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Networking structures and competitive association football in Ulster, 1880-1914.

The development of association football in provincial Ireland in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries has received scarce academic attention. Mainstream texts on Irish history have failed to look at soccer's development to any great extent, although two recent exceptions to this are R. V. Comerford's 2003 publication Ireland: Inventing the Nation and Diarmaid Ferriter's The Transformation of Ireland 1900-2000 which was published the following year. (1) Early specialised histories of soccer in Ireland have focused on the game's introduction into Belfast and the development of professional clubs. (2) While the growth of the professional game and soccer's general devel opment in Belfast and Dublin have been very well assessed by Neal Garnham, very little has been written about how the game was disseminated throughout the provinces of Ulster, Leinster, Connacht and Munster on a county by county, or even regional basis. (3) A number of historians have looked at soccer's development in relation to Gaelic games and nationalist politics, but in comparison with the volume of work undertaken on the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) alone, the spread of soccer throughout Ireland has been inadequately investigated. (4) A 2012 television documentary on the history of Irish soccer failed to examine its development outside Belfast and Dublin and focused mainly on the development of Ireland's national teams, with academic J. J. Lee stressing the significance of the military in the game's growth. (5) A book to accompany the series also left the impression that the game had attracted little interest outside the country's urban centres. (6) Tom Hunt, in his pioneering work Sport and Society in Victorian Ireland: The Case of Westmeath (2007) has analysed the early development of soccer in the Leinster county of Westmeath, but similar publications, based on an in-depth examination of soccer's spread throughout regional Ireland, have yet to be published. (7)

Certainly the spread of the game in the province of Ulster has received more assessment from academics than that in any of Ireland's other three provinces. In particular, Garnham has given a comprehensive overview of how the game developed at a macro-level. The influence of the Irish Football Association (IFA) after its foundation in 1880, Scottish emigrants to Ireland, military participation, concepts of muscular Christianity, educational establishments, youth movements, theatrical companies and the efforts of individuals have all been noted. However, he is also keen to point out that 'the progress of the game had been aided by a number of factors, while others had served to impede it. The result of this was the uneven growth and spread of the game, both chronologically and geographically.' (8)

In addition, in an examination of why the GAA was slower to develop in Ulster than in other regions, Donal McAnallen has provided some reasons why soccer was able to hold sway in certain areas in the province. Of particular importance was the Derry City Council's favouring of soccer over Gaelic games, as shown in its failure to provide pitches for Gaelic football and hurling. Opposition from the clergy to the playing of Sunday matches and strong efforts by the IFA to counter the organisation of Gaelic football in Enniskillen have also been noted. (9) The low degree of industrialisation throughout most parts of Ireland meant that many areas remained isolated from developments in the north-east of the country, where social and economic conditions favoured the development of soccer in Belfast. Competition with rugby and Gaelic football, along with an emphasis on physicality rather than skill, also hindered soccer's early development throughout Ireland. (10)

The early development of soccer in Donegal has also been well assessed but little has been written about how this reflected the spread of the game in Tyrone, Fermanagh or Cavan. These were counties which did not benefit hugely from the game's initial growth in the north-east of the province. While the influence of Derry city's governing bodies for soccer in the north-west initially helped soccer in north-east Donegal, many clubs remained isolated from its influence, particularly in the southern half of the county. (11) Using these four counties as case studies, it is possible to examine soccer's development in Ireland at a micro-level and illustrate the difficult struggle in developing the game without competitive structures regulated and enforced by its national governing body. Therefore this article builds on Garnham's major study in some regards, but crucially it focuses on the west and south-west of the province and illustrates patterns of development which took place away from professional football. These were much less industrialised areas which differed from the centre of activity in Belfast and are counties where a detailed examination of how the game developed has not yet been offered. In particular, soccer in counties Cavan, Donegal, Fermanagh and Tyrone receives only a brief assessment in Association Football and Society in Pre-partition Ireland. (12) Little has been said about how these counties' initial clubs and competitions were set up, with the highest levels of association football in Ireland receiving the majority of attention.

This article illustrates how a more localised organisation of less prominent competitions than those offered by the IFA was a fundamental part of soccer activity in most areas of Donegal, Tyrone, Fermanagh and Cavan. Military involvement was important in spreading the game in some areas, but was by no means the only method of attracting interest in association football, with clubs formed for a variety of other reasons. While the development of an infrastructure for association football in Derry city reflected wider trends in many regards, soccer organisers in these other counties were not overly concerned with, or financially capable of, developing clubs that could challenge those in Belfast or Dublin. Many were content to engage primarily in nearby competitions, and local patronage and the railway network were of great value in assisting this. The significance of cross-county networking will also be addressed, as clubs in certain towns and villages had little regard for promoting a county or parish identity.

Early Competitive Structures for Association Football in Ireland

Outside east Ulster, it was in Derry city that the infrastructure of the game experienced most progress in the 1880s. As Jonathan Bardon has noted, 'Derry had become a thriving commercial and industrial centre by the beginning of the twentieth century' and although its economy experienced a decline in the early 1900s, it was 'at the very edge of Ulster's industrial region centred on Belfast'. (13) Derry appears to have been the first county in Ulster to gain an administrative governing body for soccer. This came in April 1886 with the formation of the County Derry FA although this type of structure was slow to be replicated in other counties. (14) The formation of the County Antrim FA did not take place until two years later, while in County Down, cup competitions were not organised until 1890. (15) Until more research is undertaken on the development of other county governing bodies in Ireland, an accurate contrast is difficult, but some comparisons can be made. In England, the English and Sheffield football bodies were the first to be organised and the number of county and district associations was already increasing there in the 1870s and early 1880s. (16) Initial structures for competitive soccer in Ireland differed vastly from this and the development of similar bodies by 1890 was initially restricted to Belfast (IFA), Down, Antrim and Derry while a Mid-Ulster Association was also in operation. (17) The Leinster FA was founded in 1892; the County Donegal FA was organised in 1894, while the Munster FA was not formed until 1901. (18) The Monaghan Football Association was operational by the winter of 1904, while the Western Association Football League was founded by clubs in Sligo, Roscommon and Leitrim in December 1911 although by 1914 the area had expanded to include teams from Longford in the midlands. (19)

