Celtic FC take on the Irish Free State in 1924

Celtic vs Irish Free State 1924

Click on the image to view the clip – “A Record Crowd” from http://www.britishpathe.com

Now is maybe a good time to dig in the digital history archive…… given the recent abysmal performances of Scottish football clubs in Europe.

Click on this photo to view this silent gem from British Pathe.

It is probably the first video of the modern Irish team, described as the “Irish Free State” playing visitors Glasgow Celtic at Dalymount Park, Dublin in 1924.

Spot the folk watching precariously on the roof of the stand and cramped behind the goal or the high heid yins in bowler hats and spats.

This film also has particular historical significance. Sport may have the power to unite but it can also reinforce divisions. The British massacre of fans and players at a Gaelic football match at Croke Park in 1920 made sport an inexorable part of Irish politics – polarising the Gaelic Athletic Association alongside nationalists and football (soccer) with Britain and therefore foreign.

The geographical split in the 1921 peace treaty was also reflected in the organisation of the game – the Irish Football Association (IFA) galvanising its base in Belfast and the six counties, and the Dublin-based Football Association of Ireland (FAI) which wanted pan-Ireland representation but reluctantly settled for the 22 counties in the Free State.

I think this is the earliest film of Celtic playing outwith Scotland.  The club was the world’s first true trailblazer for the game, touring Europe no less than four times before the First World War, and losing only one match in the process.

Even discounting Celtic’s strong links with Ireland, this match was potentially very hazardous. The vicious civil war formally ended in May 1923 but sporadic assassinations, executions and hunger strikes continued for months thereafter.

Irish Free State three-line overprint Saorstát...

An old stamp with Irish Free State overprint in Gaelic

This is where dating the actual match becomes problematic.

I haven’t found any mention of it on the FAI website. The Celtic Wiki records an away friendly against an “Irish Free State” select (which Celtic won 3-0) on February 22, 1923.  This seems unlikely given it was at the height of the civil war. Anti-treaty forces prohibited public entertainments. Shots were fired at spectators and a mine detonated at a major boxing match in Dublin as late as May 1923.

The caption on the Pathe film is also suspect. It gives the ground as Dallymount rather than Dalymount and has an issue date of March 3, 1924. Its film for another Free State game at Dalymount versus the USA has an issue date of March 10, 1924 when other sources say it was played either on June 14 or June 16, 1924.

So it is far from clear – if you can help clarify, please post a comment below.

Update: very good detective work by Steve (see comments below) at the Celtic Wiki has found a Glasgow Herald one paragraph report giving February 23/24, 1924.  The crowd could only be estimated at 22,000 and the Free State goalie, O’Hagan, formerly played for St Mirren. And Celtic were 3-0 winners.

What is clear from the FAI site is that FIFA accepted Ireland’s membership in August 1923 and that an Irish Free State team competed in the 1924 Paris Olympics but under the auspices of the Olympic Council of Ireland.

It seems likely that this game was a friendly in preparation for the Olympics – so perhaps some time between March and June 1924 might be a reasonable assumption?  It could be seen as one step on the return to what Woodrow Wilson described as “normalcy” after eight years of conflict and an early propaganda achievement for the new Free State. We watch this clip as a curiosity but it was filmed for a mass cinema audience: newsreels meant news.

Does any of this history matter diddly squat in the real world of 2011?  Judge for yourself: Ireland still has two international football teams – Northern Ireland and the Republic.  National association with football, as defined by national football associations, also poses difficulties for fielding a Great Britain team for next year’s London Olympics.

Curiously, rugby remained a pan-Irish game with one team now competing at the World Cup in New Zealand.  During the Troubles of the 1970s, serving RUC police officers played regularly for Ireland in Dublin, their names recorded on hotel registers as “civil servants.”

There is a lot more football in digital history archives. Try searching for your team on British Pathe or have a look at its Facebook page.

Categories: football, gems from the archive, history on the web

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7 replies

  1. Absolutely brilliant.

  2. Hi Chris

    I had a look for you and found a snippet in the Glasgow Herald which dates the game to the weekend of Fed 23/24 1924


    I’ll update the Wiki, thanks!

  3. (sorry, should have mentioned… scoll up a paragraph in the link!)

  4. Footage of this match was included in the Celtic History DVD back in 2008. The on screen caption confirms that the match was the Irish Free State v Celtic and that it was played on 23 February 1924.

    There is also some footage of the game included in the Celtic Centenary video produced by the BBC back in 1988 but the match detail was not given.


  1. USA takes on the Irish Free State « The History Company
  2. History in My Back Yard | The British Pathé Archive Blog

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