A new donation to the Belfast Celtic museum has added another piece to the jigsaw puzzle of the famous club’s history.
Former club secretary Frank Hennessey raided his attic to retrieve amazing portraits of some of the Directors of the Grand Old Team, rescued during the demolition of Celtic Park during the early 1980’s.
One portrait has a special significance for Frank – as it captures his grandfather, Dan McCann, a former Chairman of Belfast Celtic.
Frank explains; “These images used to hang in the Celtic Park boardroom and they were given to my family for safe keeping as the ground was being knocked down.“I’ve had them for almost 30 years – someone salvaged them from the clubhouse and I’m very grateful they did, otherwise they may have been destroyed or flung in a skip.It’s a pleasure to hand them on to the Belfast Celtic society for public display – the new museum at the Park Centre is wonderful and a fantastic achievement which will only get bigger and better.”
Dan McCann lived in Andersonstown and was involved in Belfast Celtic from its early years.
Chairman of the Board at the club from 1905 until he died in 1923, his time at the helm spanned almost twenty years, a period in which they won the league, the cup and charity cup.
He also oversaw the sale of players to clubs like Glasgow Celtic, Manchester United and Chelsea.
As well as being involved in the football club, he was a great friend of Joe Devlin, the MP for west Belfast and he followed Parnell in the bitter political split that tore Ireland asunder in 1891 – the year Belfast Celtic was formed.
McCann was also instrumental in inviting Winston Churchill to argue in favour of Home Rule at a massive rally at Celtic Park in 1912, organised in haste after Belfast City Corporation refused the use of the Ulster Hall to the future British wartime Prime Minister.
Frank recalls; “My grandfather was a businessman and a well-known face around Belfast. “He had a grocery shop on High Street – roughly where the Bank of Ireland stands now and he had great relations with people from all sides of the community.”
Indeed, these good relations saved his life during the 1920’s, as political violence ripped the city apart and Belfast Celtic was forced to withdraw from football due to the unrest.“He took a phone call in his shop one day”, said Frank, “A friend from the other side of the community called to tip him off that he was about to be assassinated. He immediately put on his hat and coat, left the shop and caught a tram to Bellevue in north Belfast - the furthest tram stop from the city centre. From here, he took a taxi and finished up in the Glens of Antrim, where he kept his head down for a considerable time.The tip off saved his life.”
Frank’s family connections to Belfast Celtic continued for half a century after his late grandfather’s passing, with the shares Dan McCann had acquired in the company passing to Frank’s mother, Sheila.
Later, his father, Dermot Hennessy, a businessman originally from Dublin, would take a seat on the Board of Directors, serving as Company Secretary until his death in 1982, when Frank himself succeeded him for a short time.
The other portraits donated by Frank include the towering figure of Club Secretary Robert Barr, who served on the Board between 1903 and 1947.
Director David McCloskey JP, whose seat on the Board spanned from 1901-1942, is also pictured, as is another Director, Tom Colgan.
Padraig Coyle, Chairman of the Belfast Celtic Society, is thrilled with the new additions to the museum.
He said; “Our Society is delighted to accept the offer of these pictures for display.We are constantly adding artefacts and these will take pride of place at the Park Centre along with the hundreds of other items on show.
“Frank’s family story is both rich and fascinating and we extend our heartfelt thanks to him for trusting these precious items to our care.We are always on the lookout for items of interest, so if you have something of to donate, please contact us at the Park Centre.”
The Belfast Celtic Museum will be open this Saturday, February 5 from 12noon to 5.00pm and a special opening has been arranged for St Patrick’s Day, March 17, also from 12noon to 5.00pm.