Although, as Garnham has noted, care must be taken in assessing the records of the number of clubs affiliated to the IFA in their opening years, in the period from 1881 to 1910 their figures are said to have grown from seven to 420, with the majority based in the provinces of Ulster and Leinster. (20) However, the development of the game and competitive structures was a tough struggle for many junior clubs in more regional areas in Ulster. One of the aims at the IFA's AGM in Belfast in 1885 was 'to assist the development of the game in the south', although there is no great evidence that any widespread effort was made to do this throughout Ulster let alone in counties in other provinces. (21)

In 1899 it was noted in their annual report that as the standard of affiliated clubs was becoming higher each year, 'the lesser clubs are content to become connected with the numerous competitions now organised all over the country, in which the standard of play is much below that of the competitions promoted by the IFA'. (22) Although the names of these 'numerous competitions' are not clear, a number of deductions can be made about early competitive soccer in Ulster. At the highest level, IFA competitions catered for senior and junior affiliated clubs. Along with a senior league, two cup competitions were in place, with the organisation's junior cup, a competition for clubs 'whose players were not considered of a high enough standard to compete in the Irish cup proper'. (23) There were only seven associations registered with the IFA by 1899. (24) At the end of the 1898-99 season, there were 104 clubs affiliated through its associations and while this number had risen to 110 clubs by May 1900, the decline of the Irish Army Association and the County Donegal FA saw the number of administrative bodies reduced to five. (25) Significantly, outside of Ulster and Leinster, there were no local football associations organised in conjunction with the IFA at this time.

Exhibition matches under the IFA's auspices did take place in the opening decades of their administration, but as Garnham has stated, they later seemed 'to have displayed something of a lack of enthusiasm for such proselytising ventures'. (26) In Ulster, these games took place between regional, county and city selections in areas such as Derry, Portadown, Fivemiletown, Strabane, Kerrykeel and Enniskillen but their impact was not always felt in country areas. (27) This was noted by a Mr Ford, a Fermanagh soccer representative who spoke to the IFA in 1906 in regard to securing finances to promote the game in south-west Ulster. It was noted that 'with regard to an exhibition match . . . nearly all the senior clubs in Ireland had been at Enniskillen and he [Mr Ford] thought anything of this nature would not be so successful as their own clubs going into the country districts and opening up the game'. (28)

The permanency of the Derry city governing body was an exceptional case in north-west Ireland in the late nineteenth century. By 1891 Sport's correspondent was able to state that 'it is really wonderful the hold that the Association game has taken in Derry city and county'. (29) In addition to a senior cup, there were almost thirty clubs involved in the County Derry FA's junior cup while a Derry city Charity cup was also in operation. (30) Five Derry clubs, along with Portrush (Antrim) and Strabane (Tyrone) were involved in the County Derry FA's first challenge cup in October 1886. (31) This county governing body had, by 1893, become the North West Football Association. (32) Desmond Murphy has stated that after the Parnell Split, the clergy within Derry city began to encourage 'the development of soccer among the Catholic working-class' and by 1895, this game 'was the only mass sport in the city'. (33) After the collapse of the Derry GAA's county board in the 1890s, attempts were made to revive the Association there in 1905, 1908 and 1913 but 'for many years the GAA struggled to stay alive in Derry'. (34) While welcoming clubs from Tyrone and Donegal, the soccer association never spread significantly to strengthen the game sufficiently in these external counties. (35)

Other Attempts to Spread Soccer in West and South-west Ulster

Attempts to develop administrative bodies for soccer proved difficult in Donegal and Cavan and the development of clubs took place largely without any assistance from the IFA. Teams had been present in Donegal since July 1881 when the Derry Journal noted football 'under the association rules' being played between the villages of Castlefin in east Donegal and Croaghan of west Tyrone, although this match contained elements of folk-football. (36) In June 1885 at the annual Cranford Athletic Sports, Kerrykeel FC, described in 1891 as 'an old established club', defeated Cranford FC in a football match played 'under association rules' in Cranford Park, then the property of the Earl of Leitrim. (37) The spread of soccer in the Donegal towns of Buncrana, Letterkenny and Ramelton in the early 1890s was aided by teams from Derry. (38) Participation in leagues and cup competitions was also encouraged and this gave Donegal clubs their first experience of competitive matches. Buncrana took part in the County Derry Challenge Cup in October 1890 and by November 1891, both Ramelton FC and Letterkenny FC had affiliated to the County Derry FA and were in the draw for the junior cup. (39) By the end of August 1891, a soccer club had been set up in Ardara as a result of the need to provide a sports club for local youths. (40) Killybegs Emeralds were organised in August 1896 by the local parish priest Fr John Sweeney and a number of local businessmen 'for the benefit of the youth of the town and parish'. (41) Political involvement led to the formation of the Boylagh Champion FC in Kilclooney on 1 February 1892, with a number of those prominent in the local branch of the Irish National League behind this foundation. (42)

The County Donegal FA was founded in Ramelton in 1894 by national school teacher Daniel Deeney with clubs in the north-east of the county heavily involved. However, a lack of public support, travel and financial difficulties, disputes between clubs and the loss of key officials and players were all fundamental to the Donegal governing body's collapse after only four years in 1898. (43) Significantly, there is no evidence that the IFA attempted to resurrect this administrative structure after its decline. With the failure of the Donegal FA, the organisation of soccer in Donegal was restricted to inconsistently arranged, localised cup competitions until the 1930s, when the County Donegal Perpetual Cup competition was organised. (44) Again this lasted only briefly and soccer in Donegal did not gain a permanent competitive structure for all of the county's clubs until 1971. Competitive soccer in Donegal struggled to develop without regular league and cup competitions and many clubs, such as those in west Donegal, failed to think in terms of developing relationships with those in other areas such as the north-east of the county. (45)

While the geographical location of County Cavan in south Ulster meant that it was not as isolated as some parts of County Donegal, the former county's first association football club was apparently not formed until 1893, with former Gaelic football players heavily involved in a new soccer team in Belturbet. (46) Switching of codes was not uncommon in other counties such as Donegal and Derry in the early 1890s. (47) Along with the nationwide decline of the GAA caused by the Parnell Split and clerical condemnation, the deterioration of Gaelic football in Cavan at this time was said to have been due to an overemphasis on winning, poor facilities, inadequate refereeing and rough play. (48) In addition, emigration and problems securing playing fields were also said to have been a problem. (49)

