In the Beginning

On Friday 6th August 1875 at a meeting held in ‘The Catholic Institute’ in St. Mary’s Street, Edinburgh (Now St. Mary’s Street Halls), Hibernian Football Club was founded by Canon Edward Joseph Hannan and Michael Whelehan.Canon Hannan was born on 21st June 1836 in Ballingarry, Co. Limerick and he arrived in Edinburgh in August 1861 to take up position at St. Patrick’s Church.index

The Cowgate area where the Church was situated had become known locally as “Little Ireland” due to the large number of Irish immigrants living in the area.  His Uncle was Monsignor Richard B. O’Brien, who founded the Catholic Young Men’s Society (CYMS) in Ireland in 1849.

Canon Hannan followed this tradition by forming the same Society at St. Joseph’s Hall,  Horse Wynd, Edinburgh on 5thOctober 1865.

Michael Whelehan was born in Kilglass, Co. Rosscommon in 1854 and came to Edinburgh as a 4 year old, where he joined St. Patrick’s Parish and in later years joined the CYMS. Along with other friends, he took to playing and watching football at the Meadows, but was rejected from playing with clubs due to the fact that he was an Irish Catholic. At this time there was a much anti Irish feeling in Edinburgh.

At the foundation of Hibernian, Canon Hannan was elected Life President and Michael Whelehan was made Captain.

Membership was exclusively for members of the CYMS and meetings were held in the Catholic Institute (A copy of the CYMS Minutes Book will be added here shortly). Failure to attend Mass meant exclusion from playing. The Club was set up as a charitable institution and over the years carried out some wonderful work for the poor people of all denominations.

Football was played in the Meadows and when the Club applied to join the Edinburgh Football Association, the Club were informed that they must first apply to Scottish Football Association, who in turn informed the Club that they only catered for Scotsmen and that Irish were not permitted. In 1876, Hibernian Football Club were finally admitted to the Edinburgh FA and after playing at numerous venues, land was acquired for the first Hibernian Park, which was situated where Bothwell Street now stands.

For the opening of the new ground, the Club acquired turf from Magherclogher, West Donegal, Ireland. It was from this area that many residents of ‘Little Ireland’ had hailed from, hence our little piece of Ireland came to us.

After winning numerous Cups and enjoying much success, Hibernian won the Scottish Cup in 1887 and this victory gave Brother Walfrid the idea to form Celtic Football Club based in Glasgow. Unfortunately, John Glass became involved in the running of the new Club with two ideas; to make money and for the demise of Hibernian Football Club.

The Club lost many players to professionalism at this time since the Club was still amateur and funding went to help with the poor.

Canon Hannan sadly passed away on 24th June 1891, (his brother Father Joseph was at his bedside) and he was buried at the Grange Cemetery on Friday 26th, leaving behind more troubles for his beloved Hibernian. But that is another story!!

Written by Gordon McCabe

Canon Edward Joseph Hannan:

Father Edward Joseph Hannan, co-founder of Hibernian Football Club, was born in 1836 in the village of Ballingarry, Co. Limerick. In September 1855, the 19 year old Edward went to the college of All Hallows, Drumcondra.

After 5 more years study, Edward was ordained Priest on 13th May 1860. Father Hannan’s studies continued and as he had such a brilliant mind, especially as an educationalist, he was appointed Professor of Classics.

Taking a break from his studies, Father Hannan came to Scotland for a short holiday and by chance met Bishop Gillis who administered the Eastern District of Scotland. The Bishop instantly recognised Father Hannan’s outstanding qualities and asked him to become affiliated to Edinburgh when his studies were complete.

Bishop Gillis outlined the immense problems of his flock in Little Ireland and Father Hannan immediately and without any reservations agreed to serve in Edinburgh; his life and destiny were sealed.

How Bishop Gillis saw Father Hannan, the brilliant, sensitive professor, as the answer to Little Ireland’s problems, God alone knows. Likewise, why Father Hannan so readily agreed to work in such surroundings, for which he appeared to be so ill equipped, is also a mystery.

Father Hannan arrived in Edinburgh on 17th August 1861, 25 years old. He stayed at St. Mary’s, Broughton Street, for a six-week familiarisation period, during which time he was taken by Father William Smith on tours of Little Ireland.

Father Hannan was disturbed by the obvious separation that existed in Edinburgh, between the Irish exiles and most of rest of the Scottish population.

He was convinced that, after spiritual needs, the only road to acceptance into mainstream Edinburgh life was through education and the acquisition of social skills.

In October 1861, Father Hannan was officially appointed to St. Patrick’s, and the Professor of Classics started at the very bottom of the ladder as a junior curate, the beginning of a long association with the exiles of Little Ireland.

Recognising that it was young men who were most susceptible to being led astray by the vices that were prevalent in Little Ireland, he decided to tackle the problem by opening a branch of the Catholic Young Men’s Society.

It was Father Hannan’s uncle, the Right Reverend Monsignor Richard B O’Brien DD VG, Dean of Limerick, who had founded the Catholic Young Men’s Society in Ireland in 1849.

The aim of the CYMS was to uplift young men, and the means used were prayer, religious practice, education and social activities. Premises had to be acquired to establish libraries, lectures, reading rooms and recreational activities.

All party politics were forbidden at member’s meetings. The CYMS flourished in Ireland and spread to England and Wales, and in Scotland there were already branches in Dumbarton and Dundee.

