Belfast Celtic 1891 - 1949


The Grand Old Team 


Belfast Celtic F. C. - Souvenir and History 1891 – 1939

Published 1939. Publisher unknown. 46 pp. Author unknown.  

History A Club without a Ground A Centre of Athletics Winston Churchill's Visit The "Riot" Recalled Legal Troubles The New Ground Playing Pitch RelaidComing ImprovementsMilestones and Items of InterestNotable TransfersDecorative Ground Scheme

History of the Club

Celtic's Illustrious and Eventful Progress

The Belfast Celtic Club is so wrapped round the sporting enclosure we know as Celtic Park that one may  well be pardoned for assuming it had no separate existence. To say that it had or that it had not would only be a half truth, for the name " Belfast " was not included in the title of the club from which it came into being. It was towards the end of the season 1890-1891 that a Football Club called Celtic was formed in a very modest way in the Falls District of Belfast. The Club played friendly matches only until the season 1892-1893, when it became a member of a group of clubs known as the Irish Junior Alliance.

In the next season, 1893-94, the club gained admission to the Irish Junior League, now called the Irish Intermediate League, and won the Championship at the first attempt, incidentally becoming the first holders of the Robinson and Cleaver Shield. They retained this trophy for the following two years.

In the season 1891-1895 the club won the Co. Antrim Senior Shield and in season 1896‑1897 became members of the Irish League, which then had a total of only six clubs. The League Championship was won for the first time in the season 1899‑1900, and at the end of the following season the club ceased to exist as Celtic and merged into the present club.

Amongst the players who were with the club when it was taken over may be mentioned Jimmy Connor, Harry Nicholl, Jack McConville, Isaac Doherty, Harry Dornan, William Tully, and William Clay. Connor and Nicholl gained international honours. Clay (later with Sheffield United) was the first Celtic player to figure on the transfer list. The fee was £75.

The title "Celtic Football Club, Limited," could not be used as it had been previously registered by our Glasgow cousins, so the club was incorporated as "Belfast Celtic Football and Athletic Company, Limited," with a nominal share capital of £3000.

It was a sort of unwritten law that no shareholder was to receive a dividend and no Director a fee until the ground was properly equipped. Evidently those concerned  are not satisfied yet, for up to date neither Directors' fee nor shareholders' dividend has been declared. 

Rev. D. MeEvoy, P.P., Glenavy, has the unique distinction of being an Hon. Director of the club since it was formed into a Limited Liability Company. He was also prominently connected with the club when it was playing in the Whiterock Road enclosure. 

A Club without a Ground 

During the ten years prior to its incorporation, the club had a somewhat nomadic existence. Matches were played on pitches located on both sides of the Falls Road, near Broadway. During their first season in the Senior League they had no playing pitch and all their matches were played on the grounds of their opponents.

Finally in. the year 1897 a short lease of a piece of ground on the Whiterock Road, afterwards called Klondyke or Paradise and now known as Macrory Park, was  secured. It was whilst occupying this enclosure that the Irish League championship was won for the first time. The late Hugh Fitzpatrick was then chairman of the club, with Mr. Charles MeShane as lhon. secretary. Mr. Fitzpatrick, the late Hugh McAlinden and David McCloskey, J.P., were the connecting links between the old club and the new company, of which they became directors when it was launched in July, 1901.

The newly formed company secured about ten acres of suit­able ground on the Falls Road end of the Donegall Road, and laid the foundations of the Celtic Park of today. Senior football in Ireland was in its infancy at this period, and the new Board largely depended on cross Channel players, mainly from Scotland, but the results after a few years' trial did not justify the experiment and the fostering of local talent became, and still remains, a feature of the football policy of the club.