These problems faced by the GAA may have helped increase interest in soccer, but, like in the Donegal town of Ballyshannon in 1896, the involvement of the military was certainly beneficial to the growth of the soccer code in Belturbet. They provided demonstrations of skills as well as opposition, referees and the venues for association football matches throughout the 1890s and into the early twentieth century. (50) The new Cavan soccer club, known initially as the Belturbet Red Stars, played its first match in March 1893 against the West Kent Regiment. (51) The Belturbet men were also involved in what was said to be 'practically the first' association football match played in Cavan town in June 1896, against local team Bohemians, who also contained a number of former Gaelic football players and some of the spectators present. (52) In May 1897 the Belturbet Stars, who were keen to secure matches against clubs in 'adjoining counties' as well as their own, were able to attract a visit from Milltown Harriers and Foundry Athletes, who were based sixty miles away in Banbridge, County Down. (53) Despite this ambition, there is little indication that the Belturbet club's organisers attempted to spread the game throughout County Cavan, and they do not appear to have tried to form a league for its clubs.

Although soccer organisers throughout Ireland faced criticism from nationalist correspondents in the local press, soccer and Gaelic football matches in Cavan at times existed unusually closely together. (54) They were played at Belturbet Stars' 'Annual Sports' in November 1901 which attracted 'about one thousand persons' and a brass band, while matches in both codes were advertised as part of a tournament organised by Ballyconnell Hibernians on 26 December of that year. (55) The 1901 Cavan Celtic team was said to have been made up of former Slashers' Gaelic football club players while those playing soccer for Bawnboy Gallowglasses that year also had some experience of Gaelic football. (56) The military, and the involvement of the local bank manager, were said to be the reason for soccer's progress at the expense of Gaelic football in one Cavan town at that time, and the following year the Belturbet Red Stars FC and the Rory O'Moores GAA club had combined to form Belturbet United Gaelic and Soccer club. (57)

Apparently soccer in the villages of Bawnboy, Kilnavart and Ballyconnell was initiated by returning seasonal migrants from Britain and this appears similar to the way soccer was spread in west Donegal and on Achill Island. (58) By the beginning of 1902 Templeport could 'congratulate itself on having four splendid football teams in the district'. (59) Not every Cavan area managed to benefit from this, however, as returning migrants to Cootehill 'accepted the majority view' and a GAA club, rather than one of soccer, was founded there in 1894, although the club's naming policy and colours were said to have been inspired by the Belfast and Glasgow Celtic clubs. (60) Despite this burst of soccer activity in Cavan, a revival in GAA activity was experienced between 1900 and 1903, most notably across the centre of the county, with Killeshandra as its heartland. (61) While the foundation of the GAA county board there in 1903 strengthened the GAA's position within Cavan society, soccer at the time lacked an individual or group of men willing to organise a governing body to administer this code and this undoubtedly hindered its initial development. The reintroduction of the Ban in 1905 apparently put paid to the friendly spirit shown between Cavan's GAA and soccer clubs, and it was Gaelic football which grew in strength in this decade, although soccer did continue to be played. (62) By the end of January 1905, three significant bans had been initiated by the GAA. Under the first of these, introduced in 1885, athletes who participated in non-GAA events were prohibited from taking part in GAA competitions.

Two years later, those serving in the Royal Irish Constabulary were excluded from membership. Although both of those lasted only briefly, a new ban was implemented on 1 February 1905 which stated that those who participated in 'rugby or association football, hockey, cricket or other imported games shall be suspended for two years from date of playing such games'. Members of the police and army were also denied membership of the GAA under this ban. (63)

However, the GAA did not hinder the development of soccer in Donegal or Tyrone much in the opening decades of the twentieth century. A permanent structure for competitive Gaelic games in Donegal did not take off until the 1920s, with a lack of interest in Gaelic football apparent after the foundation of the first county board there in 1905 and Seamus MacManus's campaign for soccer clubs to switch to Gaelic football. (64) The organisation of caman matches was initially given priority and more matches were played in this code than Gaelic football during the county board's three years in administration. (65) In particular, the soccer clubs of Ardara Emeralds and Killybegs Emeralds held meetings in 1905 to discuss a change in codes but decided to continue with association football. Only two out of Donegal's thirty-two soccer clubs that year promised to make the changeover. These were Donegal Celtic and Mountcharles Hibernians, but it quickly became apparent that the former club were eager to continue playing soccer. (66) Despite Gaelic football leagues being organised in 1906 with eleven teams involved, there were clearly problems with the dissemination of this code within Donegal society at the time. There is scarce evidence of the organising of any exhibition matches, or planned instruction, in schools or at public events, being undertaken to promote the game. (67)

A structure for competitive Gaelic games in Tyrone had also been in operation in the opening decade of the twentieth century, but similarly this was only a brief affair and by 1909 the county board had gone into decline. This was thought to be due to an upsurge in soccer activity in the Omagh area with the result being a transfer of players from Gaelic to association football. (68) While the progress of the GAA in Fermanagh had declined in the late nineteenth century, a county board was organised in 1904. Gabriel Brock has stated that 'lack of competition from soccer is probably the main reason why Teemore was the only club that managed to stay in continuous existence' in the opening decade of the twentieth century, illustrating how association football's development curtailed that of the Gaelic code in the county at this time. Brock has noted footballers transferring between both codes due to 'the scarcity of players' with suspensions under the Ban common, thus weakening Gaelic football selections. (69) As will be shown later, the IFA did take action against the GAA and Gaelic League in Fermanagh in 1906.

