One of the more peculiar incidents in the course of the 1913 lockout in Dublin was a football clash in Ringsend, when Bohemians and Shelbourne went head to head in a match that occurred early on in the dispute. There was physical confrontation at this clash between trade unionists and football supporters, and the popular story has it that Jim Larkin accused the Bohemians side of having scabs in its ranks. This article aims to look at newspapers (including the organ of Larkin’s movement) from the period and other sources and try to piece together just what happened in Ringsend. It seems to me, that in reality, it was not alone Bohemians but also Shelbourne who Larkin took issue with, and that the story of Bohs alone being singled out by Larkin just doesn’t hold up.
Shelbourne and Bohemians were already two well established working class institutions in Dublin by the time of the 1913 Lockout. Writing in his classic book Dublin Made Me, C.S Andrews noted that at the time of his youth “there were only two senior soccer clubs in Dublin – Bohemians and Shelbourne- and the people on the southside followed Shelbourne.” He went on to write that “the supporters and players of the game were exclusively of the lower middle and working classes”.
The first reference to trouble at a clash between the two sides during the Lockout that I stumbled across was in the pages of Padraig Yeates’ classic account Lockout: Dublin 1913, where it is noted that the a game between the two sides on August 30th saw “about six thousand spectators” gather in Ringsend, where they were met by “a picket of about a hundred tramway men” who had gathered outside the ground and exchanged insults with the football crowd. Yeates quotes The Irish Times who noted that “the members of the Bohemian team, who pluckily drove to the scene of the scene of the match on outside cars through a hostile crowd of roughs, were assailed with coarse epithets.”
By this stage, the dispute between Larkin and William Martin Murphy had been underway for several days. Yet why was their hostility towards these football players? Why was there a picket of striking tramway men in Ringsend that day in the first place? The answer to that is found in the pages of the Irish Worker, where Larkin’s paper had denounced two players publicly as ‘scabs’. He had also allegedly attacked this match in a speech he had delivered the night previously to it, and called on workers not to attend the clash between the sides unless to picket it. Of the two players named in the paper, only one of these players was from Bohs however, Jack Millar. The other player, Jack Lowry, lined up for Shelbourne. This game was actually a charity game to inaugurate the new Shels ground, but with tensions high in Dublin following the outbreak of the tram dispute, it didn’t take much to spark trouble. Trams carrying supporters to the game were attacked, following a failed attempt by protestors to rush the gates into the ground.
One of the most interesting primary sources from the time of the 1913 Lockout is Disturbed Dublin by Arnold Wright, which was written in 1914 and in many ways provided an account of the dispute which was very sympathetic to the employers and police. In that text, Weight notes that:
The opening scene, in what was to prove a prolonged and sanguinary drama, was enacted in the Ringsend district. In his speech on Friday night Mr. Larkin had referred to a football match which was to be played on Saturday on the Shelbourne Ground at Ringsend between two local clubs. ‘ There are ” scabs ” in one of the teams, and you will not be there except as pickets,’ he said, in language whose menacing character was understood by those who heard him. In obedience to the implied command, a large body of members of the Transport Workers’ Union gathered at the time announced for the match near the entrance to the grounds.
Wright’s claim that there were scabs in “one of the teams” is at odds with the claims made in Larkin’s own newspaper.
The Irish Times report on the incident claimed that some picketers had actually gained access to the ground, and “hurled vile language at the players.” It also claimed that the incident involving a crowd attacking trams was only brought to an end when “one of the passengers jumped from the tram, produced a revolver, and effectively dispersed the crowd.” It is noted in Lockout: Dublin 1913 that following this incident:
A section of the crowd, which now numbered between five and six hundred, decided to march on the nearby DUTC power station. At 4.30pm College Street DMP station received a call from an anxious sergeant at the plant appealing for help. Inspector Bannon commandeered a passing tram, put his ten men on board, and headed for Ringsend. By the time he arrived the crowd had quietened and he began shepherding them back towards the centre of Ringsend.
Further trouble escalated quickly however at Bridge Street, where one rioter even succeeded in liberating an inspector of the sword from his scabbard. This led to a police horse falling, bringing its rider down with it. It was not until the pubs in the area were forcibly closed by police before the crowds began to disperse from the area, with the inaugural opening match of Shelbourne’s new ground well and truly overshadowed. In total, sixteen arrests were made at Ringsend that day, with over fifty people treated in hospital for their injuries. The punishments were severe, with Thomas Deevey initially sentenced to “three months’ imprisonment with hard labour for striking a policeman on the leg with a bottle at Bridge Street, Ringsend.”
The newspapers blamed the influence of outside “hooligans” for the actions of the “usually peaceful and industrious inhabitants of Ringsend” on the day, but events on the following day would greatly overshadow what had happened at Ringsend. An outlawed labour meeting on Sackville Street would provide the location for ‘Bloody Sunday’, leaving hundreds injured and one man dead.