SJD8 #10: Soccer and the Making of Place in Inchicore

This is the tenth in a series of blogs on 'Spatial Justice in Dublin 8' (SJD8 #10), as a contribution to Maynooth University Social Justice Week 2022.

Sports are undeniably a huge part of Irish culture. Many communities are thriving through sports, as it brings people together, from different places and different backgrounds. This essay will mainly focus on soccer club Saint Patrick’s Athletic (St Pat’s) and their stadium Richmond Park to portray the effect a stadium and sports club has on the identity of an area. St Pat’s were founded in 1929 and have been in Richmond Park since 1930, over 90 years ago, making this club a major part of Inchicore. I will also briefly address the GAA history of Inchicore to compare the two sports and investigate how St Pat’s and other influences led soccer to be the main sport in the area.

Beginning with the origins of soccer in Ireland and the forming of St Pat’s and its distinctive sense of place to give an introduction, this essay will then focus on some key geographical aspects, with a focus on the landscape iconography of Richmond Park and how it makes the stadium special. Landscape iconography is the description and interpretation of images or symbols to explore social relations, cultural meaning, and political-economic power (Hoelscher, 2009; for a historic application of landscape iconography, see Thiesen, SJD8 #4 ‘Dublin’s Garden Cemeteries’). This essay will also address places of memory and place naming in relation to the stadium to consider the importance of sports clubs for people’s attachments to place and identity within communities. In addition to the focus on soccer, I mention some historical GAA clubs and locations to address sports as part of Inchicore’s heritage. I will discuss how each sport grew within Inchicore and examine their importance in the moulding of the Inchicore sports community of today.

Soccer in Inchicore

The first instances of soccer in Ireland can be traced back to 1878 – brought back from Scotland by Belfast man John McAlery, who, while on his honeymoon in Scotland, saw his first organised soccer match. Fast forward to 1883, the year in which the first clubs in Dublin began to form. Clenet (2021: 807) states that the true origins of Dublin soccer come from Bohemian, Britannia, and Montpelier, all of which were formed in the late nineteenth century, with many influential members behind the foundation of these clubs, coming from Belfast. These clubs, alongside a couple others aided the formation of the Irish Football Association (IFA) in 1892. Therefore, soccer started gaining popularity and local boys began playing around the city centre and Dublin’s suburbs. 1900 was the year, according to Clenet (2021: 813) that ‘Inchicore schools fielded teams’; by 1902, 120 clubs were reported in the Dublin press (ibid).

In the early twentieth century, the involvement of Dublin schools in this ‘British game’ was rare, although, due to the positioning of the Richmond Barracks (British Army Barracks) in Inchicore, it was not too surprising the sport was picked up in the area. There were many Englishmen working in the area (see Keogh, SJD8 # 6 ‘Jobs for the Boys…’), many of whom played soccer. Indeed, ‘Richmond Athletic was the club of English-born gasfitters in the city’ (Clenet, 2021: 814). With the overall growth of soccer in Dublin, combined with the high amount of British working and living in Inchicore, the sport became popular. Although interesting to note, at the time, GAA was still trying to find its feet and introduced ‘The Ban’ or ‘Rule 27’ which prohibited GAA members from playing or watching ‘foreign games’, including soccer (Harrington, 2021). As soccer was gaining popularity, it was a choice for many sportsmen to play or watch GAA or soccer. The influence of British workmates and school friends may have been the cause for further expansion of the sport in Inchicore, leading us to the creation of one of Ireland’s greatest ever soccer clubs.

As for the selection of names, there had been several previous local clubs named after Saint Patrick or Richmond, prior to the final creation of the ‘true’ Saint Patrick’s Athletic in 1929 (Looney, 2019a). ‘Naming is a powerful vehicle for promoting identification with the past and locating oneself within wider networks of memory’ (Alderman, 2008: 196). Richmond Park can be found today on Emmet Road, just north of the Richmond Barracks. The name of the stadium encapsulates the history and place of soccer within Inchicore. Previously used by the troops in the Barracks as a recreational area, with soccer being played from 1891 (Looney, 2019b), Richmond Park was named after the Richmond Barracks, which were named by the British government after Charles Lennox, the 4th Duke of Richmond. I believe the name was kept due to a powerful British influence on the soccer scene in the area, as soccer was viewed as a British game at the time of St Pat’s formation. Interesting to note, that the Richmond Barracks gained an alternative name at the time of the Irish Free State in 1922, changing to Keogh Barracks, but Richmond Park kept its name, which I assume is due to this stadium carrying on the tradition of a sport that was dubbed as a ‘garrison game’ and a ‘foreign sport’. From Alderman (2008: 196), place names are ‘symbolic monuments’ in that they ‘greatly influence public memory’. The fact there was no recorded attempt to rename the stadium, represents the importance of this name and the effort to salvage the memories attached to Richmond Park.

