Hibs supporters to bring harp home to Ballingarry


Brian Duffy

READERS might recall an article which appeared in The Irish Voice last October, which told the story of the collaboration between two groups of football supporters to create a permanent memorial to celebrate the life and works of an Irish priest whose service to his home country and to that of Edinburgh’s Irish diaspora are still revered by many on both sides of the Irish Sea.

That priest is Canon Edward Joseph Hannan who was born in Ballingarry, County Limerick on June 21, 1836, and ordained a priest in 1860. He, along with Roscommon-born Michael Whelehan, founded Hibernian Football Club under the auspices of the St Patrick’s Parish Catholic Young Men’s Society (CYMS) on the August 6, 1875.

Edinburgh’s Cowgate and ‘Old Town’ environs had become known as ‘Little Ireland,’ due to it being the destination point for the waves of refugees from the Great Hunger in Ireland and its aftermath, who flooded into the capital. St Patrick’s church became both the spiritual and social focal point for this disadvantaged and disenfranchised immigrant community. A community confined to the poorest housing, and which faced resentment and hostility from many of the indigenous Scots. Arriving as a junior curate in 1861 the canon recognised his communities lack of opportunities for advancement in what was often a hostile environment and how this could particularly lead the male youth of the parish into a life of drink or crime.

Determined to channel their energies in a positive direction, he established the Catholic Young Men’s Society in 1865, which provided a variety of activities for the youth of the parish. Assuming the role of priest-in-residence a decade after his arrival, it was under the umbrella of the CYMS that Hibernian Football club was formed in 1875, the latest in a line of social and sporting initiatives to occupy the young men of ‘Little Ireland. Little could he nor the members of the CYMS have imagined that this parish football team would evolve into a professional football club with a distinguished 147-year-old history.

Canon Hannan’s legacy
While today, Hibernian is a football club for all the people of Edinburgh and beyond, a club followed by people of all and no religions, Canon Hannan’s legacy remains integral to the club’s DNA. It’s a legacy that saw the then clerical incumbent at St Pat’s—as its colloquially known in the city—Canon Hyland invited to attend the clubs 100th anniversary celebrations in 1975. A legacy that was recognised in 1991 at a packed memorial Mass at St Patrick’s to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Canon Hannan’s death and again in 2006 when the Hibernian Historical Trust rededicated his grave in Edinburgh’s Grange cemetery, a ceremony attended by club officials, supporters and clergy from across the denominations.

A legacy which also manifests itself in the St Patrick’s Branch of the Hibernian Supporters Association. Founded in 2010 and named after their Clubs birthplace, its members like the wider Hibernian family are drawn from all backgrounds and beliefs, united by a pride in their clubs’ origins and the charitable ethos which underpinned its formation.

In its brief, 12-year existence, the branch has already carried out two highly lauded historical initiatives, installing a plaque in St Patrick’s Church to honour Canon Hannan’s role in the founding of Hibernian; and renovating and rededicating the grave of 1902 Scottish Cup Final winning team trainer Dan McMichael in Edinburgh’s Eastern Cemetery.

Special symbol
From 1875 until the mid-20th century the club’s emblem was the harp and a mosaic harp crest adorned the exterior of the stadium until the mid 1950s. Its removal due to stadium renovation and the crests which replaced it resulted in decades of debate and disagreement. This was compounded by the statistic that the club had never repeated its 1902 Scottish Cup success, with Hibernian folklore replete with tales of a gypsy curse which said that the cup would never return to the ‘Holy Ground’ until the harp was restored. In 2000, a new club crest was created that incorporated the harp alongside symbols which reference the club’s Edinburgh and specific Leith connections.

As part of Hibernian’s 140th anniversary celebrations the St Patrick’s branch gifted the football club an exact replica of the original mosaic harp, which had been made by branch member Mark Shipway. Presented to then owner Sir Tom Farmer, in a particularly Hibernian twist of fate Sir Tom’s grandfather and great uncle had been custodians of the club at the time of that 1902 cup victory. If that wasn’t providential enough, the following year saw Hibernian break their 114-year hoodoo, winning the Scottish Cup for the first time since 1902. A victory achieved with a replica of the mosaic harp crest back in situ within the stadium and two new wall mounted current crests, including the harp, on either side of the club’s West Stand entrance.

Permanent memorial
When it came to the St Patrick’s branch deciding on their first significant post Scottish Cup Final historical project, there was a consensus that a permanent memorial to the club’s founder Canon Hannan in his home village of Ballingarry was long overdue. It had also become apparent that Hibernian did not intend to place the mosaic harp on permanent display as had been envisaged when gifted. Believing this most historic symbol of Hibernian iconography deserved to be on permanent display, the St Patrick’s branch members concluded that Ballingarry was the fitting location for it.

With Hibernian willing to return the harp to the supporter’s branch, contact was made with Ballingarry AFC. The football team were very aware of the Hibernian connection and very receptive to the idea of a permanent memorial being erected in their stadium to commemorate the villages most famous son. Channels of communication were quickly established between Edinburgh and Limerick to scope out the logistics and practicalities in bringing the project to fruition.

With planning having reached an advanced stage, in January 2020 a deputation from St Patrick’s (above)—led by Chairperson Dougie McLeod— made the pilgrimage ‘over the water’ to meet their Ballingarry counterparts including the now sadly departed James Clancy. Traditional Limerick hospitality was accompanied by a conducted tour of sites of historic relevance including the assumed location of the canon’s birthplace, Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church and the Knockfeerina Famine memorial site. With firm friendships established and the collaborative process taken to the next level, a provisional date of September 2021 was set for the harp’s unveiling. Little could those present have envisaged the global pandemic that was to engulf the world shortly thereafter.

That pandemic put a temporary hold on the project and a revised memorial completion date of September 2022 was agreed. As society began to emerge from the Covid-19 crisis, work gathered pace at Ballingarry’s ‘The Paddocks’ stadium to carry out all that was necessary for the harp’s installation. With that work completed an official unveiling date of Saturday September 24, 2022 was set.

The event will be a hugely significant cultural and historical event for not just the residents of Ballingarry and those who follow Hibernian FC, but also for the wider community and wider football family. An event that is being attended by dignitaries from the local area and wider afield, and it is hoped by representatives from Hibernian FC. A large contingent from the St Patrick’s branch together with other supporters from the Canons adopted city, together with many Irish Hibs fans including the Dublin Hibernian Supporters branch, will also be in attendance.

With the much-anticipated commemoration date of September 24 now imminent, there is a certain symmetry to the fact that the Football Club which Canon Edward Joseph Hannan founded as a direct result of a 19th century disaster was delayed due to a worldwide 21st century one.

To prevent the small idyllic village of Ballingarry being overwhelmed by visitors, the St Patrick’s and Ballingarry AFC branch committees have decided to cap the number of official travellers to 100.

Anyone intending to travel to attend the ceremony should register their travel plans with Hibs@stpats.club