In the first of a series looking back at now defunct Irish football clubs, Seán Ó Murchú takes us through the history of one of the Irish League’s most well-known clubs of the past – Belfast Celtic.
Founded in the late 19th century by fans of the Glasgow-based Celtic, the Belfast variant was one of the best supported and most decorated clubs in Irish footballing history. During their time they won 14 Irish Leagues and a further eight Irish Cups.
More than just a club, Belfast Celtic represented the Irish nationalist minority in Belfast. There were also strong links with Glasgow Celtic, having their jersey and stadium name both inspired by their more famous counterparts in Scotland.
It was not lack of success or support that caused the demise of this once great club but the sectarian violence and discrimination they encountered throughout the league thanks the their support being in the vast majority of a nationalist background.
Despite this discrimination, which began during the heightened political tensions brought about by the War of Independence and particularly partition in 1921, Belfast Celtic continued to compete admirably in the inter-war years, winning the majority of their titles in the 1920s and 30s.
Many names that are still well-known today lined out for Belfast Celtic during these glory years, such as Patrick O’Connell, Willie McStay, Oscar Traynor and Jimmy Jones.
Political tensions were strongest between Celtic and their local rivals Linfield. These tensions boiled over in the annual St. Stephen’s day match between the two sides at Windsor Park in 1948.
Celtic were leading the derby right up until the final minute when a Linfield equaliser led to a pitch invasion from their fans, who attacked the Celtic players on the pitch, including star player and centre forward Jimmy Jones who suffered a broken leg. This led to the directors of Belfast Celtic taking the incredibly difficult decision to withdraw from the league as they could not guarantee the safety of their players or supporters.
After spending a decade traveling the world playing friendly games including a famous win over the Scotland national team in America, Belfast Celtic played their last game away to Coleraine in 1960, a sad end to one of the most successful and well-supported clubs in Northern Ireland.
Celtic Park in West Belfast is now the home to NIFL Championship side Donegal Celtic.
A documentary produced in 1989 on Belfast Celtic.
Greatest Achievement: four Irish League Titles in a row (1925/26-1928/29)
Lowest Point: St. Stephen’s Day 1948 vs. Linfield
More information on the club can be found here on the Belfast Celtic Society’s website.
Seán Ó Murchú, Pundit Arena