The Bit of Spade Work!

Contributed by David Garreth Toms

Long before I began my PhD in 2009, I would pick up a copy of the Waterford Soccer Monthly from time to time. My favourite part, perhaps predictably, was the old photographs of teams from the 1920s and 1930s. There is often something otherworldly about photographs of sports teams from that era. Thinking more on it, it is the formality of the occasion of having one’s photograph taken – after all, the photographic image was not then as ubiquitous as it has since become. The rigidity of the subjects (out of technical necessity) also ensures photographs from that era have an idiosyncratic strangeness to them.

This piece isn’t really about the photographs that appeared in the Waterford Soccer Monthly (WSM) though. Instead, it is about the old-fashioned digging around, the donkey-work of historical research. I remembered those photographs when it came time for me to begin research on grassroots football in Waterford city as part of my thesis. Typically, the old copies of the WSM had long been consigned to the bin in my house. So it was with hope that I e-mailed the editor of the magazine, and sure enough he kept his entire back-catalogue. What’s more, he had original scans of many of the photographs I was looking for, and much more besides.

We spent our first meeting going through all the back issues of the magazine (there are over 100!) and found the relevant issues. We then had to match these up with the discs on which the photographs had been stored. And voila, I suddenly possessed photographs of great significance to my study. The most significant of these would be those taken by Mr. Frank Phillips.

Frank Phillips, who had been a captain in WWI, is the central protagonist of this story. He lived in Dublin and was a rugby enthusiast who joined one of the “pal’s brigades” formed from rugby circles. After the war he returned to Waterford where he set up his trade in photography. He situated himself at number 8, The Mall, in the city.

Phillips would in 1924 become the first chairman of the Waterford and District Football League, set up to oversee the running of the game in the city and its hinterland.

While perusing the WSM photographs, I was surprised by how many photographs of local grassroots football teams existed from this period, until I figured out that Phillips was one of a small number of prominent photographers in the city. His equipment, therefore, was probably used to capture photographs like these:

Frank Phillips in uniform

 Above: O’Connell Celtic 1926-27

These photos contain two rather distinct lessons for the historian, I believe. The first is that without these photographs and indeed without the ability to reproduce them in publications like the WSM, the teams would be lost entirely to the researcher and the public. Indeed, many of these photographs are of teams who are not only defunct but of whom contemporary accounts are often few and far between, like these two teams below:

Above: Rangers AFC 1925-26.

Below: St. John’s AFC 1925

The second lesson is this: that Phillips, his studio and their photographs do not enjoy the same public admiration or exposure that one of his contemporaries, AH Poole, does. Poole had a photography studio quite close to where Phillips set up shop. Unlike Phillips’ photographs though, Poole’s are collected and accessible in the National Library of Ireland, and online in their digital archive. Much of what remains behind for the historian is the result of chance and sheer good luck – and as my case has proven, it is no harm for the historian to do the spade work and start digging around!

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20 Responses to “The Bit of Spade Work!”

  1. Alan Menchious Says:

    Interesting article. Good spade work!

  2. Mike Cosgrave Says:

    Want to know more – who was Phillips? what was his background? Why Soccer? Was there competition between soccer and Gaelic football? Keep writing!

  3. David Toms Says:


    Phillips is a bit of an unknown quantity, although it seems that his military service became a bit of a family tradition. He had two sons and one daugher. Both sons appear to have gone off and fought in WWII with the British Army. One of the sons was an RAF pilot.

    Phillips was later (1930) chairman of Waterford Celtic FC and oversaw their joining of the Free State League (League of Ireland Prem Division today). He seems to have died relatively young, of cancer I think.

    As for why soccer – thats an awful lot harder to answer – Lord Henry Beresford who was born in 1901, was Marquis of Waterford and a huge soccer fan so there was a significant element of patronage from him – The Marquis Cup first played for in 1929 is still competed for in Waterford Junior football circles. Beyond that, there was a significant british presence in Waterford, and the Free Staters who took over the barracks continued the soccer tradition.

    In Waterford the struggle has always been between soccer and hurling rather than Gaelic football (at least in the city- gaelic football is bigger in the county).

    Hope that answers the questions somewhat adequately!