Saint Patrick’s Athletic Club and Richmond Park

Bale (2000: 91) mentions that ‘[p]rofessional football clubs represent places large and small’, and the forming of St Pat’s has helped form the identity of Inchicore’s sporting community. A member of the St Pat’s’ supporters’ group, Cian Lanigan, when asked about the possibility of St Pat’s leaving Richmond Park, stated: ‘I’m not sure how to explain it without sounding like a lunatic, but Pat’s is Inchicore and Inchicore is Pat’s’ (quoted in Manning, 2016: np). Lanigan’s response is not entirely surprising. As Kearns (2021) discusses, sports clubs are among the various social institutions, such as churches and political parties, which, through neighbourliness and public mingling, form the basis of communities to be made within cities.

St Pat’s has become an important place in Inchicore. It has had a huge influence for many people seeking to become part of a community in Inchicore. Till (2004: 291) defines ‘places as centers of meaning, memory, and experience for individuals and groups’. In the past and present, this club and its stadium have come to mean so much to many St Pat’s fans, offering positive experiences and memories, and a sense of belonging, which in turn has created a strong sense of community. For example, one man who didn’t consider himself to be ‘the biggest’ of St Pat’s fans nonetheless explained how ‘there is always a buzz around the area when the team are involved in an important fixture’ (quoted in Manning, 2016, np). His and Lanigan’s quotes indicate the power of place held by this club and stadium in the community, and support the idea from Shobe (2008: 89), ‘that teams and clubs are expected to represent specific places and groups of people’.

To some people, perhaps uninterested in sport, Richmond Park may be viewed as just a place where soccer is played, but to St Pat’s fans and many travelling away fans who have visited, they understand the pivotal role the stadium plays in giving them a sense of place within the Inchicore community. According to Foote and Azaryahu (2009: 96), a ‘sense of place refers to emotive bonds and attachments people develop or experience in particular locations and environments’. The situation of a soccer club in an area has a major effect on the community it represents. The importance of a stadium within an area is explored by Bale (2000), who discusses the financial and psychological benefits many locals get from the situation of a stadium.  The club provides benefits such as revenues generated from the club and ‘psychic income’ generated by the success or even presence of the club on the well-being of at least some of the population (Bale, 2000: 92). In addition, a club and stadium also embody a neighbourhood or part of town in many ways, as evidenced by media coverage of outcomes of sporting events as being either ‘good news’ or ‘bad news’ for the area and not only the club, portraying how the club connects with place and identity.

Richmond Park also has become an important place of memory, for different reasons, for residents and guests to Inchicore. Till (2004: 291) discusses how places of memory are ‘more than monumental stages or sites of important national events. They also constitute historical meanings, social relations and power relations’. The stadium is undoubtedly the most important sport landmark within the area and is visited regularly by many people, either individually or in groups. Fans immerse themselves passionately in a club they love collectively, experiencing and creating memories supporting St Pat’s, cherishing this club and their stadium.

It is important to address the landscape iconography of a place like Richmond Park. Adding to the earlier description of landscape iconography, Hoelscher (2009: 137) states that: ‘[j]ust as a painting, a map, or a photograph may serve as a symbolic representation, so too can the built environment’. Focusing on the built environment, the stadium is located on a busy Dublin road, hidden behind houses/shops. It blends right into the everyday landscape, which feels purposeful as if it is deeply embedded into Inchicore. From the street, you can’t see the stadium, as the pitch is located below the level of Emmet Road. Only upon entering do you see the fields and stands, which makes the stadium feel private, as though entering an exclusive place for the St Pat’s fans only. The entrance is right beside a local pub named the Richmond House. The placing of this pub insinuates connections with the stadium, portraying the effect a stadium of such stature can have on the local community, giving chances for local entrepreneurs to benefit (compare Bale, 2000). Figures 1 and 2 offer an aerial view of Richmond Park. The spatial presence of this stadium, which, together with its positioning in the middle of other landmarks within Kilmainham, including the Gaol, the Barracks, the rail works and St Michael’s Church, is indicative of the importance of this stadium within the area.

