At Home with the Bohemians

Prof Gerry Kearns

How do we make ourselves at home in the city? In Aesop’s fable, the country mouse is repelled by the risks of life in the city, advising the urban cousin, in Joseph Jacobs’ retelling, ‘Better beans and bacon in peace than cakes and ale in fear’, or, in the translation by Ben Edwin Perry, taking leave of the city with resolution; ‘I’ll not desert the homely clods, under which I munch my barley free of fear’.[1] For sociologist Louis Wirth, the city posed the problem of how social life might be organised among a large, dense group of heterogeneous individuals. Drawing upon the distinction drawn by Ferdinand Tönnies, between a knowable community (Gemeinschaft) of rich and multiple face-to-face relations, and the mere aggregation of a society (Gesellschaft) based upon impersonal relations of contract, Wirth stressed the ‘superficiality, the anonymity, and the transitory character of urban-social relations’.[2] Community, then, is rural, and the city is a mere society where people use each other in purely selfish ways. But this doesn’t feel quite right, and not only because, under the heel of landlord extortion or colonial violence, the countryside has all too often been neither homely nor secure, but also because people in cities have made distinctively urban communities for themselves.

People make themselves at home in the city through neighbourliness, mingling, and invitation. When, from the 1950s, and in the name of sanitation or decorum, planners began to take the wrecking ball to slums they wished to erase from their maps, the defamation was challenged in the name of community. Thus, in a study of an Italian-American district in Philadelphia, Herbert Gans wrote of working-class people as urban villagers, developing an identification with their neighbours as an Us threatened by a Them that failed to appreciate the ‘sociability and mutual aid’ of the neighbourhood and could see only a pathology.[3] For Gans, the urban villages were produced by a common exclusion from the middle class, but Jane Jacobs observed community cohering from the multiple contacts of urban living in diverse walking neighbourhoods, to some extent regardless of class. Replete with opportunities for shopping and working, for exercise and association, city streets and city parks could be places where people, in their ‘[i]ntricate minglings’, shared public space, in greetings, in the conversation of familiarity, and even in a mutual encouragement to safety and joy—looking out for each other.[4]

Alongside neighbourliness and public mingling, there are also the specific invitations extended by various urban institutions including trades unions, churches, political parties, pubs, theatres, and, yes, sports clubs. These institutions invite association on the basis of shared interests, and in some cases shared values. They may also model civility in the example they set and in the concern they develop for those who share urban space with them. Neighbourliness, mingling and these invitations to association allow communities to be made in cities. There is no expectation of long residence, of genealogical succession, or of claims upon the land time out of mind. We’re here because we’re here. Now: gather in, let’s share an enthusiasm, let’s get to know and care about each other.

Association Football began in Ireland as a game of the military and of the middle-class, in Belfast from the 1870s and in Dublin from 1880s.[5] Our Bohemians began when students from Bells Academy, a civil service college in North Great Georges Street, a stone’s throw from O’Connell Street, decided that their institution was not big enough to sustain a good side and thus teamed up with the Royal Hibernian Military School in Phoenix Park. Early games were played on the polo ground within the Park. For a time, the team retained its middle-class character, recruiting among ex-pupils of two Catholic boarding schools, the Vincentians’ Castleknock College and the Jesuits’  Clongowes Wood.[6] Various regiments of the British Army in Ireland were common early opposition. Against this background, two developments made the invitation to associate with the Bohemians increasingly distinctive. On one hand, association football grew a following among the working class. In Glasgow, Belfast and Liverpool, the ticket sales to a numerous working class provided the funds that allowed teams to recruit as semi-professionals the better players from fully amateur teams. In Dublin, several teams emerged from larger workplaces so that when  a League of Ireland was founded in 1921, after Partition, the Dublin clubs included St James’s Gate for players from Guinness’s, and Jacobs, for those from the biscuit factory. Other teams of workers included Frankfort, which was established for players living around Frankfort Place and Frankfort Cottages near Amiens Street. 

