Tag Archives: Waterford

Reading History: Tom Hunt’s Sport and Society in Victorian Ireland

Moving on from my last ‘reading history’ post, I’ve decided to speed forward a little in time to a book I read in my first year as an undergraduate in University College, Cork. This book has had a profound influence not alone on me, but on my field of specialist research since it was first published in 2007. Continue reading

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Filed under Historiography, Irish History, Memory, Nineteenth Century, Reviews, Social History

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

By The Hill of Carbally: Cockles in Waterford, a social history

With the splendid sunshine in recent times, I spent some time home in Waterford. This past Saturday afternoon was spent on the Back Strand of Tramore, when the tide was lowest, digging in the muddy bed of the strand for cockles. Cockles, along with dillisk and periwinkles are plentiful around the south-east coast during the summertime. I’ve mentioned dillisk before in another post, but going cockle picking made me think about those (more often than not) women who made their living in Waterford picking cockles, boiling them and selling them in Michael Street and Peter Street in the city centre. They may not have songs written for them, these real-life Molly Malones, but this blog post I hope will give some insight into the place of seafood like cockles in Waterford life in the first half of the twentieth century.

A quick look at the online census returns in Ireland reveals that as far back as 1901, there were women who  considered their principle occupation  to be cockle pickers or sellers – a mother and daughter who worked together being just two such women, who lived in the lanes of Waterford. The 1911 census reveals more women, in fact all of them women, who worked as cockle pickers and sellers – in all there were twenty in Waterford county who listed this as their occupation.  Many of these women were either single or widowed, though some were married, doing this work to supplement the income of their husbands incomes.

This was hard, back-breaking, to say nothing of dangerous work, and usually for poor pay. In 1911, a poor relief case was brought before Dungarvan Union of a Mrs. Tobin, a cockle picker, who because she had only one child could not under the strictures of the law, which the guardians weren’t keen to bend, be granted poor relief. This, despite the fact that a Mr Byrne, one of the Poor Law Guardians acknowledging that “it was a very deserving [case].” He said that “she was a very industrious woman…on a winter’s day it was a pity to see her coming from the Cunnigar streaming with water with her bag on her back.”

The lot of cockle pickers around Waterford doesn’t appear to have much improved in Free State Ireland either, if some newspaper reports in the middle of the 1920s are anything to go by. Under the Towns Improvement Act in 1926, the fish market in the city was moved from Michael Street to Peter Street, and several women were brought before the local courts during the transitionary period for, in the phrasing of the courts, “exposing for sale cockles so as to create an impediment or annoyance to free passage”. The case of one particular woman, reported in the Munster Express on 20 August 1926 is instructive enough about the place of these women. A case was brought that a cockle seller, Kathleen Dwyer had created an impediment or annoyance on Peter Street. She described to the court her set up – two porter boxes, one for her cockles, and one she used as a seat. Asked by the prosecution if she thought she caused an obstruction, he also inferred that she was a heavy woman and this would add to her ability to obstruct saying she was “a substantial size of a woman”. She replied baldly that “nobody interferes with me.”

A witness for the defence, a lady by the name of Ellen O’Brien, 64, noted that Peter Street had always been a cockle market, and that she had been doing that work there for 50 years (stretching back to the mid-1870s) and that her parents and grandparents had done likewise. O’Brien argued that they should not be moved  to the fish market on the street since no one would buy cockles in the newly established fish market, they always having traded seperately. The issue didn’t seem to have been resolved since only a fortnight later, Dwyer, O’Brien and twelve others were summonsed to court for sale of cockles on the public street.

These same women would be prosecuted for this same offence again and again right through to November, when they were given a three-month amnesty by the Town Clerk and Judge to see if they would “behave themselves”. In February of 1927, the cases were revived but adjourned again with a different judge in the chair who acknowledged he knew nothing of the cases, and seemed uninterested in hearing them all again in full. The defending solicitor attempted to elicit sympathy for the cockle sellers cause by pointing out their poverty and the hard work of travelling sixteen-mile round trips to Tramore to pick the cockles they would sell.

At the end of the 1930s, when one cockle seller died at the age of 73, Statia Walsh, there was astonishment at the discovery of some £1,700 found in all the nooks and crannies of her house – the woman it was noted made “her living dealing in poultry and in the sale of cockles, which she gathered on the Back Strand, Tramore.” She was apparently also regarded locally “as being of somewhat eccentric habits”. Eccentric habits, perhaps, but thrifty nonetheless.

