summoned by the court in Waterford to pay one shilling for the “nuisance” they had caused with their ball playing. He said that it was a pity there weren’t more playing pitches in the city, and thought it a good thing that the boys should be playing football, calling it a “natural” thing. The previous day he had fined two boys five shillings and warned those in front of him that future fines would be two shillings six pence.

Similar incidences happened elsewhere throughout the country, even in the county towns. In Bantry, to take another example, one boy was brought before court for kicking a football off the bonnet of a Ford car during a game in which fifteen or sixteen boys took part according to a report in the Southern Star in September 1930, while many years earlier boys near Borrisoleigh in north Tipperary were summoned to court for trespassing on a farmer’s land to play football, according to court reports in the Nenagh Guardian during August of 1909 – following in the footsteps of boys nearby back in 1875.

In 1905, a tiny notice appeared in the Limerick Leader, informing us that at the Petty Sessions recently two boys were each fined a shilling for playing football on Market Alley. And, in Derry in April 1925, a boy of 16 was fined the remarkable sum of five shillings for playing football in the street, with the magistrate quoted as complaining that it was ‘almost impossible to get walking on the footpath in some districts.’ It’s unlikely the surly magistrate had the sunny south-east in mind, but around the same time in Waterford there was much he would have recognised.  Between 1927 and 1930 especially there was a good number of cases appeared before the district court relating to young boys who had been apprehended for playing football in the street, often with broken windows becoming a problem from stray footballs.

For one journalist, this was the thin end of the wedge, writing in the Irish Independent in July 1933 that kids who are fined for playing football in the streets come ‘to treat as no more serious [the laws forbidding] street football the laws forbidding truancy and petty stealing.’ Moralistic alarmism this may well have been but remarkably, the same newspaper records an incident in Belfast where a woman, Matilda Kernaghan, 74 years of age died in hospital from shock and exhaustion. This was  following a fractured leg sustained after being knocked over by a boy during a game of football on the street in April 1937.

street footie 1

Irish Press, 19 January 1934

Only three years previously, the Irish Press reported of a near fatal game which saw two boys involved in a game brought before the circuit criminal court in Dublin, when one boy caused sever bodily harm to another he was playing against in January 1934.

In July of that same year, the Irish Press ran the story of a Dublin dressmaker who had collected some 400 footballs that had been put through her window by boys playing in the street, which a Garda cited in the case of 17 year old boy four shillings for playing football in Denmark Street. These were extreme and unusual cases, but were apt to cause panic and dismay.

street footie 2

Irish Press, 6 July 1934

Part of the problem of course was that where previously road traffic had been minimal in Ireland, it was increasingly the case that cars were on the roads. By 1940 things had reached such a pitch over this issue of playing on the streets, and the accidents it was causing that the ‘Safety First’ Association published a handbook Safety First for Children. The publication was the subject of an Irish Times article in May 1940, which threw scorn upon those parents whose children played on the streets.  Although the article acknowledges the dearth of playing spaces, nevertheless the blame lies squarely with the parents who don’t teach their children how best to behave on the roads.In Waterford, the problem had become such by the 1940s that the newspapers nonchalantly ended court reports with the topic in a careworn fashion:

The usual fines were imposed on a number of city youths charged with ball playing on the street

Highlighting a significant gap between those for whom streets were fields of play and those for whom they were to be patrolled, these stories bear out the gap between desired and actual behaviour at a time when it was deemed right and proper that children should be seen and not heard!

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

Fists ‘n’ Chips

This post owes something of a debt to another history blog, Come Here To Me! It has provided inspiration with their line in blog posts on pizzerias, Chinese restaurants and the like in recent times.

During the course of my PhD research, one of the most remarkable books I have read is John K. Walton’s Fish and Chips and the British Working Class, 1870-1940. Ostensibly, it has less than nothing to do with my research on sport in Munster between 1880-1930. But when I read the book, it opened up previously unimaginable vistas and themes for exploration to me as a historian. By taking such an ephemeral part of  life, and examining it from a huge range of viewpoints – from those of the fishfriers and their trade, as part of the burgeoning seaside holiday resorts of Britain, as an indicator of class and status and so on, Walton showed in the best way, that from something so small, so much could be learned. In an interview last year, Walton describing it as one his most fulfilling academic projects, said:

…I enjoyed some of the reactions even more: appearing in Pseuds’ Corner for impeccable reasons (such as suggesting that fish and chips had a politics), and provoking a colleague’s wife to exclaim in outrage, ‘But surely even you can’t spin out fish and chips into a whole book’. Oh yes I could; and the sustained hostility from unimaginative historians who had not read the book provided endless further entertainment.

