Exhibition for Irishman who saved Barcelona FC from ruin

Fergus Dowd and Alan McLean with a painting of Patrick O'Connell, which will feature in a forthcoming exhibition at Stormont about the football hero. Picture by Hugh Russell

AN exhibition documenting the life of an Irishman credited with saving FC Barcelona is to take place in Belfast next year.

Paintings and photographs of Patrick O'Connell, whose football career began at Belfast Celtic, will be put on show at the Long Gallery in Stormont in April.

It comes as discussions were held yesterday about growing hopes for a blue plaque to be erected in west Belfast to honour O'Connell's achievements and links to the city.

Members of the Patrick O'Connell Memorial Fund met with the Ulster History Circle and political representatives to discuss plans for the plaque, which it is hoped will be erected at Albert Street, where O'Connell once lived.

The group hope the plaque, if given the final go-ahead, will be unveiled next year to mark the 80th anniversary of the so-called tour of salvation - Barcelona's tour of the Americas, led by O'Connell, which saved the club from financial ruin.

O'Connell was the first Irishman to captain Manchester United and he also captained Ireland in the British Home Championship victory of 1913/14, where the trophy was clinched at Windsor Park, Belfast.

It is hoped a blue plaque will be erected in west Belfast in honour of Patrick O'Connell

Originally from Dublin, he moved to Spain where he managed clubs including Real Betis, leading them to their only La Liga title in 1935.

When he was in charge of FC Barcelona, he took the team on a tour of Mexico, Cuba and New York during the Spanish Civil War and money raised ensured the club's survival.

In 1937, O'Connell was given the title of honorary consul by the last republican government of Spain. He later moved to London where he died destitute in 1959.

A painting of Patrick O'Connell, which will feature in a forthcoming exhibition about him at Stormont. Picture by Hugh Russell

Fergus Dowd from the memorial fund said: "Belfast played a big part in Patrick's story and we feel a blue plaque is a fitting way to remember him".

He added: "The exhibition documenting Patrick's life will feature a painting that is already hanging in the Nou Camp by artist Tony Denton who produced two identical paintings of Patrick.

"There will also be four paintings of the official Irish club captains of Manchester United painted by Tony Denton as well as photographs of Patrick at the La Liga victory amongst others.

"There's such great interest in Patrick's story, it's not just one about football, but one of history. Without the courage of Patrick, Barcelona could have went out of existence."

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