God squad signs up to play host to Hibs past

THEY could both be described as places of worship, attended at weekends by crowds of their faithful.

But now the links between Hibernian Football Club and the city centre church where it was founded are to be formally celebrated. St Patrick's Roman Catholic Church is to host a programme of events in the autumn to commemorate its 150th anniversary - including a tribute to its Hibee past.

For the Cowgate church was the first home of Hibernian FC, founded by parish priest Canon Edward Hannan in 1875, and still holds two Edinburgh Football Association trophies won by early Hibs sides.

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St Patrick's, located in the heart of the city's 19th-century Irish community, set up the football club with members drawn from the Catholic Young Men's Society. They hit upon the idea of creating their own team after watching a game of football in the Meadows. Canon Hannan was keen to use the club they called Hibernian as a way to raise money for local charities and improve the mental and physical fitness of the young Irishmen living in the Cowgate, then known as Little Ireland, and beyond. Indeed, all of Hibs' players at the time were teetotal.

A memorial plaque to Canon Hannan can still be found just inside the main doors of the church and his name is revered by Hibs supporters to this day.

Hibs historian Alan Lugton, author of The Making of Hibernian, will give a talk on St Patrick's as part of the church's year-long anniversary celebrations.

Father Richard Reid, today's parish priest at St Patrick's, said: "Over the past 150 years this parish has produced a football team, the Hibs; a saint to be, Margaret Sinclair; a political activist, James Connolly; hundreds of soldiers who fought in the two great wars; bishops, priests and probably one or two rogues as well."

Fr Reid said the exact anniversary of the building's conversion from a Presbyterian church to a Catholic church was August 3, but they were waiting until October to celebrate, because so many people were away over the summer.

He said: "On August 3 1856, at 11am in the presence of 2600 people, the church was solemnly blessed by Bishop Gillis. Earlier that year the church had been purchased for the princely sum of 4000. It must have been a day of great joy for the Catholic community when they moved into such a splendid church."

Eric Robertson, master of ceremonies at the church and a lifelong Hibs fan, said: "Hibs is special to St Patrick's because it's one of the many ways that St Pat's can be proud of its contribution to the life of the city."

Hibs historian Tom Wright said Hibs Historical Trust was about to hold a rededication ceremony at the grave of Canon Hannan after raising 4000 to have it repaired. The headstone at the Grange Cemetery on Strathearn Road is being restored.

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A Hibs spokesman said: "Since 1875 Hibernian has been far more than just a football club, it is also a cornerstone of a community. Hibernian's heritage lies with the Irish people who struggled in the middle of the 19th century to overcome poverty and social intolerance and become a part of the mainstream in Edinburgh."

The Catholic community in Edinburgh began to grow considerably in the mid 19th century, its numbers swelled by immigrants from Ireland and the Scottish Highlands. These immigrants settled mainly in Grassmarket, Cowgate, Canongate and what is now the Holyrood area.

St Patrick's began life in 1774 as Cowgate Chapel, built for the Scottish Episcopal Church. The chapel was sold to a Relief (Presbyterian) congregation in 1811 but it never fully established itself and struggled financially.

The facts

One of Hibernian FC's most famous supporters was born on the Cowgate to Irish parents in June 1868. James Connolly, the socialist revolutionary leader executed for his part in the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin, was a fanatical Hibby.

It is said that even though his mind was often on greater things, he would fall into black depressions when Hibs were beaten. Connolly was said to have been at the formation of Hibs in St Mary's Street Halls, and his lifelong support for the club is documented by Hibs historian Alan Lugton.

He described how, as a 12-year-old, Connolly would carry the players' kits down to Easter Road in return for a sixpence and free admission to the match. He also carried out hundreds of odd jobs at the ground.

After his stint at Easter Road he worked rolling out the ink presses at the Edinburgh Evening News and by 14 he had managed to join The Royal Scots by giving a false age.