“Anybody who doesn’t return to Mountjoy is a job well done”

The Bohemian Foundation will lead the Ireland representation at an international 7-a-side football competition for reformed prisoners in the Netherlands next week.

The trip to Veenhuizen is the result of an evolving five-year relationship between Bohemians and Mountjoy Prison organised through the Foundation.

Bohs have been conducting regular training sessions for prisoners in Mountjoy since 2012.

Thomas Hynes, Community Director at Bohemians and co-founder of the Bohemian Foundation, explains how the relationship started.

Hynes said: “I was working with the Simon Community with St Pat’s (Institution for young offenders, which has since been amalgamated into the Mountjoy Prison Complex) in the area of alcohol and drug rehabilitation.

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“They found out I was involved with Bohemians and asked if the club could help out with bringing in players.

“I said we would see what we could do and over the last five years, it’s grown and grown. We’re in twice a week now.

“Through sport, they’re all on first-name terms, enjoying each other’s company. They can’t wait for Tuesdays and Thursdays to come.

“It relieves a lot of tension around the place and it helps show them there’s light of the end of the tunnel for them when they get out.

“We don’t just play football in the prison and leave it at that. We try to get them involved in local football when they are released – playing and coaching.

“The team that’s representing the Foundation and Ireland at next week’s competition are all people we’ve worked with over the past five years.

“We have nine guys travelling with us to the Netherlands – prisoners who have been released and who have not re-offended for a minimum of two years.”

Donnacha Walsh, Deputy Governor of Mounjoy Prison, adds: “I met Tommy five years ago and told him I’m an avid Cork City supporter.

“He told me about his involvement with Bohs and it started from there.

“It has had a very positive effect. Lads have left here and taken up playing football when they leave and have reintegrated into the community.

“Most importantly, they haven’t returned here. Anybody who doesn’t return to Mountjoy is a job well done.”

This season, it has been the turn of Bohemians first-team players Shane Supple and Oscar Brennan to volunteer their time on behalf of the Foundation.

They have conducted training sessions twice a week – on Tuesdays and Thursdays – for the past 3½ months.

Supple said: “It’s been good craic. We go in every week and we just try to let the lads play.

“They don’t get much time in the yard. They do have other bits to keep them going – work in the kitchen and stuff like that – but the lads say to us that it’s only really when we come in that they get an opportunity to go out and play.

“The more time they have out there is beneficial to them and their mental well-being. It’s a two-way thing too. They’ve taken an interest in us.

“They see our games on the telly, they see us on Soccer Republic.

“Every time you come in on a Tuesday, they’re either praising you or slagging you: ‘Jaysus Shane, that was some save’ or ‘Oscar, what were you doing there?’

“We all know these lads have done something bad. But maybe they’ve just made mistakes and want to rehabilitate themselves.

“The dynamic is interesting, there hasn’t been a bad tackle!

“Hopefully we can play a small part in how they view where they want to be when they get out.

“It’s been going for a number of years now – the lads going over to the tournament in Holland haven’t re-offended.

“In two years’ time, if some of the lads we’ve been involved with in training and coaching this year are in the same position, then it’s been a success.

“It’s small margins, but that’s what it’s all about.”

Brennan, in his first season at Dalymount Park, is studying sports and leisure management at UCD.

He was keen for his college placement to tie in with the work being done by the Foundation.

Brennan has volunteered in a number of areas with the Foundation, including working with YouthReach as well as conducting walking football sessions with people with mental and physical disabilities.

But he was particularly keen to work with Mountjoy Prison and he too is encouraged by the progress made by prisoners over the course of his short time dealing with them.

Brennan said: “I was eager to go in, I wanted to see what it was like and see what way I could help and luckily enough I got the opportunity to do so.

“When we went in first, a lot of the lads didn’t know each other’s names.

“From what I’ve seen, it’s hard to go up when you’re a prisoner and introduce yourself to other lads inside.

“It was a great way of breaking down barriers. Now you can see they’re all socialising with each other. It’s more of a community.”

Last Saturday, the prisoners and the Bohemian Foundation went head-to-head for the Conway Cup, a trophy donated by family of Bohemians members in honour of their father Jimmy Conway Snr.

The Foundation team edged the now-annual game 8-6. The match was attended by the Lord Mayor of Dublin Mícheál Mac Donncha, who was also on hand to present the trophy and medals to both teams at the post-match reception.

Hynes said: “The Conway Cup cemented our relationship with the prison. It gave the prisoners something to look forward to every year.

