We have looked at the circumstances surrounding the Irish immigrants to the City of Edinburgh in the early 19th Century, and how the development of football was grasped by some as an ideal means to help that community. The result was the formation of Hibernain Football Club in 1875 - and today we conclude our tour of the Origins of Hibernian by looking at the early hurdles that had to be overcome, and how quickly the people of Little Ireland took to their own football team....
Hibernian then were up and running, albeit grudgingly accepted by the new football authorities in Edinburgh and Scotland, so now Father Hannan and Michael Whelahan could set about the tasks they had for the new club. Hibernian had been formed as a means to an end, for Michael and his friends at the CYMS the motivation for sure was their love of this new game, and for Father Hannan it was that, yes, but the priest had much greater purpose for Hibernian. The massive interest being generated in football throughout Scotland was perhaps recognised very quickly by Father Hannan as an opportunity for good, and certainly there was surely no community that required such a focus than that of Little Ireland.
The hard-living labourers of the community took to the game very quickly, and with an enthusiasm that must have at times exasperated the Father! There were a number of recorded incidents of rioting that likely make the modern-day football hooligan look like a choirboy. From these early days it was clear who the main rivals would be for Hibernian, and the good deed carried out by Heart of Midlothian in agreeing to break the Edinburgh Association's embargo on the club did not take long to be forgotten as the intense rivalry between the clubs began to appear. The first appearance of Hibernian in the Scottish Cup (the SFA could not find an excuse to keep the Irishmen out of the tournament forever) came against Hearts in September 1877, and it was a tie that sparked a flame that would burn to this day.
The first Scottish Cup match ended in a 0-0 draw, but in the replay two weeks later Hibernian ran out 2-1 winners. The Hearts players and fans alike did not take defeat well against the Irish upstarts whom they regarded as inferior, and fighting broke out as the Irish celebrated their victory. This was the spark that for many years to come would result in Hearts taking every available opportunity to oppose Hibernian through the corridors of football power at both local and national level. That first season Hibs were not to see Scottish Cup glory (nothing new there then!), however the club would contest a final, the Edinburgh F.A. Cup, and who should be their opponents? Hearts.
The first crack at the final ended in another 0-0 stalemate, and because the game had already been delayed through bad weather, the Edinburgh F.A. decided that the replay should go to extra time if required. The game was 1-1 after 90 minutes, and the much fitter Irishmen were ready to go for the additional 30 minutes. Hearts, however, were not - their captain Tom Purdie informing the referee that they would not play on because he intended in any event to protest Hibernian's perfectly good equalising goal. Again this provoked fighting between the rival fans, but no result for the game!
The 'protest' was thrown out by the Association a few days later, describing the Hearts protest as a complete waste of time, but all the same there was no sanctions against them and another replay was ordered. Twelve hundred spectators turned up for that game, with many hundreds more locked as Hibernian took a two-goal lead, however Hearts came back with two of their own and still the destination of the trophy was not decided. Father Hannan attacked the behaviour of the Irish navvies from the pulpit of St Patrick's, the priest unhappy at the fighting but unable to exert direct control over the perpetrators who were not after all members of the CYMS. The fact was that already the popularity of the game and quality of the Irishmen had caught the fiercely proud backing of these hard-living men.
Still there remained the small matter of a cup final, and the sides tried again in April to settle things. Fifteen hundred spectators turned up this time, and Hibs again took the lead, but again could not hold it and Hearts equalised. Extra time was played this time, but the score remained the same. A fifth game then, and this time, at last, one that produced a result. Alas, there was no happy ending to this incredible part of the Hibernian story, Hibs twice taking the lead in the second half with Michael Whelahan himself scoring, but twice Hearts equalised. They then took the trophy through a hotly disputed goal. At the end of the game, tempers again flared when Whelahan put out his hand to opposing Captain Purdie, and was brushed aside. The navvies were furious at this treatment of the Hibernian man, and proceeded to chase Purdie through the streets of Edinburgh, wrecking his coach after the player took refuge in the home of a friend. It was an altogether unsavoury incident that again led to an angry rebuke from the pulpit by Father Hannan.
Father Hannan may have been discouraged by the antics of those following his new football team, but he could only be delighted that the level of support in the community for Hibernian was generating much needed funds. After all, a vital role of the club was charitable, the aim to raise as much as possible for the good of the community and there is no doubt Hibernian were doing just that. This was not going unobserved in other parts of Scotland, and the club received an invitation to play a benefit match for the first time, Kilmarnock Athletic asking if they would play in aid of the Kilmarnock Fever Hospital Fund.
Hibernian immediately accepted, and were watched by a large crowd as they won the game 4-3 - it was however the comments made after the game that said much of the attitude of Father Hannan and Michael Whelahan. After the game, Michael commented: "We were both surprised and delighted at the invitation and can assure you that neither race nor religion were ever a consideration of Hibernian or the CYMS to help such a worthy cause." This was just the first of many, many occasions when the truth behind these words would echo throughout Scotland and beyond.
Hibernian then were delighting their founders and community, and over the next few years they established themselves at their first permanent home, Hibernian Stadium at the top of Easter Road (not the current stadium, that was to come some years later). The Edinburgh F.A. Cup was won and retained, indeed retained in stunning fashion with a 4-0 half time deficit turned around into a 4-4 draw with Hibernian winning the replay over St Bernard's, a comeback that demonstrated a never-say-die attitude that has always seemed to be retained by those who play in the green shirts. It was after that stunning victory that the Edinburgh F.A., in recognition of the outstanding three-year achievement of Hibernian, presented two trophies to the Club for their permanent retention.
These were presented to Michael Whelahan who then presented them to Father Hannan on behalf of the CYMS. The Father placed them in St Patrick's where they remain to this day, the only time they would ever be removed was in 1975 when they were taken to the North British Hotel for Hibernian's Centenary Dinner.
Pic: St Patrick's Church in the 1850's