The second development that framed the invitation from Bohemians was the growth of the Gaelic Athletics Association (GAA) from 1884. In 1896, the founder of the GAA, Michael Cusack, drew a sharp contrast when he characterised Irish men playing association football as having ‘learn[ed] their game by fagging [fetching] the ball for soldiers in the [Phoenix] Park’ and described them as ‘the foreign faction, the Orange Catholics, the West Britons’.[7]From 1902 to 1971, Rule 27 of the GAA excluded from the association anyone ‘who plays or encourages in any way rugby, football, hockey or any imported game’. Association football, then, was played and supported by people who were unmoved by the separatist case that national identity was expressed in sport and that in Ireland all British sports should be foresworn. The continual migration of Irish men and women to Britain made the separation difficult for many and British sporting culture was a shared enthusiasm for families with kin on the terraces of Liverpool’s Kop or Manchester United’s Stretford End, and for young men aspiring to the salary and adulation paid to their football heroes.

GAA clubs matured in townships and parishes but association football clubs moved a lot in their early days, seeking the use of available sites convenient to players and supporters, hence such names as Shamrock Rovers from 1899; Cobh Ramblers from 1922; Bray Wanderers from 1922; Leinster Nomads from 1890; and, indeed, Cork Bohemians from the early 1900s.[8] Bohemian was a term that had been used in France to describe non-sedentary people, because many settled people believed that the travelling people in France originated in Bohemia. But, by the 1880s, the term had broadened in reference to include people, particularly artists, who rejected staid, bourgeois domesticity. By 1901, Bohemian Football Club had settled into Dalymount Park and, travels over, the resonance of the club name as indicating the non-conventional perhaps stood fair chance of resonance in their invitation to Dubliners come associate. Yet the rakish ‘Bohemian’ was too readily translated into the quotidian ‘gypsy’, and used as a nickname from at least as early as 1906 when a victory in a Leinster League Division 1 Match was reported as ‘Solace for the Gypsies’.[9] Derived from Egyptian, as yet another presumed origin for travelling people, the term questions the indigeneity of traveller folk, further marginalising them. Its ready use by club and supporters seems strange given the manifest sincerity of the Bohemian invitation to the wider community. Can historic association really excuse the use of words that wound? 

Dalymount Park was not only the home ground of the Bohemians but also was also leased to the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) for international matches, particularly in the period from the 1930s to 1980s, and over much of this time it hosted also the Cup Final for the FAI. With crowds in the 1920s and 1930s justifying the expenditure, a phalanx of turnstiles came in the late 1920s, and new terracing with crush barriers to the standards of the very best British grounds, came in the early 1930s and wrapped three sides of the ground. Half the terrace at one end received a roof in 1945 and, in 1962, the floodlights that would allow evening games midweek for visiting top clubs, reared up into eminent and speculative supervision. Onto this field of dreams fans projected the identity and hopes of both club and nation.

Initially both the FAI for the Irish Free State and the Irish Football Association of Northern Ireland claimed a right to pick a team of players born in any of the thirty-two counties, and British diplomacy discouraged many states from engaging with the Free State on those terms. As such countries unfriendly to the United Kingdom, including fascist states, were prominent in the list of early Irish friendlies.[10] Hence in 1936, at Dalymount Park, many in a crowd of 28,000 that included the Minister for Finance and members of the Diplomatic Service,[11] joined the national team in raised-arm salute of a German nation playing under the swastika flag that likewise adorned the official programme for the day.[12] More happily, in 1956, 30,000 saw a national side, staffed in the main by domestic League of Ireland players, prevail in a friendly over West Germany, then reigning world champions.[13] For the club team, its first appearance in a final of the Football Association of Ireland Senior Challenge Cup came in 1928 with a St Patrick’s day victory in front of 25,000 at Dalymount Park.[14] Bohemians hoisted the cup in victory before a home crowd at its Dalymount Park again in 1935, 1970, and 1976. From the 1990s, cup finals were rarely again held at the home ground of Bohemian Football Club, although in 2000 Bohemians lost a cup-final replay at  Dalymount, and the crowd of 9,000 tells its own tale of the financial viability of the ground.

