Northern Ireland news

Calls for Manchester United and Barcelona hero Patrick O'Connell to be recognised with blue plaque in west Belfast

Suzanne McGonagle
09 September, 2016 01:00

CALLS have been made for a blue plaque to be erected in west Belfast in memory of footballer Patrick O'Connell.

Supporters are set to meet political representatives and community groups in the lower Falls tomorrow to seek local support for the plan.

O'Connell, who lived in the area, was the first Irish captain of Manchester United and is also credited with saving FC Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War.

A fund set up in his memory wants to see a blue plaque in Belfast "as it played such a significant part" in his life.

Fergus Dowd from the Patrick O'Connell Memorial Fund said they feel it would be a fitting way to remember the footballer.

Born in Dublin in 1887, Mr O'Connell's football career began at Belfast Celtic before he was transferred to Sheffield Wednesday and later Hull City.

He captained Ireland in the British Home Championship victory of 1913/14 before joining Manchester United.

O'Connell then moved to Spain where he managed clubs including Real Betis, leading them to their first and 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.

He later moved to London where, unable to find work, he died destitute in 1959.

For 57 years he lay in an unmarked grave before the Patrick O'Connell Memorial Fund raised money for a proper memorial in city.

Mr Dowd said they now want to see Mr O'Connell's links to Belfast honoured.

"In the winter of 2015 through research our group discovered Patrick had lived at number 63 Albert Street in the lower Falls area of Belfast, when he began playing professionally with Belfast Celtic FC," he said.

"Patrick's first son Patrick junior was born in the house and Patrick was holidaying in Belfast when he received a telegram from FC Barcelona detailing the Spanish Civil War had broken out.

"Belfast played a big part in his story and we feel that a blue plaque would be a fitting way to remember him."

With the support of footballing legends including Roy Keane, Patrick Kluivert and Franz Beckenbauer, the group raised funds they hope can be used towards the blue plaque.

Mr Dowd said: "Next year 2017 is the 80th anniversary of FC Barcelona's tour of the Americas led by Patrick O'Connell, which saved the club from financial ruin.

"We believe a blue plaque honouring Patrick would be of inspiration to any young people who harbour sporting ambitions through out Northern Ireland."

The Ulster History Circle which administers the blue plaques scheme said it is "always willing to look at nominations".

09 September, 2016 01:00 Northern Ireland news