In some areas, rugby was initially more popular than soccer. In Enniskillen, a rugby club, founded in 1885, was more prominent than that of association football, but the former game failed to spread throughout Fermanagh at this time with the transferral of military based players a problem for the organisers. (70) Efforts to assist the development of soccer in nearby Derrygonnelly were undertaken by local District Inspector of the RIC, Thomas St George McCarthy, who was present at the founding of the GAA in 1884 and also a keen rugby player. (71) During the arrangements with Mr Vance, the secretary of the Enniskillen cricket and rugby clubs, for an Enniskillen soccer selection to visit the village in March 1887, the Derrygonnelly club discovered that 'in venturing at Association they [Enniskillen] were no better than novices'. (72) However, by the autumn of 1890, the Enniskillen clubs of Erne Rovers, Erne Ramblers and 1st Grattans were all in operation. (73)

The Importance of Localised Cup Competitions

The failure of the IFA to support and develop structures for competitive soccer in Donegal and Cavan was part of an overall failure throughout Ireland on their part to implement county-based administrative bodies in the late Victorian and early Edwardian periods. At a local level, district and regional leagues and cups provided competition for teams unable to challenge the more senior teams in Ulster, or for those in certain areas somewhat dislocated from the hearth of footballing activity in Belfast. Fermanagh's first soccer competition was operational by September 1890 and came without the involvement of the IFA. As well as involving three Enniskillen teams, the Tempo Challenge Cup, organised by the Tempo Sports Committee for Fermanagh clubs only, attracted clubs from the villages of Celebrooke, Ballindarragh, Mountcharles, Lisbellew, Maguiresbridge and Tempo in its opening season, illustrating the spread of soccer in an area relatively close to Enniskillen. (74) There was also some military involvement with a team belonging to the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment winning the trophy. (75) It was felt by the committee that the competition 'would be the means of keeping the grand and manly game alive in County Fermanagh', while the display of the cup in an Enniskillen jeweller's shop window was said to have created 'an interest in football, which was hitherto wanting'. (76) By the early 1900s, however, this competition does not appear to have been in existence, and this reflects the coming and going of local competitions which was prevalent at the time in other counties.

With the lack of season long structures, some clubs, such as those involved in the soccer tournament organised as part of the annual Cranford Sports in Donegal, took part in competitions held over one or two days. (77) As well as competitions organised by GAA county boards such as those held in Derry city in the late 1880s and early 1890s, soccer tournaments were common throughout Ireland in the late Victorian and early Edwardian eras. (78) In the province of Connaught, fixtures between Mayo, Sligo and Roscommon association football clubs scheduled for a tournament organised by the Ballaghaderrin Faugh a Ballaghs of Roscommon in 1901 would suggest that cross-county relations were a fundamental part of early junior, as well as senior, association football competitions. (79) Cavan Celtic also organised a soccer tournament for St Patrick's Day 1902 which drew the attention of local clubs as well as those in counties Monaghan, Fermanagh and Longford. (80) Official holidays provided opportunities for matches, with the Castleblayney (Monaghan) team travelling to Belfast for a match on the August 'general holiday' of 1904 while St Stephen's Day was also a popular date for soccer matches and cross-county activity such as Cavan Celtic's trip to Clones to meet the Red Hands FC in 1906. (81) In areas where there were not enough clubs to run a local league, or insufficient interest shown, clubs were at least able to combine on a cross-county basis for some form of football, and little regard was shown for county borders. It would appear that cultural boundaries, and suitable railway networks, played a greater part in drawing teams together than the geographical boundaries illustrated on the map of Ireland.

Links between bordering Tyrone and Donegal clubs were strong. A Strabane and Lifford junior league had been organised by October 1896 and had evolved into the Tyrone and Donegal Football League by December 1898, with a shield being donated by Strabane tea merchant John Devine, who later acted as president of the competition. (82) This competition catered for clubs in east Donegal such as Lifford, Raphoe, Convoy and Castlefin and a number of those in the west Tyrone area including Castlederg, Clady, Convent Court (Strabane), Newtownstewart Rovers, Newtownstewart Freebooters, Strabane Celtic and Sion Harps in the opening years of the twentieth century, some of whom could avail themselves of the Finn Valley railway for matches. Joining them were south Donegal club Donegal Celtic, who made use of their local railway service to win the trophy in 1903, although they later lost it after a protest was lodged. (83)

Access to a nearby railway network helped teams bridge transport difficulties and aided intra-county and cross-county participation of players and spectators involved in association football as well as other sporting events. The railway was a significant aid to Fermanagh clubs Enniskillen 1st Grattans and Ballinamallard Wanderers who met on a number of occasions in the winter of 1891-92. (84) Omagh Wanderers of Tyrone travelled by train to meet Belleek on the latter club's grounds in October 18 8 9. (85) Despite this, not every area with a railway station was quick to organise a soccer club. Soccer was slow to attract interest in Irvinestown, with a local correspondent complaining in December 1892 that 'it has been rather a disgrace to this town - the second in the county in size and importance [to Enniskillen] - that smaller places like Tempo, Trillick, Ballinamallard & c have got their names in the paper by having their football teams'. (86) Despite this, the writer felt that it was 'better late than never'. (87)

In areas such as south Donegal where transport links with the north of the county were poor, clubs in Ballyshannon and Donegal town at times found it easier to travel to Fermanagh and west Tyrone. (88) Fermanagh club Belleek Rose Isles entered the Vindicator Cup in nearby Ballyshannon in 1898, and were still involved in competitions in south Donegal up until the Great War, illustrating the strength of their relationship with those organising soccer in Ballyshannon and their failure to branch out further into east Fermanagh. (89) Adequate railway connections between Ballyshannon and parts of Tyrone and Fermanagh meant that the 1898 Vindicator Cup Final could be attended by spectators from these counties as well as Ballyshannon locals. (90) At times matches were arranged to coincide with the train schedule, such as the Tyrone and Donegal League fixture between Sion Harps and Castlederg of Tyrone in December 1902, which was due to start after the arrival of the 2.15 p.m. from Victoria Bridge. (91) The County Donegal Railway Company's running of a special train to Ballyshannon from Killybegs for the 1912 Woods Cup Final meant that this match could also be viewed by those in south-west Donegal. (92)

Patronage and the railway network were crucial to the organisation of the Clogher Valley Railway Cup which was donated by the directors of this railway company in conjunction with Clogher FC in January 1903. This annual cup was open to all recognised soccer clubs 'within the area served by the Clogher Valley Railway between Caledon and Maguiresbridge' and six teams from Fermanagh and Tyrone were registered for the initial competition, which was won by Caledon. (93) By the end of 1905 the number of competing clubs had increased to nine and included a Monaghan selection along with clubs from Tyrone and Fermanagh, although this appears to have been the last season it was held. (94)