For a third of a century, then, from 1935 to 1970, Bohemians failed to win the FAI Cup, and having won or been runners-up in the FAI League for eight of its first 15 seasons, after 1936 Bohemian F.C. were not to win again until 1975 and only achieved runners-up once during that long wait. Its founders’ gentlemanly ethos of amateurism persisted until 1969, through a period when salaries lured many of the better players to other teams.[15] The suspicion of commercialism’s corrupting effects is reflected also in the ownership structure of the club which belongs to its members, and it has been spared the indignity of a private owner treating its home ground as a speculative chip in a game of Monopoly. This did not mean the club could ignore its bottom line. By the 1980s home gates could not fund the investments to keep pace with the rising safety and comfort standards demanded for international games. The FAI would not make the investment in Dalymount Park for it to continue serving as the national home of football.[16] The smaller crowds for league matches rattled around in a deteriorating hulk drifting towards the reefs of insolvency. Rust is restless, and grass will prize open concrete for shrubs to make it rubble; producing the romantic near-ruin that Dorothy Smith documents in her drawings.

A club debt of £150,000 by 1988 saw the first proposal to sell the site by auction.[17] In August 1988, the FAI offered instead to buy and then lease the ground back to the club. The offer was accepted by the 350 members who, in return for a £50 annual payment, were the owners of the club. By 1991, the FAI had cooled on the deal.[18] The disparity between the needs of the club and the capacity of the ground continued. In 1999 the remaining wooden stand was demolished and replaced by one with seats and a roof; and while half this cost was met from a lottery grant and government funds, for the other, land was sold at the Phibsborough, or Tramway, end of the ground.[19] By 2005, despite half the Connaught Street stand having demolished to accommodate a car park leased to the Mater Hospital for an annual rent of €350,000,[20] a debt of €2m raised once more the prospect of sale, this time in May 2006 to Andorey Developments for a mouth-watering €25m, plus a new ground at Diswellstown to the north-east of Dublin just beyond the M50 orbital motorway.[21] The developer did not complete the deal. In 2007 another developer, Liam Carroll, as Danninger Ltd, was promised the site in return for a payment of €45m, plus a new ground now proposed for a site north of Dublin, near the airport.[22] At this point, Paschal Conroy came forward to assert that there was a prior agreement from 2003, and an advance payment of €1.05m, that part of the Tramway end would be sold for a planned redevelopment of the adjoining Phibsboro Shopping Centre by his Albion companies. As such, the Bohemians were not free to sell the whole site. In 2008, the High Court agreed.[23]

Carroll’s speculative ventures soon stalled.[24] By 2012, the bad debts of Albion saw NAMA take over the part of Dalymount claimed by the Shopping Centre development, and, having failed to sell Dalymount but spending in anticipation of the windfall, Bohemian F.C. now had a debt of €4m with Zurich Insurance secured against the club car-park.[25] Enter Dublin City Council and its purchase of the ground for €3.4m in 2015, which retained Bohemians in residence, and paid off the club debt.[26] The salary bill of €1.18m shared by an average of 28 players across the 2004 season, was cut back to €139k for an average of 22 players in 2013, and a team of professionals was replaced by one of part-timers subject to a salary cap; more or less living within the club’s means.[27] And, seemingly against all odds, the Bohemians remain at home in Dalymount Park.

