The impact of Celtic Football Club founder Brother Walfrid on social, cultural and religious identities in Scotland will form part of a new £25,000 study by the University of Stirling.
The research, expected to last four years, will investigate the life and works of Marist Brother, Andrew Kerins, better-known as Brother Walfrid, who founded Celtic in 1887 to alleviate poverty among Irish immigrants in the east end of Glasgow.
Postgraduate student Michael Connolly will undertake the work as part of his PhD under the supervision of Dr Joe Bradley, Senior Lecturer and Researcher at the Faculty of Health Sciences and Sport. The work – backed by the Archbishop of Glasgow and Celtic FC - aims to increase knowledge regarding Brother Walfrid’s significance to the lives of thousands of Irish immigrants in late 19th Century Glasgow, while scrutinising his legacy for 21st Century Scotland.
Mr Connolly said he first understood the importance of Brother Walfrid when he wrote a dissertation on the origins of Celtic for his history degree at the University of Glasgow.
He said: “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.”
Dr Bradley said: “This research aims to explore the impact of Brother Walfrid, 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 FC, 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.
“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.”
Archbishop of Glasgow, Philip Tartaglia, welcomed the research and said: “This new study will be a major contribution to the Brother Walfrid story.
“It will surely shine an academic light on the person, faith and motivations of Brother Walfrid; on the underlying facts of his life and activity; and on the local and broader historical context. It will also reflect 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.”
Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell said: “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.”
The PhD work is funded through a £25,000 grant from Glasgow-based arts group Nine Muses and forms part of a wider Brother Walfrid awareness-raising campaign launched by the company.
Emma O’Neil, owner of Nine Muses, 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.”