Such an imaginative power, to be able to ‘spin out’ of fish and chips something much more substantial is one of the books, and Walton’s, achievements. My own resulting interests in Fish ‘n’ Chips for my own research, tangential though it is, arises from considering whether this humblest of humble luxury items was relatively expensive in 1920s Ireland. Whether it might be that in a tossup between fish ‘n’ chips by the seaside, entry to a match, or a few hours in the warmth of the cinema, there could only be one winner. And so I went trawling through the papers in search of early signs that fish ‘n’ chips had a similar presence in Irish life to that of Britain. One thing which I found, which I wasn’t expecting to was that fish ‘n’ chips was frequently mentioned in the preambles of witnesses giving testimony in courts about various fights and rows that took place throughout the country.

Take for instance, the case of the father-and-son pair, Frederick and Laurence Coppolla and their associates Angelo Santi and Rauche Eteglio all of whom were brought before court on charges of siphoning off oil that belonged to the British Margarine Company located in Dublin’s North Wall, to the tune of £250 in 1910. One of their customers, who gave witness in court, was another Italian Anthony Rabbaiotti, of 4 Wexford Street where he kept a fish ‘n’ chip shop. He got barrels of oil for his business through the Coppollas, but as far as can be figured from the report wasn’t implicated in the illegal means of procuring it![1]

Fish ‘n’ chips even make some appearances in the Bureau of Military History Archives. In the testimony of Frank Thornton of Booterstown, Dublin he tells a story of how British secret service men, in this case an Irish plant by the name of Dave Neligan, would meet with touts for information – and the occasion that Thornton relates in his testimony to the Bureau is of an amusing meeting with some of these English touts in Rabbiatti’s on Marlboro’ Street, having a supper of fish ‘n’ chips, where the English touts are amazed at the quality of the Irish accents Thornton and his friends have when they couldn’t imitate it after a year in the country.[2]

Derry Boy

Irish Times report of boy who spent stolen money on fish ‘n’ chips

In the Irish Independent in July 1924, a small story appeared about another Italian fishfrier, Carl Morelli on Talbot Street, who was in Police Court and fined ten shillings and put on personal bail for 12 months after assaulting a customer by the name of Stone with hammer when Stone entered the premises looking to hand out other customers’ fish ‘n’ chips so that he could get his own for free. From the Irish Times, many years later in 1938, we get a report of a young boy in Derry who is sentenced to a term in an Industrial school charged with stealing twenty four shillings from several apartments – we are informed that the boy ‘went to the cinema with the money and bought sweets there and after the pictures bought more sweets and fish and chips.’[3]

In Waterford, in August 1931, a sitting of the District Court heard of another fight between someone serving behind the counter and a customer. On this occasion the row occurred in July of that year when some customers, two of them drunk, one sober we’re told, got into a row with James Jackson over the price of the fish ‘n’ chips. The row was caused by some considerable confusion about the difference in value due to the introduction of new Irish coinage – indeed the row continued, much to the amusement of those present, in the courtroom – with the Justice intervening between the men saying ‘Don’t turn this into a Fish-and-Chip shop’ to roars of laughter from the people there to witness the proceedings.[4]

A similar incident also occurred in Tramore, Co. Waterford in 1937 when another Italian fish ‘n’ chip shop owner, Stephen Casoni this time, where again drink and high spirits caused trouble when some customers, the defendants, insisted on being served first above everyone else in the chipper during a peak period.[5]

These are just a small few stories that revolve in some way around fish ‘n’ chips and help to give us a little insight into the social world of Ireland in the early twentieth century through them. We encountered in that handful of examples the spy network of British intelligence in Ireland, the criminal activities of immigrants, the spending habits of young delinquents over which hung the oppressive air of the dreaded industrial school and lastly, we saw the day-to-day problems faced by those, often Italian, businessmen who ran the fish ‘n’ chip shops –we’ve seen life being lived, through food served up on newspaper.


[1] Irish Times, 17 November 1910

[2] WS Ref #: 615 , Witness: Frank Thorton, Member IRB & IV Dublin, 1913-16; Deputy Assistant Director of Intelligence, IRA 1919-21: http://www.bureauofmilitaryhistory.ie/reels/bmh/BMH.WS0615.pdf

[3] Irish Times, 9 February 1938

[4] Munster Express, 14 August 1931

[5] Munster Express, 12 November 1931

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Filed under Irish History, Social History, Twentieth Century