“But this is the first year it’s been so close, Shane and Oscar must be doing something right in the coaching sessions!”

Having enjoyed the Conway Cup in the Mountjoy training yard, now the prisoners are looking forward to going one step further – playing under lights at Dalymount Park for the Foundation Cup.

Hynes added: “At the end of Bohs’ season, we bring up about 15 prisoners who are on day-release to play a football game against a Foundation team for the Foundation Cup, which has been sponsored by Denis Cruise, who also sponsored the medals on Saturday.

“We play at 5 o’clock so they get to play under the floodlights.

“How that came about was because when I used to come into the prison first, the lads would say to me ‘that sounded like a great match on Friday’ and I couldn’t understand how they knew.

“But from some of the cells, they could see the floodlights on from Dalymount and hear the roar of the crowd.

“It’d nearly break your heart. So I thought we had to do something, so when some of these guys were on day release I said ‘would you like to come up to Dalymount?’

“Through the Prison Service and through Governor Walsh, we organise for the day-release of 15 prisoners, under escort, up to Dalymount.

“Their families aren’t even told when we’re having it. It’s fully behind closed doors but we get a Foundation team out to play them and hopefully give them something to aspire to.”

Luke O’Riordan, Public Relations Director, Bohemian FC

Photos by Stephen Burke

BECOME A FRIEND OF THE BOHEMIAN FOUNDATION

To enable the Foundation to plan with confidence and extend its reach, further funds are required.

We appeal to you to join us as a Friend of the Bohemian Foundation for €10 a per year. We will email you our updates on at least a twice-yearly basis to keep you informed of our plans and progress.

YOU CAN DONATE BY

Posting a cheque, bank draft or postal order made payable to the Bohemian Foundation to: The Bohemian Foundation, Dalymount Park, Dublin 7, D07YXWO. Remember to left us know your email address so we can send you our updates.

Donate by bank transfer: Bank of Ireland, Phibsborough, Dublin 7. BIC: BOFIIE2D. IBAN: IE80BOFI90062356161655. If you make a transfer, please let us know by emailing foundation@bohemians.ie.

 

 

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The remarkable life of Bohs captain William H. Otto

The 1923-24 season was to signal the first of Bohemian Football Club’s 11 League of Ireland title wins. That maiden title was captured in the penultimate game of the season, a 2-1 victory over St. James’s Gate in Dalymount. The goals that day came from English-born centre forward Dave Roberts and Dubliner Christy Robinson at inside-left. Between them they would score 32 of the Bohs’ 56 goals that season, with Roberts finishing as the League’s top marksman with 20. But while strikers tend to get the glory this maiden victory was of course a team effort. A number of those league winning Bohs players were selected for the Irish squad that travelled to the 1924 Olympics. Men like full-back Bertie Kerr, Paddy O’Kane, Jack McCarthy, Ned Brooks and Johnny Murray would win caps for Ireland and are still remembered for their contributions for the club. However, one man who was central to those achievements but leaves less of a trace is William Henry Otto, the versatile Bohemians half-back, better known as Billy, who captained the team.

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Finding Billy

Anyone who has ever trawled through Irish newspaper archives or through any number of online census returns or genealogy sites will appreciate the difficulty in trying to track down a relative from the distant past. Particularly if that relative has a rather common surname, without having the specifics to hand working out if that John O’Sullivan or that Mary Byrne is your ancestor can be a thankless task. It is for some of these reasons that researching someone with the surname Otto in 1920’s Ireland is that bit more intriguing. However detail on the life of Billy Otto of Bohemian Football Club initially proved illusive and as his story developed it brought me on quite an unexpected journey.

What we know about Billy Otto begins with his birth in December of 1898, son of another William Henry Otto, in Robben Island just off Cape Town, South Africa. Robben Island is most famous for being the island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years from the 1960’s to 1980’s. However in 1898 it was a leper colony. William Henry Otto Snr. was a pharmacist which explains his presence on the island, though it was hardly the ideal place for a new born baby as part of the growing family. Billy being the 2nd born of a large family of 10 children.

In 1915, before he had even reached his 17th birthday young Billy had volunteered to join the 1st South African Infantry Regiment and was off to fight in World War I under the command of Brigadier General Henry Lukin. The Regiment was part of the South African Overseas Expeditionary Force which was a volunteer military organisation that fought on the British side against the Central Powers during the war. Billy’s regiment was colloquially known as the “Cape Regiment” as this was the area that provided the bulk of their manpower.

