Return To Paradise: The Belfast Celtic Story

Return To Paradise: The Belfast Celtic Story

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Beechmount Leisure Centre, Beehive pub, Celtic Park, Donegall Road, Falls Road, Park Centre, West Belfast




Transmission 10/10/1989


51min 11sec




Betacam SP



Digitised as part of the UTV Archive Partnership Project (ITV, Northern Ireland Screen and PRONI)


Department for Communities, ITV, Poolbeg Productions, Public Record Office of Northern Ireland

Rights Holder

Poolbeg Productions

It is illegal to download, copy, print or otherwise utilise in any other form this material, without written consent from the copyright holder.


On the 40th anniversary of the club’s permanent withdrawal from the Irish League, Return To Paradise tells the remarkable story of Belfast Celtic. Featuring interviews with fans, historians and former players, the documentary examines the profound impact that the legendary club would have both on and off the football pitch.

Formed in 1891, just three years after their Glasgow cousins, Belfast Celtic would enjoy phenomenal success in the first half of the Twentieth Century. They hit their peak in the inter-war years, when they won 10 of 15 league titles before the outbreak of the Second World War. In this golden era, the team boasted such footballing luminaries as Elisha Scott, the goalkeeper who would star for, and remains, Liverpool longest-serving player, prolific striker Sammy Curran and Jimmy McAlinden, considered one of the finest footballers Belfast ever produced.

However, despite their sporting success, the club was not immune to the societal turmoil that simmered and occasionally erupted in Belfast during this period. Having already withdrawn from the Irish League between 1920 and 1924 due to sectarian violence, the end for Belfast Celtic began with a fixture on Boxing Day 1948 against Linfield.

Celtic had led for the majority of the game, however, when Linfield equalised the crowd invaded the pitch. Several Celtic players were attacked during the ensuing melee, with Jimmy Jones not only kicked unconscious, but having his leg broken. Perturbed by the failure to protect their players, Belfast Celtic swiftly withdrew from the league. This time there would be no return.

Shot List

[00:02:36] Part 1: Group of men and women greeting each other: reunion dinner, Belfast Celtic Players’ anniversary banquet, held 5 May 1989. Group sitting down to dinner and speeches. [00:04:33] Archival images of Belfast Celtic football matches. [00:05:28] Interview with ex-captain Harry Walker. [00:0:57] Interviews with ex-players Joe Douglas and Tommy Aherne. [00:07:13] Speech by Malcolm Brodie of the Belfast Telegraph. [00:07:49] Aerial views of the site of Celtic Park. [00:08:10] Still images and 19th century footage of Celtic Park and Belfast city centre, with horse drawn carriages etc. [00:08:34] Interview with Bill McKavanagh, historian discussing magic of Belfast Celtic. [00:08:46] Still image of children in West Belfast. [00:09:38] Interview with Jimmy McAlinden [JMcA], player in the 1930s and 1940s. [00:09:50] Interview with Michael McGuigan, training staff in the 1940s. [00:10:05] Modern views of Beechmount Leisure Centre, Falls Road Belfast; crowd coming to watch slide show of club’s history. Malcolm Brodie presentation. [00:13:02] Newspaper clipping of Belfast Celtic touring Europe in 1912. [00:13:44] Stills of Winston Churchill’s visit to Belfast in the 1920s. [00:14:06] Interview with Pat Bonnar regarding religion of players. [00:14:02] Interview with Stanley Wallace, player in the 1920s, Jimmy Jones [JJ] and Norman Kernaghan [NK], players in the 1930s and 1940s, and Joe Douglas, discussing religion and lack of sectarianism in the team. [00:16:03] Image and discussion about Mickey Hamill, player in 1910-20s. [00:17:02] Archival footage of people being driven from their homes due to sectarian violence, 1920s. Archival footage of Belfast Public Library, Carnegie Branch, Falls Road, early 20th century. [00:17:19] Radio announcement of Belfast Celtic withdrawing from league due to sectarian violence, but returned in 1924. [00:17:49] Record of the trophies won. [00:18:16] Ex-players reminiscing. [00:19:41] Views of Beehive pub on Falls Road, opposite first Celtic grounds. [00:19:57] Views of Sean’s Park, later renamed the Klondike, McCrory Park. [00:20:08] History of the club: 1901 Belfast Celtic registered as a limited company. Overview of directors, board members, etc. [00:21:10] Interview with JD McSparron, director 1964-1979. [00:23:16] Discussion of club managers, including Elisha “Lee” Scott. [00:27:28] Speech discussing years Celtic won. 
[00:30:02] Part 2: NK and JMcA, discussing Bertie Fulton, a Larne school teacher who became captain of Belfast Celtic. [00:30:41] Stills of Belfast during the 1941 Blitz, world war two. [00:30:58] Ron Greenwood, former England Manager, Michael McGuigan, training staff 1940s, Malcolm Brodie, telling stories about Charlie Tully, ex-Belfast Celtic player. [00:00:00] Interview with Bill McKavanagh, Belfast Celtic historian discussing Celtic grounds. [00:33:00] Interview with Jimmy Jones [JJ]. Still of Stanley Matthews playing at Celtic park. [00:33:41] Early footage of Windsor Park Belfast. [00:33:52] Players recall the Linfield and Celtic matches of that era, violence. [00:34:30] Still images of some old firm matches. Interview with Harry Walker. [00:35:30] Newspaper clip from 27 January 1041: Peter O’Connor [PO’C], Celtic centre, scored 11 goals against Glenavon; presentation to PO’C at the reunion dinner. Image of PO’C as a player. [00:36:58] Newspaper clip and ex-players reminiscing about trouble at a Celtic-Linfield match Boxing day 1948. [00:40:01] Interview with JD McSparron [00:44:20] Players reminiscing about a tour in the United States. Discussion about players parading with an Irish Tricolour in New York City, and subsequent trouble at home. [00:46:23] Old colour footage of a game against Scotland (the then-British champions). Belfast Celtic beat Scotland 2-0 in New York. [00:48:30] Celtic return home from America. [00:48:55] Archival images of Celtic Park. Board decided Celtic would never play in the Irish League again: some confusion as to whether it was because of trouble on the pitch or in the boardroom. [00:51:09] Footage of Celtic Park as a greyhound track. [00:51:40] Various players reminiscing about grounds. Views of Park Centre shopping centre now on site of old ground. [00: 52:41] Children playing football. [00:52:52] Still images of Celtic in action. [00:52:57] Club lasted 68 years: Malcolm Brodie giving tribute and toast to Belfast Celtic, team song. 


A Poolbef Production for UTV

Narrator and Associate Producer: Ivan Martin

Executive Producer: James Hickey 

Produced and Directed by Donald Taylor Black  



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