Teams were at times strengthened by the inclusion of players from outside their areas, although it is unclear if any payments were made. Donegal Celtic were boosted by the addition of a player, formerly of Strabane Rangers, for the 1902-3 Tyrone and Donegal League while Sion Harps were thought to be benefiting from the services of 'a few of the old Clady players'. (95) This was not always satisfactory to everyone and at times drew condemnation in the local press, where teams were said to be fielding external players, and this did little to help nurture soccer clubs' identities in the local community. (96) One clear exception was St Michael's Hall Celtic of Enniskillen, whose committee and team were generally employed in the town. (97) Some competition organisers, such as those of the Clogher Valley Cup in 1903, tried to ensure clubs stuck to their own areas by ruling that players had to be resident within a short distance from their club. (98)

Clubs needed to be in a good financial state to participate in these competitions as affiliation fees were necessary along with adequate transport, and in some cases a deposit had to be paid along with the required subscription fee in case a team decided to back out. (99) One reporter could not understand the failure of the Sion Harps team to fulfil a league fixture in December 1902 as they were said to have a free field and the financial assistance of the Messrs Herdman, 'both active and thorough sportsmen'. (100) These men, who ran a flax spinning business in the local village, also acted as patrons of the Tyrone and Donegal Football League, along with official patron, the Duke of Abercorn. (101) The Jackson Cup, for the winners of the South Ulster League, was donated by Monaghan-based jeweller Robert Jackson, a man said to be 'an important figure in football circles', and was initiated in the winter of 1902 and played for by teams from Fermanagh, Cavan and Monaghan in the opening years of the twentieth century. (102)

Interest in soccer in Fermanagh was later helped by the organisation of the Fermanagh and South Tyrone Football League in September 1904 and the donation of trophies by Enniskillen jewellers William Wilde, 'a keen sportsman', and T. A. Mercer for competition, while gold medals, said to be an incentive to clubs, were provided by Belfast JP, R. H. H. Baird. A competition for Fermanagh hospitals was also organised that year. (103) Eight Fermanagh teams participated in the league's opening season for the Mercer Cup along with Omagh United, Fivemiletown and Fintona from County Tyrone. (104) A competition for minors, the Lowry-Corry Cup, was in operation by February 1906 in the Enniskillen area. (105) In Tyrone, the White Cup, a competition for the county's soccer clubs, was presented by ironmonger John White of Omagh in October 1905. (106) A juvenile league, centred around Omagh, was organised in January 1907, while a competition for work teams was also organised there that year, but, in general, structures for youth and work-place football teams were slow to be developed. (107) Soccer in Fermanagh was strengthened by a grant of 50[pounds sterling] from the IFA to extend their area in 1906 after claims by local soccer officials that 'the Gaelic body' were organising events to clash with their matches and by 1907 the Fermanagh and Western League had replaced the Fermanagh and South Tyrone Football League. (108) This new organisation initially catered for clubs in Fermanagh, Tyrone, Sligo and Mayo and is an exception amongst Fermanagh and Tyrone competitions in that it survived and the organisation is still in place today, but it also highlights the exceptional assistance given by the IFA. (109)

Despite the apparent patronage of local competitions, attempts to develop the game in Tyrone were dogged by poor administration. By January 1908, soccer in the northwest of Ireland was, according to the Ulster Herald's reporter 'Sport', 'fast degenerating'. (110) He felt that there had been 'a considerable reduction' in the number of senior clubs functioning in Tyrone. Most notably in the Tyrone towns of Strabane, Omagh and Fintona and in Donegal, where 'first-class clubs' had existed, the game was only being kept alive by 'backyard teams'. This decline, he felt, was due primarily to 'unsatisfactory management on the part of the authorities in charge of the game'. (111) The inability of referees to enforce the rules was said to be a problem, while councils were said to be too lenient with ill-disciplined players. The Tyrone League Council had failed to deal adequately with a number of players said to have attacked the referee in a Fintona-Omagh Celtic clash in 1906 as a number of its members feared the loss of the Fintona club. (112) The Tyrone League, the Tyrone and Donegal Football League and the North Tyrone Junior League were all said to have disbanded, and this, the reporter believed, was because 'when they were in power they did not use proper and legitimate restrictions'. (113) One unnamed soccer council had 'plunged into enormous debt' and managed to clear this only at the expense of two clubs, one of which was reported to have become bankrupt as a result. The failure of the North Tyrone Junior League to be revived in 1908 was said to have been due to 'a want of enthusiasm or finance'. (114) Enclosure of grounds and enforcement of admission fees was problematic for even the better organised soccer governing bodies, with youths sneaking into the Derry FA's Challenge Cup Final in 1887 while as late as 1919, the North West FA had only two enclosed grounds within Derry city. (115)

Unlike in Tyrone, the game was said to be making good progress in Fermanagh, where it was being played 'solely for the love of it'. (116) This was due in no small part to the work of Enniskillen Celtic, a club said to be 'the pioneers of the game in the district', who, in bringing clubs 'from Belfast and elsewhere', were improving their own standard. The club won the North West Junior Cup, the Fermanagh and South Tyrone League and the Charity Cup as St Michael's Hall Celtic in 1905. (117) By 1908, the Fermanagh and Western League was reportedly 'one of the most successful leagues in the north-west' and this was said to be a result of their strict administration of disciplinary measures. (118) Despite this decline in Tyrone, the White Cup was back in operation in April 1913, although five of the seven clubs involved were located in Omagh, illustrating the difficulties in maintaining interest in more rural areas. (119) A knock out competition, the Montgomery Cup, was also played, and a Mid-Tyrone League was organised on 20 September 1913, although one reporter was still lamenting the decline of football in Omagh in November of that year. (120) This coming and going of governing bodies for soccer in Tyrone appears to have been centred in Omagh, and led one reporter to comment that 'somehow or other [Association] football never got a right grip of the people' in the town. (121)

