Many of the founding fathers were born in Glasgow, from Irish stock. However, some were actually born on the Emerald Isle itself. John O’Hara was such man.
Born in Faughanvale parish, Greysteel, Co Derry, in 1847; O’Hara fled Ireland with his family to escape the famine at a young age. The clan settled in Bannockburn near Stirling, but by the mid 1860s, John had moved to the east end of Glasgow, taking residence on Millroad Street in the Calton. The move came about when O’Hara was offered a job with a shoemaker in the city. The job was vital to take, for he was a young man, who had an upcoming wedding to pay for. Indeed, he was to marry an Irish born girl, Sarah McDonald, at St Alphonsus Church.
O’Hara took the welfare of his peers very seriously and rose to prominence as a branch organiser of the Boot and Shoe Operative’s Union. He also served as Secretary of the Operative Shoemaker’s Society. Following a feud between the artisan shoe makers and the finishers, in 1873, O’Hara formed the National Union of Boot and Shoe Riveters and Finishers. This breakaway union grew to have over 4000 members and 35 branches. In addition, John O’Hara spoke on behalf of the Glasgow branch of the first conference of the National Union of Boot and Shoe Operatives, at Northampton in 1874. A year later, the union established a funeral fund and an offer of sick pay at a rate of ten shillings per week.
By 1881, O’Hara bought a house on 77 East Rose Street – adjacent from St Mary’s Church Hall. A key member of St Mary’s Parish, living so close to the local church, O’Hara became Secretary of the Local Catholic Union Committee. This role meant that he was invited to be part of the soiree that feted the Hibernian team at St Mary’s Church Hall when they won the Scottish Cup in February 1887. Most Celtic founding fathers were present that day and he would have been privy to the words of Dr John Conway and Hibs Chairman, John McFadden, at the event, which were key in developing the embryonic idea of Celtic.
O’Hara was present from the outset of Celtic. A founding father of the club and a member of the club’s first committee, he was tasked with being the collector of subscriptions when they were requested in January 1888 to construct a stadium and sort a playing surface. His contacts and professional work in so many secretarial roles then enabled him to be elected as the first club Secretary.
As a man who dedicated much of his life to fairness through his work with trade unions, O’Hara acted out of character with Celtic in some ways. His dedication to the club was such that he was second only to John Glass in terms of securing players for the club, doing so by underhand means in those days of amateurism. Indeed, it is reported that he once got involved in an altercation with Mick McKeown concerning money and O’Hara was punched during the debacle! O’Hara was also reprimanded by the SFA for the illegal tapping up of the Celtic legend, Dan Doyle, from Everton in August 1891. Doyle had already agreed terms with Everton, yet prior to a Celtic v Cowlairs match, on 10 August 1891, the Scottish Sun wrote of the following incident:
On entering the Cowlairs enclosure, a jubilant Mr O’Hara button-holed me and with a mischievous twinkle in his eye and quietly whispered, I’m sorry you’re too late for the names of the teams but perhaps you can distinguish the men for yourself. There was something in his manner I did not quite understand but glancing over his shoulder, I was astonished to see the Everton cracks, Doyle and Brady.
John O’Hara remained in the position of Secretary for Celtic until the 1891 AGM. It was then that he resigned from the role, not long after a public slagging match, when himself and John H McLaughlin argued with James Quillan, who formed a breakaway Irish club named Glasgow Hibernian along with some other disillusioned members of the Celtic committee. Upon stepping down from the position, O’Hara warned those present at the AGM of the abuse and difficulties that come with the job, insisting that he would not continue for any money. He was replaced by John H McLaughlin.
O’Hara remained involved with Celtic as a committee member, but after stepping back from his key role, he invested more time into personal affairs. He had changed occupation to become a life insurance agent, and had moved residence once more to a property in Moore Street (Dennistoun) with his wife and eight of their nine children. In addition to a change in employed work, O’Hara ventured into the wine and liquor trade and took over a pub on 140 London Road. He also had his own blend of Scotch whisky called the Royal Shield. These projects grew his wealth to an astronomical level by the standards of the time, yet he invested his money further by acquiring the licenses of the Clyde Vaults on Nuneaton Street (very close to the current Celtic Park) and Norfolk Street.
Though he owned a house on 351 Gallowgate for his visits to Glasgow to oversee his work, O’Hara had moved his family up the social ladder and into the upper-class area of Rothesay on the Isle of Bute, where he purchased an estate for his primary address.
Despite his business interest and sizable family, John O’Hara stepped up his role at Celtic Football Club again when he was voted onto the board of directors when the club became a limited company in 1897. He held 100 shares, before expanding those to 300! His passion for Celtic shone through further when he represented the club on both the Glasgow and Scottish Football Association boards.
Having given 18 years of service to Celtic, O’Hara died of cardiac failure whilst at his secondary home on the Gallowgate, on 29 May 1905. Upon his death, the majority of his shares went to John Glass.
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