Two men key to the future formation of Hibernian Football Club, Edward Hannan and Michael Whelahan, meet for the first time as a result of the Catholic Young Men's Society opening a branch in St Patrick's Chruch.
At last, almost sixty years after they had first began to settle in the City of Edinburgh, the Irish immigrants had a focal point for their community, St Patrick's Church.
This focal point was to prove the key in the formation of Hibernian as, subsequently, Hibernian was itself to play an important part in the integration of the Irish immigrants as an accepted part of their adopted city.
History is littered with people of vision, a few individuals who in their own way step from the crowd to make a difference. The two men of Little Ireland who were to do so for their community were Father Edward Joseph Hannan and Michael Whelahan.
Edward Hannan was born in Ballingarry, Co. Limerick on 21st June 1836. The young alter-boy Hannan was interested in the Priesthood from an early age, and was subsequently regarded as a brilliant student at the St. Munchin Seminary in Limerick. He went on to the college of All Hallows in Drumcondra, Dublin where his uncle Dean Richard O'Brien was the principal, and after five years of study Edward was duly ordained on 13th May 1869. He continued his studies and was subsequently appointed as a professor of classics. It was during his studies that Father Hannan first arrived in Scotland on a brief holiday during which he had a chance meeting with Bishop Gillis, who administered the East of Scotland centred on Little Ireland.
Edward Hannan's Memorial
The Bishop spoke in detail of the problems faced by the parishioners of Little Ireland, and the result was that Father Hannan immediately agreed to serve in Edinburgh when he had completed his studies. True to his word, Father Hannan arrived in Edinburgh and was officially appointed in October 1861 to St Patrick's as a curate.
He immediately set about the task of improving the lot of the people of Little Ireland, and it was through an initiative started by his uncle, Monsignor Richard O'Brien the Dean of Limerick, that the new St Patrick's curate saw as the best opportunity to serve his new community. Monsignor O'Brien had founded the Catholic Young Men's Society some 12 years earlier in Ireland, with the aim of uplifting young men through prayer, religious practice, education and social activities.
Catholic Young Men's Society (CYMS)
The idea was one that his new parishioners liked, and the St Patrick's branch of the CYMS was officially opened by Dean O'Brien in October 1865. Within four years, the branch had already outgrown its premises and commissioned the building of new premises, the building to be known as the Catholic Institute but in the event known by popular demand as the St. Mary's Street Halls. Two years later, and Father Hannan was appointed as Priest in charge at St. Patrick's. At this time the population of Little Ireland had continued to grow but was still less than 10% of the total Edinburgh population. This was now a community that to a large extent consisted of citizens who were born and bred in Edinburgh, but still there remained a strong hostility towards the Irish community.
So it was that they remained an insular community, but that was certainly by necessity rather than choice. As happens with most immigrant groups in any part of the world to this day, the Irish were fiercely proud of their homeland and heritage, with the result that an entire sub-culture of Ireland had now developed in the centre of Edinburgh, and amazingly that was much to the complete ignorance of the rest of the population in Scotland's capital city.
Father Hannan knew that the future prosperity of the people of Little Ireland lay in their integration with and acceptance by the general community of Edinburgh. Quite how that could be achieved was another matter, it was now the 1870's and a full generation after the first permanent immigrants stepped over the boundaries of the city. Part of the answer to Father Hannan's dilemma came from a source that he had not perhaps even thought of, and it came through an approach from one of his own parishioners, one Michael Whelahan.
Michael was born in Kilglass, Co. Rosscommon in 1854, his family scratching a living from farming at a time when Irish farmers where at the mercy of absentee English landowners. When he was just four years old, the Whelahan family were evicted from their cottage, leaving them destitute, sadly a far from uncommon occurrence in Ireland at that time.
In effect the family were left with little choice but to leave Ireland, and so with a relative already living in Edinburgh that was their destination. Michael left school at just 10-years-old to work in a foundry, and it was around this time that he first came into contact with the St Patrick's CYMS and Father Edward Hannan.
It was a meeting that would ulitmately provide all the people of Edinburgh a football club to be proud of.
During his studies, Edward Hannan learns about the troubles and difficult conditions that Irish immigrants had to experience living in Edinburgh.
Hannan agrees to serve in Edinburgh, aiming to improve the lives of the 'Little Ireland' community. In October 1861 he is officially appointed to St Patrick's as a curate.
The St Patrick's branch of the Catholic Young Men's Society (CYMS) opens in 1865.
Father Hannan is later appointed as Priest in charge at St. Patrick's and knew that the future prosperity of the people of Little Ireland lay in their integration with and acceptance by the general community of Edinburgh.
Father Edward Hannan first comes into contact with Michael Whelahan at the CYMS.
Written as part of 'The Origins of Hibernian' series