Figure 1 (left). Aerial view of Richmond Park, hidden behind houses. Source: Fallon, J. (2018). Figure 2 (right). Richmond Park situated on a map of Inchicore. Source: Google Maps.

Focusing on the art-based iconography surrounding Richmond Park, there are three murals in particular that I wanted to interpret, with the initial two pictured in Figures 3 and 4 below. These two pieces have a clear emotional connection to the club and stadium. Each piece of art has a special St Pat’s slogan/motto on them: ‘Once a saint, always a saint’ and ‘Ni neart go cur le chéile’ (translating to ‘There’s no strength without unity’). To the fans, these mottos are more than a catchy slogan, as I discuss below. The painting of both, right outside the stadium, illustrates how special a place Richmond Park is to the fans.

Figure 3. Mural and local pub at entrance to Richmond Park. Source: Coll, S. and Stephens, A. (2021, np).
Figure 4. Artwork outside ticket office at Richmond Park. Source: St Patrick’s Athletic FC Twitter Page (2019).

In the first piece (Figure 3), you can see the silhouette of what I believe to be a child, with a ball in their hand and the St Pat’s scarf around their neck. This figure, akin to the motto, perhaps symbolizes how St Pat’s is a club that sticks with you from an early age, passed down through families in a never-ending cycle, giving many a sense of identity. Echoed around Facebook and Twitter pages by St Pat’s fans, ‘Once a saint, always a saint’ is a motto that shows their love and support for the club. The slogan even appears on the death notices of fans on the St Pat’s website, insinuating a special connection, a way for fans to belong even after death. The second piece (Figure 4), with a traditional Irish phrase, associates St Pat’s with a strong sense of national identity. Under this, all the different crests of St Pat’s throughout the years are depicted. When you take the quote together with the different crests, I believe this represents the hardships and battles that have been fought and conquered by St Pat’s. Each crest refers to different challenges that have been overcome and memories that have been created, to create the club adored by much of the community today. In my mind, this image also sends a ‘Thank You’ to everyone involved with the club, who showed strength with support and unity throughout the years.

The third mural I wanted to focus on depicts Paul McGrath, who, in a tribute dedicated to the soccer player, was dubbed as ‘The Black Pearl of Inchicore’ by O’Leary (2014). This mural is situated a mere few hundred yards from the entrance of the stadium, painted on an electrical box, as pictured below (Figure 5). McGrath is seen, painted in his Irish jersey, outside the St Pat’s stadium, again connecting national identity with the club, which can be interpreted as the club claiming this iconic ‘Irish’ legend.

Figure 5. Paul McGrath artwork in Inchicore. Source: Murphy, W. (2017).

Directly located just outside of Richmond Park, the placement of the McGrath artwork again addresses the importance of the stadium, as well as the legacy and memories the athlete created for fans, in Inchicore. McGrath’s first professional contract was with St. Pat’s in 1981, aged 21. Although he only spent a single year playing in Inchicore for Pat’s, in that year alone, he won the PFAI player of the year after which he was recruited to Manchester United. For this reason, McGrath holds a major place in many Pat’s’ fans’ hearts and memories, particularly those old enough to have seen him play. This is clear by the nickname of ‘The Black Pearl of Inchicore’ as well as the artwork. Moreover, in an article about St Pat’s (Figure 6), Seidodge (2015) calls attention to how Paul McGrath saved the club from financial extinction on three different occasions. First, there was the large transfer fee paid to St Pat’s, and second, as part of the transfer, Manchester United played against St Pat’s at Dalymount stadium, in which the receipts apparently were the ‘lifeline which kept the club afloat’. Finally, St Pat’s received a nice sum due to McGrath making his international debut. Therefore, not only did McGrath perform brilliantly for the year he was there, his successful career happened to keep Pat’s afloat, helping to create the St. Pat’s that is adored in Inchicore today and forever etching McGrath into St Pat’s memory as an icon.

