THE DAMNING TRUTH about “An Gorta Mór” (The Great Hunger), commonly but mistakenly dubbed the Potato Famine, is that there actually was no famine, as such, in Ireland at that time. The mid-nineteenth-century catastrophe that befell an already downtrodden native Irish underclass, initiating a worldwide diaspora and along the way spawning The Celtic Football Club in the east end of Glasgow … (yes, it truly is an ill wind that blows no good) … was really potato blight, pure and simple, which, though inevitably traumatic, need not have resulted in such local misery and devastation – but for the heinous prevailing British government policy of the day.
While hundreds of thousands starved on Irish soil through the failure of their staple food-crop, or fled their native land in desperate search of relief, abundant other local agricultural produce was being carted off to English tables on cargo vessels that as often as not set sail from the self-same ports as the notorious migrant “Coffin Ships” … ports like Sligo, whose heart-wrenching Famine Memorial (above) poignantly illustrates this piece.
Those unconscionable cargoes of foodstuffs, or at least a fair proportion of them, could and should have been used to mitigate the local hunger problem and alleviate the shameful toll of death and forced migration that both scarred and glorified the consequent story of the Emerald Isle and its people.
Instead, the British Government, through the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and specifically in the person of its senior administrator, Charles Edward Trevelyan, consigned a powerless section of an annexed nation to a toxic cocktail of poverty, starvation under an inadequate “subsistence” diet of maize, death … or the economic exile endured by so many.
The horror and injustice of that black period in Irish history is perfectly encapsulated in the hauntingly beautiful folk ballad, “The Fields of Athenry”, the evocative strains of which have rightly become a mainstay of both the Irish and Celtic FC songbooks.
Growing up in County Sligo at the time, young Andrew Kerins, who would mature into our legendary founder, Brother Walfrid, was no stranger to the ravages of The Hunger. His family’s and neighbours’ suffering was, no doubt, the main driver of his subsequent vocational dedication, as a Marist Brother, to the poor and disadvantaged of Glasgow and London.
Brother Walfrid died 100 years ago today …
In tribute to a visionary Celt and to commemorate the Centenary of his passing, we present a revised version of the 25thMay1967 verse eulogy on Celtic, “Walfrid’s Boon”, published in its original form on 6th November 2012 to mark the 125th Anniversary of the founding of our great club:
Born of squalor … mouths to feed;
born to temper shameful need;
Sligo scholar sowed the seed
– reaped a harvest,
launched a creed.
Fruit of Ireland’s holocaust;
spawn of generations lost;
Alba’s bounty, Erin’s cost
– Harp and Thistle,
Ravaged by An Gorta Mór,
blighted still on Scotia’s shore;
abject underclass deplored
Branded, ridiculed and scorned;
shorn of dignity … forlorn;
bigotry their crown of thorns
– race discrimination borne.
Brute affliction forged a club;
fulcrum of their life … its hub;
of their soul the very nub
– roused their spirit,
raised them up.
Blessed in legend, steeped in lore;
all-inclusive open door;
oozing craic from every pore
the very core.
Quinn, McGrory, Larsson, Stein,
Maley, Lennon wove the dream:
icons of our ‘Grand Old Team’
– few of many,
Sprawling saga, epic-strewn;
heart from generations hewn;
eulogised in verse and tune
– Hail ‘The Celtic’,
A typical migrant ” Coffin Ship” at the time of The Great Hunger
Copyright © 25thMay1967