The IFA Junior Cup provided affiliated teams with a higher level of competition than that available locally but despite this, many clubs failed to develop sufficiently to challenge the stronger clubs in Ulster. The failure of clubs to unite in the Omagh area was said to be a key factor in the lack of the town's success in this competition by 1913, with 'Crossbar' commenting that 'by that method Omagh would have been represented by one really good team, not as at present by four fairly good ones'. (122) A good cup run was no guarantee that a club would develop into a stronger force and finance was generally a problem. Erne FC of Ballyshannon lamented a second away draw in 1905 due to 'the weak financial situation of the club', while Newtownstewart United were also said to be unhappy about having to play their 1907 North West Junior Cup semi-final in Enniskillen rather than in Omagh, and failed to travel for another cup-tie there the following year. (123) They were forced to borrow the nearby Omagh Celtic club's goal nets for their home 1907 IFA Junior Cup semi-final against Corinthians while the Duke of Abercorn also assisted by lending his marquee for the day. (124) Despite a reported attendance of over 2,000 spectators at the above match, the Newtownstewart club were said to be in decline by 1908. (125)

Along with financial difficulties, junior clubs' progress was also hindered in these bigger competitions by an 'us against them' attitude, with regional rivalries evident. Tyrone and Fermanagh clubs were said to be unhappy with the North West FA's adherence to Derry referees for cup matches in 1907, while Erne FC protested bitterly to the IFA about the decisions of an Enniskillen referee after their IFA Junior Cup defeat against St Michael's of Enniskillen in 1911, when they claimed that 'it's men such as this that have debarred junior teams from registering' and that 'he would deceive Christ'. (126) The protest was dismissed as no accompanying fee had been lodged. (127) The outbreak of the Great War in 1914 did little to strengthen the game in regional Ulster, with an IFA commission report of June 1919 concluding that 'the states of the Divisional Associations and a number of clubs had been seriously affected' with funding to be given to 'endeavour to bring football up to pre-war standard'. (128) However, there is little evidence that any plans were implemented to develop the game in areas where the IFA's six regional associations were not in existence, and, as Garnham has stated, with the coming of the War of Independence, 'the disturbed state of the country had served to sever another link in the Irish football network'. (129)


With the exception of Derry, soccer organisers in the counties examined here in western Ulster and in Cavan clearly struggled to create a county identity and unite all areas for competitive or even friendly matches. Efforts to create structures for competitive soccer remained centred around urban areas such as Omagh, Enniskillen and Ballyshannon in the early years of the twentieth century and organisers failed in uniting their own counties for soccer purposes. A reluctance to encourage other outlying, regional soccer clubs within counties to come together is evident and instead they relied heavily on transport networks and on clubs which they knew they could rely on to register for localised competition, and the numbers of competing clubs in these sporadic competitions never grew into anything like those for soccer in England at this time. (130) In particular, Neil Tranter has stated that 'on the eve of World War I the range and depth of league and cup structures (in Britain) was unparalleled in any other sport'. (131)

While there were clear differences in terms of key factors such as transport networks, population and industry, the development of competitive soccer in many parts of Ireland, particularly in its rural areas, was a slow process, relying heavily on local organisers rather than the IFA showing any major input into developing the game in the early years of the twentieth century. Whereas the GAA had provincial structures where delegates from county boards met on a monthly basis to discuss progress and rectify problems, the organisation of soccer nationally appears to differ in that attempts to organise areas seem to have been initiated through regional soccer administrators, and affiliation with the IFA was a necessity for gaining interest from this national body.

Writing in The GAA: County by County, Cronin, Duncan and Rouse have illustrated the GAA's role in forging county identities but have noted that 'the process by which the GAA shored up county allegiance was by no means smooth or clear cut' as boundaries and regional differences remained a problem. (132) It was 'the expansion of inter-county competition' which helped to add 'lustre to the county brand and provided the GAA with a financial engine to drive its various activities'. (133) While, as shown above, the development of the GAA was also a difficult struggle in Ulster in the early twentieth century, in many respects the organisation of soccer was no different, and its identity in many areas was questioned not only through nationalist rhetoric in the local press but by a failure of organisers to put administrative disputes behind them, and the lack of parish and county structures. Preliminary research undertaken on Connaught would indicate that many soccer clubs were forced to look at a wider geographical and cultural space in their efforts to foster association football. Until more research is undertaken on how soccer developed in other counties which were somewhat isolated from the powerhouse of soccer in north-east Ireland in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it is unclear how strong cross-county relations were between other association football clubs at grass roots level, but it would not be unreasonable to suggest that this was how the majority of junior Irish soccer clubs operated at this time.

(1) R. V. Comerford, Ireland: Inventing the Nation (London, 2003) and Diarmaid Ferriter, The Transformation of Ireland 1900-2000 (London, 2004).

(2) See Malcolm Brodie, The History of Irish Soccer (Glasgow, 1968); Brodie, 100 years of Irish Football (Belfast, 1980) and Neal Garnham (ed.), The Origins and Development of Sport in Ireland. Being a Reprint of R.M. Peter's Irish Football Annual of 1880 (Belfast, 1999).

(3) See Neal Garnham, Association Football and Society in Pre-Partition Ireland (Belfast, 2004).

(4) See Neal Garnham, 'Accounting for the Early Success of the Gaelic Athletic Association', Irish Historical Studies, 34:133 (2004), 65-78; Garnham, 'Football and National Identity in Pre-Great War Ireland', Irish Economic and Social History, 28 (2001), 13-31; John Sugden and Alan Bairner, Sport, Sectarianism and Society in a Divided Ireland (Leicester, 1993) and Mike Cronin, Sport and Nationalism in Ireland: Gaelic Games, Soccer and Irish Identity Since 1884 (Dublin, 1999).

(5) Green is the Colour: The History of Irish Soccer (Beaumex, 2012).

(6) Peter Byrne, Green is the Colour: The Story of Irish Football (Dublin, 2012).

(7) Tom Hunt, Sport and Society in Victorian Ireland: The Case of Westmeath (Cork, 2007).

(8) Garnham, Association Football and Society, pp. 8-34, p. 8.

