Birthdays are always a cause for celebration and none more so than those that occur in a landmark year.
Celtic Football Club is 125 today!
Recently when I stood in a small churchyard in Dumfries at the graveside of Andrew Kerins, the young Sligo lad who would become Brother Walfrid, the sense of history is hard to shake off.
That day was organised by the fine folk of the Celtic Graves Society.
For the club’s 125th year the CGS have really stepped up with a series of fine events.
For much of the last century and a quarter Celtic was the gathering point for a community that suffered serious social exclusion in Scotland.
Andrew Kerins was a survivor of An Gorta Mór and the enduring memory of that great crime would instruct his life of service to others.
All of his efforts went to ensure that no child would go hungry.
The Irish flock that Walfrid cared for suffered discrimination and hostility from the host community.
These islands were the centre of the first truly global empire.
The native Irish were the bottom of an ethno-religious pile in this archipelago and the locals in Glasgow were not slow to remind them of that fact!
Buried beside Walfrid is James Edmund Handley. Known in the Marist order as Brother Clare his scholarly works on the Irish in Scotland retain a central place on my bookshelves here in Donegal.
(The Irish in Modern Scotland, by James Edmund Handley. Cork: Cork University Press, 1947.
The Irish in Scotland, 1798-1845, by James Edmund Handley. 2nd edition. Cork: Cork University Press, 1945.)
You cannot fully appreciate the Celtic story without having a firm grasp of the historical narrative of the Irish in Scotland.
It was the Irish of Glasgow’s east end and their wretched situation that gave birth to this football club.
Despite the ethnic origins of Celtic it was always open to all from the start and it remains so today.
That inclusiveness and the charitable ethic were in the DNA of Celtic from that first meeting in St Marys in the Calton.
Because of those good values it is fitting that Scottish football’s finest hour belongs to my club.
May 25th 1967 was, as Helenio Herrera magnanimously observed, “a victory for sport”.
A team of locals who did not need to tell the manager what school they went to before they were employed did Celtic and Scotland proud.
The players were heroic that day and so were the supporters who had travelled from the Gorbals and Gaoth Dobhair.
The Celtic fans of 1967 are still fondly remembered in Lisbon as friendly warm people who loved their club and o jogo bonito.
Tomorrow Celtic will play Barcelona in the Champions League and these two famous clubs have such a close affinity.
One is the embodiment of a stateless nation that has suffered oppression within living memory from a fascist Spanish state.
The other is a testament to the triumph of a community and a stated belief 125 years ago that said we were as good as our Scottish neighbours that our door was open to all and that, one day, we would overcome.
In the opinion of Barcelona’s mercurial midfielder Xavi Hernandez, “Celtic, like Barcelona, are more than a football club… our clubs are a symbol of a culture and community that has not always been made welcome in their respective countries.”
As Franco’s oppression is within living memory in Cataluña then so is the SFA’s campaign against the Irishness of Celtic.
The flag of Ireland still flies over Celtic Park and retains a special place in the hearts of the club’s support.
As the fan zone in the Merchant city tomorrow night will attest Glasgow IS truly green and white.
Catalan and Celt will party long into the night in friendship.
This year marks another historical milestone in Celtic’s hometown.
It is the end of Glasgow’s fitba feud, the good guys won and the racists lost.
There were huge odds against us prevailing, but we did it by playing football.
Pure, beautiful, inventive football and by being decent people and by paying our way.
Happy birthday Celtic, I love you.