Henry James Cannon was born on July 11, 1897, in Dungloe, the son of Thomas and Mary (nee Duffy) Cannon.
Thomas Cannon was a carpenter by trade and the family moved to Dublin shortly after the birth of Henry James, universally known as Harry.
Little is know about the family the Cannons left behind in Donegal.
However, it is known that Harry was a first cousin of Hugh Patrick O’Donnell, an Ardara man who died while a prisoner of war at in the hands of the Japanese in 1943. His brother, Harry O’Donnell, was also a wellknown Ardara and Donegal intercounty footballer.
In 1901, the Cannon family resided in Irishtown in Dublin. By 1911, they resided at the middle-class Herbert Place, Donnybrook, Dublin 4.
Prior to joining the army of the Irish Free State on 26 August 1922, Harry Cannon worked as a solicitor’s assistant. He enlisted in the Army Corps of Engineers and after two months at the rank of private, he was promoted to the rank of temporary 2nd Lieutenant on 23 October 1922 and was awarded the rank permanently in April 1923. In April 1924, he attained the rank of Lieutenant and became a Captain in October 1929.
He died in service on 18 March 1944.
Almost from the beginning, sport played a central role in the newly formed Irish Free State army and this was given formal recognition on 31 March 1923 with the formation of the Army Athletic Association (AAA). However, the agenda-driven organisation of army sport went far beyond the development of physical fitness and a sporting spirit. The army scheme was designed so that the soldiers could ‘secure plenty of variety in their athletic training without having recourse to (sports) other than Gaelic games.’ The variety of sports approved by the AAA was claimed to include almost anything that did not extend to soccer, rugby, cricket or hockey, the sports designated as ‘foreign’ by the GAA and which members of the organisation were forbidden to play or promote.
GAELIC AND HURLING
Harry Cannon was a prominent and active hurling and Gaelic football player when he joined the army in 1922.
In 1925, he ended his GAA career and began a lifelong association with Bohemians, the leading amateur soccer club in Dublin. When his playing career ended, he served the Bohemians club as honorary treasurer, vicepresident and committee member.
In the Leinster Cup final of 1926, Cannon was ‘a brilliant goalkeeper’ whose ‘sure fielding and a stylish manner of completing his clearances made his work good to watch.’ A few weeks later, he was again a brilliant performer in Bohemians 2-1 friendly victory over St Mirren, who fielded the team that had beaten Celtic FC in the Scottish cup final.
Opting to pursue a new career with Bohemians in the association code was a decision that required the greatest of moral courage. Soccer was a designated ‘foreign game’ by the apostles of the Irish-Ireland movement and officially excluded from the acceptable sporting pursuits appropriate for a soldier or officer of the Irish army.
Playing soccer with Bohemians considerably expanded Cannon’s sporting horizons. A year after joining the club, he was displaying his talents to a London audience as a member of the Bohemians team that played in friendly matches against London Caledonians and Tottenham Hotspurs. He captained Bohemians in the 1927/28 season, the finest in the club’s history, which ended in May 1928 when the club beat St James Gate 2-1 to win the FAIFS Shield competition and complete the grand slam of available senior titles for the only time in the club’s history.
THE IRISH FREE STATE AND INTERNATIONAL FOOTBALL
Harry Cannon’s good form for Bohemians earned him selection for the first international match played by the FAIFS. This match was organised by the FAIFS, which was established on 2 September 1921. Prior to this, football in Ireland was organised, promoted and managed by the Belfast-based Irish Football Association (IFA) established in 1880.
The break with the IFA took place prior to the partition of the country and was a product of political, organisational and cultural differences in how football was organised. In September 1923, the new football association achieved FIFA recognition and this entitled it to participate in international competition.
As one of the countries that supported the Irish application for FIFA membership, it was appropriate that Italy provided the opposition for the first international played in Turin on 21 March 1926. The selection was confined to the domestic league on this occasion. Cannon and the three other amateurs involved received inscribed gold medals to the value of three guineas to mark the occasion.