It had early become evident that football in Belfast, except in special circumstances, would not be a paying proposition, and that a club would be fortunate if its income from football would balance the expenditure necessary to run a first‑class team and meet the outlay involved in maintaining and equipping an enclosure to suit the requirements of the football public. So the club decided To extend its activities, and in 1903 built round the playing pitch a cinder track, suitable for trotting races, cycling, and athletics. The first trotting meeting was held at Easter, 1903, land with an occasional galloping race added to the programme, these events continued to be a regular feature at Celtic Park until January, 1927, when the track was returfed to make it suitable for the greyhound racing that is so popular today.

A Centre of Athletics

Beginning also in 1903 some very famous athletic and cycling sports meetings were held. The Celtic Sprint was for many years the classic event of its kind. The presence of champion athletes from all parts of the Kingdom, and an occasional sprinkling of Americans, including Duffy, the world champion, gave an international flavour to these gatherings. Whippet racing was a regular feature from 1911 to 1929. This sport became so popular that an entry of over 200 dogs was quite common and Belfast owned dogs came to be regarded as amongst the best in Britain. Open‑air boxing was inaugurated in 1908, and boxing contests were promoted with great success during the summer months until 1914, when the Great War caused the suspension of many forms of sport. It was not revived again to any great extent after hostilities had ceased. These sidelines were very successful financially, and contributed materially to the steady improvement of the enclosure.

The first football trophy that came to Celtic Park was the City Cup in the season 1905‑1906. The competition had finished with Celtic, Linfield, and Cliftonville tying for first place, and in the resulting test matches Celtic defeated both their rivals. It was retained the following year, but five more years elapsed before the club had another football success. This was the Gold Cup, which was won when it was first put up for competition in 1912. The final was played at Grosvenor Park, and Glentoran, the favourites, were defeated by two goals to nil. At this time there was a split in football government, and the match was played under the jurisdiction of a body styled "The New Football Association of Ireland." During the summer of this year there was an adjustment of the football dispute, and the season 1912‑13 opened with the I.F.A. in control.

Winston Churchill's Visit

In January, 1912, Mr. Winston Churchill, then a member of the British Cabinet, addressed a political meeting in Celtic Park. He had experienced difficulty in getting a suitable hall in the city, but through the infuence of the late Mr. Joseph Devlin the use of Celtic Park was secured for the purpose. Among other things the event was memorable for the number of empty wallets and purses afterwards found in the grounds.

The "Riot " Recalled

In September, 1912, occurred the famous riot at Celtic Park. It was at a League match versus Linfield and, as the trouble began during the interval without any preliminaries or formal declaration of war, the teams and officials were in blissful ignorance of the outbreak until it was well under way. The game was not resumed and was replayed peacefully in mid-week a month later.

In the season 1914-1915 the League Championship was won for the second time, and the first since Celtic Park  became club headquarters. 

The principal players on the club's books in the 1914-1915 period were Joseph Mehaffy, Jimmy Nelson, Fred Barrett, Sam Ritchie, Mick Hamill, Andy Holt, James McKnight, Dave Williams, John A. Hegan, William Marshall, Jack Cowell, Bob Norwood, Tom McDade, Frank Brady, P. J. Doherty, Bert Manderson, James Burns, Sam McKeown, and Albert Leathem.

The P. J. Doherty of that time is now the Rev. Paul Cyril, C.P. ; Bert Manderson is in charge of Queen's Park F.C., Glasgow; and John A. Hegan is a director of Portadown F.C.

During the rest of the War period the League competition was suspended, and the club played only in the Intermediate League. It was whilst playing in Junior circles that the Irish Cup was won for the first time. That was in 1918. The club again won the Championship when the League competition was resumed in 1919‑1920, making it holders of the Cup for six successive years.

Legal Troubles

It was in March, 1920, that a disturbance occurred at Cliftonville grounds at,an Irish Cup semi-final between Celtic and Glentoran which led to the club taking legal action against the decision of the I.F.A. in fining and suspending the club over the matter. The action was settled out of court on the I.F.A. withdrawing their decision and paying all costs.

