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World’s First PhD on “Apostle of the Poor” Brother Walfrid Announced

The world’s first PhD on Brother Walfrid starts today (Sunday 1 October) as part of a wider campaign to raise understanding and awareness of the Celtic founder’s life and works.

Walfrid – a Marist Brother – founded Celtic F.C. in 1887 to alleviate poverty among Irish immigrants in Glasgow’s east end.

It is hoped the PhD will increase knowledge regarding his significance to the lives of thousands of Irish immigrant Catholics in late 19th century Glasgow, while scrutinising his legacy for 21st-century Scotland.

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World’s First PhD on “Apostle of the Poor” Brother Walfrid Announced

— Arts group sponsors four-year University of Stirling study to find out more about Celtic’s Founding Father —

— PhD part of wider awareness-raising campaign on the Marist Brother’s legacy and importance for Catholic religious, social and cultural identity in Scotland —

The world’s first PhD on Brother Walfrid starts today (Sunday 1 October) as part of a wider campaign to raise understanding and awareness of the Celtic founder’s life and works.

Walfrid – a Marist Brother – founded Celtic F.C. in 1887 to alleviate poverty among Irish immigrants in Glasgow’s east end.

It is hoped the PhD will increase knowledge regarding his significance to the lives of thousands of Irish immigrant Catholics in late 19th century Glasgow, while scrutinising his legacy for 21st-century Scotland.

Fully-funded with a £25,000 grant by Glasgow-based arts group Nine Muses, the three-to-four-year University of Stirling study “seeks to explore and understand Walfrid and his importance to Catholic religious, social and cultural identities in Scotland.”

The PhD’s working title is Faith, Community & Football: Searching for Brother Walfrid.

University of Glasgow alumnus Michael Connolly (age 27 from Lanarkshire) is the postgraduate student handpicked to undertake the academic research.

He said: “As someone who was brought up with a deep awareness regarding the significance of Celtic’s presence in Scotland, I felt inspired to write a dissertation for my history degree at university on the origins of the club. I called it Charity and Community: The Social and Economic Development of Celtic Football Club Between 1887 and 1900.

“It was then I began to understand the importance of Brother Walfrid – not just to Celtic, but to the wider Irish immigrant population he sought to support by creating the football club in Glasgow. The works of academic authorities such as Dr Joe Bradley and Professor Sir Tom Devine helped fuel my interest in the themes of immigration, Irish identity, poverty, charity and community, which of course motivated Walfrid to found Celtic.

“I feel excited to be given the opportunity to return to study a subject I am so passionate about!”

Catholic Archbishop of Glasgow Philip Tartaglia said: “As Glasgow’s current Catholic Archbishop, as a very proud Glaswegian who was brought up in the city’s east end, and as a Celtic supporter and football man, I look forward to the eventual publication of this new study on Brother Walfrid, Marist Brother, founding father of Glasgow Celtic F.C., apostle of the poor, and a champion for all Glasgow’s people.”

“This new study will be a major contribution to the Brother Walfrid story. It will surely shine an academic light on the person and faith and motivations of Brother Walfrid, on the underlying facts of his life and activity, on the local and broader historical context, on the local circumstances and the personal interactions of Brother Walfrid with the Glasgow of his time, the City Council, the Catholic Church, his own religious congregation, and the local community leaders.

“We have all heard that Brother Walfrid and his associates wanted to make Celtic F.C. a club ‘open to all’.

“That purpose sounds visionary and progressive for its time. As such, it can only be good for the present and future of Glasgow.

Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell commented: “Brother Walfrid is a hugely important figure and someone whose contribution to Celtic Football Club and to wider Scottish society is most deserving of this kind of academic study.

“He was a man who gave people hope at a time of desperation, and in adversity someone who brought people together by creating a Club open to all – his dedication to helping others has left a phenomenal legacy.

“It is Brother Walfrid’s vision of charitable purpose and community through football, which Celtic will always hold dear and will always strive to honour in everything it does. Indeed, we are proud that Brother Walfrid’s spirit remains so strong at Celtic as we continue to make a positive difference to the lives of people in need.

“We congratulate all those involved in delivering this study, which we are sure will be very important, raising awareness and understanding of someone who did so much for so many.”

PhD student Michael Connolly will be supervised by Dr Joe Bradley, senior lecturer and researcher at the Faculty of Health Sciences & Sport, University of Stirling.

Dr Bradley explained: “This research aims to explore the figure of Brother Walfrid (Andrew Kerins), one of the most significant Irish immigrants to Scotland, an outstanding individual in relation to education and charity in Glasgow and a major contributor to the emergence of organised football in Scotland in the late 19th century.

