Hooligan of Southwark
This column has been generally concerned with Irish who
have "made good" in Britain. While the vast majority
of the Irish community has contributed much to the land
where they have settled, some individual contributions have
not been so worthy.
One Irishman and his family certainly contributed a word
to the English language which has now been adopted in many
languages throughout the world. There is no need for me
to explain what the word hooligan means.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary it came into
the language in 1898, being, the name of an Irish
family in south-east London conspicuous for its ruffianism.
The Daily News of July 26, 1898, reporting on social conditions
in the areas, stated: It is no wonder that Hooligan
gangs are bred in these vile byways.
A few weeks later, on August 22, the Daily Graphic decried
the avalanche of brutality which, under the name of
Hooliganism - has cast such a dire slur on the
social records of South London.
During the summer of 1898 most London newspapers such as
the Daily Telegraph, Pall Mall Gazette and Westminster Gazette
were referring to Hooligan gangs.
The Oxford English Dictionary also puts forward other claims
such as a mishearing of the term Hooleys gang
although there is no evidence for this. It also says there
was an Irish character called Hooligan of this period who
appeared in the London comic magazine Funny Folk (1874-1894).
Also it is claimed there was a popular music song about
a rowdy Irish family called the Hooligans at this time.
The only music hall song I can find is Mrs Hooligans
Christmas Cake which was sung in music halls in 1883.
However, Ernest Weekly, in Romance of Words (1912) emphasises:
The original Hooligans were a spirited Irish family
of that name whose proceedings enlivened the drab monotony
of life in Southwark about 14 years ago.
But is there any trace of the Hooligan family? Can we put
flesh on the bones of a family that might fit this
A writer named Clarence Rook (1862-1915) provides the main
clues. He wrote about the slums and criminals in the City
of London and environs. In 1899 he wrote a book entitled
The Hooligan Nights which was about a young criminals
story told in his own words. The book was actually reprinted
by Oxford University Press in 1979, when the jazzman and
critic Benny Green wrote an introduction to it.
In this account, Rook wrote: There was but a few years
ago, a man called Patrick Hooligan, who walked to and fro
among his fellow men, robbing and occasionally bashing them.
Rook, incidentally, created one of the first female fictional
detectives, in the person of Miss Nora Van Snoop of the
New York Detective Force. She appeared in The Stir Outside
the Café Royal in which tale she has to fight the
aristocrat of crime - one Colonel Mathurin.
That classic crime tale was reprinted as recently as 1990
in the Oxford Collection of English Detective Stories, edited
by Patricia Craig, Oxford University Press.
So who was the Patrick Hooligan to whom the book refers?
He and his family came to London from the Limerick area
and their name was probably Houlihan. Rook says they lived
in Borough (Southwark), in south-east London. Patrick hired
himself out as a bouncer.
He was a professional tough. He soon gathered a gang around
him and operated as a small time crook, mugging people in
the street rather than as a burglar. He was often in street
fights, committed vandalism and criminal damage.
He and his fellow gang members used to gather and drink
at a public house in Southwark called the Lamb and Flag.
There is, of course, a more famous public house of that
name north of the river at 33 Rose Street, Convent Garden.
But that was not named Lamb and Flag until 1883. It had
first emerged into recorded history in 1772 when it was
called the Coopers Arms but popularly known as The Bucket
of Blood because of the bare fisted fights that used to
be staged there.
The Southwarks the Lamb and Flag is thought to have
been located in Borough High Street and has not existed
for many years. The date of when Patrick Hooligan and his
gang flourished is confused. It was certainly well before
1898 and efforts to find the date have not turned up anything.
It could have been as early in the 1850s but certainly no
later than the 1870s.
Patricks end came when, during one of the street fights,
he killed a policeman and was sentenced to life imprisonment.
He eventually died while serving his sentence/ Some have
suggested that he began to serve his sentence in the large
prison at one end of Borough High Street, which no longer
exists. But that was Marchalsea Prison and basically a debtors
prison, well known to readers of Charles Dickens works.
By the turn of the 20th Century, the name Hooligan had crossed
Conan Doyle, in his Sherlock Holmes tale The adventure of
the Six Napoleons (1904), writes: It seemed to be
one of those senseless acts of Hooliganism which occur from
time to time and it was reported to the constable on the
beat as such. In 1909 in Tonobungay H.G. Wells wrote:
Three energetic young men of the hooligan type, in
neck wraps and caps, were packing wooden cases with papered-up
bottles, amidst much straw and confusion.
By then the name was losing the capital H.
Oddly, in Edward MacLysaghts The Surnames of Ireland
(1957) the name is not listed even as a derivation of Houlihan.
The derivation of the word is still unattested,
as an etymologist would say. That is, we have not yet proved
its origin. But there are enough clues about Patrick Hooligan
for a good local Borough historian to get their teeth into
and come up with more evidence on the man, who is said,
gave his name not only to the English language but, through
generations of English football supporters,
to many languages of the world.
Courtesy of Peter Berresford Ellis and the Irish Post