Figure 6. Newspaper article about how McGrath may have saved St Pat’s on 3 occasions. Source: Seidodge (2015).

Returning to the park, once inside, particular characteristics make each stadium unique. Richmond Park was well known for it’s ‘Shed End’, as well as it’s sloping pitch. The pitch was fixed to create a level playing field between 1989-1993, with some fans claiming that before this was done, the pitch was almost two meters higher on one side, obviously making it extremely advantageous for the team playing down-hill. Both of these physical qualities created a unique environment contributing to the fans’ embodied memories of the stadium.

The Shed End is a special part of Richmond Park worth interpreting. Pat Dolan, the former footballer/manager of St Pat’s and more recently a sports analyst for RTÉ, when asked about the shed commented that: ‘The Shed is a place where I never felt like an outsider or different to anyone else. It was a place with a special energy and where you could be proud of who you were’ (quoted in Sneyd, 2020, np) (Figure 7). This is a powerful quote and portrays how the shed symbolized more than just being a part of the stadium, but a place associated with many memories of belonging to and supporting the team. The shed was originally formed using wooden beams from the nearby railway station (Off The Ball, 2021). According to Clenet (2021: 815), historically ‘Inchicore and St Patrick clubs sometimes held their meetings in the Inchicore Railway Institute as many of their members were then employed by the GSWR Company’ (see Keogh, SJD8 #6 ‘Jobs for the Boys…’). Sharing the Inchicore Railworks spaces and resources, such as the wooden beams, symbolized a strong relationship between the railway and soccer, which may have been a driving force in the adoption of soccer rather than GAA in Inchicore for those employed with the GSWR. Despite this beloved feature of the stadium, the shed was removed in 2020 due to safety reasons, a decision which was met with anger online from fans who felt that Richmond Park lost some of its character.

Figure 7. Fans within the ‘shed end’ in Richmond Park. Source: Sneyd, D. (2020).

GAA in Inchicore

Despite the importance of soccer in Inchicore, GAA remains the first major sport played in the area. After the formation of the Gaelic Athletic Association in 1884, GAA culture has been evident in every corner of the country and Inchicore was no different. The main club within the area was Saint Patrick’s GAA club, described by Ó’Broin (1999: 124) as ‘the most notable G.A.A team in the district and was founded in 1886.’ From 1890-1893, this club played games where Richmond Park lies today for a period of three years (ibid), suggesting possible connections with the two sports clubs. As aforementioned, there were several local soccer teams with a name linking to Saint Patrick’s prior to the foundation of the one we know today. Perhaps the owners possibly switched sports, or the name remained in the area, but I was unable to find evidence of this history. We do know that the GAA club initially played their games in Pond Field (also referred to as St. Patrick’s GAA field), which now is a soccer pitch behind the CIE Hall/Inchicore Sports and Social Club.

Two All-Ireland GAA Finals were played in the area, both in 1889, utilising the Saint Patrick’s GAA club’s pitches (Pond Field), emphasising the memories of an important club and pitch (Figure 8). As stated by Mhic Chonbhui (2017), there was an All-Ireland hurling final played between Tulla of Clare and Dublin’s own CJ Kickhams, on 3 November 1889. This was only the second All-Ireland Final and the first to be in Dublin according to McNally (2009). The Tulla club infamously ended up playing barefoot for this final, due to shenanigans from the night before, again the words of McNally (2009). In 2009, 120 years after, Pond Field played host to a game featuring Inchicore’s own Liffey Gaels camogie team. In a ‘nod to the original game’, both captains walked out barefoot. This was 120 years later and this action by the women’s team illustrates how important Pond Field is as an historic sports place in Inchicore, with intergenerational memories of the All-Ireland finals.

Figure 8. Passage about All-Ireland final in Inchicore. Source: Mhic Chonbhui (2017).

That wasn’t the only All-Ireland final in Inchicore that year. The second ever All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Final was also hosted in Inchicore, between Tipperary and Laois, on October 20th, 1889, with Tipperary coming out on top. From the words of Ó’Broin (1999: 128), this game was played in front of an attendance of about 2,000 people, which denotes the large interest in the sport within the area and further acknowledges my point of how sports can create a place for communities to grow.

