Wednesday, 23 April 2014


 


Ad maiorem Dei gloriam

He walked purposely across the empty hall his footsteps echoing as he went. In an hour or two the hall would be full and there would be much persuading, cajoling and no doubt arguing to be done. Tonight was the night they decided on the name of the club and the direction it would take. He knew the factions well; there were those who wanted a Glasgow Hibernians to mimic the Edinburgh side but there was no way he would be going down the exclusivist route. Much as he admired what the Hibernians had achieved theirs was not a template he would follow. Yes, the lads he had in mind to launch the club would be drawn mostly from the Irish Catholic community but once the club was secure there would be a mixed team. The team would come to mirror the society it played in. There would be nothing to gain from being exclusive, best leave that to others if they so choose. He reached his small room at the back of the hall in East Rose Street. He would write out the club’s mission and read it to the assembled community tonight. As he moved towards his desk he caught a glimpse of himself in the dusty wooden framed mirror by the window. He looked old and tired. The years of toil in Glasgow’s east end had taken their toll. He allowed himself a small smile and mumbled the old Jesuit phrase which reminded him of why he was here among the poor in the first place; ‘Ad maiorem Dei gloriam.’ The Jesuits wouldn’t mind a Marist borrowing their motto…’To the greater glory of God.’ It was, after all, why they were all working in the poorest parts of the world.

As he sat at his desk and thought of the words he would write, a spider scurried for cover behind some books. Something about it stirred a memory from long ago and his childhood in County Sligo, he stared into space, his mind lost somewhere in a past long gone…

The glistening web of a wolf spider, heavy with dew clung to the reeds. The light of a new dawn shone through the strands of the web casting a shimmering kaleidoscope of colours. It was as if the spider had set out to snare a rainbow. The child, barely 5 years old lay on the damp grass watching it intently, mesmerised by its beauty. A gentle breeze caused the web to sway gently before his young eyes. He felt as much a part of this land as the spider or the birds greeting the new day with their chorus. All of his short life his grandmother had whispered or sung to him in the old tongue, the folk tales of their ancient land. She has passed them onto him as they sat by the turf fire on wild winter’s days when the trees bent in the westerly wind. She had poured them into his drowsy head as she rocked him to sleep at night. She had sung to him the ancient tale of the Children of Lir who had been changed into swans by their father’s jealous second wife and destined to remain that way until the sound of a Christian bell was heard in the land. She had told him of Dagda’s Harp which had the power to make men weep, laugh or even sleep at its sound. She had also taught him respect for the land and all the creatures which drew life from it. ‘Listen to me sweet child,’ she’d say, ‘everything has a spirit. The rocks, the pools, the hills and trees, all are woven into the very pattern of life. When men forget this truth disaster usually follows.’ Even as a small child he understood something of her wisdom. A slight movement of the web made the child tilt his head slightly, a smile of anticipation crossing his lips as he saw the spider emerge from its hiding place. A small fly was struggling on the lower part of the web and in its vain attempts to free itself had merely hastened its demise. A voice broke into his silent world, ‘Andrew, where are you?’ He raised himself onto his knees and glanced back towards his family’s small cottage. He could see his mother’s familiar form glancing to her left and right looking for him with a worried look on her face. ‘Andrew!’ she called again, this time louder. He stood and faced her, seeing her relief as she realised he was safe. She strode towards him and knelt by him pulling him close, ‘You need to stop leaving the cottage before we’re awake. The bog can be a dangerous place for a child. Whatever are you thinking?’ She swept him up in her arms and headed back towards the house, ‘Come now, you’re father and brother are waiting.’ Andrew glanced over her shoulder and smiled at the spider’s web. He’d return to look at it again one day soon.

The following day Andrew had joined his father and brother Bernard on a journey to the small market in Ballymote. His mother waved them off before turning to the many chores a country woman had to attend to. Not least of which was caring for her old and increasingly frail mother who had lived with then in their cramped little cottage for the past year. Their small cart was loaded with the meagre produce his father had grown with much effort and they needed to sell it at the market so that the landlord could have his rent. So many had been turned out onto the road in recent times and some had even been forced to watch as their humble homes were destroyed by the landlord’s agents. Young Andrew sat in the back of the cart among the cabbages and carrots as it lurched along the rutted roads and tracks to the town. They had barely gone a mile when his father stopped the cart and stared in silence at a field to his right. Andrew followed his father’s gaze and saw a group of perhaps eight or nine haggard figures, dressed in rags scavenging like crows in the rutted field. At least four of the wraith-like figures were children but they were so painfully thin and their long, unkempt hair covered much of their faces as they dug in the muddy turnip field with their bare hands. One of the skeletal adults let out a guttural cry as he had managed to drag a turnip from the unforgiving ground. The others flocked to him as he beat the turnip on a rock and attempted to bite into the hard, raw surface. Andrew looked at his father and saw that he was greatly troubled by what he was witnessing.

At the edge of the field, barely 10 yards from their cart, something drew Andrew’s attention. He was surprised to see the emaciated figure of a small girl, younger than he was but painfully thin and haggard. Her eyes, dark, emotionless pools regarded him. He clothing was little more than a piece of rough sackcloth wrapped around her and tied with a thin piece of rope. Her feet, bare and thick with dirt, stood in a gathering puddle as she continued to watch Andrew with dark, hungry eyes. Instinctively he reached in to one of sacks of carrots his father had loaded onto the cart and took out a bright orange carrot. He threw it towards the child and it landed in the mud at her feet but she didn’t move, she just continued to watch him. Andrew’s father turned to him and gently rebuked him… ‘Andrew, I know you mean well but no more. If we give all our food away we will be joining those poor wretches. It breaks my heart son but these are dark times. They are in God’s hands now. For sure as the sun rises men have abandoned them.’ He sat down again in the cart and with a flick of the reins set the donkey pulling it again along the road. ‘But Father, they’re hungry?’ he had intoned. His father stared grimly ahead, perhaps determined that his little family wouldn’t be joining the increasingly desperate groups of starving and dispossessed people who haunted the countryside in these cruel times. Andrew turned and watched the girl as she receded into the distance behind the cart. She had still not moved and stood like a barely living statue by the roadside. He knew that his conscience would imprint this sight onto his mind forever and was in his own childlike way as troubled as his father by what they had witnessed. He mumbled a soft ‘sorry,’ which she would never, could never hear.

Andrew Kerins exhaled and dragged his mind back from 1840s Sligo to the pressing business at hand. As he began to write he forced his mind to blank out for a few moments other desperate images of the black years of the great hunger which crowded his consciousness. What he had witnessed on that day long ago on the road to Ballymote was just a foretaste of the horrors to come. Sometimes thoughts of those times could overwhelm him and he would weep in the darkness of the night as he thought of the emaciated children tumbled into mass graves with neither coffin nor shroud. Sometimes it was the wailing of mothers with nothing to feed their crying offspring with. God how that cry haunted him still… For now though he must put such thoughts out of his mind. Tonight’s meeting was of vital importance and he needed to find the right words for his audience. He had grasped quickly the potential for the new sport to raise much needed money to help the poor around him in Glasgow. People were willing to pay to watch a good side play and there was no denying that his flock needed a symbol, a source of identity and pride. Most of his close associates felt as he did that their new club shouldn’t go down the temperance or strictly Catholic route. In the longer term this was wise as was his choice of name. ‘Yes, that name had a ring to it,’ he thought to himself; ‘Celtic.’

He began to write and the words seemed to flow from his pen…

 ‘A football club will be formed for the maintenance of dinner tables for the children and the unemployed…’

 


 

 

 

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