Early on the regiment fought along with the British in North Africa and was Billy was involved in the Action of Agagia in Egypt in February 1916 as part of what was known as the Senussi campaign. The Senussi were a religious sect based in Libya and Egypt who had been encouraged by Ottoman Turkey to attack the British. The engagement at Agagia led to the capture of one of the Senussi leaders.

But by May 1916 the 1st South African Infantry had left Africa and had been transferred Europe and the Western Front and were joined into the 9th Scottish Division. They would take part in some of the many epic and bloody engagements of the Battle of the Somme at Longueval and at Delville Wood. Brigadier-General Henry Lukin and his South African troops were ordered to take and hold Delville Wood at all costs. The battle was for a tiny and ultimately insignificant sliver of land as part of the huge Somme offensive and began on 15th July of 1916. By the 18th of July Billy had been injured in a massive German counter-offensive, the Germans shelled the small section of the Wood for seven and a half hours and over the course of day, in an area less than one square mile, 20,000 shells fell. In one account the trees of the woodland were all turned to matchsticks by the end of the bombardment.

The South African soldiers would continue to be shelled and sniped at from three sides until the July 20th when suffering from hunger, thirst and exhaustion they were led out of the wood. The Battle of Deville Wood would be the most costly action that the South African forces on the Western Front, of the 3,153 men from the brigade who entered the wood, only 780 were present at the roll call after their relief.

The injured Billy would ultimately be sent to England to recuperate and it is likely that from here he got the idea to travel to Ireland. What prompted this we simply don’t yet know.

What we do know is that Billy appears first as a sportsman for Bohemians in 1920, and featured regularly from 1921 as Bohemians competed in the first season of the newly formed Free State League. Billy usually played in a half-back (midfield) position in the team though did he feature in a number of other roles and proved an occasional goal-getter.

In April 1923 he features in the Bohemian XI that take on touring French side CAP Gallia in Dalymount, in what was the first visit by a continental side to Ireland since the split with the IFA. In late December 1923 Otto captained the Bohs side that travelled to Belfast to take on Linfield. Bohs won the game 4-2 in one of the first matches played against northern opposition since the split. He was then part of a selection under the Shelbourne banner (a composite side made up from several clubs) that took on members of the 1924 Olympic football team in a warm up game prior to their departure for Paris. Here he featured against his regular midfield teammates John Thomas and Johnny Murray.

Other prominent games were to follow in 1924, rather appropriately for Billy Bohemians took on the South African national team as the debut game on their European Tour. Billy once again captained Bohs as the South Africans ran out 4-2 winners. Tantalisingly the Pathé news cameras were at the ground that day and recorded some of the footage of the game and the teams posing before the match. As captain it is Billy we see receiving a piece of South African art from his opposite number. Tall, slim and dark-haired Billy would have been around 26 years of age when this footage was shot.

Billy was Bohemian captain for the 1923-24 season, a time of progress for the club as they were crowned League champions and Shield winners that year with the club also finishing as League runners-up the following year, he would also become a member of the club committee. He continued as a regular team member through to the first half of 1927 when he disappears from the match reports of the club. We know that during his time in Dublin he more than likely worked for the the revenue service as we know he lined out for them as a footballer in the Civil Service League around the same time that he was on the books of Bohemians. This wasn’t too unusual as a number of Billy’s other team-mates would have also been civil servants (i.e. Harry Willitts) at what was then still a strictly amateur club.

Billy sets sail

While Billy Otto might have been finishing up at Bohemians he was about to begin another chapter of his life. On the 24th November 1927 he boarded the steamship Bendigo (shown above) on the London docks bound for a return to Cape Town, South Africa. Billy was by this stage 29 years of age and listed his residence as the Irish Free State, more specifically at 28 Hollybank Road in Drumcondra. On the ship’s passenger list the stated country of his future residence was South Africa and his profession was recorded as bloodstock. There is a possible Bohemian connection here as one of Billy’s former teammates, Bertie Kerr was already by this stage and established bloodstock agent who would go on to purchase and sell four Aintree Grand National winners.

Billy and Bertie were known to be good friends outside of football. Is it possible that the Kerr family may have introduced Otto to the business? Perhaps, although there is strong evidence that there may have been a familial connection. Billy’s brother Johnny was a champion jockey in South Africa and later worked as a steward at the Jockey club.

