The IFA was formed in 1880 by football clubs mostly in the Belfast area, and in its infancy operated as the organising body for the sport across all of Ireland. A meeting was called by Cliftonville of other football clubs that followed the rules set out by the Scottish Football Association (SFA). At that meeting, on 18 November of that year, they formed the IFA, making it the fourth oldest national football association in the world (after those of England, Scotland, and Wales). The IFA's first decision was to form an annual challenge cup competition similar to the FA Cup and Scottish Cup competitions, called the Irish Cup. Two years later, Ireland played its first international against England, losing 13–0 (which remains a record for both teams; a record win for England, and a record loss for Ireland).
North/South Split and the foundation of the Football Association of Ireland
Belfast Headquarters of the Irish Football Association at 20 Windsor Avenue, Belfast.
Shortly after the partition of Ireland, in 1921, the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) was established as a rival association to regulate the game in what was to become the Irish Free State. The immediate cause of the split lay in a bitter dispute over the venue for the replay of an Irish Cup match in 1921 involving Glentoran of Belfast and Shelbourne of Dublin. When the first cup match was drawn in Belfast, because of the Irish war of independence, the IFA reneged on a promise to play the replay in Dublin and scheduled the rematch again for Belfast. Shelbourne refused to comply and forfeited the Cup. Such was the anger over the issue that the Leinster Football Association broke away from the IFA and formed its own national association. Those behind the FAI believed that football should be regulated by a federation based in the Irish Free State's capital, Dublin; they also accused the IFA of neglecting the development of the game in the South. The IFA's supporters argued that the federation should be based where the game was mainly played – namely Ulster, and its principal city Belfast.
Both associations claimed to represent the whole of the island, each competing internationally under the name "Ireland" and selecting players from both the rival national leagues, which also split at this time. Interventions by FIFA gave the FAI de jure organising rights over the 26 counties of the Republic, with the IFA restricted to Northern Ireland. From the 1950s onwards, the IFA no longer claimed it was the association for the whole of Ireland. In 1960, the association moved to its present location on Windsor Avenue in south Belfast, in a building once occupied by Thomas Andrews. The IFA continued to regulate the game in Northern Ireland, and all results obtained by the Irish national side and records in the Irish Football League and the cup competition stand as Northern Irish records.
1880 – IFA founded in Belfast, representing all of Ireland ("Ireland")
1921 – FAI founded in Dublin, representing Southern Ireland ("Irish Free State")
1936 – FAI begins also selecting Northern players ("Ireland"/"Éire")
1946 – FAI stops selecting Northern players ("Republic of Ireland" as of 1954)
1950 – IFA stops selecting Southern players ("Northern Ireland" as of 1954)
IFA (today Northern Ireland) represented all of Ireland between 1880–1950
FAI (today Republic of Ireland) represented all of Ireland between 1936–1946