TWO recent articles (one on the ever-informative Jim Craig CSC website, dealing with an early Glasgow Cup triumph … the other in the pages of the inspirational Celtic Graves Society, which cast fascinating light on one of Celtic’s less-celebrated ‘Founding Fathers’) caused my mind to drift back to the embryonic days of our club and a story that had always intrigued me and still does.
When Brother Walfrid and John Glass set out on their historic mission to a house in Cathcart to recruit Tom Maley to the inaugural Celtic playing ranks, it was at the instigation of and in the company of one Patrick Welsh, a self-made immigrant-Irish Glasgow business man, a tailor by profession and one of the original committee men, who knew the Maley family well. It was felt that, through previous acquaintance, he would have influence with the prominent young footballer’s father.
Fair enough … and indeed he had – so much so that not only Tom but also his (at the time) somewhat less-prominent brother, Willie, were enlisted into the Celtic cause.
Nothing unusual about that, you may say … using your contacts to pull a few strings, oil the wheels of business, get the deal done; but Tom and Willie Maley’s father and Pat Welsh were no mere acquaintances. In the turbulent context of the fairly recent history of the times, they were, in fact … or at least, had been, very strange bedfellows, indeed.
Twenty years previously, young Pat Welsh had been a Fenian fugitive, attempting to flee retribution in his native land in the wake of the ill-fated 1867 Rising, when he was intercepted at Dublin docks by an Irish-born Sergeant Maley of the British Army. For whatever reason, the soldier reneged on his sworn duty to Queen and Crown and did not detain the young rebel, choosing instead to release him to pursue a new life in Scotland.
- Was it just gross dereliction of duty?
- … or, humanitarian pangs of compassion for a desperate fellow-countryman?
- … perhaps a nagging tinge of residual regret at ever having taken the Queen’s shilling (or, more specifically, its consequences for his interaction with his native land)?
- … or, an unnerving conflict of national interests?
All delicious speculation, of course – we’ll almost certainly never know now.
Whatever the truth of it, though, the self-exiled freedom fighter never forgot that stunning act of clemency and returned the favour a few years later by assisting Maley senior with accommodation in Glasgow when he had finished his dalliance with the uniform of empire.
On such quirks of fate can turn the wheel of destiny … and but for that bewildering little cameo of Anglo-Irish socio-political history, who can say how very different the early and subsequent development of the Celtic Football Club might have been?