The Bohemians, then, can continue to invite others to share their home in Phibsborough and in many respects can act as good neighbours. Sponsored by the club, a Bohemians amputee team was made ‘feel part of something bigger’.[28] There is also a Disability and Social inclusion Access Officer, and an official Bohs Disability Supporters Association.[29] Bohemians wear their values on their shirts. In 2020, the club collaborated with Amnesty International on an away jersey that announces ‘Refugees Welcome’, and all profits from its sale were contributed to the Movement of Asylum Seekers Ireland and their campaign to end Direct Provision, causing the Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland to praise the club and supporters for their ‘incredible track record on social justice issues’.[30] In 2021, the away team shirt was part of a campaign against homelessness and, featuring lyrics of a rock group Fontaines DC, raised money for Focus Ireland.[31] From 2020, the club has had a team in the senior Women’s National League becoming ‘one of the first clubs in the league not to charge annual fees to our players’; its jersey includes the logo of Inner City Helping Homeless.[32]

The walls of the ground, in-side and out-, feature murals that again offer space for socially-inclusive messages, as with ‘Mna na Bohs’ on a mural for International Women’s Day 2021, or another mural from 2015 announcing ‘Refugees Welcome’. These values are shared by fans, such as with a witty ‘GayBohs’ on a flag supporters brought into the ground in 2016.[33] Daniel Lambert, Chief Operating Officer for the club, suggests that after the club nearly disappeared in the madness of the property speculation of the Celtic Tiger, it needed to reconnect with its local area and offer its neighbours ‘a connection’ based on ‘something other than winning’.[34] Something more than football, even. Dalymount Park has in the past hosted croquet, tennis, snooker, and darts. During the 1930s and 1940s, the site was given over to a Carnival for part of many summers, as in 1940 when Toft’s brought their ‘famous and latest attractions’, and Cyclone Chris and Dare-devil Una sent their motorbikes into the Wall of Death, while other visitors drifted to the Celidhe Hall with ‘Ceilidhes and Old-time Dances with Leo Molloy’s Band’, or to the Ballroom with Phil Murtagh’s Band and nightly talent shows, or to the tea rooms where they were promised ‘prompt service’.[35] Less sedately, perhaps, in 1977 Dalymount became a rock music venue with Dublin’s ‘first major open-air festival’ as, on Phil Lynott’s birthday, Thin Lizzy drew 11,000 to an afternoon and evening featuring, among others, the Boomtown Rats, only days before the release of their own first single.[36] Despite some local complaints about noise and detritus, other gigs followed including Status Quo (1 July 1979), Bob Marley (6 July 1980), Meat Loaf (13 June 1982), Black Sabbath (28 August 1983), Faith No More (27 June 1993), and the Red Hot Chili Peppers (25 August 1994).[37]In all these ways, many and sundry have been called to make themselves at home with Bohemians.

Gerry Kearns, April 2021


I want to thank Dorothy Smith for the invitation to be part of this project, for her encouragement, and for her sharing her work with me. I want to thank the Chief Operating Office of Bohemian F.C., Daniel Lambert, for the courtesy of an on-site interview and an introduction to the ground. Thank you to Arlene Crampsie for clearing up some aspects of GAA history for me. Thank you to Karen Till for guidance and support.

[1] The Fables of Aesop. Selected, Told Anew and their History Traced by Joseph Jacobs (London: Macmillan, 1912), p. 17; Babrius, and Phaedrus. Fables, translated by Ben Edwin Perry (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1965), p. 143.

[2] Louis Wirth, ‘Urbanism as a way of life’, American Journal of Sociology vol. 44, no. 1 (1938), p. 12.

[3] Herbert J. Gans, The Urban Villagers: Group and Class in the Life of Italian-Americans (New York: Free Press, 1962), p. 41.

[4] Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (New York: Vintage Books, 1961), p. 222.

[5] Michael Milne, ‘Soccer and the Dublin working class’, Saothar vol. 8 (1987), pp. 97–102.

[6] Ciarán Priestley, The Enduring Legacy of an Idle Youth, second edition (Dublin: Enduring Legacy Press, 2020);

[7] Michael Cusack, ‘Football all round’, Dublin Evening Telegraph (21 March 1896), p. 5.

[8] Wikipedia, ‘List of association football clubs in the Republic of Ireland’;

[9] ‘Solace for the Gypsies’, Sunday Independent (16 September 1906), p. 8.