(9) Donal McAnallen, 'Cen Fath a Raibh Cuige Uladh Chomh Lag Chomh Fada Sin? Deacrachtai CLG o Thuaidh, 1884-1945', in Donal McAnallen, David Hassan and Roddy Hegarty (eds), The Evolution of the GAA: Ulaidh, Eire agus Eile (Armagh, 2009), pp. 138-51.

(10) Garnham, Association Football and Society, pp. 8-34.

(11) See Conor Curran, Sport in Donegal: A History (Dublin, 2010); 'The Development of Gaelic Football and Soccer Zones in County Donegal, 1884-1934', Sport in History, 32:3 (2012), 426-52 and 'Why Donegal Slept: The Development of Gaelic Games in Donegal, 1884-1934' (Ph.D. dissertation, De Montfort University, Leicester, 2012).

(12) See, for example, references to County Donegal in Garnham, Association Football and Society, p. 119 and p. 136.

(13) Jonathan Bardon, A History of Ulster (Belfast, 2001), pp. 395-6.

(14) Sport, 17 April 1886.

(15) 'County Antrim and District Association - About Us' Retrieved from aboutus.aspx (accessed 26 May 2013) and Sport, 21 December 1889.

(16) Matthew Taylor, The Association Game: A History of British Football (Harlow, 2008), p. 39. The Sheffield FA was founded in 1867.

(17) Garnham, Association Football and Society, p. 5.

(18) Ibid., pp. 5-6.

(19) Anglo-Celt, 26 November 1904; Leitrim Observer, 9 December 1911 and 18 April 1914.

(20) Garnham, Association Football and Society, pp. 43-4.

(21) Freeman's Journal, 30 April 1885.

(22) Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (hereafter PRONI), D/4196/A/1, Papers of the Irish Football Association, Minute Book of the IFA, 1898-1902, Annual Report 1899, p. 89.

(23) Garnham, Association Football and Society, p. 23.

(24) PRONI, D/4196/A/1, Minute Book of the IFA, 1898-1902, Annual Report 1899, p. 89.

(25) Ibid., Annual Report 1900, p. 229.

(26) Garnham, Association Football and Society, pp. 15-16.

(27) See Sport, 8 May 1886, 15 January 1887, 5 December 1891, 20 February 1892; Fermanagh Mail, 23 December 1890; Derry Standard, 5 April 1893 and Ulster Herald, 11 February 1905.

(28) PRONI, D/4196/A/2, Minute Book of the IFA, 1903-9, Council Meeting, 7 August 1906, p. 158.

(29) Sport, 14 November 1891.

(30) Ibid.

(31) Ibid., 17 April and 16 October 1886.

(32) Derry Journal, 9 March 1894.

(33) Desmond Murphy, Derry, Donegal and Modern Ulster 1790-1921 (Derry, 1981), pp. 171-2.

(34) Leo Deery and Danny O'Kane (eds), Doire: A History of the GAA in Derry (Derry, 1984), p. 21.

(35) See, for example, Derry Journal, 9 March 1894 and 4 November 1904.

(36) Ibid., 25 July 1881.

(37) Ibid., 12 June 1885 and 23 December 1891.

(38) Ibid., 26 September 1890, 21 October 1891, 4 March 1892 and 28 April 1893.

(39) Ibid., 17 October 1890 and Derry Standard, 30 November 1891.

(40) Donegal Vindicator, 1 May and 4 September 1891.

(41) See Moira Mallon, 'Killybegs Emeralds', Dearcadh: The Ardara View 1996-7 (1996), pp. 52-3, p. 52 and 'St Catherine's FC Profile' in Donegal Post, 5 March 2008. Railway workers from Derry are said to have brought soccer to Killybegs a few years prior to this foundation.

(42) Derry Journal, 5 February 1892.

(43) Curran, Sport in Donegal, pp. 44-65. The clubs of Cranford, Kerrykeel, Cratlagh, Buncrana, Swilly Rangers, Milford Swifts, Ramelton, Letterkenny and Derrybeg Celtic were all affiliated during the 1894-95 season.

(44) Derry Journal, 11 April 1930.

(45) Curran, 'Why Donegal Slept', pp. 218-19.

(46) Hunt, Sport and Society, p. 183.

(47) Curran, 'Why Donegal Slept', p. 112 and p. 128.

(48) Anglo-Celt, 14 October 1893.

(49) 'History: 1900-1910' retrieved from (accessed 24 May 2013).

(50) See, for example, Anglo-Celt, 1 April 1893; 28 March, 11 April and 2 May 1896; 16 March, 20 April and 2 November 1901; 3 May and 6 September 1902 and Curran, Sport in Donegal, pp. 66-9.

(51) Anglo-Celt, 1 April 1893.

(52) Ibid., 6 June 1896.

(53) Ibid., 9 May 1896 and 15 May 1897.

(54) See Hunt, Sport and Society, p.183; Anglo-Celt, 26 December 1896, 21 December 1901 and 28 June 1902; Ulster Herald, 4 February 1905 and Tuam Herald, 10 March 1887.

(55) Anglo-Celt, 18 October, 9 November and 21 December 1901.

(56) Ibid., 21 December 1901.

(57) Ibid., and 'History: 1900-1910' retrieved from (accessed 24 May 2013).

(58) Curran, 'Why Donegal Slept', p. 82 and 'History: 1900-1910' retrieved from www.cavangaa. ie/1900_to_1910.html (accessed 24 May 2013).

(59) Anglo-Celt, 11 January 1902.

(60) See Tom Hunt, 'Parish Factions, Parading Bands and Sumptuous Repasts: The Diverse Origins and Activities of Early GAA Clubs', in McAnallen, Hassan and Hegarty (eds), The Evolution of the GAA, pp. 86-99, 94-5 and 'Cootehill Celtic GAA: The Founding of the Club' retrieved from (accessed 20 June 2013).

(61) 'History: 1900-1910' retrieved from (accessed 24 May 2013). This area contains the clubs based in Annagh, Ballinagh, Cavan Town, Drumlane, Belturbet, Crosserlough, Killeshandra, Ballintemple, Gowna and Mullahoran and they were all founded between 1900 and 1903.

(62) Ibid.

(63) Anglo-Celt, 14 January 1905.

(64) Curran, Sport in Donegal, pp. 91-108.

