Celtic FC founder's life story to be focus of PhD study

Celtic founder Brother Walfrid is to be the subject of a detailed research project to raise awareness of his work to tackle poverty.

PhD student Michael Connolly inspecting a Peter Howson painting of Celtic FC founder Brother Walfrid in St Mary's Church in Calton. Picture: PA

Academics say his links with Celtic are well established but the story of Brother Walfrid - real name Andrew Kerins - remains “largely obscure”.

Walfrid, who was a Marist Brother, founded the football club to help alleviate poverty among Irish immigrants in Glasgow’s east end towards the end of the 19th century.

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Michael Connolly is taking on a PhD study into Walfrid’s life at the University of Stirling, funded with a £25,000 grant by Glasgow-based arts group Nine Muses.

Brother Walfrid statue outside Celtic Park. Picture: John Devlin

The 27-year-old 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.

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“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.”

Brother Walfrid statue outside Celtic Park. Picture: John Devlin

PhD supervisor Dr Joe Bradley added: “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.”

A number of pieces of art have been created of Brother Walfrid with the support of Nine Muses, who say the research project part of a larger awareness campaign.

Manager Emma O’Neil said: “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.”

Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell added: “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.”