[10] Gerry Farrell, ‘Ireland v Germany: the gathering storm of World War II’, Back Page Football (12 October 2014),

[11] ‘Ireland’s win from Germany’, Irish Times (19 October 1936), p. 7.

[12] Mervyn O’Driscoll, ‘Ireland and the Nazis: a troubled history’, Irish Times (9 May 2017),

[13] Frank Johnstone, ‘Local players prominent in victory over Germany’, Irish Times (26 November 1956), p. 2.

[14] Wikipedia, ‘FAI Cup Finals’,

[15] Ciarán Priestly, ‘Dalymount days: identity crises in the home of Irish football’, Dear Durty Dublin, blog (11 August 2015),

[16] Jimmy Meegan, ‘Last chance for Dalymount Park’, Irish Press (8 October 1987), p. 18.

[17] Jack Fagan, ‘Dalymount Park soccer ground put up for sale’, Irish Times (28 October 1988), p. 1.

[18] Gerry Thornley, ‘Bohemians-FAI row resurfaces’, Irish Times (17 August 1991), p. 17.

[19] Emmet Malone, ‘£11m offer linked to scrapping Arena’, Irish Times (14 July 1999), p. 21.

[20] Neil O’Riordan, ‘Crisis? There’s no crisis here’, Sun (13 October 2005), p. 61.

[21] Eoin Dunne, ‘Bohs to sell Dalymount in €50m deal’, Irish Independent (5 May 2006), p. 1.

[22] Emmet Malone, ‘Dalymount to be sold in €65m deal’, Irish Times (5 September 2006), p. 23; Emmet Malone, ‘Bohemians complete the sale of Dalymount Park’, Irish Times (19 April 2007), p.24.

[23] Emmet Malone, ‘Ambitious plans put on hold’, Irish Times (8 November 2008), p. A8.

[24] Frank McDonald, ‘Top name in urban renewal is virtually idle’, Irish Times (3 March 2009), p. 7.

[25] Peter Flanagan, ‘Dalymount Park embroiled in latest NAMA property grab’, Irish Independent (28 April 2012),

[26] Emmet Malone, ‘Bohemians make deal over future of grounds’, Irish Times (30 May 2015), p. A5.

[27] ‘Secure future Bohemians FC’, Irish Times (12 June 2015), p. A5.

[28] Luke O’Riordan, ‘Bohs crowned amputee league champions’, Bohemian Football Club News ‘(31 March 2021),

[29] Luke O’Riordan, ‘Bohemian FC appoint Disability and Social inclusion Access Officer’, Bohemian Football Club News (9 December 2020),; Luke O’Riordan, ‘Bohs Disability Supporters Association’, Bohemian Football Club News (9 March 2021),

[30] Stephen Doyle, ‘Amnesty International and Bohemians team up for new “Refugees Welcome” kit’, OTB Sports(12 February 2020),

[31] Patrick Freyne, ‘When Fontaines DC met Bohemian FC: “Homelessness can be solved”’, Irish Times (13 March 2021),

[32] Luke O’Riordan, ‘Additional support for Bohemians WNL team in 2021’, Bohemian Football Club News (30 December 2020),; Jack Quann, ‘Bohemians FC launch women’s jersey to help tackle homelessness’, Newstalk (5 August 2020),

[33] Darragh, ‘Bohemians fans show support for LGBT community’, Gay Community News (14 March 2016),

[34] David Claxton, ‘“Refugees Welcome”: how an Irish football club went global’, Business of Sport (15 July 2020),

[35] ‘The Greatest Carnival ever comes to Dublin’, Irish Times (18 May 1940), p. 6.

[36] ’11,000 fans cheer Phil’s half-day festival’, Irish Independent (22 August 1977), p. 8; ‘August 1977’, Boomtown Rats Blog (23 March 2021),

[37] Dalymount 69er, ‘Research for Dalymount radio documentary’, YBIG forum (9 March 2018),