Position All Rounder
In the summer of 1875, Whelahan and a group of friends formed Hibernian Football Club, playing many of their early games at the Meadows. As the first captain of the club, he was also the first to lead the side to cup success, winning the Edinburgh Association trophy in 1879.
In terms of the founding of Hibernian Football Club, Father Hannan was one half of the partnership that was to bring this about. The second half, was one Michael Whelahan, aged twenty‑one years old and who, like most young men in the Irish communities of Edinburgh at that time, was a member of St. Patrick’s CYMS.
Michael Whelahan was born in Kilglass, County Rosscommon, Ireland, in 1854. The Whelahan family was typical among those living in the Western province of Connaught at that time - they scratched a meager existence from the soil. The great famine had traumatic effects on peasant families like the Whelahans, as their communities were decimated and their folk customs, pastimes and Gaelic language lapsed with the increased need to speak English.
Like over a million others in their position, the only option for the Whelahan family was to emigrate, or rather be exiled, as they had no wish to leave Ireland. They made their way to Edinburgh where a relative was already living. They put together enough pennies for the ferry to Glasgow but had to walk from there to Edinburgh. Whelahan arrived in the Scottish capital as a 4 year old, where he joined St. Patrick’s Parish and in later years joined the CYMS.
In the spring of 1875, Michael Whelahan and two of his friends from St. Patrick's CYMS were watching the increasingly popular game of football being played on Edinburgh’s Meadows.
Michael’s friends, Malachy Byrne and Andy Hughes, had already played a couple of games for a street team called White Star but this did not last long when it was discovered they were Irish Catholics. It was as Michael Whelahan watched the exciting football scene before him that he resolved that the CYMS should have their own football club instead of standing on the sidelines.
Father Hannan held the key of course, as he had to endorse all their activities, ensuring that they were appropriate. Michael decided to speak to the popular priest.
Father Hannan listened to Michael Whelahan’s idea with great interest, as sporting recreation had always been a cornerstone of his vision of developing fully rounded and worthy citizens from the Irish community area of Edinburgh, or 'Little Ireland' as it became known. He was well aware of the popularity of football and promised Michael that he would enquire about it’s organisation both locally and nationally.
Father Hannan’s inquiries were favourable, and so it was decided that he and Michael would put forward the proposal to form a football club at the next full meeting of the CYMS in St. Mary’s Street Halls, to see if it was carried democratically.
The meeting voted unanimously in favour of the proposal with such infectious enthusiasm that Father Hannan agreed to assist Michael Whelahan in making all the necessary arrangements for the football club to become a reality.
The next thing to consider, was the football club’s colours, crest, motto and of course name.
For Irish nationalists, the first three were easy. The colours would be green, the crest would be the Harp and the motto the Gaelic Erin Go Bragh (Ireland for Ever).
Giving St. Patrick’s CYMS football club a name, however, proved much more difficult, and protracted discussions were entered into. Father Hannan proposed the obvious name, the Catholic Young Men’s Society Football Club, and although appropriate, it was generally agreed it was just too long‑winded.
St. Patrick’s F.C. was thought to be disrespectful to Ireland’s patron saint, and other suggestions that were rejected included Harp, Shamrock, Emerald and Celtic. The Club was almost named Young Ireland, but Michael Whelahan asked for more time to think about it, since his enthusiasm for the football club dictated that it should have a very special name.
Michael went to St. Patrick’s Church to pray for inspiration and it was there he remembered that the fiercely Catholic Ancient Order of Hibernian’s secret society had been absorbed into the CYMS many years before.
Hibernian was the old Roman Latin word for Irishman. There and then, the Hibernian Football Club was born, the Edinburgh Irishmen.
After retiring from the playing side of the game in 1880 Whelahan became an active and dedicated member of the committee, holding the office of President when Hibs won the Scottish Cup for the first time in 1887 and became unofficial 'World Champions' a few months later. He remained a dedicated follower of the club until his death in Edinburgh in January 1926 aged 74.
By a remarkable coincidence, his great, great, great, grand nephew, Pat Stanton, was Hibs captain during the Club's centenary year in 1975.
Full name Michael Whelahan
Date of birth 1854
Place of birth Kilglass, County Rosscommon, Ireland