“Despite his more obvious credentials and general knowledge around him, especially in relation to being a prime founder of Celtic F.C., Walfrid’s story remains largely obscure.

“This PhD, by research, will closely examine and investigate the “real” Walfrid, and his meaning and legacy for the multi-generational Irish Catholic community in Scotland and beyond.”

He concluded: “It aims to substantiate the partial image we currently have of Walfrid and, indeed, of the circumstances that provided the conditions for the emergence of Celtic Football Club: a unique representation of the Irish diaspora in world sport.

Nine Muses is the arts group funding the research. It has already commissioned a giant Peter Howson painting of Brother Walfrid, which is displayed in St. Mary’s, Calton, where Brother Walfrid founded Celtic F.C.

Emma O’Neil owns and manages the company. She said: “At Nine Muses, we know a lot about Brother Walfrid. More than most. We’ve made a good start: commissioned a painting and produced a one-hour documentary.

“But there are so many questions left unanswered. And they’ll remain unanswered unless there’s an in-depth study of this great man’s contribution to religious, social, economic and cultural life in late nineteenth century Glasgow and Scotland.”

The PhD forms part of a wider Brother Walfrid awareness-raising campaign, which Emma was inspired to set up after reading and learning about the Great Irish Hunger of the mid-19th century.

She added: “Over 25 years, Andrew Kerins was a pivotal figure in helping poverty-ridden, demoralised and desperate immigrants displaced from Ireland to Glasgow because of the Great Famine, a terrible period in European history. Walfrid helped give them food, hope, and, through Celtic, pride, and we want to raise awareness of his life and works.

“People can sign up and pledge their support for the campaign for free here and hear first-hand about all the latest discoveries. And if anyone has any new information about Brother Walfrid we’d love to hear from them.”

To support the campaign, Nine Muses is selling 1,888 (the year Celtic played their first game) premium Brother Walfrid boxed sets, which include an A3 museum-quality Peter-Howson-signed limited edition print of his Brother Walfrid painting, and a one-hour documentary.

Thirty per cent of the proceeds will go towards the St. Mary’s Renovation Fund (it was in St. Mary’s Church hall, Calton, that Brother Walfrid founded Celtic on November 6 1887). The remainder will be ploughed back into the Brother Walfrid awareness-raising campaign.

Find out more at




About The Story

Find out more about the PhD here.
Find out more about Walfrid’s connection to Celtic here.
Find out more about Walfrid’s links to the Great Famine here.
Find out more about key dates in Brother Walfrid’s life here.
Find out more about Brother Walfrid’s connection to St. Mary’s, Calton here.
Find out more about the Brother Walfrid boxed set, 30% sales of which go to the St. Mary’s Renovation Fund, here.

About Nine Muses

Nine Muses (UK) Ltd owns Nine Muses (UK) Ltd sells original contemporary art online. You can find out more here.

About Dr Joe Bradley, University of Stirling

Dr Bradley has published in international-rated sociology, politics and history journals. He has self-authored, co-edited and edited several books, and has presented his research at conferences in Europe, North and South America and Australia.


Call David Sawyer, director, Zude PR on +44 (0) 141 569 0342 / +44 (0) 7770 886923 or email
High res Press images available via email. Contact
Interviews available with Nine Muses owner Emma O’Neil, PhD student Michael Connolly, University of Stirling’s Dr Joe Bradley. Call David Sawyer to arrange.

Why I Commissioned a PhD in Celtic Founder Brother Walfrid

We’re here. It’s launch week.

Getting to this point’s been a labour of love, but I do believe it’s one of the most important things I’ve done in my life.

Namely, kicking off a campaign (and PhD) to raise awareness of a great man’s (Brother Walfrid’s) contribution to our nation, particularly the cultural identities of Catholics living in the west of Scotland.


Andrew Kerins (or to give him his Marist Brothers title, Brother Walfrid) is best known as the founder of Celtic Football Club. And as such, has a special place in many people living in Scotland (and throughout the world’s) hearts.

A panoramic view from the inside of Celtic Park.

I grew up supporting the football team but while their on-field prowess has always interested me, it’s how the club came to be formed – to raise money for the Catholic immigrant population then living in atrocious conditions in Glasgow’s east end – that really drew my attention.

Irish Famine

My work running Nine Muses – we sell contemporary art online – led me to learn more about the Great Famine, which has been described by Professor Sir Tom Devine as “the worst human catastrophe in 19th century Europe.”

And the more I read, the more I realised how this event and its aftermath shaped not just Glasgow’s development but Scotland’s too.

It is estimated 200,000 emigrated to the UK from Ireland between 1845 and 1852, and a sizeable proportion of those to Glasgow.

This new community had escaped starvation. But what met them in Glasgow was no bed of roses.