Civic disturbance caused the club to abandon all football from the beginning of the season 1920-1921 till the season 1924-1925, when Mr. Austin Donnelly, now Chairman of the Company, got together a team of local juniors, who gave a highly creditable display in the Senior League, in which they finished third on the table. This team formed the nucleus of the all‑conquering team of 1925-1926, who won all the Senior competitions except the County Antrim Shield, and by defeating the Free State champions in Dublin were entitled to an All-Ireland title.

Beginning with season 1925-1926 the League Championship was won four years in succession, a feat not previously accomplished by any other Irish club, though it has been repeated by the present Celtic team, whose League victory last season was also the fourth in a row. The second and fourth of the earlier quartette of championships were won without a defeat - a record in itself.

The performance of 1928‑29 was perhaps the greatest thing in Irish football. A League score of 116 goals against 23 a total of 48 points out of a possible 52, and an undefeated record in the season has no parallel.

The players of that period were Jack Diffen, R. P. Fulton, Bob Ferguson, J. S. Wallace, Eddie McElwaine, Sam Curran, Keiller McCullough, William Pollock, Eddie Inch, Paddy Lennon, Stanley and Jack Mahood, Jimmy Ferris, J.,Carroll, Pat Gallagher, J. Agnew, and A. E. Weir.

The New Ground

The purchase of the Willowbank Estate, adjoining Celtic Park, in January, 1925, was perhaps the most important milestone in the history of the club since its incorporation. It looked a rash venture for a concern with such a small capital, and the fact that the club had to go heavily in debt gave rise to some misgiving but, supported by some good friends and a series of very successful carnivals, the money difficulty was surmounted. The unreserved side of the park was straightened out and enlarged to its present dimensions, and in 1926 a magnificent steel and concrete, stand was erected on a part of the newly acquired area. 

In the same year a substantial addition was made to the reserved stand. A further addition to the reserved stand was built in 1932, underneath which commodious dressing-rooms, boardroom, and offices were provided.

Playing Pitch Relaid

The clayey nature of ground in the Celtic Park district made draining very difficult, and in wet weather the pitch during a match often became a sea of gluey mud on which good football was impossible. The obvious remedy to take away the surface to a considerable depth and replace with soil and new turf was such a huge job that it was not until 1931 that the directors decided to tackle it. Work could only be carried on during two months in the summer, and it took four seasons to complete; but, tedious and costly as the renovation was, it was worth all the trouble and expense. It is readily admitted that the Celtic Park pitch has now no superior anywhere in the kingdom. A treat to look at and perfect to play upon.

The reserved stand was almost totally destroyed by a disastrous fire which broke out on the night of 5th August, 1938, the part containing the offices alone escaping the general destruction.

Coming Improvements

The management have given careful consideration to the design of a new stand, which when completed will seat about 4000 and provide shelter for an additional 3000 standing spectators. The certified holding capacity of the ground (1937) is: Unreserved 45,000, reserved 12,500, stand seats 2500. 

During its career at Celtic Park the club has played matches against many famous cross‑Channel teams, and once against a Continental club from Vienna. Amongst these the numerous visits of the Glasgow Celtic were outstanding features.

First Irish club to appoint a team manager. First team manager was James Blessington, 1913‑14 James Magowan, 1911 and 1919‑20 ; Austin Donnelly, 1924‑29; Archie Heggarty, 1929‑1932 ; Jimmy McColl, 1932‑34 ; Elisha Scott, since 1934.

Staged a match at Celtic Park between two English First League clubs, Bradford and Manchester United, in 1913.

The match was the outcome of the transfer of Louis Book(unreadable) to Bradford F.C. and Micky Hamill to Manchester United. Both clubs had agreed to play a match at Celtic Park, and the idea of playing them against each other caught the (unreadable) Bradford won by two goals to one.

Season 1934-35 won the Intermediate League, Intermediate Cup, Steel & Sons Cup, McElroy Cup, Clements Lyttle Cup, and were finalists in the Co. Antrim Shield, in which they were defeated by Linfield F.C.