    • David Phillips Says:

      David (and Geraldine),

      Our neice in Auckland, New Zealand, Katherine Delaney, sent us the link to Pue’s Occurences, in which we discovered your piece on Frank Phillips. We were delighted to find your profile of Frank, with an excellent photograph of him in military uniform. Frank Phillips was my father. He actually had six sons and a daughter – one son, Patrick, died within one week of his birth. The family settled in Waterford, where we began our education, before setting off on various separate travels and adventures, both at home in Ireland, and numerous places overseas. My wife Sylvia and I, and our two sons David and Sean, migrated to Australia from Ireland many years ago, and settled in Brisbane. By a happy coincidence Sean was visiting us on the day we checked out your piece; he got just as much pleasure as we did when he saw his grandfather on screen, looking in his prime. Sean never met Frank in real life. In addition to being a professional photographer, specializing in sports photography, Frank Phillips was an accomplished sportsman in his own right, and was well known in the south eastern counties of Ireland (Waterford, Wexford and Kilkenny) for his achievements. He represented SE Counties in Rugby Union, where he played at fullback, and also excelled at hockey, cycling, football, and rowing, where he served for a time as vice-captain of Waterford boat club. He had a distinguished military career in WWI, where he was mentioned more than once in despatches for courage and bravery under fire. He died at the age of 54 in Waterford. My mother Gertrude, who was from an Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford family, carried on and expanded the business which Frank started, at 8 The Mall Waterford. As we said earlier we were delighted to be re-united with my father, at least in spirit, in this way. We thank you for your research into Frank’s life, and hope we can keep in touch.

      When I was growing up in Waterford and going to school in Mt. Sion, I knew a family named Toms, and recall that one member was an inspector of schools. Any connection?

      David Phillips

      • Geraldine McQuillan Says:

        This is just great ! I am so glad to have contact with you and your family. I made an error in what I posted on line yesterday. Frank was of course my mother’s uncle Frank and thus you are her first cousin !! She was Brenda O’Reilly ( née Crane) and I am her only daughter, Geraldine. Mam passed away in 1995 and left me all sorts of bits and pieces of family history, which every so often I try to piece together. I have a lot of information on the Reardon family ( Daniel and Jane) in Kinsale. In fact I am going to Kinsale next week to try and see if I can find a gravestone to them. The mystery man is Michael Phillips – your grandfather. I’ve found it hard to ressurect any information on him, although I have fine photo of him.
        My email address is I would love to hear more from you and your family. Geraldine.

  4. Geraldine McQuillan Says:

    You can imagine my surprise when I came across this article purely by chance when researching my mother’s family history. She was Frank Phillips’ first cousin. Frank was born in Kinsale on 1st June 1888. His father was Michael Phillips (maybe Welsh, but at one time a sergeant in Camden Fort, Cork) and Ellen Elizabeth Reardon. When his sister Geraldine married and moved to live in Waterford with her photographer husband ( Alfred Crane), Frank, his sister Edith and his mother moved to live with them at 6 Catherine Street, Waterford. ( see 1901 census). In the 1911 census he is listed as a photographer and living as a ‘boarder’ with the Griffith family, in 64 Poleberry. We knew he had gone to the First World War and had been a pilot in the RAF. He was generally considered a handsome fellow ! He married and had five children, four boys and a girl, Mary. Mary is still alive and lives in Dundrum. Geraldine McQuillan (first cousin once removed).;

    • David Phillips Says:

      Hi Geraldine,
      Delighted to get your update, with all the additional family background information. Will keep in touch. I know very little about the mystery man Michael Phillips, my grandfather, but I look forward to hearing the outcome of any further research. Would particularly like to have a copy of the photograph you mentioned. Our email address is Keep up the good work.
      David Phillips

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  10. Anne Pehleman Says:

    My brother, Frank Phillips , grandson of the Frank Phillips mentioned in this article , sent me this article. Our father, Frank would have been the elder son of Frank and Gertrude. He passed away in 1983.
    I have pictures in my home taken by my grandfather . They are of family and a rather striking one of my grandparents taken shortly after they were married.
    As a resident of Ottawa ,Canada , with a sister in Toronto we are delighted to have read this article . It is also lovely to read the messages from David Phillips and a cousin ,Geraldine, from Kinsale.

    Thank-you to David Garreth Toms for your research and appreciation of a talented l photographer, my grandfather.

