Belfast Celtic 1891 - 1949

Stunning archive film discoveries of Belfast Celtic Park
Two stunning pieces of film from the 1920’s, showing events at Belfast Celtic Park on the Donegall Road, have been discovered by the Belfast Celtic Society. Recent searches on the British Pathe website have unearthed footage of a pony trotting race at Celtic Park during the Truce in the Tan War in July 1921.

At this time, Belfast Celtic had withdrawn from football due to political violence and pony trotting would have been a welcome sporting release for people in west Belfast at a time of high tension. A second, five minute long piece of archive, from the ITN Source website, shows the amazing sight of the 1925 Celtic Carnival winding its way from the city centre through west Belfast to Celtic Park.

Organised to provide funds for Belfast Celtic’s return to football after the conflict of the early 20’s, the carnival drew tens of thousands of participants and spectators to Celtic Park, where revelers enjoyed a funfair. The money raised from this event was used to build the Willowbank Stand, which loomed over the Iveagh district until the ground’s demolition in the early 1980’s.

Pony trotting at Celtic Park 1921


Padraig Coyle, Chairman of the Belfast Celtic Society, hailed the discoveries as ‘highly significant’, saying, “If there was any doubt about the importance of Belfast Celtic to the lifeblood of west Belfast, these videos are proof that the club and its hinterland were intertwined. Belfast Celtic Park was much more than a football ground – it was a fulcrum of sporting and political life in west Belfast.”

“As well as pony trotting, it was a famous centre for greyhound racing, while boxing tournaments were held there, as well as amateur athletics and cycling meets. On the footage of the Celtic Carnival, we see the crowd being addressed from the stage by several dignitaries, including Belfast Celtic Chairman Hugh McAlinden, whose home is now the Roddy McCorley club and ‘Wee’ Joe Devlin, the popular Nationalist MP for Belfast West.

“Many will remember that a decade before this carnival, Winston Churchill spoke at Celtic Park from a similar platform and in 1915, Nationalist leader John Redmond inspected the Irish Volunteers who were drilling at the park, in the run up to the 1916 rebellion.”

While there’s no doubt about the film’s significance, Padraig was keen to focus on the people in the videos: “In the trotting race footage, we see Tommy Majury with his winning horse, called ‘Why not?’ -  I wonder what became of Tommy, or if he still has family in the area? We can also see the unmistakably huge figure of Hugh ‘Bo’ McAlevy, Belfast’s most famous bookmaker, who was a politician who also owned a pub at the corner of Springfield and Falls Road many years ago. His grave is one of the grandest in Milltown and legend has it that it’s once open crypt contained a telephone where punters could ring in their bets to his office!”

Tommy Majury with his winning horse, called ‘Why not?
Hugh ‘Bo’ McAlevy, Belfast’s most famous bookmaker
Returning to the ITN footage of the Celtic Carnival, Padraig said; “This piece of film really does encapsulate what Celtic meant to everyone here. Barefoot children from the Falls follow the camera as it pans around the carnival stalls and all the adults look to be dressed in their Sunday best.

“As the carnival makes its way through Belfast’s Streets, we see a Chinese dragon, a charabanc filled with women in Celtic kits and the St Peter’s Brass and Reed band from the Pound Loney providing musical accompaniment. Huge horse drawn carnival floats can also be seen passing the Belfast Met building in Great Victoria Street, at the Black Man, and the local fire brigade are also part of the event, with grand ladders poking up above the mass of people watching the parade.”
Celtic Park Crowd
The official history of Belfast Celtic Football Club, published in 1929, records the carnival taking place, saying; “A conspicuous feature of the Celtic Directorate has always been to cater for all classes, rich and poor and with that end in view a gigantic Carnival was carried out for the express purpose of erecting a covered stand for the unreserved side.  As all lovers of football know, the promise was kept and today the finest unreserved covered stand in the kingdom now adorns the Willowbank side of the ground. It was completed this in 1926 at a cost of almost £10,000, accomodates 5,000 spectators comfortably and from any part a grand uninterrupted view of the playing pitch can be seen.”

Padraig Coyle insists; “Both these discoveries are pieces of celluloid treasure which provide a fascinating glimpse of everyday life in west Belfast almost a century ago.”