Father Hannan worked hard among his parishioners to establish a St. Patrick’s Branch of the CYMS and the idea was well received. Soon he was able to invite his uncle, Dean O’Brien, over to Edinburgh to officially open the St. Patrick’s branch.

Commissioned by a group of Hibernian Supporters, a Bronze Bust of Canon Hannan was donated to the Club and proudly resides in the Club’s West Stand Reception.

Canon Hannan died on the 24th June 1891, at the age of 55, after being stricken with pneumonia following a severe bout of influenza. This took place on Sunday 5th October 1865 in the CYMS rooms in St. Joseph’s Hall in Horse Wynd off the Cowgate.


His funeral took place on Friday, 26th June 1891 and after the Requiem Mass, the coffin was carried by members of St. Patrick’s CYMS to the hearse on the High Street, which then proceeded to the Grange Cemetery in a procession which numbered 2,000 with many thousands more lining the route.

A group of St. Patrick’s School pupils with Father Edward Joseph Hannan (later to become Canon Hannan). The boy in the back row (2nd from the right) is Barney Finn the Grandfather of Barney Igoe and Great Grandfather of Rab Henderson, both of whom are members of the St. Patrick’s Hibernian Supporters’ Branch.

Michael Whelahan:

1876 Michael Whelehan Michael Whelahan (The 1st Captain of Hibernian) 1876

In terms of the founding of Hibernian Football Club, Father Hannan was one half of the partnership that was to bring this about. The second half, was one Michael Whelahan, aged twenty‑one years old and who, like most young men in Little Ireland at that time, was a member of St. Patrick’s CYMS.

Michael Whelahan was born in Kilglass, Co. Rosscommon, Ireland, in 1854. The Whelahan family was typical among those living in the Western province of Connaught at that time. They scratched a meager existence from the soil. The great famine had traumatic effects on peasant families like the Whelahans, as their communities were decimated and their folk customs, pastimes and Gaelic language lapsed with the increased need to speak English.

Like over a million others in their position, the only option for the Whelahan family was to emigrate, or rather be exiled, as they had no wish to leave Ireland. They made their way to Edinburgh where a relative was already living. They put together enough pennies for the ferry to Glasgow but had to walk from there to Edinburgh.

In the spring of 1875, Michael Whelahan and two of his friends from St. Patrick s CYMS were watching the increasingly popular game of football being played on Edinburgh’s Meadows.

Michael’s friends, Malachy Byrne and Andy Hughes, had already played a couple of games for a street team called White Star but this did not last long when it was discovered they were Irish Catholics. It was as Michael Whelahan watched the exciting football scene before him that he resolved that the CYMS should have their own football club instead of standing on the sidelines as was they usually did.

Father Hannan held the key of course, as he had to endorse all their activities, ensuring that they were appropriate. Michael decided to speak to the popular priest.

Father Hannan listened to Michael Whelahan’s idea with great interest, as sporting recreation had always been a cornerstone of his vision of developing fully rounded and worthy citizens from Little Ireland. He was well aware of the popularity of football and promised Michael that he would enquire about it’s organisation both locally and nationally.

Father Hannan’s inquiries were favourable, and so it was decided that he and Michael would put forward the proposal to form a football club at the next full meeting of the CYMS in St. Mary’s Street Halls, to see if it was carried democratically.

The meeting voted unanimously in favour of the proposal with such infectious enthusiasm that Father Hannan agreed to assist Michael Whelahan in making all the necessary arrangements for the football club to become a reality.

The next thing to consider, was the football club’s colours, crest, motto and of course name.

For Irish nationalists, the first three were easy. The colours would be green, the crest would be the Harp and the motto the Gaelic Erin Go Bragh (Ireland for Ever).

Giving St. Patrick’s CYMS football club a name, however, proved much more difficult, and protracted discussions were entered into. Father Hannan proposed the obvious name, the Catholic Young Men’s Society Football Club, and although appropriate, it was generally agreed it was just too long‑winded.

St. Patrick’s F.C. was thought to be disrespectful to Ireland’s patron saint, and other suggestions that were rejected included Harp, Shamrock, Emerald and Celtic. The Club was almost named Young Ireland, but Michael Whelahan asked for more time to think about it, since his enthusiasm for the football club dictated that it should have a very special name.

Michael went to St. Patrick’s Church to pray for inspiration and it was there he remembered that the fiercely Catholic Ancient Order of Hibernian’s secret society had been absorbed into the CYMS many years before.

Hibernian was the old Roman Latin word for Irishman. There and then, the Hibernian Football Club was born, the Edinburgh Irishmen.

St. Patrick’s Hibernian Supporters Branch

On Saturday 1st May 2010, St. Patrick’s Hibernian Supporters’ Branch was founded, with the aim of keeping the historic name of St. Patrick’s, the founders and original home of Hibernian Football Club, as the Supporters’ voice and link to the Club.

St. Patrick’s Branch became officially affiliated to the Hibernian Supporters’ Club on 2nd September 2010.

Original Players and Staff

A list of Hibernians original players can be found on the link below. Interestingly all these players addresses are within a very small area as shown on the below map.




There is a strange theory about our beginnings held by people whom propose themselves to be ‘historians’ of the club. The theory is that Hibernian were not founded by Canon Hannan and that our name was derived from the ‘Hibernian Bar’ which was located in the Cowgate. This pub in fact, did not open until many years later!

Thanks to Gordon McCabe, Brian Cunnison and to everyone else who has provided articles for this section.

The “Canon Hannan & M. Whelahan” piece was adapted from Alan Lugton’s 1st book in the Trilogy – The Making of Hibernian.

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