This is a 48 page special issue available in PDF format only in which Craig McCaughtrie looks at the foundation of the club. Chapter 1 is available here. To receive the file simply get in touch and we’ll send it to you. The only condition is that you make a donation to any food bank of your choice.
If ever there was a football club that has indeed been touched gently by the Hand of God, it is Celtic. Although some might view this to be a fanciful or an excessively romantic statement, and others might see it as being sacrilegious, it is only when one reads, studies, researches and reflects upon the origins of Celtic Football Club that one concludes that there were either divine forces at work, or the most outrageous and fortuitous of fates and fortunes that aided the creation of our Club. And, given the human tragedies that were instrumental in giving birth to Celtic, God certainly does work in mysterious ways.
Take, for instance, the background of the principal character in the formation of Celtic – Brother Walfrid. Without this background and his survival, seemingly against all odds, there would not have been a Celtic. Without the Great Famine, the indifference of the British rulers in Ireland to the plight of the endemic population, the distinct lack of assistance for the Irish from The Vatican and the political upheavals in The Emerald Isle, there may not have been an exodus of the Irish to mainland Britain. Without the Industrial Revolution, there may have been no incentive for the Irish to populate the cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, Liverpool, Manchester and London. Had the City of Glasgow Bank not failed in 1878, the existing poverty of the Irish in the East End of Glasgow may not have worsened to the catastrophic levels that became prevalent – the driving force for Brother Walfrid and others.
Without justifiable Catholic concern about some of the more clandestine activities of the Protestant Church, while it also attended to the impoverished of Glasgow, there may not have been the same zeal and energy amongst the Catholic clergy to battle against poverty in Glaswegian slums.
Without the Scottish Cup Final victory of Edinburgh Hibernian in 1887, the subsequent parade of joyous Irishmen and the triumphant team to St Mary’s Hall in the Calton, the gauntlet thrown down to his hosts by John McFadden, Hibernian’s Secretary, and the recognition by Brother Walfrid of the ever-increasing popularity of football amongst the working classes, the inspiration for Celtic may never have arisen.
And, certainly, without the friends, colleagues and acquaintances that Brother Walfrid gathered around him, there surely could not have been such a productive, ingenious, creative, determined, meticulous and well organised collective of like-minded people … and, therefore, no Celtic!
Fate, chance or the Hand of God?
Against The Famine And The Crown
Born Andrew Kerins, in 1840, in Ballymore, Sligo, in the West of Ireland, Brother Walfrid would experience, at the closest of proximities, the full horrors of the Great Famine in Ireland, before ‘escaping’ his rural life to join the Marist Order, where he became a schoolteacher.
Sligo was fated to endure the worst of the Famine, though it is not known how the Kerins family fared during the turmoil. However, being that the Kerins family was of farming stock, it is safe to assume that they would not be left untouched by tragedy.
It could, of course, have all been so very different had the British rulers of Ireland released the copious quantities of grain and livestock – that were being simultaneously and successfully farmed – to the starving, rural population.
The Famine was, in effect, worsened by the hand of man, as the potato blight was a disease only of potatoes – admittedly, the staple diet of the rural poor – and not of grain and certainly not of livestock, both of which were plentiful throughout Ireland and mainland Britain. The Empire fed itself and the wealthy became wealthier still, while people died of starvation.
Consequently, Ireland’s rural population fled the countryside to the towns and cities where, in Ireland, the disaster was no less biblical in its proportions. The result was an exodus of Irish folk to mainland Britain (and some also to The New World), and specifically the cities of the Industrial Revolution – notably, Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, London, Edinburgh and Dundee.
Awaiting them was work, albeit poorly paid, menial and unskilled, and, of course, slum living conditions, disease and terrible, unimaginable deprivation.
And, sadly, there was also bitter resentment, hostility, suspicion and the most extreme of anti- Catholic prejudice from the endemic populace of Britain. The Irish were perceived to be a threat such was the cheapest of labour that they would provide and the unskilled Irish workforce, that had experienced the land and not industrialisation, was also the object of ridicule such was their lack of education.
Sadly, the establishment, the ruling classes, the Government and the Protestant Churches of Scotland and England did more than their fair share to alienate the Irish immigrants, who were seen to be and treated as though they were less than human. Glasgow was no exception to the British rule, as the Irish and Brother Walfrid would discover.
Brother Walfrid had taken his religious name, as was the practice of the Marist Order, to signify the cutting of all ties with ‘life in the world’, but he would remain a man that was haunted by that which he had witnessed in Ireland. It was a horrific reality that would not be exorcised amongst the grotesque slums of Glasgow’s East End, where Brother Walfrid arrived in the early 1870s.
The Empire’s Second City
The squalor, deprivation, poverty, decay, disease and human suffering of the ‘Empire’s Second City’ – the most densely populated city in Europe, at that time – can scarcely be imagined by us today. The bold attempts by modern day film- makers to depict the full extent of the horror of the impoverished population of industrialised, Victorian Britain are woefully inadequate; as are the televised works of Dickens, where the children are rosy-cheeked and cherub-like and not, as they should be in the interests of historical accuracy, scarred by disease, waif-like, filthy dirty, dressed in rags and clinging barely to life.
