Michael Whelahan and some of his friends had become interested in the game of football they watched being played on the Meadows, and indeed they had played themselves a few times - although quickly discovering that the anti-Irish prejudices made it nigh on impossible for them to play for any of the established clubs. It was Michael who hit on the idea that the CYMS should themselves form a football club, and he took the idea to Father Hannan. The Father was already aware of the rising popularity of the game among young men, and when his own enquiries into the organisation of the game proved favourable he invited Michael to put his case at the next meeting of the CYMS at St Mary's Street Halls.
Erin Go Bragh
The idea immediately caught the imagination of the CYMS committee, and Father Hannan agreed to assist Michael in ensuring that his idea came to fruition. Players for the new football team where quickly identified, all bar one of them being of Irish birth (the exception was one Danny Browne, born in Edinburgh of Irish parents). The first decisions to be made were club colours and a motto - these were easily agreed with Green with a Harp as the crest, and the motto 'Erin Go Bragh' (Ireland for Ever). The name, at least at first, proved somewhat more problematic.
Several ideas where put forward, but in the event it was Michael himself who came up with the answer. He recalled that many years before, the Catholic society known as the 'Ancient order of the Hibernians' had been absorbed into the CYMS. Hibernian was the old Latin name for Ireland, and so it was decided, Hibernian Football Club, the Edinburgh Irishmen, was born on 6th August 1875. Father Hannan was elected as manager of the new club with Michael Whelahan the first captain. Hibernian were to be run as very much an integral part of the CYMS, it followed then that as all the members of that organisation were Irish Catholics, so then would be the players of the new football club.
Football in Scotland at that time was in its infancy, it was very much an amateur sport played supposedly by 'gentlemen' - Hibernian were to change that thinking, in many ways it could be argued that this was the first working-class football club in what was to become very much the sport of the working class. Father Hannan might perhaps have saw this new football club as being one of his weapons in that ultimate desire to break down the barriers between the Edinburgh Irish and Scottish communities, but if he certainly learned quickly that if that was to happen it was going to take some considerable perseverance.
The Establishment Resist
The first task was official recognition by the football authorities, who had themselves only existed for a few years. The first approach to the Edinburgh Football Association was knocked back, the suggestion put to Hibernian that they should first apply to the Scottish Football Association. That they did, only to receive the terse reply 'We are catering for Scotsmen, not Irishmen'. Back they went to the Edinburgh F.A., and only to receive a similar reply, and indeed they went further, issuing instructions to all member clubs that they must not play any matches or indeed even have any contact with the new club.
The men of Little Ireland were well used to such treatment, and they were not going to be put off so easily. They trained hard and played practice games among themselves on the Meadows, all the while seeking out someone in the area who would defy the Edinburgh F.A. and give them a game. Finally one team broke ranks and agreed to play the Edinburgh Irish, and that was the most unlikely of them all as it was Heart of Midlothian, themselves formed just one year earlier, who faced up to Hibernian on Christmas Day, 1875. The shackles had now been broken, and another club, Thistle, sent out their second eleven against Hibernian three weeks later, before meeting again with their first team three weeks further on.
These games prompted a stern warning from the Edinburgh F.A. to the clubs involved, but Father Hannan and Michael Whelahan spent much of the summer of 1876 canvassing the member clubs of the Edinburgh F.A. There was a growing sympathy among these clubs who were keen to foster the game of football to every corner of the community, and finally the persistence of the team from Little Ireland paid off as their application to join the association was accepted. This acceptance had pushed the SFA meanwhile into a position they did not welcome, they tried hard to ignore Hibernian but they, too, finally had to relent and permit the club to join the association, and so it was that Hibernian Football Club were now official - although the SFA still took a swipe at the Little Ireland community by not permitting Hibernian to play immediately in the Scottish Cup, the only formal national tournament in existence at that time. It was just the start of a somewhat unhappy relationship Hibernian had with that particular trophy, but for now only one thing mattered - Hibernian Football Club were up and running!
Pic: Father Hannan