I was shocked and puzzled when I made this particular discovery. There does not seem to be any sub-story or political overtones about this grievous offence. It’s as straightforward as the headline. A schoolboy plays football, and is charged with the offence of playing football, and ends up in prison alongside hardened adult criminals.
Here’s the offence as written by the prison clerk upon the poor lad’s admission to Mountjoy Prison in Dublin. John Honer was a 15 year-old lad in November 1907. He was just four feet, five and a half inches tall, and weighed in at a worryingly undernourished 77 lbs. Despite all this, the local constabulary, and the judiciary, and the prison service, thought it right and proper that this tiny schoolboy should be removed from Dublin’s streets to make it a safer place for the law-abiding majority. In court, he was fined one shilling and sixpence when convicted of his misdemeanor. Obviously, the boy was not carrying this amount of cash, so he was thrown into jail sharing cells with drunkards, beggars and fighting men.
Thankfully, the family of young John Honer soon paid for the release of the dangerous footballer. Hopefully, he was not scarred for life by his experiences at the mercy of the custodians of pre-Free Irish State law.
You would be forgiven for thinking that this sad event was linked to the British authorities’ ban on the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) and their ancient Irish sports. The Brits suspected that GAA sports meetings were also used to rouse anti-British feeling and recruit rebel soldiers – and their suspicions were right, of course. But GAA games were never banned outright, and it was as late as 1916 when a decree from Dublin Castle insisted that permits must be sought for organised competitions. The GAA ignored the order and, in an act of outright defiance, increased the number of official fixtures on the following weekend. An estimated 54,000 GAA members played their beloved games on Gaelic Sunday [August 14] 1918. I hope “big” Johnny Honer was one of them.