However, the statistics are graphic enough. Of the 11,675 registered deaths (and that is registered – there would be many more) in Glasgow in 1888, 4,750 were children under five years of age. It was a nightmare best not revisited, or even contemplated, though there are, sadly and shamefully, modern equivalents yet remaining on this Earth.
This, then, was the gruesome world that Brother Walfrid devoted his life in Glasgow to combating.
Brother Walfrid worked like a man possessed, with zeal and enthusiasm, compassion and care, kindness and courage, dedication and energetic vigour in this wretched environment of despair and pain. As a teacher at St Mary’s and then as headmaster at Sacred Heart School in Bridgeton, Brother Walfrid witnessed at first hand the full extent of the plight of the poor, the needy, the starving and the suffering.
The children of this misery were, however, his prime concern. Aside from educating the children of the slums, Brother Walfrid also sought to feed and clothe them. To do so, he was instrumental in establishing, in 1884, the ‘Penny Dinners’ for his poverty-stricken pupils and the children of his parish.
In order to achieve this aim, Brother Walfrid had enlisted the aid of the St Vincent de Paul Society, itself introduced into the Archdiocese of Glasgow in 1848. Thereby, Brother Walfrid attempted to ensure that his children received a warm and nourishing meal each day for their penny. In Walfrid’s very own words: ‘Should parents prefer, they could send the bread and the children could get a large bowl of broth or soup for a halfpenny, and those who were not able to pay got a substantial meal free. This has been a very great blessing for the poor children.’
However, two separate events dictated to the devout and compassionate Walfrid that his efforts, and those of his Marist colleague, assistant and headmaster of St Mary’s, Brother Dorotheus, were wholly insufficient.
Firstly, the activities of the Presbyterians were a great concern, given that the Protestant Church was also active in feeding and attending to the poor of the East End, while simultaneously trying to ‘snare away’ Brother Walfrid’s flock. Brother Walfrid enjoyed a close and warm relationship with his Protestant cousins, but he was also fearful of tactics that he’d witnessed in his homeland, Ireland, of turning the poor against the Catholic Church.
Secondly, poverty was worsening – dramatically and horrifically so. Brother Walfrid needed to do more!
Politics And The People
Arguably, there were four main ingredients that had to be introduced into the embryonic idea of Celtic – charity (to feed and clothe the East End’s poverty- stricken), religion (to assist the Catholic Church in fighting off the unwelcome advances of Protestantism, when people were at their most vulnerable and therefore most amenable to suggestion, and also of course to cement the relationship of trust, compassion and caring between the Catholic Church and its flock), culture (to provide a much needed focus, identity and symbol for the Irish Catholic population of Glasgow) and, of course, politics.
The charitable aspirations and intentions of Brother Walfrid and Brother Dorotheus are well established. Others would become involved with this philanthropy.
Undoubtedly, Walfrid was also aware of the ever-increasing influence of the Protestant Church in Glasgow’s East End and of the dangers that entailed, as far as he and the Archdiocese of Glasgow were concerned. He would also have been alarmed at the extremes of anti-Catholic prejudice within the endemic Scottish community and also within the Protestant Church – ironic, given its simultaneous benevolence towards the Irish Catholics of the East End – and also the gradual rise of Orange-ism in Glasgow.
However, it is less well recorded that some of the ‘official’ Presbyterian anti-Catholic doctrine was, in effect, a defence mechanism to deflect attention from the schisms within Presbyterianism itself, at that time. Anti-Catholicism was all that united a divided Protestantism. Brother Walfrid said: ‘’Twas the most dangersome time for the young fellos, jest afther they had left school, an’ begun t’ mix up wid Protestand boys in the places where they wor workin’.’
Culturally, Brother Walfrid would also have seen the need to provide his Irish Catholic flock with a focus, an identity and a symbol, away from the Church. This symbolism of pride and achievement and Irish-ness already had a template – it was called Edinburgh Hibernian.
Founded in 1875 by Canon Edward Hannan, Edinburgh Hibernian had become, not only a successful football club in its own right, but also a symbol for the Irish throughout Scotland. Hibernian was, however, run exclusively for the Catholic Irish and was greatly influenced by the temperance movement of the age – the demon drink being seen by many as the cause of so many evils in society.
Brother Walfrid would learn much from Edinburgh Hibernian and would also, in time, be both inspired by Hibernian and disregarding of its template for his own vision.
Arguably, however, the single most important ingredient for the success of the Celtic to be was politics. It is not known for certain how much stock Brother Walfrid took in the politics of the day but, undoubtedly, as a cleric of learning, social conscience and awareness, benevolence and compassion, he would, most likely, have been also politically attuned. With the upbringing that he’d had, anything less is almost inconceivable. Walfrid was, after all, a man of action, drive and initiative. It is, therefore, hard to imagine that politics were not also a sphere of influence in his psyche and that, consequently, he allowed others, with whom he became associated in the formation of Celtic, to determine the political agendas necessary for the success of Celtic.
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