(65) See Curran, 'Why Donegal Slept', p. 143. Fifty-three caman and hurling matches were played while only sixteen Gaelic football fixtures took place between 1905 and 1908.

(66) Curran, Sport in Donegal, pp. 91-108.

(67) Curran, 'Why Donegal Slept', pp. 245-6.

(68) Joseph Martin, The GAA in Tyrone: The Long Road to Glory (2nd edn, Dublin, 2003), pp. 127-9.

(69) Gabriel Brock, The Gaelic Athletic Association in County Fermanagh (Enniskillen, 1984), p. 22 and p. 32.

(70) Impartial Reporter, 17 December 1885 and 23 January 1890. There is some evidence that soccer had been played in Enniskillen before rugby was introduced by a military detachment in 1885. See also Ibid., 19 February 1891 and 18 October 1894.

(71) Ibid., 31 December 1885.

(72) Ibid., 24 March 1887.

(73) Fermanagh Mail, 22 October 1890.

(74) Ibid., 17 September and 22 October 1890 and Impartial Reporter, 22 May 1890. This cup was also known as the Fermanagh Challenge Cup and participation became open to clubs throughout the county in September 1890, although the competition was first played between Tempo Jubilee and Colebrooke in May 1890 at the Tempo Sports.

(75) Fermanagh Mail, 22 October 1890 and 5 March 1891.

(76) Ibid., 17 September and 5 November 1890.

(77) See, for example, Derry Journal, 5 July 1905 and 20 June 1906.

(78) See Curran, 'Why Donegal Slept', pp. 123-4. GAA tournaments were held at Christmas in Pennyburn (1888), Springtown (1889) and Rosemount (1890) as well as on other occasions such as Easter and St Patrick's Day.

(79) Connaught Telegraph, 23 and 30 November 1901.

(80) Anglo-Celt, 1 March 1902.

(81) Ibid., 2 January and 30 July 1904; 29 December 1906.

(82) Derry Journal, 28 October 1896, 28 December 1898 and 6 December 1899. See also Derry People and Donegal News, 18 October 1902.

(83) Ulster Herald, 22 November 1902 and 3 January 1903; Donegal Vindicator, 5 June 1903.

(84) Fermanagh Mail, 11 December 1891 and 18 February 1892.

(85) Ibid., 14 October 1889.

(86) Donegal Vindicator, 9 December 1892.

(87) Ibid., and see Impartial Reporter, 2 February 1893, for details of the Irvinestown club's first game, a 2-0 win over Dromore.

(88) Donegal Vindicator, 24 March 1899 and 5 June 1903.

(89) See ibid., 4 November 1898 and 17 December 1909; Donegal Independent, 21 February 1913.

(90) Donegal Vindicator, 30 December 1898.

(91) Ulster Herald, 6 December 1902. See also Impartial Reporter, 9 January 1890.

(92) Donegal Vindicator, 5 April 1912.

(93) Ibid., 10 January 1903. See also Rod Malone and Niall Hudson, 'Fivemiletown United FC -Club History' retrieved from (accessed 27 May 2013). A similar competition appears to have been played initially in 1888 but later went into decline. See Impartial Reporter, 20 December 1888.

(94) Ibid., 23 December 1905.

(95) Ulster Herald, 15 and 29 November 1902. See also Anglo-Celt, 17 January 1903.

(96) See, for example, Impartial Reporter, 16 January 1890, Anglo-Celt, 27 April 1901 and Donegal Independent, 28 March 1913.

(97) Ulster Herald, 21 February 1903.

(98) Ibid., 17 October 1903.

(99) Ibid., and 1 November 1902.

(100) Ibid., 27 December 1902.

(101) Derry People and Donegal News, 18 October 1902.

(102) Anglo-Celt, 29 November 1902 and 31 May 1913, and Ulster Herald, 26 May 1906.

(103) Ulster Herald, 3 September and 3 December 1904.

(104) Ibid., 4 February 1905.

(105) Ibid., 17 February 1906.

(106) Ibid., 28 October and 4 November 1905.

(107) Ibid., 26 January and 30 November 1907.

(108) PRONI, D/4196/A/2, Minute Book of the IFA, 1903-9, Council Meeting, 7 August 1906, p. 158 and 'Lisbellaw United FC - History' retrieved from page.html?page=10338 (accessed 27 May 2013).

(109) 'Lisbellaw United FC - History' retrieved from html?page = 10338 (accessed 5 December 2013).

(110) Ulster Herald, 11 January 1908.

(111) Ibid.

(112) Ibid., 1 December 1906.

(113) Ibid., 11 January 1908.

(114) Ibid., 18 April 1908.

(115) Sport, 12 March 1887 and PRONI, D/4196/A/3, Minute Book of the IFA, Report of Commission, 20 June 1919.

(116) Ulster Herald, 11 January 1908.

(117) Anglo-Celt, 17 March 1906.

(118) Ulster Herald, 11 January 1908.

(119) Ibid., 5 April 1913.

(120) Ibid., 20 September and 29 November 1913.

(121) Ibid., 20 September 1913.

(122) Ibid., 18 October 1913.

(123) Donegal Vindicator, 17 November 1905; Ulster Herald, 4 May 1907 and 1 February 1908.

(124) Ulster Herald, 2 February 1907.

(125) Ibid., 29 February 1908.

(126) Ibid., 5 January 1907 and PRONI, D/4196/M/1, Junior Committee Minutes, 1909-27, 6 December 1911.

(127) PRONI, D/4196/M/1, Junior Committee Minutes, 1909-27, 6 December 1911.

(128) PRONI, D/4196/A/3, Minute Book of the IFA, Report of Commission, 20 June 1919.

(129) Garnham, Association Football and Society, p. 175. Associations at this time included the Antrim, Mid-Ulster, Fermanagh and Western, North West, Leinster and Munster FA.

(130) Neil Tranter, Sport, Economy and Society in Britain 1750-1914 (Cambridge, 1998), p. 26.

(131) Ibid.

(132) Mike Cronin, Mark Duncan and Paul Rouse, The GAA: County by County (Cork, 2011), p. 6.

(133) Ibid., p. 7.

Conor Curran

St Patrick's College, Dublin City University
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