The cockle selling, picking and eating habits in Waterford took a dive in this period as there were many public health warnings issued about contamination of the shellfish, linked to typhoid outbreaks, caused by the poor sanitary conditions of the water around the Back Strand due to run off from houses in the Riverstown area. The Munster Express wanted to know what it would take before the Health Board would insist on improving the sanitary conditions of many of the wooden Riverstown houses that were thought to be the cause of the issue. In the summer of 1939, an official warning from the Town Clerk was printed in the local press to warn people to boil the cockles sufficiently so as to ensure that they would not suffer any infections or disease.

By 1940, guidelines were issued on the subject by the Corporation and the Minsister for Local Government and Public Health, effective May 1st of that year. Under the new Public Health (Waterford Shellfish Laying) Regulations, 1940, people were liable to prosecution and a fine of £100 if they wilfully sold or distributed cockles and other shellfish which had not been either

(a) relayed and thoroughly washed in sterilised sea water by a method for a period and in an apparatus approved by the County Medical Officer of Health, or;

(b) relayed during a continuous period of not less than ten days in clean water of a suitable salinity in a site approved by the County Medical Officer of Health

The measures also put an end, for a while at least, to public harvesting of cockles from the Back Strand. Even after the introduction of these measures the bad name gained by Tramore cockles during this period still extended to those who gathered theirs in the Passage and Woodstown area of the county, and notice was made in the local press that those sellers from that end got their cockles from elsewhere and public needn’t have any worries.

Despite these changes, the introduction of such regulations and rules, the local press continued to abound in the 40s and 50s with stories  of cockle picking: of near fatalities as inexperienced cockle pickers on holiday spent too much time at the Back Strand and narrowly averted the rising currents; of women, casual street traders, prosecuted for selling their wares after hours of picking; of casual pickers making a few bob on the sly during the summer months. More than just warming the cockles of your heart, it brings to life again a world depicted in this short poem about Carbally Hill, in the pages of the Munster Express on 6 February 1959, where:

…flows the Saleen tide

On whose banks  I have oft cockles picked

With boyish heart and glee

And played quare pranks and carefree tricks

On the Hill of Carbally


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

Teddy Boy “Terrorists” & Mod Invasions: Youth sub-culture in Waterford, 1950-1985

One of the most remarkable books of Irish social history to appear in the past twelve months is Where Were You? by Garry O’Neill, a superb photographic record of youth culture and street style in our capital, Dublin, from 1950 to 2000. The various subcultures the book represents from Teddy Boys through to mods, rockers, punks and skinheads and beyond weren’t exclusively Dublin-centric developments. Although largely imports and imitations of both American and English youth subcultures, all of these were adopted by Irish teenagers and twenty-somethings, as a means of collective and individual expression of difference from their parents. These subcultures were very often also linked to violent and social criminal behaviour. Here, I’m going to take a brief look at some of those in Waterford from the 1950s to the middle of the 1980s.

The Teddy Boy, and Girl, emerged in post-war Britain, a subculture that appropriated Edwardian dress  (hence the shortening to Ted/Teddy) and subverted it through their associations with American Rock ‘n’ Roll and cemented their mythical status as troublemakers through the Blackboard Jungle and Notting Hill riots of respectively, 1956 and 1958. The style of the Teds was imported into Ireland in the same period, and caused panic akin to that in the British press.

The film in particular, so emblematic now of the Teds, was indeed popular in Waterford – being showed at regular intervals in The Coliseum (originally opened as a skating rink in 1910) cinema on Adelphi Quay from 1956-1958, but there seemed to be no desire to imitate the famed riots of their British counterparts among the youth of the south-east. One group of self-styled Teddy Boys in Waterford though in 1956 found themselves up in court for breaking and entering into various city premises and generally terrorising people on the streets; despite pleas of clemency from one of their mothers, one boy, McCarthy, was sentenced to two months in jail. The headline of the report was sensational, calling them Teddy Boy Terrorists:

teddy boys

Teddy Boys were most often referred to in Waterford in relation to more positive stories of youths – with local dignitaries and the clergy happy to be able to provide examples contrary to the behaviour of the Teddy Boys. But soon the Teddy Boys gave way to other emerging youth sub cultures in the early 1960s. Again taking their lead from their British counterparts, the mods and rockers of Ireland attracted the opprobrium of Ireland’s clerical class, as this stern warning from the Bishop of Ossory indicates:

