I would like to draw your attention to an event taking place in the village of Kerrykeel in Co Donegal on Saturday 7th September at 4pm when the village will pay tribute to Billy Gillespie, Sheffield United and Northern Ireland legend.
William Ballintrae Gillespie was born in the Village of Kerrykeel, Co. Donegal on 6th August 1891. The son of a policeman, he became simply known as “Billy”. Showing talent from a young age in junior football ranks Gillespie was quickly signed up by Derry Institute when he was just 17 before making the move to Yorkshire to the then called Leeds City. Sheffield United obviously liked what they saw and in December 1912 he moved to the Blades for a fee of £400. It was money well spent as Billy Gillespie became the lynchpin of the side, making nearly 500 appearances’ and scoring over 130 goals, it’s no surprise that he is still revered around the streets of Bramell Lane. His finest hour however came when he captained the Blades to the 1925 FA Cup win over Cardiff and in turn became the first Irishman to captain an FA Cup winning team. The man from Kerrykeel was outstanding on the day with his performance described as follows by the local scribes of the day; “Sheffield United played wonderfully well but special praise is due to Gillespie, the man who waves a wand and whose influence has played such a vital part in United's capture of the Cup." To date this is still Sheffield United’s last major honour.
His career in the green shirt of Ireland was equally outstanding – Gillespie made his International bow on February 15th 1913 at Windsor Park and the Sheffield United marksman scored twice as Ireland recorded an historic first victory over England. It was the start of a remarkable run of goals for Gillespie against the English side. He repeated the feat the following year as the Irish side ran riot beating England 3-0 at Ayesome Park in Middlesbrough, as Ireland won the home international championship. Gillespie would go on to score seven of his thirteen international goals against the English in an international career that would span 25 Irish caps and would be Northern Ireland’s leadings marksman for a remarkable 78 years, before his goals tally was eventually overtaken in 2004 by David Healy, himself a thorn in the English side.
When leaving Bramell Lane in 1932, Gillespie would also have an effect on the local football scene. Returning to take charge of Irish League side Derry City, he took a Sheffield United strip with him and the Derry club adopted the red and white stripes they famously wear to this day. There’s no doubt Billy Gillespie was a proud Blade. He led Derry City to two City Cup triumphs and on four successive occasions they finished runners up in the Irish League. When Gillespie left Derry City in 1941 he relocated to Bexley in Kent, where he died a month short of his ninetieth birthday in July 1981.
Sadly in the modern era of wall to wall TV coverage and million pound contracts the extraordinary achievements of Billy Gillespie were in danger of being lost in time. This hit a nerve with a number of football enthusiasts within the Kerrykeel area and thanks to the help of funding from the local authorities in Donegal, Billy Gillespie’s name and football legacy will live on to another generation of young football fans across the North of Ireland.
The events on September 7th will begin at 4pm and included in the programme will be:
- A commemorative plaque will be unveiled by Jane Bull (Billy’s Grand-daughter who is traveling from the UK) at the local football club’s clubhouse at Rab’s Park Kerrykeel.
- Distribution of a commemorative brochure for the occasion
- A Billy Gillespie wall inside the clubhouse (newspaper cuttings, pictures, information on career etc)
- Refreshments afterwards in local Bar & Restaurant
Sheffield United, The Irish FA, The Football Association of Ireland, Derry City and Institute FC are sending representatives to Kerrykeel on the day in question and it is hoped football supporters across the North West and beyond will travel to what what promises to be a special day for the area and for the Gillespie family.