The forgotten story of Harry Buckle – the saviour of football in Munster

A sectarian incident in 1920 indirectly led to the restoration of the Munster Football Association (MFA), which will celebrate its centenary in 2022.
The forgotten story of Harry Buckle – the saviour of football in Munster

Fordsons, FAI Free State Cup winners in 1926, with the trophy. Back: Paddy Kelly, Mal McKinny, Dinny Driscoll. Middle: L R Dalton (finance), Sally Connolly, Barney Collins, Bill O’Hagan, Jack Carabine, Jack Baylor, Jack Finn (trainer), J Leddy (comm). Front: Percy Rocky (treas), Billy Hannon, Jack Sullivan (capt), Frank Brady, H Scott (Manager Henry Fords), Harry Buckle, Dave Roberts, Paddy Barry, P J Gilhooley (sec).

In 1920, Harry Buckle; an Irish international with three caps to his name, was caught and thrown into Belfast Lough alongside 17 other Catholics in a vicious sectarian attack.

This was the second time he was targeted over his religion, the other occasion saw a bolt thrown at Buckle, leaving him with facial injuries.

Little did anyone know, that night would lead to the restoration of the Munster Football Association (MFA), which will celebrate its centenary in 2022.

Back then, Buckle was working at Harland & Wolff and playing in the Irish League. Up until the attack, he had enjoyed a successful career which brought him across Ulster and England.

Born in 1882, he started out at Cliftonville Casuals and Cliftonville Olympic before breaking into the first team at Solitude. His goalscoring abilities led to an Irish cap in a charity game against Scotland in 1902.

Shortly after playing for his country, Buckle moved to Sunderland, where he became a household name. After making his debut in October 1903, Buckle scored ten goals in 21 appearances from his position at outside-left. He departed Sunderland after three seasons and signed for Bristol Rovers and later Portsmouth in the Southern League. After one season with Pompey, he transferred to Coventry City to take up the role of player-manager, a position which he held until 1911 when he decided to return home to Belfast.

In the Irish League, Buckle played for Cliftonville, Glenavon, Belfast United and Belfast Celtic. His home comforts were shattered that night when he was thrown into Belfast Lough. To make matters worse, days after the attack he was told ‘to get out while the going was good’ at work.

Buckle moved to Wales and a few months later he went to Cork to work in Fords Motor Company. On Leeside he saw a massive interest in football, but no structures for the game existed as the original MFA was suspended in 1914 following the outbreak of the Great War.

As soon as he started working in Fords, Buckle set out to rebuild football in Munster. First, Fords FC was set up as the work football team. Next, the South MFA was formed. They had their inaugural meeting on February 28, 1922 in Desmond’s Hotel and according to the Cork Examiner, they decided that ‘matches be commenced at once’.

A North MFA also existed during this period that catered for teams in Tipperary and Limerick. The South MFA slowly absorbed clubs from this organisation, such as Cahir Park and Tipperary Wanderers.

On March 19, 1922 the modern-day MFA was formed at a meeting chaired by Buckle at Desmond’s Hotel.

As this new organisation found its feet, Buckle spent this period operating in a number of different roles, such as refereeing the first Inter-Provincial match between Munster and Leinster.

The Belfast native was rewarded for his contribution to football in 1926 when Fordsons won the Free State Cup.

The club; who were out for redemption after losing the 1924 cup final to Athlone Town, cruised through that season’s competition by beating Shelbourne, Athlone Town, and Bray Unknowns to reach the final. There they faced defending champions Shamrock Rovers and the Hoops were odds on favourites going into the game at Dalymount Park.

Not only were Rovers the team to beat at that time in Irish football, they had a 100% record against Fordsons in their six meetings in all competitions since 1921.

The game began with Billy Farrell scoring an early goal for Rovers. Fordsons hit back immediately, with Dave Roberts heading in the equaliser. The Hoops made it 2-1 shortly before the break and for a brief period at the start of the second half, it looked like John Fagan’s goal would be the difference.

Then Paddy Barry made it 2-2 with 65 minutes played and Fordsons were right back in the game. The deciding moment in the final came from Billy O’Hagan’s penalty save to deny Rovers. He pushed away Bob Fulham’s attempted rebound with his feet. Fordsons pushed forward following this and Roberts played a quick pass to Barry, who slotted in.

A 44-year-old Buckle lifted the trophy later that day, and Fordsons celebrated at the Arcadia later that week.

Buckle’s impact on football in Munster lived on through his great-grandson, Dave Barry. The midfielder spent his whole career with Cork City, where he won a clean sweep of domestic honours. He also scored against a host of top clubs in European competition, such as Bayern Munich and Galatasaray.

Buckle's ultimate legacy is the MFA and the structures which now exist across the south of Ireland.

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