Today, the Liffey Gaels GAA club continues to be an important part of the sports identity within Dublin 8 (between Inchicore/Ballyfermot) (Figure 9). Liffey Gaels were founded in 1951. Originally known as Rialto Gaels, the name Liffey Gaels came into effect in the early 1980s. Like St Pat’s, they have adult and underage teams, playing football, hurling, and camogie. Their clubhouse and pitch are located within a 15-minute walk of Richmond Park, on Sarsfield Road. Thinking spatially, the clubhouse is located on a busy road and takes up a large plot of land, like Richmond Park, and is visited regularly by many for matches and community events. In a 2014 article, titled ‘Liffey Gaels – GAA Bringing the community together!’, Kelly (2014) describes how he visited the Liffey Gaels 25th Anniversary Celebration and found it to be a great day out. He explains how families enjoyed a range of activities. Like Saint Patrick’s Athletic at Richmond Park, the Liffey Gaels on Sarsfield Road give many a sense of place and identity, and enhance the feeling of community by dosing many people in Inchicore with a love for sports. Sports clubs are a perfect example of how people make themselves at home through neigbourliness, mingling and invitation to various urban institutions (Kearns, 2021), as previously mentioned.

Figure 9: Map displaying locations of Liffey Gaels GAA club, the host of All-Ireland Finals ‘Pond Field’ and Richmond Park. Source: Google Maps.

Discovering a picture of St. Michael’s School hurling team from 1955 based in Keogh Square allowed me to further consider the history of Inchicore GAA (Figure 10). As I dug further, I found a quote from a book entitled Theo Give Us a Ball by Foley (2018: 13) that helped me interpret the image: ‘At St. Michael’s we played hurling and Gaelic but no soccer which was considered to be an English game then. If people knew you were playing soccer you would get a bit of stick.’ The quote indicates that there was a choice to play either soccer or GAA in school, which undoubtedly led to some segregation in Inchicore. The exclusion of this ‘English game’, could be interpreted to represent a deeper meaning, illustrating the power sport had in the creation of identity. Schools are another institution associated with identification and representation, and hence power relations, as discussed by Shobe (2008:89). Boys aged between 11-14 were the potential future population of sportsmen at St. Michael’s. The school considered the Irish game as important in moulding the cultural national identities of these students, hoping GAA could become the focus in Inchicore. The school itself was based in the old Richmond Barracks so this decision was also a sign of rebellion against ‘British’ traditions. Despite the fact that St Pat’s were playing soccer games in Richmond Park at the time, literally across the road from Keogh Square, this photograph and book demonstrate how strong GAA culture was in the area, just as it was across the whole of Ireland at the time.

Figure 10: The Hurling Team of St Michael’s School, Keogh Square, 1955. Source: Larkin, K. (2009).

Conclusion

Sports have been an omnipresent factor within the core of Inchicore for over a century. As I have suggested in this blog, St Pat’s soccer club has been central to shaping of the identity of Inchicore. The landscape iconography of Richmond Park and the surrounding area illustrates how this stadium is a pivotal place within the community and has been for almost a century. Historically, due to the overwhelming British culture within Inchicore, soccer proceeded to become the main source of sports within Inchicore. A club as big as St Pat’s, creates jobs, memories and friendships, all key to a healthy community. A stadium as big as Richmond Park provides the community with a sense of identity and place. In addition to soccer, the playing of the two All-Ireland finals and the history of local schools playing only GAA also signal to the importance of the GAA culture that was sweeping the country in the postwar years. More recently, the foundation of Liffey Gaels and their clubhouse and pitches within the area has created different places to express a local love for sports, through GAA, although the identity of Inchicore continues to be predominately associated with soccer.

— Dáire Cahill

Dáire Cahill is a Postgraduate Diploma student in the Department of Geography at Maynooth University. This blog post was developed from an essay for ‘GY607: Field School’ in Semester 1, 2021, taught by Professors Karen Till and Gerry Kearns.

Acknowledgements

Thank you to Professor Karen Till for the continuous help and suggestions throughout the process of taking this essay from an idea to a published piece of work. The whole class really appreciates the effort and time put in to create this excellent blog series. I would also like to thank Professor Gerry Kearns for his help and resources throughout the writing process, and who originally planted the seed for this essay idea.

References

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  1. […] SJD8 #10: Soccer and the Making of Place in Inchicore, Dáire Cahill, Postgraduate Diploma student in Geography […]

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