The following season, 1935-36, they repeated this remarkable feat, the only difference was that it was Celtic Senior team who defeated them in the Shield final.

Milestones and Items of Club Interest

Celtic Club Formed 1891

First Irish club to be incorporated as a Limited Company, in July, 1901, with Mr. James Millar, J.P., as Chairman and Mr. Alfred Lockhart as Secretary. Other occupants of the chair were, Mr. Joseph Smyth, 1902-1905; Mr. Dan McCann, 1905-1923; Mr. Hugh McAlinden, 1923 till 1938, when the present Chairman, Mr. Austin Donnelly, was appointed. The Secretary, Mr. R. Barr, took office in 1903.

The famous Jimmy Quinn and William Loney were lent to the club by Glasgow Celtic in May, 1908, to play In a benefit match for Hugh Watson and James Diamond, who had each sustained a fractured leg earlier in the year. Quinn was unable ­to turn out, but acted as linesman. The team in that match was Austin Donnelly; Pat McCann, Alexander McCartney; Henry Nicholl, William Loney, Thomas McPhillips; Johnny Blair, Andy Hunter, William Halligan, Tom Mulholland, and Luke DevIin.

First club in Ireland to provide shelter for unreserved spec­tators. A corrugated iron roof was erected over portion of the unreserved area in 1905. It was destroyed by a storm years later and was not re‑erected.

First Irish club to send a team to the Continent. A series of matches were played in Prague in 1912 and in Copenhagen in 1929.

On 4th May. 1929, the club played Queen's Island in the City Cup at Celtic Park and Shelbourne F.C. in Dublin ‑ two Senior matches on the same day.

Bertie Fulton, the Captain of the present team, has gained all the honours possible in representative matches. He also holds a winner's medal for every Senior trophy played under the jurisdiction of the I.F.A.

Jimmy McAlinden won a cup medal after playing only four months in English football. He is the first and only Celtic player to gain this coveted badge.

It is worthy of remark that very few of the club's players have ever incurred the extreme censure of a referee. It is something of a football sensation when a Celtic player is ordered off. The standing order is PLAY THE BALL.

Notable Transfers 

W. Clay

Sheffield United


John Walker



M. Hamill

Manchester United


W. Crone

Glasgow Celtic


W. Laverty



F. Barrett



J. Ferris



M. Hamill

Manchester City


P. Kelly

Manchester City


J. Mulligan

Manchester City


F. Carroll

Manchester City


D. McKinney

Hull City


G. Frewen



W. Scott



Tony Carroll



J. Coulter



D. Martin



J. Brown



K. McCullough

Manchester City


J. Feenan



T. Breen

Manchester United


P. McArdle



J. McAlinden






Mr. M. Hamill was twice transferred, first to Manchester United and secondly to Manchester City, and bought back again from the latter club.

Decorative Ground Scheme 

No reference to Celtic Park would be complete that did not give prominence to the decorative scheme that has been evolved during the past ten or twelve years.

In a walk round the enclosure it will be observed that the obverse side of the banking which supports the terraces at each end of the enclosure has been converted into a sort of hanging garden, in which flowers of many varieties blaze during spring and summer, and in the winter season a wide variety of tastefully arranged evergreen shrubs relieves the characteristic drab appearance of entrances and exits of most football grounds. Though everything is quite open to the public, and there is a total absence of appealing or warning notices, it is a remarkable fact that the plucking of flowers or interference with shrubs is a thing unheard of. Prophecies that they would be taken away as souvenirs of a football victory or destroyed as an expression of displeasure at defeat are happily unfulfilled.

The aim and endeavour of the Celtic management to make the surroundings more cheerful for the football and sporting public has been wonderfully appreciated, and the lead given in this respect may be followed with advantage by the other city and provincial clubs. The cost compared with the satisfaction it gives is really trifling.