Many struggled to feed themselves and relied on charity to get by.

It was this displaced community that Marist Brother Walfrid spent 24 years of his life helping, first as a school teacher then as a headmaster of one of the Catholic schools in Glasgow that sprang up to educate people, many of whom could not read or write.

Brother Walfrid

He was a shining light, a beacon of hope for the poor and needy in Glasgow’s east end.

An important figure for tens of thousands at the time, Walfrid is, of course, best known for his lasting legacy: Celtic.

Walfrid had spotted the burgeoning sport of football’s potential as a force for good. He corralled community leaders and on November 6 1887, in St. Mary’s Church hall, founded Celtic F.C.

Its aim? To raise money for the “penny dinner” scheme he had set up to feed the young children under his charge at St. Mary’s school.

Irish Diaspora

The rest, as they say, is history, as Celtic went on to become a unique club, coming to represent the worldwide Irish diaspora (there are in excess of 160 Celtic supporters’ clubs across 20 countries worldwide).

The Brother Walfrid statue outside Celtic Park.

Our Work So Far

But while in Celtic, Walfrid’s legacy is secure, details of his life are obscured. And here at Nine Muses we want to change all that.

Already I’ve commissioned a life-size portrait of Brother Walfrid by Peter Howson (which hangs in St. Mary’s Church). I did this because I wanted to take Walfrid’s story to the public in a way that would grab attention, an iconic portrait by a famous Scottish contemporary artist.

Brother Walfrid full image Peter Howson artist.

The iconic image of Brother Walfrid painted by Peter Howson, and commissioned by Nine Muses.

I also commissioned a one-hour documentary narrated by Scottish actor Peter Mullan so that when people wanted to find out more about Brother Walfrid, the documentary had some of the answers.

And there’s a limited edition boxed set of the painting available to buy too.

That’s a good start. But there’s more to do.

That’s why, after nine month’s planning, we’re announcing today that we’re fully funding a PhD student to undertake a three-four year study into Brother Walfrid.


You can find out more here.

I’d encourage you to sign up to our newsletter so you get all the latest information about what our PhD student, Michael Connolly, unearths.

And that’s not all. The University of Stirling PhD forms part of a wider awareness-raising campaign – we’re also launching today – to get Brother Walfrid the recognition he deserves.

Five Reasons Why

So, that’s the potted history lesson and the information announcement, but what of my motivation?

I’ve said how my interest in Brother Walfrid was piqued by learning more and more about the Great Famine. But why did I decide to pour so much time, effort and money into finding out more about this important man? And why am I spending £25,000 on a PhD to find out more? Here are five reasons:

#1: Gone and Forgotten?

For such an important figure, little is known about his life and works. While there has been some renewed interest in recent years, Walfrid’s legacy has been dwarfed by the footballing superpower he created. I want to change that and shed more light on his contribution to the religious and cultural identities of Catholics in Scotland.

#2: Ethos

It is the ethos he embedded in Celtic from day one that completely captivated me. Sport as charity. Sport as community. Sport as a cause. It’s a message ahead of its time.

#3: Innovation

Brother Walfrid devised an innovative and ground-breaking way of raising not only funds but also the spirits and morale of a poor community; affecting tens of thousands in the process. And as Celtic grew, so did his legacy.

#4: Tenacity

Walfrid had grit and determination in a time of great adversity. Walfrid had his duties – for most of his time in Glasgow he was a headteacher – but his reach went far beyond the children he taught. He had a keenly felt duty to the large and in-need Catholic immigrant population of Glasgow and he discharged it with steely focus.

#5: Because the World Needs Walfrid’s Message

Walfrid was a humble man.

For me, his message is that quiet, charitable, and caring endeavour year after year after year is what matters.

Walfrid looked after his community and I want to bring his work to a wider audience.

And Finally

You’re reading this because you’re interested in Brother Walfrid. I’ve mentioned that our PhD student will be sharing updates as he goes along but I’d also like to suggest two more reasons to sign up to our newsletter:

Every month I’ll be writing a blog post about what’s going on in the campaign, and sharing my thoughts with our newsletter subscribers.

And every two weeks we’ll send you a curated newsletter jam-packed full of interesting titbits for anyone who wants to find out more about Brother Walfrid, Celtic, and Catholic identity in modern-day Scotland.

To get these updates sign up here now.


Brother Walfrid is an important figure. Here at Nine Muses we want him to get the recognition he deserves. You can help by supporting the campaign (it’s free). Or, if you’ve got deeper pockets, you can show your support by buying one of our Limited Edition Brother Walfrid boxed sets. Thirty per cent goes to charity while the remainder is ploughed back into the Brother Walfrid awareness-raising campaign.