Puck of the Irish

Posted on: 1st December, 2014

Category: The History Corner

Contributor: Samuel Kingston

Above: St Patrick’s, Toronto 1922

For my final column I’m looking at the Irish links to ice hockey in the games’ formative years. This subject forms the basis of the documentary that I and a company called Fócas Films are developing for TG4 with funding awarded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.

We Irish love our sports. We love to play sports and we love to talk sports and it seems that this love of sport stayed with us even when millions of us crossed the Atlantic. Towards the end of the 19th century, the game of ice hockey in Canada became formalised in rules and in structure. Hockey quickly became the most important game in Canadian society. Hockey was the great leveller in Canada, men of all classes played it. Hockey became the glue that gelled Canada together. At the forefront of hockey were men of Irish descent. These men became heroes, legends across Canada. From the early amateur era to the birth of professionalism and the creation of the National Hockey League (NHL) in 1917, Canadian-Irish men were at the heart of hockey especially teams and players from Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. Irish teams were quite common and many of the great early teams were back boned by players of Irish descent.

Shamrock’s Montreal, Stanley Cup Winners 1899.

Shamrock’s Montreal, Stanley Cup Winners 1899.

Montreal: One of the earliest hockey teams to emerge in Montreal was the Montreal Shamrocks. They won hockey’s greatest prize, the Stanley Cup in 1899 and in 1900. The Shamrocks originated as a Lacrosse team who predominantly came from the Irish Catholic working class area of Montreal known as Griffintown. The hockey team was different. These men helped changed attitudes towards the Irish in Canada; through their success the perception of the Irish changed. These were men with ambition, men who sought to be part of the middle classes, men like Harry Trihey, Fred Scanlan and Art Farrell. With their tactics and skill the Shamrocks revolutionised the game of hockey and Farrell wrote a number of books on hockey’s rules. Later on, another important Irish-Canadian was Ambrose O’Brien who founded the Montreal Canadiens. The Canadiens are the most successful NHL team of all time. O’Brien also formed the National Hockey Association which was the forerunner for the NHL. The man who took over the Canadiens from O’Brien also had Irish connections, his name was George Kennedy.

Ottawa: The Ottawa team between 1903 and 1906 won four Stanley Cups. This team known as the Silver Seven was captained by a player of Irish heritage, Frank McGee, nephew of assassinated politician Thomas Darcy McGee. His brother Jim also played until his tragic death in 1904. Later, the Ottawa team of the mid 1910s to late 1920s was back-boned by the Denneny brothers Cy and Corb. Cy especially made a massive impact. In the 1920s, they were joined by King Clancy, Alex Connell and Frank Finigan. The owner of the Senators during the early part of this period was Tommy Gorman, a man who claimed Irish descent. Gorman was a founding member of the NHL, he sold the franchise to Frank Ahearn who also claimed Irish blood. The Senators won the Stanley Cup four times in the 1920’s. They became known as the Super Six and were the NHL’s first hockey dynasty.

Toronto: The Toronto Shamrocks were founded in 1915 and so named because eight of their players claimed Irish descent. Unfortunately the Shamrocks franchise didn’t last too long, joining up with the Toronto Blueshirts after one season. The Blueshirts themselves had Irish connections through Percy Quinn who owned them when they won the Stanley Cup in 1914. In 1919, Toronto got another Irish-named team, the Toronto St. Patricks. At this time Toronto was known as the Belfast of Canada due to the tensions between the Irish Protestants and Irish Catholics. Aware of the large Irish population in the city, team owners were keen to appeal to the Irish in the city. The Toronto St. Patricks had been operating an amateur operation in Toronto since the early 1900s before eventually turning professional. In 1922, they won Stanley Cup coached by George O’Donoghue. In 1927, the St.Patrick’s were sold to Conn Smythe, another owner with Irish heritage. Smythe turned the St. Patricks into the Maple Leafs who are now one of the most famous hockey teams in the world.

This marked the decline of Irish named teams but players of Canadian Irish descent continued to mark their mark and still do today. The Hockey Hall of Fame has approximately 90 people of Irish heritage.

These are the main elements that will feature, there are other elements we’ll be discussing in the documentary such as the links between hurling and ice hockey and looking at ice hockey in Ireland and how the game can progress. You’ll just have to watch the documentary to find out more. The documentary will be on TG4 possibly around this time next year so keep an eye out for it.

Finally, I want to thank Mary and Sheila for giving me the chance to write the articles and thanks to everyone for reading over the past two years. All the best, Sam.

West Cork People would like to wish Sam all the best with his new documentary. We have really enjoyed his contributions over the last two years, as we hope you have.

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