Monday, 7 January 2013

Walfrid’s Children 
The world into which Celtic Football Club was born was a hard and cruel place. Victorian Britain may have been at the centre of a wealthy and powerful Empire but for many who had the misfortune to be born poor, abject poverty and an early death were the daily realities they faced. In a world where decent medical attention was only available to those who could pay for it, disease was rife. Infant mortality in Glasgow’s poorer wards matched or surpassed the rates in India. Between 1870 and 1914, Glasgow ranked as one of the richest cities in Europe. Despite this the city suffered from appalling social problems of poverty, crime and disease. The massively unequal distribution of wealth meant that the splendid mansions in the West End contrasted to the disease ridden wynds and closes of the High Street, Saltmarket and Gallowgate. These were areas where crime, alcoholism and hopelessness prevailed. Glasgow saw serious typhus epidemics in 1837 and 1847 and the first cholera outbreak in Scotland occured there in 1832 and killed 10,000 people. Between the 1830s and the late 1850s, death rates in the city rose to peaks not seen since the 17th century. Into this world of great inequalities poured impoverished Irish immigrants seeking escape from the horrors of famine and oppression at home. They were joined by displaced Highlanders, all drawn to the factories and docks of the workshop of the Second City of the Empire. Districts such as the Saltmarket, Calton and Gorbals became cesspits of crime, despair and exploitation. The poor were expendable labour to be used in the factories, mills and shipyards and discarded when unfit to work.  Women and children were not spared either in the sweatshops, factories and brothels of the ‘Second City of the Empire.’ The rich got richer and the poor got yet more children to try and feed.  In 1888 Queen Victoria inaugurated the magnificent new Glasgow City Chambers and the foundation stone was laid ‘with full masonic ceremony’ by a smug elite who claimed the title ‘Christians’ while accruing fortunes on the exploitation of others. It was a marble palace where the rich could congratulate each other on their successes while just  mile away, in the disease ridden poor were dying in their thousands every year.  The overcrowded tenements were damp, rat infested and insanitary and the landlords crammed the migrants into every available space. Profit, not people mattered in those harsh times. This is the world Andrew Kerins moved in although his flock knew him better as Brother Walfrid.  He had witnessed the genocide of the Irish 'famine' as a child and had been raised in a land which exported food under armed guard as a million perished of hunger. He arrived in the city to carry out his duties as a Priest in some of Glasgow's poorest and most desperate areas. How could he help feed and bring some much needed pride and hope to the people he met as he walked the streets of that other Glasgow?  

Walfrid had seen the Irish in Edinburgh found Hibernian football club and decided that he could raise much needed funds by forming a football club in Glasgow. Forward thinking businessmen among his flock began the process of making Walfrid's dream a reality. His club, Celtic,  would be open to all and a bridge to help assimilate the Irish into Scottish life and society. It would be a charity which would raise funds to feed the poor children of the East end. This is the reason Celtic were born and the reason this Club is a shining light to the world of what a poor and marginalised community can achieve. Those Irish navvies who answered his call and showed up with the tools of their trade to build a stadium for his team were heroes. They built, with their own sweat, a field of dreams for the poor and when the Landlord put the rent up tenfold a few years later, they did all it again half a mile away. Celtic, despised from the start by those not intelligent enough to know that the ruling classes were using them and were 'dividing and conquering' the poor as they had always done.  Celtic rose to greatness on the support and prayers of the poorest in Scottish society, rose to become the greatest team in Europe.  Walfrid would smile that his flock have fought their way out of the slums to take a full part in Scottish life. Inequalities still exist, they probably always will, but we should never forget the sacrifices of those who gave life to the wonderful institution that is Celtic Football Club. We should also never forget the poor in every corner of the world who need our help today. It is our pride and joy to be called Celtic men and women but with that comes responsibility to continue the good works of Walfrid’s team.  The poor might not be dying around us anymore but they still exist here and abroad and we must continue our legacy of charity, justice and our rage against those who exploit the poor.

Those who love Celtic, regardless of creed, colour or ethnicity should say with pride that they are Walfrid’s Children.  Those who suffer hunger, persecution and poverty in our time are Walfrid’s Children too and he’d want us to help them. It’s 125 years since those brave men and women of  that first generation of Celtic people built a stadium with their own hands.  125 year on we’re still here to remember them and to thank them for gifting us that field of dreams and for beginning an incredible story. As our current manager Neil Lennon said…’the story isn’t finished, it isn’t the end, it’s just the beginning.’

Hail Hail!


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