CELTIC FC’s FOUNDATION: IMMIGRATION and CHARITY.

Originally penned by Jonathan Foley in November 2021.

Over the last few weeks, Celtic have some reason to feel a bit more upbeat. Ange Postecogulu was awarded Manager of the Month after a series of impressive displays. Celtic enjoyed back to back wins over Ferencvaros in the Europa League and, not forgetting, they got to celebrate their 134th birthday as a club.

St Mary's Calton | Website of St Mary's Abercrombie Street

One credit that you always have to give Celtic fans is that they are very knowledgeable about the founding of their football club. Not many supporters of other clubs can tell the exact date in which their side was formed, or who was at the meeting, or what was the social backdrop or reasoning behind the club’s foundation. Most Celtic supporters certainly can though. 

The man hailed as the ‘founding father’ of, what was then, the Celtic Football and Athletic Club, is Andrew Cairns, who is better known by his Marist title of Brother Walfrid. Born in Ballymote, County Sligo, he had migrated to Scotland to carry out his work as a clergyman in the East End of Glasgow. 

In the aftermath of the Great Famine, thousands upon thousands of poorly-nourished and destitute Irish persons had flocked towards the west of Scotland in the hope of securing a better life; or at the very least, survival. 

In his writings, Professor Tom Devine noted that while Irish migration went everywhere in the world in those years, it generally tended to be the poorer Irish who came to the west of Scotland. Upon arrival in their new city, the diaspora discovered that they were not always going to be welcomed by their host community. 

Throughout the second-half of the nineteenth century, Glasgow had risen up to become a vital city of importance in the British Empire. The Industrial Revolution was in full-swing and the construction of roadways, railways, factory buildings and shipbuilding all became hugely profitable businesses and there was plenty of work to be had. And yet, all was still not well. 

Celtic Team Line-Up 1888-89 – The Celtic Wiki

Many business owners and people who held sway in political power often tended to have a distrust towards Irish immigrants. Their gaelic language and belief in Roman Catholicism was alien to a much more Saxon and Prebyterian society. Even in those days, they had a reputation of rebelliousness, alcoholism and for possibly carrying diseases from their homeland. 

With regard to housing, the city officials crammed them into overcrowded tenement blocks which rapidly developed into slums. Most of these were based towards the eastern side of the city, and with skilled-labour job opportunities being so scarce, many of the immigrants opted for the dangerous and gruelling task of tunnel digging and back-breaking roadwork construction. 

Celtic 1888 Retro Football Shirt [TOFFS2009] - Uksoccershop

A knock-off effect from the Industrial Revolution was the rise in popular sport. Teams were often assembled in factories and other such workplaces. Famous examples include Manchester United forming from the staff of the Newton Heath Railway Company while West Ham United evolved from the workers of an East–London irons factory. 

With new legislation allowing days off, Saturday quickly became a day for sport and leisure. With the new transport links being created, supporters could now travel to go and follow their team wherever in the country they were playing. Most of all, the novelty of how financially profitable the game could be, Brother Walfrid sensed an opportunity. 

Along with some other religious crusaders and a handful of successful businessmen, a meeting was chaired on November 7th, 1887, at the St Mary’s Parish Hall in Calton – just a few minutes down the road from where the current stadium is located – and it was here the famous club was born. 

File:Brother Walfrid Statue, Celtic Park - geograph.org.uk - 740464.jpg -  Wikimedia Commons

The principles of the foundation could not be more basic. The club was created to raise funds to feed and clothe the poor of the East End parishes where there had been a heavy concentration of Irish immigrants. The club’s name derived from the word that best suited the culture that united the traditions of Ireland and Scotland. 

It was decided that although the club would maintain and promote a Catholic ethos, it would still remain open to persons of all denominations, creeds, colours and ability. Within a year, going into 1888, they assembled a team of players, adapted a kit and built their own ground thanks to the voluntary labour of the people who would become their first and most faithful followers. 

But that’s a story for another day.