In his personal life it must have been during his time living in Drumcondra that Billy was to meet his future wife Christine. Born Christina Quigley in Dalkey on 8th December 1900 to a Policeman; Thomas, and a housewife, Maryanne, by the 1911 census Christine was living on St. Patrick’s Road in Drumcondra. She is not listed as a passenger on Billy’s 1927 voyage and they did not marry in Ireland. However, we know that they did indeed get married and had three sons, tying the knot in December 1929 in St. Mary’s Cathedral in Cape Town. Records show that she had travelled to South Africa via Mozambique aboard the SS Grantully Castle just one month earlier. Christine Otto (nee Quigley) did make return visits to Ireland later in her life. She came back to Dublin via Southampton for a visit in 1950, the stated destination for her visit was to 25 Hollybank Road.

Billy departs

In March 1958 a small obituary in the Irish Times noted the passing on the 13th of that month of William H (Billy) Otto at his residence of Wingfield on the Algarkirk Road, Seapoint, Cape Town. “Beloved husband of Chriss (Quigley) late of Drumcondra, Dublin. Deeply mourned by his three sons and members of the Bohemian Football Club”. Billy’s passing occured within a week of the deaths of two other team-mates, Ned Brooks and Jack McCarthy, from that same championship winning team. Christine remained in South Africa though she is listed as returning again to Ireland in 1960, two years after Billy’s death. The address that she was to stay at for an intended 12 months was, on this occasion, in Foxrock, Dublin.

Billy had lived out his days in his native Cape Town, he and Chriss had three sons, another William Henry, Brian Barry and Terrence John. Whatever about his interest in bloodstock and horse racing Billy also had other business interests running an off-licence (locally known as “bottle stores”) up to the time of his death in 1958. In just 60 years he had led quite the life and defied the odds in many ways. Born in a leper colony, as a teenager he had survived the horrors of the Somme to go on and become one of the first prominent South African born footballers in Europe. He captained his club to a League title and faced off against the national team of his home nation in one of their earliest games. He built a life, friendships and family across two continents and I hope I’ve done a small part in restoring him to the consciousness of the Bohemian fraternity.

With thanks to Simon O’Gorman and Stephen Burke for their assistance and input and a special thank you to Maryanne and all of the Otto/Calitz family for sharing information about their late grandfather.

Check out Gerry Farrell’s “A Bohemian Sporting Life” blog.

Bendigo

BOHEMIANS AND BROTHERS IN ARMS – THE ROBINSONS

The great Bohemians team of the 1927-28 season is one that has rightly gone down in the annals as one of the finest sides in Irish football history; simply put they won everything there was to win, the League, the FAI cup, the Shield and the Leinster Senior Cup. An achievement all the more impressive when you remember that Bohs were strictly amateur at the time. Such was the confidence and camaraderie in the team that season that Jeremiah “Sam” Robinson, the tall, well-built and versatile half-back or full back, said that the Bohs players of that season never doubted that they would win any game, the only question was by how much. Sam was joined in that successful team by his older brother Christy, smaller and lighter than Sam, he was a tricky, skilful inside-left whose 12 goals had been crucial when Bohs won the league in 1923-24. He also holds the honour of scoring Bohemians first ever goal in the FAI Cup when he netted the first in a 7-1 win over Athlone Town in 1922.

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Free State Champions

HARRY WILLITS – THE DARLING OF DALYMOUNT

When Harry Willits finished his first season as Bohemian captain in spring 1916 he had other major responsibilities on his mind. He had joined the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in late 1915 “for the duration of the war” and soon he would be sent to the western front in France during the Battle of the Somme.

He had followed his friends and several Bohemian colleagues in signing up for the army. His choice was the Commercial Battalion of the Dublin Fusiliers, established to cater for young men of the “commercial class” and farmers.

Willits was not the military type, according to his daughter Audrey, still living in the family home aged 93. But English-born and a civil servant, he moved in circles where enlisting for military service would have been regarded as a matter of duty.

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Harry Willits

Bohemians at Easter 1916

In April 1916 Bohemians were coming to the end of a season disrupted by war, but in which they were rewarded yet again with the Leinster Senior Cup, their fifteenth win in twenty years. It took two attempts to secure the trophy from old rivals, Shelbourne. The first was on St Patrick’s Day, a scoreless draw watched by 6,000 spectators, the second on 1st April.

No Dublin clubs took part in the Irish League that season due to the war and several Bohemian players had enlisted with the army. But the club insisted that football should continue and they managed to maintain Dalymount Park as a playing pitch when some rugby and cricket grounds were taken over for relief works.

