The ongoing centenary celebrations for the 1916 rising have been educational for many in that several lesser-known battle sites around Dublin from 1916 have been given prominence in the celebrations. This is an overdue and welcome piece of revisionism. One such site is what the battlefield was for the South Dublin Union, which still exists amongst the buildings of St. James’s Hospital. Reading about this part of 1916 history brought to mind an important team in League of Ireland history, namely St. James’s Gate FC.
St. James’s Gate is an important club historically, and is still going strong today in the Leinster Senior League. They won the inaugural League of Ireland in 1921-22. That season also saw the inaugural running of the FAI Cup, and St. James’s Gate won that too, beating Shamrock Rovers in the final. The centenary of this tremendous double-winning achievement is not far away!
The side stayed in the League of Ireland until 1943-44 [winning the title again in 1939-40] and returned to the League in 1990 when they replaced Newcastle west in the First Division and stayed for a 6-year run during this second innings. I saw them play regularly during this era [Bray were down in the First Division for most of this time], both in the Carlisle Grounds and on their own home turf at The Iveagh Grounds.
When you think about the St. James’s Street area of Dublin, as well as the hospital you think of the Guinness brewery. St. James’s Gate FC initially emerged as the brewery’s works team, and this is an important point historically for the League of Ireland. The eight teams that made up the inaugural League in 1921-22 consisted of some other factory and works teams, such as Jacobs. This was a trend throughout the world at the time, and in many countries around the globe today if you look at league tables you still see many works and factory teams – Dashen Beer, Sidama Coffee and Ethiopia Coffee all play in the current Ethiopian Premier League, for example.
The Iveagh Grounds, where St. James’s Gate play, is a multi-purpose sports facility and this is important historically also, in soccer terms. In Germany for example, most of the modern-day soccer clubs grew out of sports clubs and grounds that hosted many different sporting disciplines [gymnastics was the common thread, given its popularity in Germany in the nineteenth century]. Today the Iveagh Grounds, in addition to St. James’s Gate FC, counts amongst its tenants St. James’s Gaels [GAA], Guinness Rugby Club, St. James’s Gate Hockey Club and St. James’s gate Bowling Club. Two other soccer clubs are also tenants – St. John Bosco FC and Bangor Celtic FC.
Looking further at the list of 8 teams that comprised the inaugural League Of Ireland, only Bohemians remain in today’s League Of Ireland. All 8 clubs back in 1921-22 were in fact from Dublin, and had played Leinster Senior League football the year before defecting. I wonder how they got away with calling it the League of Ireland!
That balance has been remedied somewhat, if you look at the 20 clubs that comprise the current League of Ireland Premier and First Divisions. 6 are from Dublin [St Patrick’s Athletic, Bohemians, Shamrock Rovers, Shelbourne, Cabinteely and UCD]. Cork [Cobh Ramblers and Cork City] and Louth [Dundalk and Drogheda United] have 2 each while Westmeath [Athlone Town], Longford, Waterford, Wexford, Donegal [Finn Harps], Limerick, Sligo, Derry, Galway and Wicklow have 1 each.
Thinking further about this geographical distribution, if you put Derry City to one side as they are from Northern Ireland, that makes a majority of 14 of the Republic’s 26 counties that have no current League of Ireland representation. Kildare [Kildare County], Monaghan [Monaghan United], Tipperary [Thurles Town] and Kilkenny [Kilkenny City] have had League of Ireland representation in the past, but there has never been League of Ireland clubs from Carlow, Cavan, Clare, Kerry, Laois, Leitrim, Mayo, Meath, Offaly or Roscommon far as I’m aware [apologies if I have overlooked a side here]. Food for thought, maybe over a pint of St. James’s Gate’s finest!