The match attracted an attendance of 12,000 and Harry Cannon and Frank Brady excelled as the Irish Free State were beaten 3-0. The players stopped off on the return journey in Paris where they played a friendly match against Cercle Athlequike de Paris under the name of the Irish Nomads on 24 March 1926. Harry Cannon made his second international appearance when he was a member of the Irish team that beat Belgium 42 in Liege on 12 February 1928. An attendance of 25,000 witnessed the Irish Free State’s first international victory. A Cannon penalty save was the first by an Irish goalkeeper in an international match.
HARRY CANNON: THE SPORTS ADMINISTRATOR
Cannon was introduced to the world of sports administration through the AAA and through this, he became involved in the Irish Amateur Boxing Association (IABA) which in turn introduced him to the Olympic movement in Ireland.
Cannon’s association with the Irish Olympic Council began in 1931.
He was one of the three high-powered officials of the IABA who combined with officials of the Irish Amateur Swimming Association (IASA) and the National Athletic and Cycling Association of Ireland (NACAI) and forced JJ Keane to re-engage with the Olympic Movement in Ireland.
On 26 August 1931, officials from the IABA, the NACAI and the IASA held a meeting, at which a general discussion on Olympic matters took place. It was decided to arrange a conference for the following week ‘for the purpose of carrying through arrangements for the Olympic Games of 1932.’
Those present went ahead and elected Eoin O’Duffy (President), Harry Cannon (Secretary) and H. F. Brennan (Treasurer) as the officers of the new committee.
THE GAMES OF THE XTH OLYMPIAD, LOS ANGELES, 1932
As honorary secretary, Harry Cannon was responsible for the day-today administration of the Irish Olympic Council and was a member of its standing committee established in November 1931.
Cannon was present at all eight council meetings held during the Los Angeles cycle and his chief responsibilities were co-ordinating fund-raising, finalising transport arrangements, entering competitors and communicating with the Los Angeles Organising Committee. At a council meeting on 28 June, he was given an additional responsibility when he was appointed Chef de Mission of the Irish team. As such, he was effectively the team manager in Los Angeles and brought the experience of a stillactive competitive sportsman to the
post for the only occasion in Irish Olympic history.
The Irish Olympic Council’s time of preparation for the Los Angeles Games was short. On 3 July, the fourman athletics team sailed from Cobh aboard the White Star liner, the Adriatic, accompanied by Tommy Maloney, who worked with the athletes maintaining their fitness levels on the trans-Atlantic journey. The four boxers and Olympic officials including Harry Cannon departed from
Cobh on 10 July. As a result of the early departure, the Irish athletic team had acclimatised for eight days in Los Angeles before the Great Britain team arrived. The result was unimagined success for the small eight-man team with Bob Tisdall and Dr Pat O’Callaghan winning Olympic titles, Eamonn Fitzgerald finished in fourth place in the triple jump and boxer James Murphy also finished in fourth place after injury prevented him from competing in the bronze medal box-off.
There were also successes on the diplomatic front. The world governing bodies of the various Olympic sports hold their assemblies in association with the Games and Cannon was elected to the executive board of the Federation Internationale de Boxe Amateur (FIBA), the world governing body of amateur boxing.
As honorary secretary of the Irish Olympic Council and Chef de Mission in Los Angeles, it was Harry Cannon’s duty to present a report on the Irish involvement in the Games. The report was simple, factual and infused with a sense of national pride at the achievements of the small Irish team.
At the Parade of Nations segment of the Opening Ceremony, ‘Ireland made an imposing display, and received a tremendous reception from the 105,000 people present.’ He was briefly associated with the Council’s campaign that began in 1935 to have the island of Ireland recognised as the representative unit for Olympic competition. Ireland, as a 32-county entity, competed at the Olympic Games of 1924,1928 and 1932.
Despite his duties as an administrator of sport, Harry Cannon continued to play soccer at the highest level in the Irish domestic league and he did not retire from Bohemians until the end of the 1936 season. His last game for Bohemians was an unusual one; he emerged from his soccer exile in April 1937 and played with a club selection of retired and contemporary players who defeated a team from the German Battleship Schleswig-Holstein (2-1) in a friendly match staged in Dalymount Park.
The occasion is of some significance as it was the first occasion Olympic handball was played in Ireland.