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Half-back Josh Rowe was with the East Surrey Regiment and was wounded many times. At the end of March he was reported to be returning to duty after convalescence and, it was said, “he hopes to play football again”. Full-back J.J. Doyle had joined the Officer Training Corps in early 1916 but got leave to play for Bohemians in the Irish Cup semi-final, which Bohemians lost to Glentoran in Belfast.

Also involved in that cup campaign was outside-left Harry Willits, who was team captain in 1915-16. An English-born civil servant, he played during 1916 both for the Royal Dublin Fusiliers’ regimental team and for Bohemians. By the start of the next season, however, he was at the war front with the Dublin Fusiliers and in November 1916 was reported as wounded. He survived and was back with Bohemians in 1917-18.

Bohemians’ squad in 1916, coached by the everlasting Charlie Harris, included two internationals, Billy McConnell and Johnny McDonnell, whose 1915 Irish shirt hangs today in the JJ Bar at Dalymount Park.
Others included regular goal-scorers Ned Brooks and Dinny Hannon, and defender Bert Kerr, who had joined in 1915 and was to have a notable career with Bohemians, including as team captain. He also had a remarkable career as a pioneer in the Irish bloodstock industry.

On Easter Monday 1916, a Bohemian team travelled to Athlone to play an end-of-season friendly, as they had done for several years. So friendly was it that McDonnell and Hannon played for Athlone, in a team that included several army officers. (Hannon later won the Free State Cup with Athlone Town.)

Neither team can have been aware of what was happening in Dublin as they played their game in bad weather (3-2 for Bohemians) and were later entertained at the Imperial Hotel and at a dance at the Commercial Quadrille Class. “The Bohemians expressed themselves highly pleased with their visit,” the Westmeath Independent reported.

However, the trip was to end less pleasantly for the Bohemian team. Due to the Rising, train services were disrupted from Mullingar, and they had to arrange car transport back to the capital.
Their late return was reported in the Irish Times among the repercussions of the Rising: “Some of the [Bohemian team] members who lived on the south side of the city had to stay in Phibsborough for the [Wednesday] night and, after walking via Islandbridge, Kilmainham, Goldenbridge, Rialto, Crumlin and Dolphin’s Barn, these did not get home until Friday (April 28), at 1.30 p.m.”

While the Bohemian party were concerned about getting back to the city from Athlone the rebels were worried about the arrival of British Army reinforcements from the same location. Many of the sites occupied by the rebels were chosen for their ability to delay the troops coming into the city, most notably the engagement with the Sherwood Foresters at Mount Street bridge.

In Phibsborough members of B Company of the Dublin Brigade built barricades on the railway bridges on the Cabra Road and North Circular Road close to St. Peter’s Church. They even went as far as to try and blow up both bridges with gelignite.

While B Company was able to hold off a number of attacks from small arms and machine gun-fire, the arrival of artillery onto the Cabra Road (outside what is now the Deaf Village) and the use of shrapnel-loaded shells raining down on the bridges just yards from Dalymount Park and as far down as Doyle’s Corner meant that the Volunteers could not hold their positions. A number of civilians were killed by over-shooting shells, while 15-year-old Fianna Éireann scout Shay Healy was shot dead outside his Phibsborough home.

The rebels eventually abandoned their positions hoping to link up with Thomas Ashe in Finglas but by the time they got there he and his men had already left for Meath and the Battle of Ashbourne. Many of B Company found their way back into the city and some joined the garrison in the GPO and then Moore Street.

While there is no record of Bohemians fighting with the 1916 rebels, some Bohemians did work in the British administration during that period. Highest-placed of these was founder member Andrew P. Magill. He was an 18-year-old clerk in the Land Commission when he attended the club’s first meeting, and later a clerk in the office of the Chief Secretary for Ireland. He rose to become private secretary to Chief Secretary Augustine Birrell, who resigned in May 1916 after failing to predict or take preventative action to stop the Rising. Magill later worked in the post-partition civil service of Northern Ireland.

While Magill was serving the Chief Secretary, fellow-Bohemian Joe Irons, an army reserve who was called up when World War 1 broke out, was posted to the Vice-Regal Lodge in Phoenix Park, to what is now Áras an Úachtaráin, to protect the Viceroy.

In later articles we will look further into the life and career of Harry Willits, report on other Bohemians who fought in World War 1, and tell the stories of some Bohemians who were IRA volunteers in the War of Independence.

Bohemians in Easter 1916
Website by Simon Alcock