Ossory Warning

Such fear-mongering was largely misplaced and indicative of a failure to understand that even in Ireland, now in the televisual age, would be open to much wider and disparate cultural influences, especially among the young. An article in the Munster Express of June 26, 1965 readily acknowledges this, if lamenting its impact on the fortunes of Irish language and culture by saying that ‘now we have more than Anglicisation: we now have world-wide Americanisation.” The journalist goes on to write, half-aghast, that “we hear so much about ‘Mods’ and ‘Squares’ that one cannot help wondering how certain sections of the community will be described next.” An article in the same newspaper in 1967 reporting a talk given by Frank Hall suggests that the Irish youth are becoming increasingly odd, and worse, unmanly, suggesting we institute mandatory military service in order to inculcate “general manliness and normal behaviour”, after all, he notes “there are no Beatniks or Mods in the defence forces.” But mods were such a part of Irish life by this time that Jacobs biscuits even did an ad for their Club Milk that saw bankers, mums, and Gardai, as well as too-cool-for-school mods doing the “Club Milk Kick!”

The mods gave way to various other youth subcultures in the 1970s, notably skinheads and a little later punks. There was a strong skinhead contingent in Waterford who became associated with the Waterford Football Club and who along with their Shamrock Rovers counter-parts caused serious trouble at games throughout the period:

A clipping from a Waterford FC match in 1973 that ended in a nil all draw.

A clipping from a Waterford FC match in 1973 that ended in a nil all draw poking fun at its skinhead following.

But it was in the wake of the post-punk new wave and the Mod revival led by bands like The Jam, that Waterford would see panic on the scale of the early Teddy Boy scares in the 1950s. Indeed, it was in the 1980s that what was a Mod revival for the UK, was probably the real flowering of Mod culture in Ireland, and this was strong in Dublin, Cork and Waterford especially. Tramore, the seaside town in County Waterford that we’ve seen in the past play host to motor car races, was in the early 1980s a popular rallying point for mods and scooter enthusiasts. Perhaps fearing that this would lead to an Irish version of the battle of Brighton beach, captured evocatively in the 1979 film Quadrophenia the local newspapers led with a bold headline. The Munster Express was certainly raising the alarm with this notice in June of 1983:

Mod Invasion

There appears to have been little enough to have worried about, and tellingly, the paper the following week steadfastly insisted that it was not whipping up a storm of controversy, but their ‘Invasion’ headline was based upon a reliable local Garda source. There had been a major rally in 1982, and there was certainly a crowd in 1983, but whatever the Munster Express had been expecting to happen that Whit weekend didn’t seem to!

Issue 3 of Mod revival fanzine 'Who Are You' featuring Tramore

Issue 3 of Mod revival fanzine ‘Who Are You’ featuring Tramore. Source: irishjack80s.web.com

A girl looks on at Mod revivalists in Tramore in 1982. Source: irishjacks80s.web.com

A girl looks on at Mod revivalists in Tramore in 1982. Source: irishjacks80s.web.com

Mod revivalists line up along the Prom in Tramore in 1982. Source: irishjacks80s.web.com

Mod revivalists line up along the Prom in Tramore in 1982. Source: irishjacks80s.web.com



Filed under British History, Irish History, Social 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

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

Steadfast and True: A Book Endures


One of the great things about studying history is that you can bring your historical knowledge and understanding to bear upon your own personal, family history. You can give context to your family’s past. And yet, history can remain something deeply personal. The best history is usually about people, their lives and times. I recently attended a symposium in the National Library of Ireland, hosted jointly by the National College of Art and Design and IADT. The topic for the day was “Small Histories”, the history of material culture that made up the everyday lives of people in the period 1870-1921. I gave a paper on Dick Fitzgerald’s How to Play Gaelic Football, but the personal nature of some material put me in mind of a book which my family still have that belonged to one of my grandparent’s when they were young, growing up in the 1920s. Continue reading


Filed under Book History, Irish History, Memory, Social History, Twentieth Century