    Anne Pehleman

    • Geraldine McQuillan Says:

      Hi Anne. I have just come across your email to Pue’s Occurrences. I am Geraldine – great grand-daughter of Michael Aloysius Phillips, and I suppose a second cousin of your’s. My mother, Brenda, was a first cousin of your father,Frank and of Willie, David, and Mary. I have done a lot of research over the past few years on the family. In particular, on Daniel Reardon’s family of Kinsale ( their third daughter Ellen Elizabeth married Michael Phillips, father of Frank, about whom the article was written) She was, therefore, your great grandmother). Although I live in Dublin I have been to Kinsale a couple of times trying to unearth the Reardon family. Although there were eleven children born to Daniel and Jane (nee Waters) there appear to be none of them surviving in Kinsale. I also visited Jersey, Channel Islands from where Jane Waters came and was able to find a lot of material, as they have a wonderful database of family history. Perhaps because it’s such a small community.
      I have photos of your grandfather’s parents, Ellen and Michael, which I can send to you, if you wish. However, Michael has remained a bit of a mystery, as other than their marriage certificate in 1881 and his death certificate in 1892, I cannot locate where he came from. My mother often said she thought he came from Wales, but I haven’t been able to pick up any trace of him there. According to his death certificate he was only 33 when he died ( but I’m not sure how accurate this is, when you look at the photo I have – he seems to be older). His occupation is given as Clerk and they were living in Cork city. He left behind his widow, Ellen Elizabeth, daughters Geraldine Mary ( aged 10, my grandmother), Edith Ellen ( aged 7), Francis Norbert ( your grandfather, aged 4). There had also been another little baby, George, born 1890, who died aged 1 year from meningitis in 1891). Our family lore says that Ellen Elizabeth was left with these three children to raise and was friendly with an English photographer, Alfred Crane, who came from Bath, England. He used to visit the house regularly and she had an idea that he might want to marry her. But instead, he asked to marry her daughter Geraldine, aged 18 !!! Alfred and Geraldine set up house in Waterford and Ellen and her two orphan children, Edith and Frank came to live with them. And so begins the Waterford connection !!
      Hope this doesn’t sound too confusing. But in essence, Daniel and Jane Reardon of Kinsale, had a daughter Ellen Elizabeth, who married Michael Aloysius Phillips. He had four children, of whom one was your grandfather Francis Norbert born 1.06.1888 – I have copy of his birth certificate). He married Gertrude Delaney and they had Frank, Willie, David, ?Michael and Mary.
      If you want me to send you the photos, please do not hesitate to contact me. My direct email is I’m a retired language teacher and we live by the sea in Skerries, Co. Dublin. My mother and father were great friends of your grandmother Gertrude when she lived in Mount Merrion and Willie continued to visit them until shortly before they died.
      Kind regards, Geraldine McQuillan.

  11. Katherine Says:

    Hi, wow, what an amazing thread. I’m Katherine Delaney, the illegitimate child of Michael Phillips (son of Frank and Gertrude) and Valerie Talbot, a Kiwi woman who worked as a secretary and then in later years, a house cleaner for people who’d recently had surgery. I was sent this link by a genealogist in Ireland who I contacted in order to find out something about my family. What a trip! I live in New Zealand. I then passed the link on to David Phillips, whose post is upwind. Jesus, it’s fascinating that all these Phillipses etc have come out of the woodwork around the same time. Great to read your stories. I wouldn’t mind having a copy of those photos, if you could email them, I’d give you my address. Awesome. Cheers, Katherine.

  12. katherine Says:

    I’d just like to ad that I”m an embarrassed plastic paddy and, actually, everybody mentioned here is probably quite good and I am a great fool simply through the inevitable ignorance of being raised in an English colony. But, other than that, I’m a nice person, like everyone else here, and I’m sorry if I caused any offence.
    go raibh maith agat
    Katherine Delaney 🙂

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    • Katherine Delaney Says:

      Well, I’m nearly forty one now so I thought I’d do an enactment of how to apologise without being childish about it or equivocating. Please accept my apologies, David and family, for my obnoxious comment about yourselves and my own parental circumstances.
      For any wayfarers who’ve stumbled upon this thread, they’re very interesting and intelligent people and not deserving of the opprobrium.

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