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The Sligo emigrant who founded Glasgow Celtic

Second Reading

Fr Kevin Hegarty

GLASGOW Celtic have just won the Scottish Premier league for the forty-eighth time. They are the first team since the late 1890s to go through the full league programme without losing a match. At the end of the season they had a margin of 30 points over second place Aberdeen. This achievement, however, dwarfs into insignificance compared to the greatest night in the club’s history 50 years ago.
On May 25, 1967, a Glasgow Celtic team, composed solely of Scottish players became the first British team to win the then European Cup. It was a remarkable triumph that may never be equalled. As the celebrated sports journalist Hugh Mcllvanney wrote recently: “Where in the entire history of a major club competition at international level is there anything comparable to Celtic’s victory over Inter Milan in the 1967 European Cup Final when fielding ten players from within a dozen miles of their Glasgow stadium and completing their team with an outliner from 30 miles away on the Ayrshire Coast.”
Glasgow Celtic have huge support in Ireland. I remember the joy on the night of their European victory. It had the air of a local triumph. It was almost as exciting as the Monday evening the previous September when local hero, Seamus O’Dowd, led his Mayo team into Ballina after winning the All-Ireland minor championship. I was then a student in Scoil Pádraig NS in the town. We in the school felt we had a special association with the Scottish victory. Scoil Pádraig was then run by the Marist Brothers. They told us often, with considerable pride, that Glasgow Celtic had been founded in 1887 by a Marist Brother from the west of Ireland.
Andrew Kearns was born in Ballymote, County Sligo in 1840. The trauma of the Great Famine marked his childhood. The stench of death and despair polluted the atmosphere. It is estimated that up to 60,000 people died in Sligo during the years of starvation. People fled the country in droves, a trend that continued with varying intensity, for the rest of the century. When he was 15 Andrew joined the throng. He went to Glasgow, a common destination for Irish emigrants who could not afford the higher fare for the USA or Canada. By the 1880s it has been calculated that over 320,000 Irish people had settled in the Scottish city. Among the religious organisations seeking to respond to the educational and pastoral needs of this vast community were the Marist Brothers, a religious congregation that had been founded in France earlier in the century.

Helping others
Nothing is known of Andrew’s early years in Glasgow but in 1864 he joined the Marist Brothers. He was inspired by their commitment to social justice. After training in France, he was given the name Brother Walfrid, by which he was known for the rest of his life. He returned to minister in the slums of Glasgow. Conditions were rough. The city had the worst child mortality and life expectancy rates in Europe. By 1874 he was principal of a school in the impoverished area of Bridgeton. To encourage hungry children attend school he set up a penny dinner scheme. Noting that people were prepared to pay to see soccer games, he decided to set up his own club with a view to subsidising his food initiative.
On November 6 he established Glasgow Celtic. The club is now a multi-million business. Brother Walfrid’s lesson for social justice has not been forgotten. In the last 20 years the Celtic FC foundation has raised €8 million for local, national and international charities.

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