Thursday, 26 March 2015

Children of a lesser God

Children of a lesser God

Dumfries 1915
The old man coughed again, his body arching with the effort. So many years working in the poorest parts of London and Glasgow had taken their toll. At 74 years of age he was tired, so tired. Bright April sunshine slanted in the window and glinted on the plain silver cross which stood by his bed. His mind wandered these days, a confusion of images seen as if through fog. Voices from the past echoed in his head; his mother calling him from door of their cottage in Sligo, then the sound of children singing hymns so beautifully. ‘Yes, the children’ he thought to himself, ‘The poor, hungry children.’ He had done so much for them but in the great scheme of things it was so little. Still so many of those little ones went without. He closed his eyes intending to pray but from the mist of the past his mind replayed scenes long gone…

Glasgow 1887

A small crowd of mainly ragged and poor individuals stood in the slow drizzle listening to the man speak. He roared out with confidence and no little emotion, For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life! That invitation to the eternal banquet, Brethren, is open to all be they Mohammedans, Jews or Papists!’ The Crowd, which numbered less than 50, listened in silence as the preacher held aloft his black, leather bound Bible, ‘Do not be duped by the Harlot of Rome, Brethren, all their false promises and idolatry will lead only to damnation! Only here in the book of life you will find salvation.’ Across the street, sheltering under a shop’s awning from the incessant rain, Brother Dorotheus watched the scene in silence. He had seen it many times in his years working amongst the poor in the east of Glasgow. The preaching would be followed by an invitation to some food in the small hall behind the man. Some, the most hungry, would go inside. Others, mostly those with folk memories of the great hunger in Ireland who knew well the literal and symbolic meaning of ‘taking the soup,’ would not. Dorotheus sighed and continued his walk in the rain. He would speak to Andrew about this and see how his plans were coming along.

Less than a mile away Andrew Kerin’s stood at window in the Sacred Heart Primary School watching the children play in the yard outside. Their carefree laughter belied the difficult lives many of them endured. Some of them, even on such an inclement day, wore no shoes, most were dressed poorly in whatever their parents could afford.  The Education act passed in 1872 may have made it compulsory for those aged 5-13 to come to school but he knew that many still had work to do to help sustain their families. Absenteeism was high and Andrew knew from his travels around the east end that many of school age were working long hours in fume filled factories and mills. How could he blame them in such hard times? A knock at the door broke into his thoughts and he said, ‘Come in,’ in his still recognisably Irish accent. The School Secretary entered, ‘Mr Glass to see you Head Master.’ Andrew smiled, ‘John, dear friend, come in, sit.’ The stocky, bearded man who wore a smart tweed suit sat in the chair opposite Kerins. ‘Good day to you Andrew, I have more news of our venture. It seems our friend might be willing to lease us the land I spoke of last week. I may get him to settle on a rent of £50 per year.’ Andrew Kerins smiled, ‘That is indeed fortuitous news. Our benefactors have not left us bereft. There is £200 or more in the coffers and perhaps we should proceed. There is much need John and the church is losing people to the evangelisers in our midst who steal them away with a bowl of stew and a second hand overcoat.’ Glass nodded, ‘I have seen them, Andrew. It is important that we act and act soon. I’ll meet Pat Welsh tomorrow and go view the ground one last time but I feel sure it may be our best option and one closest to the majority of our people.’ The elderly school Secretary entered with a tray bearing hot tea at that point, ‘It’s a cold day Mr Glass, I thought you could do with some warmth.’ Glass smiled, ‘Tis most kind of you Miss Kelly, one meets nothing but warmth in this school.’ Her cheeks flushed a little as she placed the tray on the desk and left. When she had closed the door behind her, the two friends talked more of their project and the urgency required to bring it to fruition.

