We love to catch up with Michael Connolly and find out all the latest on his Ph.D. on Brother Walfrid but this is the first time he’s sat with us to take us on the journey of where he has been and what he has been upto in his own words-
Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today,
We know you have just started on this journey but has there been an inspiring moment or person, who you are meeting?
“I attended the special mass celebrated by Father White to mark the 130th anniversary of Celtic at St Mary’s with my family which was a really inspiring occasion. The speech given by Tony Hamilton, head of the Celtic FC Foundation, was a great illustration of how Walfrid’s original message of community-based charity remains very relevant to this day and I am proud as a Celtic fan to know that our Club is still at the forefront of efforts to help those in need both in Glasgow but also further afield. To know that 40% of all monies raised through the Walfrid commemorative boxed sets made by 9 Muses purchased from Celtic will go to charities affiliated to the Foundation is brilliant news for the Brother Walfrid project, which I’m proud to be a part of.”
You attend Stirling University for your studying, what classes you are sitting in?
“I recently joined the December Graduate Skills Week here at the University of Stirling which will be really helpful as I progress through the Ph.D. study. The week involved a busy mix of presentations, group work classes, and meetings designed to help students pick up the requisite skills for completing a postgraduate degree. The way classes were structured meant it was a great way to meet with other students and share ideas and stories – I especially enjoyed the ‘Writing Historical Biography’ class hosted by the History department. That will definitely come in handy as we further explore the life story of Walfrid!”
Sounds intense, so whats your study schedule?
“My study schedule is not really set in stone as I have to be flexible in terms of working from home or attending extra classes at Stirling, for example. They say you should commit forty working hours per week to your Ph.D. topic in order to complete it on time so it definitely is a full-time job! I think I do my best work at our office set aside for postgrad students at Stirling University – the atmosphere is nice and quiet and the other students who have more experience have been great in terms of making me feel welcome and giving me some sound advice.”
You have been in the press quite a bit because you are researching the obscure life of Walfrid, whats your parent’s thoughts on it all?
“My Mum and Dad were both over the moon when I told them I had been chosen to deliver the world’s first Ph.D. on Brother Walfrid. My Dad was chuffed to tell his pals on the Celtic supporters bus he goes on every week that I had been given the opportunity to study the man who started it all and who is so important to Celtic fans all over the world. My Dad’s pals said I must’ve got the brains from my Mum’s side of the family! (better leave that one in for my Mum or I’ll be in trouble haha)”
What a lovely picture you’ve painted of your Dad on the supporter’s bus, whats your pals saying to you – Dr.celtic 😛 ?
“Like myself, my mates are all Celtic-daft and they were really excited when I told them what I’d be dedicating the next four years of my life to. Having done my undergraduate dissertation on the origins of Celtic they know how passionate I am about the subject and they have been really supportive. They have come up with a few nicknames – “Dr. Celtic” being one – but it’s a bit early for that!”
This all sounds like a pretty surreal experience…..but given all of this, what are your dreams??!!!!
“I’m lucky to have a brilliant network of friends and family around me and I know they will support me all the way to achieve the main aim – to complete the world’s first Ph.D. on Brother Walfrid and do the best job I possibly can researching a figure who means so much to so many. Although that can sound like a lot of pressure I feel so fortunate to be able to work on something that is so important to me personally – it is a real privilege and I would like to thank Emma O’Neil at Nine Muses for her support along with Dr. Joe Bradley.”
Michael, this study will introduce you to some of the most influential and respected people in the existing world of Celtic and Walfrid, who are some of the individuals you have come across so far?
“The media event we hosted at St Mary’s church in the Calton – the birthplace of Celtic – was a really exciting day and was an opportunity for me to meet a lot of interesting people who share our passion for Celtic and Brother Walfrid. To get the chance to speak with Father Tom White, parish priest at St Mary’s, gave me a unique insight into the history of St Mary’s and its enduring connection with Celtic Football Club. I would also like to thank Archbishop Tartaglia for his kind words of support and also Peter Lawwell, chief executive of Celtic, for attending to give the Club’s backing to the Brother Walfrid research.”
Have you been ‘star struck’ by anyone?
“I must say it was bizarre meeting Peter Lawwell after being used to seeing him interviewed on TV over the years, but he was really supportive of the project and gave us the full backing of Celtic. For a lifelong Celtic supporter, this was great to hear!”
You mentioned in your First update about the Ph.D. that one of your focuses of study will be An Gorta Mor – what are your thoughts on the memorial that will be in Glasgow?
“I was lucky enough to be invited to attend a meeting of the An Gorta Mor memorial committee and I think the project to organise a lasting monument to the tragic events which caused so many to move to Scotland to start a new life – Walfrid included – is a brilliant idea and I’m excited to see the finished article at St Mary’s.”
Your Mentor and Supervisor- Joe Bradley, he is highly thought of and has a lifetime of expertise behind him, what is the best nugget of advice he has given you so far?
“Joe has been a brilliant source of insight, knowledge, and support over the course of the project – to have the opportunity to learn with someone as well respected and experienced as Joe has been great for me. In the first few weeks of my studies at Stirling Joe was massively helpful as we set about deciding which areas and themes would be crucial for the first year of the Ph.D. Cheers for your help Joe!”
Glasgow is a great place to start the study given the club’s roots and origins but you will be researching more into Walfrid’s other lasting legacies and where his life took him- where else do you think the study will take you?
“Walfrid is perhaps most famous for his role in the creation of Celtic Football Club but it’s important to remember he lived a varied life which took him to several places of meaning in terms of his remarkable story. County Sligo, Ireland will of course be a location I will be visiting to get a sense of the place where Walfrid spent his formative years. Walfrid also went to the south of France at the age of 24 to be educated in the Marist tradition which was undoubtedly a crucial turning point in his life. After his success in Glasgow, Walfrid went to London to continue his work with the Marist Brotherhood and he retired to Dumfries in his later years. All of these different places are hugely significant to the life of Brother Walfrid.”
You are the only person on this journey in the world, as this is the World’s First Ph.D. in Brother Walfrid…what does your wider network family and friends think of all of this?
“It has been such a surreal and exciting first few months working on the project and it has been inspiring to know that I have so much support not only from family and friends but also from people I have never met who have taken time to wish me luck or even send some information that they think could be helpful to my research. For me that is a true example of what Walfrid was all about – his success was in helping to bring people together and it’s a real honour for me to get to contribute something which will hopefully do justice to the legacy of Brother Walfrid.”
Here at the 9 Muses, we are bursting with pride too when we talk about you Michael, so would like to give a special Thank you.
Its been a few months so if you could describe the journey so far in ONE word what would that be?
“Life-changing – from the day Joe Bradley got in contact to talk about the project to meeting the Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell in St Mary’s to announce the Ph.D. to the media, the whole experience so far has been a whirlwind! I think I would struggle to pick a better job in the world and I’m really happy that Nine Muses have put their faith in me and been so supportive.”
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