The Irish gypsy's curse on Hibernian FC has finally been broken

The Irish gypsy's curse on Hibernian FC has finally been broken

THERE were scenes of wild emotion recently after Hibernian Football Club clinched their first Scottish Cup since 1902.

The Hibs support entered a state of anguish when after 64 minutes Rangers striker Andy Halliday put Rangers 2-1 up. Many supporters felt the dream was slipping away for yet another year.

There's a well known piece of mythology that floats around Hibs fans about an Irish gypsy's curse.

It dictates that the prevailing reason the club hadn't won a Scottish Cup since the Edwardian era is that the Irish woman was incensed that Hibs' harp emblem on the south stand – a beacon for the club's Irish identity – would not be re-instated after a period of refurbishment in the 1950s.

The Leith team's former chairman Harry Swan has been accused of trying to cleanse out the club's Irish roots. He was selected by the then Irish board and was the first non-Irish Catholic to take on the position.

A passionate Hibs supporter and businessman of some repute, he would hold the post of chairman for almost 30 years. Swan would also guide the club through the post-war era to one of its most successful periods, winning the league three times in five seasons.

But how true are the allegations of an anti Irish agenda?

Historian Alan Lugton suggests that accusations of bigotry are unfounded. In The Making of Hibernian he writes that "during the first 22 years of his chairmanship the harp remained at the north entrance and at the main south entrance. All the great players, including the Famous Five, all walked under it to sign, train and play for Hibs and that massive main entrance harp was surrounded by clusters of shamrocks."

Lugton goes on to explain how Swan ordered a hand crafted mosaic harp for the club's boardroom, hardly the behaviour of an anti-Irish bigot. The name Harry Swan will be familiar to Celtic fans of a certain vintage. It summons the flag fiasco of 1952 that came after a New Year's Day match against Rangers, when fan violence on the pitch led to a request for the Irish Tricolour to be taken down at Celtic Park.

The club refused and were issued with various threats. To many, this event underlined Celtic's dedication to their history. It emerged that one of the clubs who voted against Celtic flying the flag was Hibernian, led by Swan.  There has been much conjecture about the reasons why, perhaps the Hibs chairman was looking to inflict some psychological damage on a rival team.

Hibs fans are well clued up on their history [Picture: Getty] Hibs fans are divided on their history [Picture: Getty]
The move backfired as it only worked to strengthen Celtic's resolve, while underlining the notion that Hibs had forfeited the roots that made them.

At the 2016 Scottish Cup Final last week, Irish Tricolours were in abundance, suggesting a passionate new generation of Hibs supporters are embracing their history. There are some fans who don't feel comfortable with the Tricolour and they make their voices heard on Hibs forums and across social media.

But what is a club without a sense of itself? The Irish Catholic tradition is in the very marrow of this Scots-Irish institution. Hibernian were formed in 1875 by Limerick-born Cannon Edward Joseph Hannan of St Patrick's Church and Michael Whelahan, the club emerged from a conversation between the two men who were concerned about the plight of the starving Irish.

Hibs and the church on the Cowgate (known as Little Ireland) will be forever entwined; it's a rash analysis that they are sometimes described as the first sectarian club when you consider the plight of the area's inhabitants.

The Catholic Young Men's Society played a vital role in the early history; it was a disciplined organisation which insisted players were teetotal and practising Catholics. The faith brought a sense of philosophy, spirituality and education to the early life of the club and those who supported it.

Scottish-born Irish republican James Connolly. (Picture: WikiCommons) Edinburgh-born Irish republican James Connolly. (Picture: WikiCommons)

One of those fans was James Connolly, who was said to be at the formation. The former Hibernian ball-boy is celebrated around the world with honours, earlier this year a statue was unveiled in Belfast, he also has sculptures and monuments dedicated to him in Dublin, Chicago and Troy, New York but not in the city of his birth, the city that shaped him.

Undoubtedly, Connolly would enjoy the fact that his beloved Hibernian would win their first Scottish Cup after a long drought in the same year that he would be honoured in the centenary of the Rising. Hibs paraded the Scottish Cup a stone's throw from where James Connolly was born.

As a father of several daughters (and a son), he wanted his children to inherit a fairer world than the one in which he lived. The Irish-Scot had a love/hate relationship with the city of his birth, as his letters express, but a large part of his homesickness was tied up with his love of Hibernian Football Club.

Historically, the club broke down many anti-Irish barriers, the team were said to have been physically attacked while playing in the meadows and faced tremendous hostility on the grounds that they were Irish.

They had to fight hard to enter the Scottish First Division and even play in the Scottish Cup. The last time Hibs won the latter they were managed by Dubliner Dan McMichael, a respected figure who devoted his life to the longevity of Hibernian.

These facts are not lost on many supporters who care about the long history of the team who play at Easter Road. At the final, I watched one fan with his head in his hands prior to the rallying second goal scored by Anthony Stokes.

The Celtic striker brought a sense of mentality to the game and was relentless throughout. His determination paid off with an equaliser, his second goal of the game, in the 80th minute. David Grey's header sent fans into raptures during added time, securing a 3-2 victory.

In the stands, ghosts of former players such as George Best and the iconic Sir Matt Busby, who was said to have modelled his Busby Babes on the Hibs team he once played in, cheered among the throng. As fans poured onto the pitch it was reminiscent of the classic cult film Restless Natives which featured two Robin Hood style thieves riding a motorcycle through the streets of Edinburgh with floods of football supporters (many of them Hibs) running behind them.

The media went into overdrive, running emotional stories about the club's oldest fan (106) who witnessed the occasion, while another fan gently slipped away after seeing his team lift the glittering prize from the television set of a nursing home.

Congratulations also came in from Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. The victory cannot and should not be remembered for the minority of fans on both sides with a predisposition towards violence and no player or club representative should be assaulted on the pitch.

Hibs fans invaded the pitch, prompting a reaction from Rangers' support [Picture: Getty] Hibs fans invaded the pitch, prompting a reaction from Rangers' support [Picture: Getty]
However, the Rangers statement which chided Nicola Sturgeon and others is being greeted by many as sour grapes and a diversion tactic. There were ugly scenes, but those Rangers fans who sang sectarian songs, set off flares and ran on the pitch were not paragons of chivalry protecting their players from the forces of darkness.

The majority of Hibs fans on the pitch at Hampden were decent football supporters in need of a spiritual and mental release. Many of them have roots in that once lively parish known as Little Ireland. Don't believe the hype emanating from the blue half of Glasgow – this was a fairytale that had come true, the gypsy's curse was finally broken.