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How the Great Hunger Changed Glasgow

19th May, National Famine Commemoration 2019, Sligo City.

The Great Hunger, commonly known as the Irish Potato Famine, was a watershed moment in Irish history, changing the country forever. Mass starvation, widespread disease, and emigration in this period saw the population of Ireland drop by 20%, with the slow, ineffective response of the British government damaging relations between England and Ireland for generations, and even provoking suggestions of genocide against the Irish people.

The impact of The Great Hunger is well documented by researchers and historians, stories of this period are still a common theme in Irish culture 174 years later, and the legacy of this terrible period lives on across the world.

Every year the National Famine Commemoration Committee hold a National Famine Commemoration Day to pay tribute to all those who died or were displaced by the Great Hunger of 1845-1849. This year’s commemoration is to be held today in the city of Sligo – just 15 miles from the home of Brother Walfrid, whose actions arguably left one of the greatest impressions on Glasgow with the foundation of Celtic FC.

Referred to as the single biggest social disaster in 19th century Europe, The Great Hunger forever changed the demographic, cultural and political landscapes of Ireland, Scotland and beyond. The cheapest routes of escape were to the port cities of Glasgow and Liverpool, while many others took their chances aboard infamous coffin ships crossing the Atlantic for the likes of Boston and New York City.

Of the one million who emigrated during this time, approximately 100,000 settled in Glasgow, a huge influx for a city whose population in the 1840s was around a quarter of a million. 10,000 Irish migrants arrived on the Broomielaw in one week alone in 1847, and by the 1880s an estimated 300,000 had left Ireland for Glasgow.

Most ships from Ireland docked near Glasgow Green and, owing to disease and lack of money, most people stayed fairly close to this area. Many travelled up Saltmarket to High Street and the Gallowgate, settling in cheap housing in the Carlton district of the city. Conditions in Glasgow’s slums were often cited as the worst in Britain at that time. Up to ten people were squashed into each room in tenement buildings, which lacked clean water or sanitary provisions. Disease and ill health were rife throughout the city, all of which lead to Glasgow experiencing the worst rates of infant mortality and life expectancy in Europe.

As Glasgow was a predominantly Protestant city in the 19th century, at the beginning of the famine, there were only five Catholic churches in the city. However, the large majority of those seeking refuge from the Famine were Catholic, and by the mid 1880s there was more than ten times that number, serving the city’s new, mostly Catholic population.

As well as influencing the religious landscape of Glasgow, it has also been suggested that the large Irish community helped to give the city its unmistakable accent. Much like in the cities of Liverpool and Boston, which also saw high levels of immigration during the famine, the Glaswegian accent stands out distinctly compared to those of nearby areas. Some historians and linguists have attributed this to the high levels of immigration seen during the 19th century. Along with those fleeing the famine, Glasgow also saw large numbers of Italian and Eastern European migrants settle in the city, and this cultural melting pot all contributed to the Glaswegian accent we all know today.

In Victorian Britain, state funding for education only covered Protestant schools, and therefore families had to pay for their children to attend Catholic schools. Prices ranged from one to five pennies per child per week, depending on the child’s age, but such was the hardship faced by Irish Catholic immigrants at this time that even one penny a week was difficult to spare. To ensure children were able to attend school, Catholic teaching order the Marist Brothers set up Catholic schools throughout Glasgow’s East End, with the costs covered by the St Vincent De Paul Parish Conference – a charitable Catholic organisation focused on the sanctification of its members through service and education to the poor.

The first of these schools was St Mungo’s Academy in the Royston district of Glasgow in the 1850s, which also ran night classes for the community’s adults to help improve their job prospects. Members of the Marist Brothers order continued to set up Catholic schools throughout Glasgow’s East End, helping generations of Irish Catholics gain an education and employment, as well as diverting the community’s youth away from crime.

In the early 1880s, one of the most well known Marist Brothers, Brother Walfrid, set up the penny dinner scheme at one of the order’s schools – Sacred Heart in Bridgeton. The scheme served school children a hot meal for the price of one penny, or soup for a halfpenny, and was eventually extended to include the unemployed and elderly members of the community. Brother Walfrid worked with his fellow Marist Brothers to establish the penny dinner scheme in other Catholic schools throughout Glasgow’s East End.

No hungry child was turned away, and while the St Vincent De Paul Parish Conference helped cover the costs for those who could not afford to pay, soon the scheme was serving over 1000 meals every week, and more fundraising efforts were required to sustain the community dinner tables.

It was through this need for funding, that one of the biggest impacts of the Irish famine and subsequent emigration was felt in Glasgow – the creation of Celtic Football Club.

Brother Walfrid had seen the growing popularity of football throughout Glasgow, with local matches regularly drawing in crowds of 5,000 spectators, all paying an admission fee. With this in mind he began organising charity matches to raise money for the community dinner tables. In 1887 he saw the potential for a full time Catholic team in Glasgow, and in St Mary’s Church, Calton, Celtic was born.

Celtic was set afloat with the simple mission that profits would be reinvested in the community via the penny dinner scheme and free education, with the club making £400 in their first year, approximately £40,000 in today’s economy. Their first game was a 5-2 win over Rangers FC in front of a crowd of 5,000, within five years Celtic were attracting crowds of 40,000 to their cup winning matches.

From cultural events such as St Patrick Day’s celebrations in New York, to the distinctive accents of Glasgow and Liverpool, and sports teams like Celtic FC and the Boston Celtics, the Famine, and subsequent migration, has influenced millions in the cities where this displaced community forged new homes.

Despite Brother Walfrid’s life changing contributions to Glasgow’s Irish Catholic community, and his role in founding Celtic FC, little is actually known about him. The Nine Muses have commissioned a PhD in the study of his life, which is being undertaken by economic and social history graduate Michael Connelly at the University of Stirling, supervised by Dr Joe Bradley.

Are you a relative of Andrew Kerins?

Despite his legacy as founder of Celtic FC, little is known about Brother Walfrid’s life, and we want to change that, but we need your help.

... continue reading.

May is Local and Community History Month, and we’re always striving to find out more about Celtic FC founder Andrew Kerins, better known as Brother Walfrid, the Catholic missionary who used football to transform the lives of people in Glasgow’s East End. 

Despite Brother Walfrid being arguably one of the most influential figures on early Scottish football, relatively little is known about his life, especially the first years he spent in Glasgow in the 1850s. We want to change that and raise awareness of his life and work.

So if you’re a relative of Brother Walfrid, know someone who is, or have any information about his life, please get in touch with us now!

The Nine Muses have commissioned a PhD in the study of his life, which is being undertaken by economic and social history graduate Michael Connelly at the University of Stirling, supervised by Dr Joe Bradley.

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.

... continue reading.


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.

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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.