Why I Commissioned a PhD in Celtic Founder Brother Walfrid

Marist Brother Walfrid in robes

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.

Celtic

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.

PhD

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.

Conclusion

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.

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