The meeting hall in East Rose Street was full to overflowing and the noisy crowd filled the air with a blue haze of smoke. Andrew Kerins, flanked by Brother Dorotheus, entered the room and the hubbub subsided. John Glass, Pat Welsh and a few other key men were already seated at the great oak table signalled for the assembled men to sit as the meeting was about to begin. Kerins sat as his friend and fellow Marist Brother Dorotheus gazed out at the crowd until silence reigned. He began to speak and blessed himself with the words, ‘In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti.’ The assembled group did the same before settling to hear the good Brother speak. ‘Directly we beseech thee oh Lord to guide our deliberations this day and help bring to fruition our plans. This we ask in the name of Christ our Lord. Amen.’ With that he sat and John Glass stood looking out at what seemed a sea of faces, ‘Gentlemen, our plans are at an advanced stage and the piece of ground we discussed at our last meeting has been rented. It will take an effort to fill the many holes in the ground but I feel sure we shall not lack volunteers for the labour. We have persuaded some of the leading players of the day to wear our colours and we should be ready by the spring to play our first game.’ There was a murmur of approval around the hall as he went on. ‘I now ask our most enthusiastic and energetic supporter to speak, Brother Walfrid.’ Glass, who was always careful to give Andrew Kerin’s his religious name at such public events, sat as Andrew Kerins stood. ‘Firstly I must thank Mr Glass, all the Committee and of course our great community here in the east end for the support they are giving this venture. It is a great and noble thing we do in seeking to feed the hungry. Our children must have a better start in life and must not be stunted in body, mind or spirit by the lack of the necessities of life.’ Again there was a murmur of approval and much nodding. Kerins went on, ‘You may recall that I stated some months ago that a football club will be formed for the maintenance of dinner tables for the children and unemployed? Well, it gives me great pride to tell you all that the club we dreamed of is close to being born. It shall bear a name suitable and mindful of  its origin and that name shall be ‘Celtic.’ At this there was some applause and cheering. Brother Walfrid waited until things quietened before continuing, ‘There is much work to be done for many clubs have been born and failed to live beyond infancy. I urge you all to redouble your efforts and see that our club, our Celtic, goes on to do great things...’

Dumfries 1915
The old man opened his eyes again. Five minutes or five hours could have passed since he had drifted in his dreamlike state. ‘Celtic’ he breathed, ‘Yes, I remember…’ The door of the small room opened and one of the younger Marist Brothers entered, ‘I have some soup for you Walfrid and the good news that your team has won again. They beat Third Lanark by 4-0 and are by all accounts worthy Champions again this year.’ Walfrid tried to sit up but was not strong enough. The young man helped him and fed him with a spoon showing all the care and patience a mother would to a child in his weaning years. When he was gone the old man closed his eyes again. An enveloping darkness seemed to cover him but he felt no fear. Then a light, bright as the sun seemed to usher him onto a lush green field where he stood for the briefest moment looking at row upon row green seats shining in bright sunshine. Emblazoned on the seats were huge white letters which spelt out a familiar word. Some figures appeared around him, they were smiling gently at him. He recognised many of the faces, players, Committee men, friends from the past. A small child, dressed in a green and white hooped shirt stepped towards him and smiled before saying, ‘Thank you, Brother, and handing him a small bundle. He looked at the child, so healthy when compared to the urchins he taught in the years gone by. He turned then to the small bundle he now held in his hand and saw that it was a small container of dark soil from which grew a bright, emerald shamrock. He smiled as he looked around him and spoke words he had said to an old friend long ago which now came back to him…

"Well, well. Time has brought changes. Outside ourselves there are few left of the old brigade. It's good to see you all so well and I feel younger with the meeting… Goodbye, God bless you."

The old man smiled and knew then that his labours were over. He glanced one last time at the letters emblazoned on the seats. They read: CELTIC. He smiled slightly, turned and walked across the lush, emerald turf towards the distant tunnel.

His club had made a difference. His people had made it. He was happy.


Andrew Kerins: May 1840 –April 1915

‘The Most enthusiastic Celt of all.’

Thank you Brother.

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